Immoral behaviour trumps all else and it’s time for us to take a stand

I recently made a return visit to the US. The purpose was a vacation, as the Yanks would call it. I couldn’t quite believe it had been around 14 years since my last trip there. I was genuinely curious, given all that has happened, how different it might feel.

Immoral behaviour trumps all else and it’s time for us to take a stand

I was visiting friends in an upper middle-class area of Boston, a wealthy city on the east coast, so I realised I was as far as I might possibly get from the now fabled rust belt region.

Twelve years or so after the completion of the ‘Big Dig’, a massive $15bn tunnelling project that ran eight years behind schedule, it turns out the traffic had overtaken the solution before the solution was fully operating. Serious gridlock.Boston is a lovely city to visit. I’d been a few times previously. If you’re to judge on traffic alone, the city is thriving — the problem is that it is just not moving.

I heard a radio discussion this week about how Irish people are no good at indicating when switching lanes — well I tell ya, if you want to see how actually amazing we are in this area of indicative driving, just drive in Massachusetts, where manufacturers could just leave

indicators off cars, given the infrequency of their use. That and the traffic jams make for some tense driving.

Anyway, my main curiosity was how much of a Trump effect I would notice. The truth is very little, apart from when we had the television on and every current affairs moment offered up a slice of Donald Trump-inspired madness.

This was the week that White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was being accused of telling lies over a meeting of members of Trump’s campaign team with a Kremlin-linked attorney.

Melania Trump was on the missing list and hadn’t been seen in public for almost a month.

At one point, Mr Trump told the media: “She’s doing great. Just looking at us, right there,” before pointing at a window where there was zero sign of his wife. She reappeared during my visit, I’m glad to say.

Elsewhere, the president cancelled the long-established tradition of inviting the Super Bowl winners, this year the Philadelphia Eagles, to the White House, after most team members refused to attend.

Instead, the president held a political event where he insisted on the need for Americans to stand up for the anthem to honour men and women who have died in the military. Then, as ‘God Bless America’ was being sung, he appeared to forget the words, nodding instead to the beat.

Also hitting the headlines was the news — broken by US education secretary Betsy DeVos — that a major investigation into safety in American schools would not look into the role of guns in schools.

The Federal Commission on School Safety had been established “to address school safety and the culture of violence” in response to a high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in March, where 17 people were killed.

In my ignorance I considered Massachusetts — a long-standing blue state — to be a bastion of liberality and common sense, and of course, wealth.

So I was somewhat surprised when my very gracious hostess, an avid cinema goer, suggested an early evening visit to the cinema to see the movie Book Club, and in the next breath mentioned that she does now suffer from anxiety about the possibility of being a target of a mass shooting in the movie theatre.

Turns out they are fairly fond of their guns there too. My host said that, when doing business, it is a fairly regular occurrence that he will notice someone is “packing”.

How you know, he told me, is by the type of belt being worn — a particular one is needed to accommodate the gun. One evening during my stay, I had the genuine pleasure of attending a high school graduation party for a neighbour’s child.

It felt like the epitome of Americana as we sat on the porch on a sunny evening (admittedly not on a swinging bench) and chatted for hours with fellow party goers, friendly

intelligent people. Somehow, though, it just felt like the right thing not to bring up politics.

As it happened, during our subsequent discussion on guns, brought about by the cinema shooting concerns, I learned that one family who had been there, several members of whom I had spoken to that evening, each more pleasant than the last, had an elderly relative who had been a big noise in the NRA back in the day. They all believed in the freedom to “pack”.

There was another couple, particularly lovely and interesting, who I was later told, had just introduced a pump action shotgun to the household armoury and felt the noise of the slide action coming from upstairs would be a good deterrent for any intruders.

Massachusetts is stricter than many other US states in terms of buying a gun with waiting periods. Nevertheless, there is always the option of picking one up immediately at a gun show.

So, yes, we did go to the cinema. I won’t lie: As I lay in the comfy recliner chair, sipping a gin and tonic (needless to say loads of ice) and marvelled at how incredible Jane Fonda looks at 80 (I don’t care how much plastic surgery she’s had), there were moments of wondering might this be the last movie I would ever see.

I pointed out to my friend afterwards that it had not escaped my notice that, as per her booking, I ended up sitting in the very first seat that cinemagoers, or indeed passing gunmen, would see, upon entering the theatre. So yes we laughed, but this threat does linger at the back of the mind.

I returned home after a lovely break, thinking that it was funny to be in the US and yet feel largely insulated from Trump.

It was distressing to hear people say it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him elected for a second term, but there was always the hope that the chances are high something spectacular would do for him before that could happen.

But in the time since, things have moved on from the level of a dramatic eyeroll accompanying the daily check of the latest presidential “craziness”.

Now I just feel genuine nausea at the Trump policy of separating children from their parents at the Mexican border.

To hear about the fate of these children was distressing enough but to see and hear footage of them howling for their parents is something that will remain forever with all right thinking people.

The emotional damage done to these children is incalculable. It is a barbarism that marked a turning point in this insane presidency. He may have appeared to do something about it on Wednesday but there are no guarantees.

It was good to see Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney strongly criticising the regime at the US-Mexico border as “indefensible, immoral, and shocking”.

Previously I could honestly see how, for self-interest reasons, we continued to engage with Trump — for instance with the bowl of shamrock on St Patrick’s Day — but the time has come for us to take a stand as a country. He is a disgusting human being.

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