It was a quote attributed to the novelist Henry James which came to mind as I watched the full-on results coverage of the US presidential election in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Tensions were running high, inevitably. Everything is in veritable capitals anyway when it comes to in-your-face US cable news television coverage. Never more so than when there is an election count going on.
I’m not sure about other viewers but there was a definite spike in my blood pressure every few minutes when CNN would herald, very loudly, a “KEY RACE ALERT”. All eyes would swivel towards the ‘magic wall’. Sitting at home on the sofa, an entire continent away from the action, the truly awful nature of a very sizable number of US voters quickly became clear.
It didn’t matter how often CNN’s John King told us, as he stood in front of his interactive map, with its constantly changing panels of red and blue, that the early surge for President Trump did not reflect the large number of uncounted votes that were expected to lean heavily towards Joe Biden. It all felt too horribly familiar, especially if you were sitting in exactly the same seat as you had been in four years ago with the trauma of Trump’s win still remarkably fresh.
The quote that was running around my brain is one attributed to the novelist Henry James. Three things in human life are important: The first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind. But, for millions of Americans, kindness has clearly been jettisoned. Voters everywhere have a level of self-interest when it comes to casting their ballot, but this was an entirely new and almost vicious level of it.
The US is a nation divided. This vote has shown that one half of the population has high levels of comfort with their own racism, cares little about who dies in a pandemic, and puts economic matters far ahead of human decency. The importance of people looking out for each other and living in some sort of harmony was thrown out the window.
They plumped for a man for whom lying is a way of life, whose mantra is to sow dissent wherever he can, and for whom we have no evidence of him ever actually showing kindness to another human being. We are in a position where it is actually impossible to imagine him committing an act of kindness, even to a child. In fact, the urge
always is to protect children from him, to close their ears to what he has to say. Oh, the relief that he never opted for a White House dog. Who knows what the poor creature would have endured?
In the midst of a pandemic which has hit the US so hard, preliminary findings from exit polls indicated that around a third of voters said the economy was the most important issue in how they had cast their ballot, while only 20% opted for Covid-19 and racial inequality. About four in 10 said they would prioritise the economy over the fight against Covid-19. Almost two-thirds of Trump supporters said the economy was their top priority. Where is the human decency there?
Yes, the US is a very big place, with 50 states and a population of over 330 million. No more than making sweeping generalisations of an entire continent, such as Europe, you have to beware of making all-encompassing comments about a place that is so massive.
But this is a country under one flag that elects one president. All of the people who voted for Trump did so having observed him for the last four years, and most particularly since the beginning of this year, with the advent of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests.
There is only so much defence that can be offered for people who opted for their baser instinct when they cast their vote. Spare me the poor misled people who were tricked, for instance, into believing that Joe Biden is really part of a paedophile ring — no doubt these are the same suckers that believed similar garbage about Hillary Clinton and the notorious child abuse ring headquartered out of a Washington pizzeria. As Forrest Gump put it: Stupid is as stupid does.
No one can be so stupid as to immerse themselves in “fake” news for four years and continue it for the entirety of this highly contested election campaign where the same rubbish has being shovelled. Ignorance is no longer a defence.
No, this time they voted with the goggles off, knowing exactly what sort of a monster their ballot might help to keep in the White House. Covid has killed more than 235,000 people in the US and caused huge economic damage, not to mention what it is doing all around the globe. Americans have been repeatedly warned that it is set to worsen further as they head into winter.
Remember the remark that got Hillary Clinton into so much trouble when she described half of Trump’s supporters as a “basket of deplorables”? Speaking at a fundraiser back then, she said they were “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it”. In retrospect, the only thing she got wrong was the bit about it being just half of them.
One of the potential bonuses of Trump being voted out has been the notion it would soften the cough of the likes of Bolsonaro in Brazil, Orban in Hungary and, closer to home, Boris Johnson. These mini-me “strongmen” have all been emboldened by the actions of Trump. Need we look any further than Johnson’s becoming embroiled in a row with footballer Marcus Rashford over the provision of free meals for disadvantaged children during the recent mid-term break?
Lest we’re feeling smug, we haven’t escaped it here either. This column has previously addressed the Trumpian attack on the chief medical officer and Nphet by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. He’s been at it again this week, trying to get himself out of well-deserved trouble
for the leaking of a confidential government document.
There were no prisoners taken in his defence of himself, not least the phalanx of Fine Gael ministerial colleagues who took to the airwaves and compromised their own integrity in the defence of their party leader.
It’s been speculated that the Tánaiste may be humbled by this episode after being caught so red-handed. Not a bit of it. That’s not part of the playbook for these guys. It’s onward and upward regardless of the casualties. The survival of the self, without any sacrificing of ego, is paramount.
Something he said at the Fine Gael parliamentary party on Wednesday night may seem a small matter. But it is a telling one. He told colleagues to be careful who they choose as friends. It was yet another dig at his “former friend”, Maitiú Ó Tuathail. Listeners to his Dáil performance on Tuesday had already heard a graceless Leo effectively trash the young GP as an
ambitious social climber who had tried to hang on to his powerful coattails.
Without doubt Dr Ó Tuathail does not come out of this episode well. But humiliating the man while trying to save his own skin? It was cruel from Leo, certainly not kind.