Trumpupence.

The american journalist Edward Murrow once said ‘Our major obligation is not to mistake slogans for solutions’. On caps, t-shirts, jumpers and placards throughout this presidential campaign four little words have come to define the election. ‘Make America Great Again’. Millions of ordinary, decent americans have rallied behind one man and four words. Misguidedly, you may argue. But when the only viable alternative is Hillary Clinton, pawn of the establishment, white house clone and stage-managed careerist, many have opted for the toupee, however outrageous and outlandish his soundbytes.

In a way, Trump fits in with the whole american underdog psyche. It ain’t over till it’s over. First they said said he couldn’t run. He did. Then they said he couldn’t win the republican nomination. He did. Now they say he can’t take the white house. He may well. The elementary mistake that people are making with the Trump phenomenon is to assume that he himself has whipped up all this anger and discontent amongst working-class people. This is not true. The fact is this anger had been boiling under the surface for years. Long before Obama. Before 9/11 even. What Trump has done so effectively is bring this long-felt irritation with the political system to the surface, in a quite spectacular way.

Donald Trump is not the focal point of a racist underbelly in american society. He is the symbol of a cry for help from millions of poorer americans who feel totally left behind by an out of touch elite on Capitol Hill. They feel they are not being listened to and that politics has stopped working for them. This anger against mainstream politics is sweeping not just the United States but the west as a whole. We have already seen it in Britain with UKIP and then the Brexit vote. It’s happened in Greece with Syriza. It’s happening in Spain with Podemos. France with the Front Nationale. The Netherlands with Geert Wilders and the Freedom Party. Their standards of living in terminal decline, alongside knowing their views are held in total contempt by their rulers, people are rising up against big banks, against corporations and against big government. For many people in America, they feel politics is run by a remote, detached and unaccountable clique. It’s all about Hillary, Barack and Bill….well what about them?

The focus of much of their anger has been directed at the high levels of immigration from South America, particularly Mexico, in the southern states. Trump talks tough on crime and wants to build walls. Blind anger does not yield the solutions they crave or the changes they desire. But when they are constantly, glibly dismissed, what alternative do they have but to raise their voices?

Many of us here in europe do not live in areas of high immigration and therefore do not experience some of the straining effects it can have. Undercutting of wages, immense strain on public services and infrastructure and difficulties in integration. I should stress at this point that I am not myself at all opposed to immigration. I’m not for a solitary second trying to suggest that the vast, vast majority of immigrants are anything other than law-abiding, diligent, hard-working people who come to our and america’s shores with so much entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic. They make a hugely valid and substantial contribution economically, culturally and socially. I myself come from a family of immigrants. My mother left Ireland for London in the 80’s in search of a better life. There she met my father, who himself had had to leave Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the North in search of the same dream. Most who seek to come to america, regardless of colour, class or creed share the same goal. But I fail to see the issue in people having to apply to work in a country, based on the skills that that country needs at that time.

But for Hillary Clinton and her ardent supporters to dismiss those who voice concerns about immigration as semi-evolved, illiterate racist buffoons may get her many retweets and likes on twitter, adulation amongst biased media commentators and raucous cheers at campaign rallies, but it only adds fuel to the fire of disenchantment. As we saw with the working class, Labour vote in northern England voting overwhelmingly to leave the European union, people do not take too kindly to having their arguments and concerns dismissed out of hand with screams of ‘that’s racist’ and ‘that’s offensive’ by wealthy people who don’t have to live with the real consequences of unrestricted, mass immigration on an unprecedented scale.

Unless people begin to look at and try to understand the reasons as to why people are flocking to this golden-haired, real-estate mogul, this deep division and bitter resentment will only continue, long after this election, whoever the victor. Some feel as if they have nothing to lose by voting for the former apprentice star. Whilst many liberals wrap themselves up in a little electronic bubble on social media, they forget millions upon millions do not share their progressive, liberal consensus. We on the left must realise that we do not have a monopoly on compassion and decency. Americans and those on the opposite end of the political spectrum to us are perfectly decent, normal and patriotic people. Their views are not any less legitimate or unacceptable than ours. Those who vote Trump are not a gang of crazed, pitchfork-wielding rednecks who hate foreigners. They are, in the main, hard-working, proud and kind people. To demonise them uniformly in this way fails to grasp the pull Trump has. 

National identity, patriotism and culture are what really matters to many hard-pressed americans. They feel an erosion of their national identity is changing their communities out of all recognition from the places in which the grew up and loved. It takes time for immigrants to become integrated into new communities. Learning the language, getting used to societal norms and etiquettes takes time. Diatribes about GDP numbers, dubious unemployment figures and relentless cheerleading from know-it-all loud mouths in New York and Washington about how great things are, and have been under Obama, only drive the wedge of division further into the bedrock of american society.

Metropolitan liberal trendies in capital cities fail to grasp that immigration, alongside huge concerns about terrorism, particularly from militant islam, are legitimate concerns. America is still reeling, all these years later, from the horrifying events of september 11th 2001. People are scared. They want action. They want prevention. Striking the balance between an open and fair immigration system, a culture of inclusion and welcome for immigrants and a screening process to root out those who seek to divide and destroy is immensely difficult. But Hillary’s solution of pretending there is no issues at all attached to immigration and that americans shouldn’t worry about militant islam, and that those who question are all disgusting racists, is actually driving the kind of division in communities that Trump’s opponents fear he will cause should he take the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue tomorrow.

Straight after the financial crisis of 2008, people wanted sturdy government and leaders that were going to stabilise the situation. Now that we seem to have passed this crisis, the appetite for remedy and reform is boiling. As the rich get richer, lectures about necessary cuts, rhetoric about prudence and patter about how they all in this together from wealthy congresspeople and senators in Washington, doesn’t bode well with the people who bore the brunt of the crash.

All that said, Donald Trump alone is not the answer. As a proud son, brother and boyfriend his crude words on women horrified me. (Somehow, he managed to negotiate that scandal…perhaps memories Hillary’s treatment of Monica Lewinski after her affair with her husband still resonates with people).  His calls on an outright ban on muslims entering the United States is absurd and pretty disgusting. His refusal to pursue some form of gun control legislation make further mass murders like Sandy Hook and Orlando inevitable. The bullying and downright racist behaviour of some of his supporters at campaign rallies is deplorable. But him winning tomorrow may be the rocket that the smug, self-satisfied elite need to start listening, start reforming and start making america truly great again. 

Ireland’s Noxious Political System

If you walked into a shop and were offered reams of goods you did not want, would you buy any of them? No of course not, and why should you? The same applies to voting, why should you be shamed into voting for people who do not represent at least some of your views, beliefs or principles?

Ireland is a much better place today than it was when I was born in the early 1990s. Freedom to live as one so chooses is no longer an aspiration but a reality. We are much more open and tolerant, and the vast majority of us enjoy a higher standard of living.

As a proud son, brother and boyfriend, I’ve also come to appreciate how much feminism has achieved. Not just within my lifetime, but in society as a whole. Boys and girls growing up today have far better life chances because of greater equality. There’s been a revolution in attitudes towards LGBT people, immigrants arriving at our shores to better themselves, disabled people. What was once derided as “political correctness,” gone mad, we now recognize as basic good manners.

Our country is better in so many ways, but with one notable and integral exception, how we do politics. Our government is no longer accountable to the Dail, and the Dail no longer answers, in any meaningful sense of the word, to the people. Most laws made in Republic of Ireland this year originate in the European Union, a remote, unaccountable bureaucracy with zero democratic legitimacy.

The very people who ought to make the laws of the land, TD’s, mostly sit for so-called safe seats. This means that they represent districts that will never realistically change hands between parties at an election. Since voters have no power to recall them, TD’s answer only to their peers and superiors.

Instead of using open primaries to select prospective parliamentary candidates for seats, the various party hierarchies parachute in those whom they favor. Politics has become an exclusive game played by insiders, little more than a competition between two or three cliques, at the top of the Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour Parties, to decide who sits on the government benches.

In 2011, Fine Gael promised to change all this. In five years of governing, this party has demonstrated again and again that it was not serious about political reform. It was this failure to deliver meaningful political change that drove me, and many other people my age, to lose interest in politics. 

Government by clique is not just a bad way to do politics but a shoddy way to run a country. People sense it, the lack of enthusiasm for tomorrow’s election has been fueled by contempt for smug, self-satisfied Leinster House.

Without choice and competition in politics, there is no incentive to change and little public policy innovation. Despite the most serious banking crisis in modern times, there has been little reform, only tinkering. The regulators who presided over the disaster have actually been handed more powers.

Nothing ever seems to get done, everything is buried in excessively bureaucratic process under the guise of ‘accountability’. All we get is report after report, and commission after commission, it is a paralysis of perpetual analysis. Reactionary announcements after yet another scandal is all that happens, but no long lasting and useful change ever seems to occur. Is this at all surprising? The mainstream parties are essentially rump, with no principles or objectives apart from being in office.

I am an optimist about the challenges that we face here in Ireland: a mountain of public debt, the need to improve health care, the homeless crisis, the need to recalibrate our housing policy and the strive to eradicate stigma surrounding mental health. We can find answers to these problems, but only if government is made accountable to Parliament, and Parliament is accountable to the people.

Until a party is established that believes in direct democracy  and far-reaching political reform, many of my generation will still favour ‘none of the above’. Parties can no longer be the sole property of small cliques.

Politics has become so far detached from the lives of most ordinary people, many could not name their local TD. They speak in a pseudo-language that is difficult to understand, they obsess and bleat endlessly about issues which do not affect most members of the population. For them, politics is all about people like them. Interchangeable, stage-managed careerists playing the political game for their own selfish ends. It’s all about Enda, Michael and Joan. Well what about us?

“Government of the people, by the people, for the people,” said Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg. Those were not, in fact, his own words: The 16th president of the United States was echoing John Wycliffe, the 14th-century translator of the English Bible.

Wycliffe lived during a time of extraordinary change. Technology, in the form of printing, was challenging the authority of established elites. Priests and princes were losing their position in the hierarchies across much of Europe. So, too, in our own time. The Internet is redefining the relationship between the governed and the governing. The former are no longer going to be willing to take at face value the presumptions of the latter.

Not voting is not an angry, populist rejection of the modern world. Modernity has raised the people’s expectations of how much better things could be.

 

A new dawn?

A summer, which according to Mike Ashley, will not be devoid of activity at Newcastle United began on Tuesday with the news that interim manager John Carver and assistant, Steve Stone had left the club. Former England manager Steve McClaren was confirmed as new Head coach (not manager, but we’ll come to that later) on Wednesday. Rumours his geordie accent is already almost as broad of Paul Gascoigne’s have yet to be confirmed.

The jury is very much out on whether this is a step forward for the club with this appointment. Similar to the reception that greeted Alan Pardew (who was relegated with Charlton Athletic), many will point to two of Mclaren’s most notable failures. Namely, those at Wolfsburg (a win percentage of just 29%) and Nottingham Forest (23% win percentage). It’s a simple statement of fact that all managerial appointments are a risk and that the vast majority of managers have failures. Brian Clough was sacked by Leeds United after just 44 days. Alex Ferguson came very close to dismissal at Manchester United in 1989. To some of our fans it seems anything Less than Jose Mourinho is a failure.

A quick glance at various fans forums and many are lambasting our new boss for his comment about Newcastle striving to be back among ‘europe’s elite’. This veneer of hypocrisy reigns true amongst many of our fans. If McClaren had been much more measured in his remarks, he would have been lambasted for the apparent lack of ambition that has been symptomatic of the Ashley reign. McClaren has achieved much success. He brought Middlesbrough to league cup glory in 2004 (still the club’s only major trophy to date) and the 2008 Uefa cup final. He won the Dutch league title with Twente (the club’s only league title ever to date). Both no mean feats with limited resources. It is important to note that at Middlesbrough, McClaren has a very supportive chairman in Steve Gibson to rely upon during more testing times.

I notice the former ‘Pardew Out’ brigade all but vanished once the glaringly obvious inadequacy of John Carver became apparent. Ludicrously, many have now tried to claim they only wanted Pardew to depart on the assumption that Carver was not to be the replacement. This is simply not true and sadly indicative of the ‘what do want? We don’t know! When do we want it? NOW!?’ megaphone shouting, union picket line mentality of many of our supporters. Whilst their passion and unconditional love for the club is to be commended, it must be directed into causes that have the potential to drive real change for our club (the boycotts for example).

Some of the delusional and idealistic visions are beyond all proportionality and realism. Older observers will point to times past when the club was in much a similar position (See the Gordon McKeag years). Yes, Kevin Keegan wowed us all and surpassed our wildest expectations of achievement, but it is highly unlikely any manager could replicate this under the current regime. Wouldn’t we all kill for a 5th place finish now? (Didn’t someone achieve that for us not so long ago?). The question is, and always will be, what manager better than Pardew, and now Mclaren, would have realistically worked under a demonstrably unreliable dictator such as Mike Ashley?

This same question can also be applied to Mike Ashley. Do we really want anything but Ashley? Remember the profligate waste that went on under Freddy Shepherd. A man who ‘bleeds black and white blood’ paid himself a handsome salary, all the while sneering at fans who bought replica shirts, to bring the club the brink of total financial oblivion.

One thinks of the plight of Leeds United, the most stark example in english football of how over ambition and lack of financial prudence can have dire and far reaching consequences for a football club. The hated Ken Bates discarded, fans expectations rocketed with the takeover firstly by GFH finance then later by Massimo Cellino. 12 months and 4 managers since Cellino’s arrival, the club is arguably in a much worse position now than when Bates left, marooned in the second tier of english football indefinitely it seems.

The size of the club and passion of the fans is not enough to woo would be managers in the modern climate. Ultimately, when it comes to enticing new managers, it breaks down to three key facets. 1). To what extent will the manager have control of transfers and 2). What level of funds will be available and 3). What wage ceiling, if any, is in place? In the case of Newcastle, there exists a transfer committee, which has reasonable success in the last few years. Many managers in our recent past, for example Graeme Souness and Sam Allardyce, proved utterly incompetent when given a free reign on transfers. But then again, it was dennis wise to gave us Xisco and Ignacio Gonzalez…..

Another accusation frequently levelled at Newcastle, and by implication its owner, is that we are unique in being a ‘selling’ club. This is fairly cliched view. The fact is, outside of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea and possibly the two Manchester Clubs, all clubs are ultimately selling clubs. Look at the players arsenal have sold over the years, Viera, Henry, Llundberg, Overmars, Fabregas, Van Persie to name,but a few , were sold. These franchises have the finance to buy players from us due to their massive financial clout. Manchester City are backed by sovereign state for goodness sake. This leads on to managers being accused of being ‘Yes’ men. Mike Ashley is their boss and their working under conditions they agreed to. As anyone to has worked in a stressful environment will testify, constantly raising points of grievance with your boss soons ends with a letter in the post entitled ‘P45’.

All that said, there is a glimmer of hope amidst the abyss. To their credit, the Pardew Out/Ashley Out/Get me out crew have became organised and mobilised with the boycott of games being very visibly successful at the end of last season. The season ticket renewals will tell a lot as to its success or failure. It is 48 years to the day since the Fairs Cup win of 1969. Here’s hoping McClaren can change that. Let’s at least give him a chance, he can hardly do worse than Carver.

Pulling on the green jersey?

delaneytrap

Silly season is really upon us in newsrooms across the various media outlets. The more sensational elements of the media in this country have really gone into overdrive this week in the wake of the news that the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) accepted a five million euro payment from the game’s governing body, FIFA, in the wake of the now infamous Thierry Henry handball incident during a 2009 world cup qualifier. This of course after the arrests of various FIFA officials the previous week on alleged historic corruption allegations, and the resignation of Sepp Blatter in the firestorm that ensued.

Words synonymous with our ever splendid politicians such as ‘corruption’ and ‘bribe’ were screamed and bleated at almost every opportunity in both the broadsheets and the tabloids.  The premise being that FIFA bought the FAI’s supposed cowardly silence instead of having the indignity of a legal challenge being mounted in the wake of what was a fairly grotesque injustice. The notion that any court would have seriously taken such as challenge is self-evidently a nonsense. If that logic were to prevail, England could conceivably do the same over the Diego Maradona ‘Hand of God’ against them during the 1986 world cup. Some would argue Henry was karma for Ireland fans using that as a source of ridicule for our cross channel cousins.

Whilst we can level many accusations at the FAI as regards their own shortcomings, the handling of the Roy Keane Saipan affair,  a total complacency in regards the disintegration of the domestic league, it has to be said they really got the best possible deal for Ireland. It was a catch 22 for the association. If Ireland’s case had not been pushed, the FAI would have been accused of timid surrender. As it turned out, they pushed enough to obtain a sum of money equivalent to the amount we would have received for qualifying. Whilst I’m not trying to suggest money should ever override the spirit of fair play and sportsmanship that game should itself encompass. The embarrassing and hasty proposal for us to be a 33rd team in WC 2010 (‘Please Mr.Blatter, we’ll bring our own balls’) was most likely a ploy to scare FIFA, and it worked a treat.

The almost relentless badgering of John Delaney over this matter stinks of lazy journalism and another stark example of the mainstream media’s innate and unwithering ability to attempt to whip up hysteria over total non issues. The only goal being to sell papers. The FAI is an old reliable and easy target due to their well known unpopularity with the general public, similar to Irish water among others. Did these same journalists go after olympic gold medal winning swimmer Michelle Smith after her well publicised suspicious doping tests? No, for the simple reason she was a national treasure (and you question them at your peril), a status John Delaney will never occupy. It’s not as if he pocketed the money himself, for once the money was used for a noble footballing cause, something to be commended amidst the seemingly never ending spiral of money blighting our beautiful game.

The money, according the FAI, was used for the new Lansdowne Road stadium. The question is not that the role of sports journalists is to hold people in positions of power and influence within the game to account. But more so is the game being done a disservice by attempting to use cheap populism to appeal to football fans emotional side for profit driven ends? Only time will tell on that.Whilst John Delaney is not a herculean footballing colossus and a bastion of all that is holy and virtuous, he deserves credit on this one. This is really all just a storm in a teacup, but a welcome interlude from a summer of inevitable ridiculous transfer rumours.

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