It Couldn’t Happen Here!

On the day of Donald Trump's inauguration as the 45th President of the USA a piece from Tommy McKearney, written for Socialist Voice,  suggests that the Trumpian victory did not just drop from the skies.

An incredibly wealthy businessman without any experience as an elected representative but full of bluster and with a huge penchant for self-promotion wins the highest office in the land.

It might happen in the United States, or Italy, but surely it couldn’t possibly happen here? When all is said and done, aren’t we Irish a sensible people, with our feet planted firmly in the political centre?

Anyone questioning this self-serving consensus would be advised to look at how Fianna Fáil has stepped in to shore up the middle ground. Isn’t Mícheál Martin getting ready to jettison his election manifesto and vote for water tax, just to keep its one-time adversary, Fine Gael, in office?

Nevertheless, there are those who refuse to follow the received wisdom and who point to a view widely touted a few years ago. Influential elements were suggesting that a certain Irish entrepreneur who owns a large fleet of aircraft would make a fine Taoiseach. He had a proven record in business, the story went, having turned round a failing company and made his planes fly on time while simultaneously putting manners on those nasty trade unions. Not only that but he was also a good judge of horseflesh.

However, that was a few years ago, and the Government and media tell us that we are recovering from the financial crash and economic crisis. So maybe there is no longer an opening for an authoritarian businessman-Taoiseach, with the attendant risk of his elevation to high office opening the door to the far right.

For obvious reasons, the current establishment find it expedient to run with this more mellow view. Those outside the ruling elite, though, cannot afford to be so complacent. Donald Trump’s victory in the United States is indicative of a wider global trend and one that sooner or later will have an impact on Ireland.

While it is true that the Democrat Party’s choice of candidate played a part in the outcome, this is far from being the only reason for the Republican Party’s success. Nor, indeed, can the contest for the White House be viewed purely within its domestic context. What we are seeing today in the United States (and also throughout the European Union) has been at least forty years in the making. At the root of this process is, of course, the economic determinant, but, as always, this is shaped by existing circumstances.

Technological change and decolonisation made the social-democratic consensus in western Europe and North America after the Second World War impossible to sustain without conceding permanent advantage to working people. Capitalism responded from the late 1970s onwards with right-wing politicians ramming through neo-liberalism.

Backed by a well-financed propaganda machine, and deliberately pitching a carefully crafted message designed to split working-class communities, Europe and North America experienced the working out of a brutal class war, led by such politicians as Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and Helmut Kohl.

For over a decade there was an incessant attack on practically every institution or service of value to the working class. Trade unions were emasculated, social welfare safety-nets were undermined, and essential communal resources were privatised.

Eventually this crude and blunt assault became unsustainable. As the reality of the policy became apparent and increasingly intolerable, the electorate sought change at the ballot box.

Recognising the discontent among working-class communities, right-wing social democrats took advantage and began offering a programme that appeared to address these difficulties but was in effect doing no more than creating an economic mirage. Employing what the Clinton political machine described as triangulation,¹ this wave of politicians sought to appease working-class communities while simultaneously implementing business-friendly policies. In essence they were merely strengthening and embedding essential aspects of the neo-liberal agenda.

This policy of “a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down” was practised enthusiastically by New Labour in Britain, the Socialist Party in France, the Social-Democratic Party in Germany, Clinton-Obama Democrats in the United States, and of course the Labour Party in Ireland.

It is distressing but hardly surprising, therefore, that some within the working class were and remain so angry, disillusioned and misguided that they have been lured by the Sirens calling from the far right. And this has created the volatile circumstances in which we find ourselves today—a situation highlighted recently by Robert Griffiths, writing in the Morning Star, when he said that “the world is entering its most dangerous phase since imperialism proclaimed eternal victory over the Soviet Union and socialism in the early 1990s.”²

The danger arises from the fact that the economic strategy being advocated by Donald Trump (and others emulating his strategy) cannot rectify the problems faced by many working people as they experience unemployment, growing inequality, inadequate income, and a decline into poverty. When faced eventually with the inevitable failure of their ill-conceived economic policies, and with the subsequent loss of support among society’s disenchanted, there is a real risk that right-wing populists may be tempted to opt for war.

Confronted with this very real possibility, it is important not to allow the right wing of social democracy to confuse the issue by advocating a return to their so-called safe haven of the status quo. Their apologists will issue calls to support what they describe as the “stabilising influence” of NATO and the EU’s common security and defence policy and will intensify demands for greater EU integration and the reintroduction of “social partnership,” among other equally futile initiatives.

This programme failed before and will fail again. Let’s be clear, though: social democracy is not the enemy. What it does, however, is hinder the promotion of a clear analysis and the provision of a viable economic alternative; it cannot, therefore, challenge the evils of capitalism.

The answer to the threat posed by the right lies in building an economic system that will provide working people with a fair and equal share of the wealth this world can produce—a system through which working people have access to adequate food and heating, decent housing, a proper health service and educational facilities, protection for the young and the elderly, time to relax, and an opportunity to enjoy the gifts of culture.

In such a society, reality TV performers, beer-swilling Brexiteers or lunatic and half-wit chief executives will find few supporters and pose little threat to humanity.

Only socialism can deliver such a society; and while the right wing may appear to have an advantage at present, the working class is stronger still. We have seen examples of this with the great movement against water taxes in Ireland, the millions who have rallied on the Continent against TTIP, and the outpouring of grief at the death of Fidel Castro.

We need to remain vigilant, of course, but must also remain firm advocates of socialism and continue to work towards that end.

1. See Richard Moser, “The politics of triangulation,” Counterpunch, 13 May 2016.
2. Robert Griffiths, “How can we maximise the communist contribution to the class struggle?” Morning Star, 19 November 2016.


  1. I only wish we could have some of this articulation reach the same amount of people as the Centre right propaganda can command.If we live in times of Democracy why can the merits of all constructive political ideology not reach the masses? The answer as many of us know is state and Capitalist controlled media and a denunciation of views of the left.

    If we could stop the demonization of people who struggle for social change in our society (an example seen this week with the attack on the Unite Trade Union by state media) and actually show the current and next generation the balance of political ideology, I think the Left would rise to power and society would have its first opportunity here to prosper for the worker and the more vulnerable.

    We are in no way insular to the effects of the presidential result in the US. The economic and social impact may reach us here with us so reliant on American Multi-national companies while we ignore and forfeit our own natural resources. If we became more self sufficient and less entangled in the European web of dependency we could assert ourselves economically to all our neighbours in ways similar to Norway and Iceland.

    We live in such a hypocritical island, James Connolly was a patriot hero but Socialists of today are pariahs? Nothing has changed. If James Connolly was here today he would be treated like Joe Higgins was in the Dail.

    Now is the time to galvanize the left, we are on the cusp of change with so many pieces of the jigsaw all open now to be fitted together. The North is in Vacuum awaiting election and awaiting a possible hard Brexit the South has a popular opposition against the ruling political elite in Anti Austerity protest with one of the weakest Governments since partition in power, the Trump effect could aid this too.

    We need to break the Media strangle hold and give the people informed choice because so far unless you seek the truth you will be fed lies. So I propose Tommy McKearney gets a daily column in the Irish Independent and Anthony Mcintyre replaces George Hook in Newstalk just for perspective. Then maybe we are more protected from the threat of an airline owner taking over, The idea of such is no more absurd than setting up a "Bad Bank" to fix a banking crisis by guess what being a very bad Bank and selling assets back to the original debtors the same right wing elite that support the parties of power.

  2. My answer to 'can it happen here' is yes, however, it, the status quo, does not need a guru, prophet or saviour at the moment since the ultra right are in control with Fine Gael aka the Bilderberg group or Fianna Fail, the Galway Tent corporate sponsor outfit. Remember Declan Ganley, he almost did it but for the intervention of McGuinness. The right wing establishment here can safely hold on to the 'saviour' card for another day when needed.

    I can not agree with the touch of optimism or whether socialism (whatever that is) is the answer. More and more I am inclined to anarchism or is there such a thing as republican/anarchism. I feel the left are republican left are so fractious that there will be no alternative for some time.

    I am not too keen about the description of 'Brexiteers' as beer swilling etc because I would lump myself in there somewhere, especially anti EU.

    When talking about media and alternative media, there is a case for this but it can have a double edge sword. It would depend on who has control of it and whether there is freedom of speech. I hear rumours about Unite starting up such a channel in Ireland. My initial thoughts of that bombshell were of the Educational Officer and then picturing Lord Hau Hau. There never has and never will be freedom of speech there, only the baying of well-heeled, doctrinaire philanderer and for want of the right word, a somewhat imperialist organisation backed by the gnashing of their coteries masquerading as champions of the working class.

    What we do badly need is an open critical investigation of left politics Ireland, trade unionism and republicism. A who's who for a start would be very handy. Now who would do that impartially. Just because one may be a trade unionist, it does not necessarily follow that they are working class or socialist or democratic or even progressive.

  3. Well-intentioned lovers of their fellowman need to wake up and abandon this Socialist utopianism. Has there ever been a socialist State that worked for the workers? As far as I can see, they end up as bankrupt Statist dictatorships or merely bankrupt. They are the alter ego of doctrinaire Capitalism, bringing similar misery.

    IMHO, a Socialism or Capitalism muzzled by Constitutional Liberty and Well&Workfare protections is the best we can hope for.

  4. The point is, wolfsbane, that socialism at least appeals to the working class. In recent years capitalism has given us banking bail outs, private central banks usury fraud, zero hour contracts etc. While our Christian capitalism system unloads such policies upon us people have little choice but to embrace socialism or the far right. Unless you have a more enlightened alternative.

  5. The Left has collapsed in Europe, I think at last count only 4 Govts could vaguely be called socialist. This has been a self inflicted wound, most peoples experience of interacting with socialists/progressives has been when their speech has been policed in some way or another.If in the days of yore it was correct to say the Facsists were a razor in the hand of the state to take to the workers and their organisations, it must be true now that the progressives are now the razor for the state in terms of the workers thoughts and expressions.Beating up disables women who go the Trump inaguration is particular low point, I point this out as the whole story needs to be told before an accuarate assesment between competing ideas can had.

  6. Wolfie

    the type of socialists you refer to are as likely to abandon their Utopian idealisations as fundamental Chrsitians are to let go of their dystopian ideas about threats of the fires of hell and eternal damnation.

    I often wonder if these types of ideation, and here I include also those of Irish Republicans, are symptomatic of a failed struggle to find meaning in more grounded interpretations of how life (and death) really works. It seems to me as if they fantasise in the realm of 'someday ... one-day' rather than learning to acquire the existential and troublesome knack of accepting life on life's terms (its finite and its not always fair).

    Do such idealists lack the ability to be contentedly discontent in the momentary here and now or is it that they enjoy being discontent just too much?

    Hard to figure ... maybe its a bit of both.

  7. Hj, what do you mean by idealists? For arguments sake if someone is in an unjust work situation and they organise against their employers are they utopia chasers or just people who don't like being exploited? While it's hard to argue with your negative summing up of revolutionary movements your conclusion, if am interpreting it correctly, is to accept the status quo and shut up. That can't be healthy

  8. David H

    sure, its not always healthy to roll over. Nor is it always healthy to 'suck it up'. Yet, I wouldn't exclude the possibility that on occasion these are healthy and wholesome responses too.

    But let me clarify with a true story from my own life:

    When I first met the woman I currently live with she used often annoyingly reply to my entrenched positions with the phrase "every adult is a broken-hearted idealist".
    With time and hindsight I now understand she was essentially saying that the process of maturation from juvenile idealism to adulthood requires facing up to and learning to effectively and maturely deal with the vicissitudes that life inevitably presents. If we are to be effective in the world we must carefully and considerately choose the battles we fight. In that context we'd be well advised to only go down avenues that have probable and realistic chances of getting us to our desired destination. And ill-advised when we choose routes that are unrealistic and unachievable.

    Mastering such distinctions may not be easy ... and yet, in my opinion, its truly worth the effort. One ought not place ideals over and above the practical considerations and implications of our actions. We ought not abnegate cause and effect when it comes to our own responses when facing vicissitude and injustice. People you know David when pursuing action ought let it be measured with constraint, responsibility and consideration.

  9. H.j, Thought provoking reply, thanks. Though i've difficulty with some of it, for example, how do you know for sure which fights are winnable and which are not? The American colonialists uprising against Britian would have been seen as hopleless, i imagine. It's a thorny problem trying to be pragmatic and principled, maybe impossible. Having said that I think I know where your coming from

  10. David H

    indeed fair comment, knowing when to advance or when to tactically retreat is always going to be a challenge ... more so if one looks for certainty ("know for sure").

    The best one can do is make the most informed and cool-headed choice one can based on the facts, insofar as one can ascertain them, rather than re-act from a poorly informed state of heightened emotion.

    If still in doubt consult Wolfie's great woofter!!!!

    'Dog grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.
    Courage to change the things I can,
    And the wisdom to know the difference'.

  11. David Higgins said...
    'The point is, wolfsbane, that socialism at least appeals to the working class. In recent years capitalism has given us banking bail outs, private central banks usury fraud, zero hour contracts etc. While our Christian capitalism system unloads such policies upon us people have little choice but to embrace socialism or the far right. Unless you have a more enlightened alternative.'

    A truly compassionate conservatism that puts manners on capitalism, or a truly liberal socialism that puts manners on socialism - either would work for me. What we have now is not Christian capitalism, but Mammon capitalism.

    Sorry for delay in reply - my new gmail has split mails into categories, and I assumed what I saw was all there was.