WHEN Yip Harbug — real name Isidore Hochberg — and Harold Arlen wrote ‘Over the Rainbow’ for The Wizard of Oz in 1939 they were writing about America.
They celebrated the sanctuary and hope that country offered to the world’s tired, poor, huddled masses. The possibilities offered by America were so great that shorthand was needed — The American Dream became the life map for the world’s forlorn. Millions, including countless thousands of Irish people, invested their life’s blood in that country so their children might walk tall and live lives better than theirs.
Harburg was the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants and grew up in a Yiddish-speaking, Orthodox Jewish home in New York. Arlen was Jewish as well. His family came from Lithuania so, in the dark days of 1939, they would have had a sharp appreciation of how fate might have treated them very differently had their families not escaped to America.
Their deceptively simple song, voted song of the 20th century, is a hymn to optimism, to the belief that our better angels can and will prevail. Though the American hegemony of the last century was based on hard power without the soft power behind it, without the soft power celebrated by Harbug and Arlen it would have been, as it occasionally was, a travesty without moral integrity. It would have been something close to piracy.
By announcing that America will no longer participate in the Paris climate accord President Donald Trump has not only rejected science and defied the civilised world, he has surrendered the moral authority America once enjoyed. He has broken the trust cherished by Harbug and Arlen and millions like them. He has, as former Irish President Mary Robinson pointed out once his back-to-the-dark-ages announcement was made, joined America to the world’s rogue nations. By tying in his bizarre, ignorant way trying to “Make America Great Again” he runs the risk of turning the land of the free, the home of the brave into a pariah state. That he and his immediate circle and, sadly, some of those who voted for him, will rejoice that they are forcefully criticised by the great majority of the world’s democracies — and particularly by Chancellor Angela Merkel — shows just how far along that road they are. Trump may be America’s president but he is becoming the world’s problem, a tragedy recognised by those who have pledged to continue to combat global warming. Mrs Merkel said Trump “can’t and won’t stop all those of us who feel obliged to protect the planet”. Li Keqiang, the Chinese premier, joined European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker in a show of solidarity at an EU-China summit in Brussels. They emphasised the importance of continued international cooperation to tackle global warming.
Emmanuel Macron, the French president, said in an unprecedented English-language speech from the Elysée Palace, that Trump had made a mistake. “Wherever we live, whoever we are, we all share the same responsibility: make our planet great again,” he warned.
It is unfortunate too that Irish criticism of Trump must acknowledge our very poor record in implementing measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We, almost unbelievably, produce more greenhouse gases than the 400,000,000 poorest people on earth. Be that as it may, Trump has crossed a Rubicon and the world’s malign forces are already planning how best to exploit the opportunities his lunacy offers.
In November 2020, America will elect a new president. Those responsible for selecting candidates — Republican or Democratic — have a responsibility far greater than any of their predecessors, and not just for America. Let us wish them God speed and hope that by then there is still a place where “blue birds fly”.
Thursday was a bad day for America, but a terribly sad day for the world, especially countries like ours whose relationship with America was always so positive.
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