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Kathy Sheridan: Whither the proud Irish Trump fans now?

We’ve taken to aping the protest style of Trump supporters

Supporters of US President Donald Trump enter the US Capitol on January 6th. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The “edgy”, “straight-shootin’” pundits and presenters smirking in their MAGA hats. The accountants, lawyers and business leaders happy to overlook everything for his tax cuts and deregulation. The sneaking regarders in Democrat clothing giving him the nod – just this one, to get their anti-choice judges – before pivoting back to loud lamentations about his subversion of democracy.

Quite the Faustian bargain there. Give us the money and the judges and we’ll ignore all the birther stuff, the bankruptcies, the sexual assaults, the white supremacists, the murderous strongmen and that throbbing, barely-veiled vein of fascism.

How many of the Irish electorate would have voted for Donald Trump in 2020 given the chance ? One in eight, according to a pre-election Ireland Thinks poll in November. Among 25-34 year olds, that soared to one in five.

Ivanka and Donald Trump: The presence of the president-elect’s daughter, a businesswoman, at a meeting with the Japanese prime minister has yet to be explained. Photograph: Damon Winter/The New York Times
US President Donald Trump receives a traditional bowl of shamrocks from then taoiseach Enda Kenny in 2017. Photograph: SAul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Perhaps they bought the narrative about the “left behinds” despite studies showing that the lowest income groups voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.


But that cover has been blown. Even after mob murder in the Capitol, a staggering 147 Congress members voted to reject the vote for Biden.

Among the busiest Trump advocates for rejection is one Ginni Thomas, spouse of Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas. Another is the Texas senator and lawyer, Ted Cruz, who in 2016 told a radio interviewer that Trump “needs to stop threatening the voters, he needs to stop threatening the delegates, he is not a mobster”. They always knew.

A surprisingly persistent Irish response to warnings about Trump has been that he was irrelevant to Ireland so why were we bothering

The Capitol assault mob included lawyers, politicians, a disproportionate number of serving and retired military, CEOs, real estate brokers and marketing managers who could afford the travel and nights in DC hotels or knew someone who could. On Monday two Capitol police officers were placed under suspension and up to 15 came under investigation, strengthening suspicions of an inside job. Are these the “left behinds”?

Is this what Irish Trumpists had in mind ? They lacked the excuse of their American cousins who after more than a century of Lost Cause confederate ideology and a decade of furious right-wing assaults on everything liberal and Obama, were – in the words of historian Greg Grandin – primed for “a conspiratorial nihilism, rejecting reason and dreading change” as they fell down the shock jock, Murdoch Fox News, social media-facilitated, QAnon rabbit hole.

A surprisingly persistent Irish response to warnings about Trump has been that he was irrelevant to Ireland so why were we bothering. Plainly, we are inextricably enmeshed in the US, not least by kin, language, the peace process and US foreign and economic policy.

Aping their style

Lately we’ve taken to aping their protest style. Trumpist paraphernalia seen at recent protests here included weapons wrapped in the national flag, images of nooses (a recurring theme at Trump riots and rallies), QAnon insignia and associated paranoid slurs and smears, all wielded at Leinster House and on city streets. “Freedom” demonstrations have featured a senior counsel, a university professor and former national newspaper journalists.

In 2019 when the 24-year-old president of Young Fine Gael (then the governing party) attended a Washington conservative student conference addressed by Mike Pence, much of the reaction comprised sympathy for the young politico caught in headlights, concern for the sacred values of free speech and free association and solemn reminders of the many strands of American Republicanism.

'This isn't the Republican Party any more. This is Donald Trump's Republican party'

When the Iona Institute’s David Quinn wrote that the conference sponsor, the lavishly-funded Young America’s Foundation (YAF), “could not be more mainstream Republican”, it was meant as a reassuring throwback to the party’s centre-right, God-fearing brand of conservatism.

David Quinn of the Iona Institute said the call by the IDA chief executive for a Yes vote in the marriage referendum was ‘completely unacceptable’. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Meanwhile YAF was busily dispatching dozens of highly paid conservative firebrands such as Ann Coulter (sample tweet: “Trump shouldn’t call them ‘s**thole countries’…They are s**thole nations”) and Ted Nugent (who called Obama a “sub-human mongrel”), to spread the extreme right doctrine around US college campuses.

Just 18 months on, we have learned precisely what “mainstream Republican” stands for, all 74 million of them. As Don Jr put it before waving the mob off to the Capitol last week: “This isn’t the Republican Party any more. This is Donald Trump’s Republican party.”

Conspicuous among YAF’s generous donors were the Koch, Mercer and DeVos family foundations. In a 1978 essay, business titan Charles Koch explained his objective: “Our movement must destroy the prevalent statist paradigm”. It was all about lower taxes and looser regulations. Betsy DeVos has just resigned from Trump’s cabinet to pre-empt any awkward presidential removal problem. If the Mercer name rings a bell, it is because Robert Mercer played a key role in the Brexit campaign by donating data analytics services to Nigel Farage. Where America goes really matters.

The whiplash recoil of the enabling corporates from Trump in recent days is one part of the silver lining of this tragic era. Another, oddly, is Charles Koch who at 85 has finally come to bitterly regret his fierce partisanship (even if his political spending has remained stubbornly partisan).

Among the first to congratulate Biden on his election, he is now trying to work with Democrats and liberals on issues such as immigration, poverty, addiction, homelessness and criminal justice reform where he thinks common ground can be found.

“Boy, did we screw up!” he writes in his new book. “What a mess!” Could the new humility be catching?