Now that the reaction to Wednesday’s assault on democracy moves from the dropped-jaw stage, a more considered evaluation is necessary. It is important to understand why such an affront might be visited on, for all its hubris and embedded racism, a functioning democracy. A democracy that over the centuries offered opportunity to those millions — the poor, the huddled masses — denied it elsewhere.
That pause seems all the more important as president Trump finally acknowledges that Joe Biden will succeed him after a “smooth transition of power”. Any reflection seems even more important as some of Trump’s more strident supporters expressed deep anger at Trump’s claim, as dishonest as any he has made, that he was “outraged by the violence, lawlessness, and mayhem” he incited. That pause also seems important as many of Trump’s senior enablers abandon the sinking ship, the waves of consequences washing around their ankles.
It is far more difficult to answer the far more important, unavoidable question: Why did more than 70m Americans, most of them sane, decent people, vote for an odious, immoral buffoon like Trump? Did they not realise what he was — he hardly kept it a secret? Did they believe his lies, his undermining of institutions and society’s cornerstones? Or did they just feel abandoned, that they had become flotsam and jetsam in a world where the old social contract had been forgotten, where wealth is ever more concentrated, where hardship is no longer an academic idea for millions once numbered in the middle classes? Were they disenchanted and then radicalised by the near impossibility of their children achieving the American dream?
Two contributions to our national conversation this week suggest that the Irish dream is in as much jeopardy as the American dream. Both focused on this society’s ongoing failure to confront the issues that make home ownership or even rental such a disproportionate, life-greying burden.
The first was the report that Government ignored warnings that a €75m housing scheme would “would drive up house prices”. Officials warned a shared equity scheme would increase house prices without helping supply. As is all too often the case in these half-cocked interventions, the beneficiaries are not those the scheme is designed to help.
The second intervention came from another official — Dublin City Council’s head of housing, Brendan Kenny — who warned that affordable and cost rental housing will not be viable in Dublin unless the State subsidy is doubled. Mr Kenny said a €50,000 grant might be “fine for Leitrim” but would be entirely insufficient for Dublin. That neither of these warnings came from radical activists must add weight to the alarms sounded.
It is, sadly, more than likely that our politicians, just as Trump’s predecessors did, will ignore these warnings and facilitate the forces that have turned so many Americans into human flotsam and jetsam. That process is already well under way, so it would be delusional not to anticipate similar outcomes. Rabbits, headlights etc.