Tag Archives: Politics

Keep your face toward the sunshine

thomas-edisonLet me introduce you to a young boy. His name is Thomas and he is naturally bright, savvy and streetwise. He is not afraid of hard work or long hours and is innovative and enterprising. His story is very relative to what we see happening in America today.

Thomas family fled their native country and found shelter in the US. The boy’s father had become involved in a political reform movement in his home country. The government there were extremely corrupt and power lay in the hands of just a few. This small group dominated the church, business and political institutions. A couple of recent bad harvests had only made matters worse. The people were starving, impoverished and desperate. The Government failed to act and simply ignored their plight. The Reformers were inspired by similar movements in other countries. They believed in ideas such as democracy, equality and liberty. The reformers slowly grew in number, meeting in private dwellings and later in public houses and taverns. As the movement spread the ruling elite began to get nervous. Armed supporters of the Regime began to attack the Reformers and break up their meetings. 

Gradually the reformers became more radical and believed that only physical force would advance their cause. In the wake of an election to the ruling assembly there was evidence of vote rigging by the State. Soon the country was in open rebellion and Thomas’s father was involved. Despite initial success the Military and Government-backed militias use dtheir overwhelming force to decisively crush the revolt. The leaders were rounded up and put on trial, many were imprisoned and some were executed. Reformist supporters become victims of sectarian vigilante mobs. 

Defeated and despondent Thomas father decides that they must leave. They cross into the US at night without any visa or green card and eventually settle in a small town in Ohio. Thomas finds school hard. He is easily distracted, his concentration span is short and the teachers find him difficult to handle. Thomas mother eventually decides to teach him at home and he quickly develops a voracious appetite for reading and learning. Thomas never returns to formal education but this is no hindrance to him in the land of opportunity, for he will go on to become a hugely successful businessman known all over the world.

Thomas’s life is an example of that all too elusive “American dream” – he is the embodiment of the self-taught, hard grafting self-made millionaire. This is a guy who made it big. The boy we are talking about is none other than the renowned inventor Thomas Edison. Edison’s father Samuel was a political refugee[i] from colonial Canada ….. Yes you did read it right, Canada! Edison invented the light bulb thus it would be remiss of me not to use the analogy of him enlightening the lives of his compatriots, and at the same time inventing a new pastime, dusting!

Sadly the modern day Edison family would find America to be a very different place. We must ask ourselves if young Thomas Edison were around today where would he be? Could he possibly be on a flimsy raft in the middle of the Mediterranean or Aegean Sea? Would he be shivering around an open fire in a Serbian detention camp? Perhaps he’d be getting ready to move in to a converted Hotel in Roscommon? Is the person who will finally find a cure for cancer amongst these desperate people? 

            k15210796The majority of the residents of the US are the descendants of refugees of some kind or another – they might be like Edison’s father, a political refugee, or perhaps their ancestry lies with some of the millions of Irish and Italians, fleeing famine and poverty. America has benefitted from these refugees; it is they who made America great. Trump’s malignant narcissism will destroy America and diminish whatever small bit of light she has left as a beacon for the rest of the world. America cannot hide away in isolated paranoia,  no more than Trump can solve its problems by creating scapegoats to prop up his alternative truths. Perhaps the better policy to pursue is the one the great Walt Whitman counselled ‘Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you’. A big wall creates a big shadow and soon America will need a new Edison to take them out of this darkness.

The best thinking has been done in solitude. The worst has been done in turmoil.’

Thomas Edison

[i] Samuel Ogden Edison fled Canada in the wake of the failed 1837 Mackenzie Rebellion. Ironically Samuels’s father had fled the US for Canada in the wake of US Independence. He had been a Loyalist in the Revolutionary War.



The seductiveness of the simple word


What has surprised me in the last few weeks is the wonder in some quarters at the outcomes of two, ostensibly at least, very different by-elections. In Clacton-on-Sea, the result delivered to the people of Great Britain its first UKIP MP. Nigel Farage hailed the election of Douglas Carswell as “a shift in the tectonic plates of British politics”. In a very different constituency in the west of Ireland the people, using the PRSTV system, elected Michael Fitzmaurice, who although receiving the second highest number ones, quickly overtook the pre-election favourite to eventually enjoy a comfortable finishing margin. Fitzmaurice may be called by some, the ‘Son of Ming’ but in many ways he is much more reflective of the demographic of the rural, under-developed constituency than his predecessor. Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan with his typical flair for the dramatic, echoed the UFC Cage Fighter Conor McGregor, when he announced to those assembled in the Count Centre that ‘We are not here to take part, we are here to take over’. Fitzmaurice also has that rare ability to compose melodic phrases that resonate with the wider public; in his acceptance speech he declared that he was ‘a man of the soil’, a simple, powerful and almost pagan expression worthy of Kavanagh or Heaney.

Simple language can be powerful and a powerful message can often hang on its simplicity. The seductiveness of the simple language that Nigel Farage et al use is difficult to counter. Nationalist and Populist parties can thrive in the atmosphere that pervades the political landscape of Western Europe presently. Protests against austerity are springing up everywhere. Where once we had flash mobs we now have flash rebellions

It is perplexing how ordinary people throughout the United Kingdom think they can relate to this privately educated former banker. Are people really politically engaged when they vote for character driven Candidates who trade on their carefully manufactured personas? Surely this new politics is not sustainable? Recently a caller telephoned a radio show in the UK and said he’d voted for UKIP. When the presenter asked him why he had voted for them, the caller couldn’t name a single policy of UKIP. Sinn Fein still make promises here following on from the auction politics that reached its heights in 2011. When Sinn Fein Candidate Cathal King realised he was losing the Dublin SW televised debate on TV3, he hastily promised SF would abolish water charges. Unfortunately this abolition wasn’t part of the Sinn Fein Manifesto. Their policy proclaimed that they were opposing charges, but opposing is well short of abolishing. SF are learning that if you want to be serious about getting into power you have to have more than just populist policies, you must have policies that will survive retrospective spotlight.  Unfortunately Cathal King reverted to default mode when put under pressure by the Anti-Austerity-Alliance Candidate, Paul Murphy.

The results in the Irish By-elections were not good for any of the main parties. Fianna Fail, Labour and Fine Gael combined have less than 30% of the votes in Dublin SW. Fianna Fail on the other hand are not making promises but it’s limited improvements show that in the current climate people do not have the patience to engage with them or forgive them for been at the helm when the country went down the tubes. Michael Martin put in a huge personal effort in Roscommon / South Leitrim knocking on doors all over the Constituency. Unfortunately while he was well received his Candidate wasn’t and at the end of the day it was not Michael Martins face on the ballot paper. Young Emmet Corcoran debated well and showed a passion that was largely absent from the race. He had one or two ideas that unfortunately will never see the light of day. Roscommon has done strange things over the years, electing and dumping Sean Doherty and Brian Lenihan, and for years returning the committed Socialist Jack McQuillan. This time around they elected a man that isn’t even from the constituency.

An absentee TD you might think yet of all the candidates, Fitzmaurice, who came into the race later than anyone, had by far the widest appeal. The Glinsk native resonated with the largely rural area, and whilst people outside Roscommon mightn’t have heard of him, he already had a profile. He had a passion & charisma that motivated a merry band of canvassers, not just constituents, but many from counties such as Longford Galway to take to the few highways and many byways of Roscommon and Leitrim. On the debates he stayed well out of trouble.  One point that he made concerned the River Shannon which defines (and often floods) this area. For many years there have been plans to divert water from the Shannon to Dublin. The point made, a tad clumsily but made nonetheless, was why, oh why, can they not get clean water into the taps of Roscommon, when at the same time they can divert millions of gallons of ‘our’ water to the big City? Maybe the answer is that there isn’t the political will to invest in rural Ireland. Fitzmaurice’s argument pits the classic urban needs v rural necessities. Fitz plays the role of the boy in the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ pointing out the obvious to a blinded audience. The seductiveness of the simple answer is very difficult to counter?