It seems like the blink of an eye, but it was actually a year ago tonight. The date is fixed in US law — the first Tuesday after November 1, every four years.
I sat down, along with millions of people around the world, to watch Hilary Clinton being elected. As the night wore on, and the experts began looking at the counties and townlands in Florida, one of the first swing states where the polls closed, it quickly became clear that she had a mighty struggle on her hands.
One by one, states she needed to win — her line of defence — swung the other way. And as night turned into morning, and I kept shovelling in enough coffee to keep me awake, the unthinkable started to happen, right in front of our eyes.
I had predicted Donald Trump’s election in a spoof column earlier in the year. It was a joke. It couldn’t happen. This man had discredited himself every day on the campaign trail.
He had shown himself to be a clown, ignorant of the pressing needs of the world around him. And much worse than that. He had boasted about sex abuse. He had pandered to racism.
He had bullied and intimidated opponents, often to the point where he seemed unhinged. He had attacked revered American icons — John McCain, Gold Star families. He couldn’t, under any circumstances, win.
And yet he did, on this night a year ago. His first act, after Hilary rang him to concede, was to announce that the nation owed her a great debt of gratitude. That was the last — the only — gracious or decent word he ever said about her.
Shortly after Trump’s election Aodháin O’Riordan made an impassioned and honest speech in the Senate about what had happened. The speech went viral on the internet, attracting millions of viewers.
He followed it up with an event in New York called The Irish Stand, which drew 1,500 people into a church in Manhattan to stand for greater equality at a time when there was a huge amount of fear and anxiety throughout the world.
The event is being repeated in Dublin, in Liberty Hall, tomorrow night, which is the first formal anniversary of Trump’s election. Hopefully the place will be packed — I gather the proceeds will all go to help children in direct provision — so that we can continue to speak out, in whatever way we can, against the darkening atmosphere that Trump has created.
I have to admit that my own first reaction to his election was to be as objective as possible. He hadn’t so much won, I figured, as that Hilary had lost. And she had lost by standing for more of the same, in states where hope had all but gone and there was a hunger for change. Perhaps, I thought, the shock to the system might in the end be a good thing.
It’s pretty clear now that was a misplaced hope. Trump’s first major assault, on a fledgling healthcare system, might have failed so far, but the tax reform package now being pursued reveals the core motivation behind his ascendancy, and the reason the Republican Party is continuing, essentially, to stand with him.
The rich will get richer under this president, and that’s what it’s all about. He intends to preside over a period of greed, and a transfer of wealth, which will mean an even more hopeless future for the people who elected him.
To those powerful interests that stand with Trump, that’s the only thing that matters. They believe in one thing, and one thing only, the ability to bend the free market to their purposes.
Over the next three years, we’ll see corporate profits grow, we’ll see regulation dismantled, and we’ll see poverty multiply in the richest country in the world.
Meanwhile, Trump will continue to distract his people with bread and circuses. This is a man who believes in nothing, who is inspired only by ego. But it’s useful to be able to continuously attack fake news, to continuously provoke debate about issues like race, to continuously offend against all the constitutional parameters of his office.
No one ever thought that the President of the United States — any president — would use the office as shamelessly as he has for self-glorification. No-one ever thought that any modern president would be so silent about the issue of guns in the face of terrible, overwhelming evidence.
The latest tragedy just outside San Antonio will spark yet another debate about gun control. This president doesn’t want to know.
And while he is silent on pressing issues like that, the debasement of public life continues unabated. The revelations about his secretary of commerce and his ties to Russian money are just the latest blemishes in a litany that has almost redefined the notion of corruption.
Of course, the disgusting practices revealed on last week’s Prime Time programme, which showed landlords willing to place the lives of people at imminent risk for egregious profit — and the seeming powerlessness of our state when it comes to preventing it or punishing wrongdoers — suggest that we’re not exactly in a position to call the teapot black.
And the continuing scandal of homelessness, especially among children, is yet another testament to the idea that we too are prepared to let the rich get richer while children suffer.
Land is being hoarded without penalty, the State refuses to invoke compulsory purchase powers, and all the while another generation of children is being abused. We never seem to learn.
There are homes all over the country that can be brought back into habitation — and unused sites waiting to be developed — yet the State seems willing to do almost anything else except start the major housing programmes that characterised every decade of the last century.
Yet despite everything that we can’t be proud of, the world needs its leading democracy to be a real leader in the world.
When the President of the USA turns his back on the world’s environment, when he plays boastful and childish games of chicken with the dictatorship of North Korea, when he can’t or won’t speak out against the rebirth of white supremacists in his own country, when he wilfully refuses to see any connection between gun control and the slaughter of innocent people — when all that is going on in the world’s leading democracy, the world is a much poorer place.
Shortly after Trump’s election, I did write here that I thought his would be one of the shortest presidencies on record. I still harbour that hope, but it’s a fading one.
It seems much more likely to me now that he will go on, flailing all around him, doing damage wherever he can, while investigators keep looking for the smoking gun.
Maybe they’ll find it, maybe not. Meanwhile, the rest of us must celebrate, if that’s the word, the first anniversary of a day when the world turned dark, when it started to become an even less stable and more frightening place. But of course, the rich have begun to get richer. That’s all that really matters.
Powerful interests that stand with Trump believe in one thing, the ability to bend the free market to their purposes