FERGUS FINLAY: The thing that has become clear is how broken America is

Winning won’t be enough tonight, because the thing that has become clear is how broken America is, writes Fergus Finlay

I have to admit it. Normally a gregarious, outgoing chap, I prefer, if the truth be told, to watch rugby alone. I want to sit hunched in front of the telly, concentrating hard on every movement of the ball. My wife and daughters probably know more about the game than I do. They didn’t come to it 50 years ago and they don’t have some of the things imprinted on their souls that I have – Mike Gibson’s incredible dummy against England in his very first match, Ginger McLoughlin’s try in Twickenham – that sort of thing.

But they’re students. They read and they follow avidly. Unlike me they were in the Millennium Stadium when Munster, led by Anthony Foley, beat Biarritz. Of course, I was in Thomond Park in 1978, something I never let them forget.

But they like to talk during matches. My missus gets so nervous that she can never believe we’re actually going to do it, and she’s always expecting things to slip away. My daughters discuss, comment, predict, analyse – while I sit there hunched up, trying to let nothing get between me and the movement of the ball.

But not on Saturday night. The vagaries of modern television are such that it seems you’re never going to have the right package in future to be able to follow Ireland’s rugby fortunes. That in itself is a disgrace – whatever about commercial sport, there surely ought to be an absolute principle that when the country is playing at international level, the match is available to everyone who has paid a TV licence.

It forced us all to squeeze into a packed pub and watch the entire game on a giant screen. The noise and the atmosphere was such that you couldn’t hear the commentary (I didn’t recognise Joey Carbery when he came on – I’ll never make that mistake again – and had to ask the people around me who he was).

But I admit it — the atmosphere at the end made it entirely worthwhile. The tension in the last ten minutes, followed by the gasp when Heaslip broke away from the scrum and the roar when Henshaw picked a perfect, training ground line to power over for the winning try, was immense. We hadn’t just beaten the All Blacks – we had beaten them the way they beat everyone else.

The thing that has become clear is how broken America is

(It’s one of the great things about sport, isn’t it. You’re allowed to say “we”. It’s only the players on the field who have to endure the bone-crunching tackles and the torn ligaments. But the rest of us are allowed to be part of it in a way that’s quite unique.) In 1978, the All Blacks never got near Munster. But in every other match I’ve even seen between Ireland and the All-Blacks (I’m ashamed to say I never saw the Irish women beat them), a big lead was never enough. Even when they were behind, once they started to come back at us they were relentless. And we were never able to resist.

That was the difference on Saturday night. When it looked like we couldn’t possibly hang on, the Irish team found another gear.

And that’s what’s going to happen today too. If there’s a parallel between last Saturday night’s match and the US election, it’s this. Hillary Clinton established a big lead, but for the last couple of weeks has been hanging on grimly. We’re in the last five minutes of an absorbing battle, and the better team is going to win in the end. She will win both the popular vote and in the American electoral college.

I’ll be returning to my usual form too, hunched in front of the television for as long as it takes. I probably won’t have any difficulty persuading the room around me to stay quiet, since my entire family thinks I’m mad to be staying up all night. But sometimes you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.

The narrative created in this election has been astonishing. If you watch Fox News, you won’t have been able to watch a single bulletin in the last six weeks or so that doesn’t mention the word “e-mail”. Even though so far there isn’t a shred of evidence of anything illegal, the controversy surrounding her ill-advised use of a private e-mail server has been used relentlessly to paint a picture of an entirely corrupt politician. The Clinton Foundation, which has been independently evaluated as a force for good, has also been used again and again, with the same relentlessness, to paint a similar picture of corruption.

All of that was added to in the last couple of weeks by the statement from the head of the FBI that he was effectively re-opening his investigation into Hillary’s emails. That statement was effusively welcomed by Donald Trump, who announced that the Head of the FBI had recovered his own and the Agency’s reputation.

The thing that has become clear is how broken America is

Now, at virtually the last minute, the FBI has said – surprise surprise – that they have found no wrongdoing in the latest batch of e-mails. Trump has responded by saying she’s being protected by a rigged system.

It’s been like this for Hillary Clinton all her political life. She’s been accused of all sorts of things, and investigated again and again, usually on an utterly partisan basis. Every time, she has been exonerated. And the moment she’s exonerated from one thing, they start something else.

That’s what has enabled Trump to attach the label “crooked” to Clinton – not because she’s ever been found guilty of anything, because she hasn’t, but because an image has been created through endless prosecution of fanciful theories. And it has ensured that a cloud has hung over her that she simply cannot shake off.

I cannot think of another politician in the world who, if they had amassed the track record Hillary Clinton has, wouldn’t be treated with respect. And yet the last time I wrote about her character, I got all sorts of messages about her politics, usually from people who despise some of the stands she has taken. I don’t agree with all of her politics either, but that doesn’t stop me recognising that she is, in essence, an honest politician with a great many qualities of leadership. She may not have the same skill at generating empathy with a crowd that her husband did, but she’s a listener and a learner.

Winning won’t be enough tonight, because the thing that has become really clear in this election is how broken America is. There are no circumstances, other than a deeply, viciously polarised politics, that would allow someone like Donald Trump to survive politically, and even still pose a threat, after all we have learned about him.

Leading America out of this bitterly divided mess will require enormous resources of skill, patience, and judgment. They may not be winning qualities in a noisy election, but they are precisely the qualities that America needs in the next four years. And she has them in abundance. That’s why I’ll be sitting down tonight, all night long, just as confident as I was on Saturday night. But, to be honest, just as tense too. This one really matters.

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