At first sight, the connections between Brexit and Donald Trump are not so apparent. However, look at it from an Irish perspective and one link becomes very clear: Irish people who hate and fear the Republican presidential candidate are almost invariably the same who were appalled and outraged at the British vote to leave the EU.
Why should this be? Well, we can speculate about the fears of rising nationalism or concerns about free trade. Internationally, that may be true. But in the Irish context, the hostility to Trump and Brexit is more of a childlike refusal to accept that things are changing and there’s nothing that can be done about it.
Who can forget Sir Bob Geldof’s Thames flotilla of yachts and floating gin-palaces during the Brexit campaign, when he and his crew of Hooray Henrys’ jeered and flicked ‘V’ signs at hard-working Cornish fishermen who were protesting Brussels’ stranglehold on their livelihoods? The reaction from ordinary working people in the UK was one of disgust, and his stunt may well have helped swing the result away from ‘Remain’. But was there a similar outcry at his behaviour from his native Dublin? Not really.
From the unprecedented public criticism of a nominee for US President – twice – by Enda Kenny in the Dáil, to the Tanaiste and other senior Fine Gael parliamentarians ostentatiously attending the Democrat convention while ignoring the Republican gathering, the response of ‘Official’ Ireland to what they see as unwelcome change has been almost gratuitous in its tribalism.
The concerted virtue-signalling at the highest level of the State has been in lockstep with that on social media, where the need to prove oneself liberal, hip and progressive is at obsessive levels. The over-riding aim appears to be to “keep up with the Jones’.” If the Jones’ are the Western liberal elite rather than the show-offs next door.
Perhaps none of this should be surprising. The pent-up feelings of inferiority and resentment from the isolated and penurious de Valera years, have been venting themselves in a dam-burst of reaction for at least a decade, if not longer. Lobbyists who push for radical social change have found an open door at Government Buildings, while large parts of the media revel in the role of campaigners for a ‘New Left’ agenda.
Yet is this healthy? Is it even in the national interest?
When we see the open partisanship towards Hillary Clinton and the Democrats, so prevalent now among Irish opinion leaders, we should also remember that this country is one of the most dependent in the world on foreign direct investment, with some of the most important companies being American in origin. Is it at all wise to have high-profile ministers like Simon Harris and Leo Varadkar running around telling everyone how much they dislike Donald Trump and, by implication, the Republicans, when Trump has made no secret of his wish to punish countries that he believes are undercutting America with corporate tax rates and other incentives?
There is also a worrying blindness as to the sea-change in public opinion that is taking place across the developed world. While Irish society is moving towards the full embrace of political correctness and identity politics, Europe, America, and large parts of Asia are rejecting the neo-leftist agenda; rediscovering the virtues of their own customs within sovereign nation states. Ironically, while many of us believe that we are now leaders of the liberal mainstream, we are actually outriders internationally, becoming dangerously isolated.
Previous Irish governments were strictly neutral in American elections for good reason. Going out of your way to antagonise the potential Leader of the Free World and the people who voted for them, is a quick way into trouble for a small, trade-dependent country like ours. Likewise, the Taoiseach’s intervention in favour of a Remain vote in the UK, along with ministers and other public figures, did nothing to sway the result and may even have opened the door to future foreign interference in our own ballots. Worse still, it identified this country with the losing side.
Tempting as it may be for officials and public to take sides in foreign elections and referendums in neighbouring states, there is just too much to lose in backing the wrong horse. We elect our leaders to be wise guardians of the Irish national interest, not to be acting like peer-pressured teenagers who will say anything to be approved by the coolest kids in class. It’s about time they started remembering that.