Suffocating political correctness, hatred of Hillary Clinton, admiration for what Donald Trump has achieved and a deep sense that America is slipping backwards seem to dominate feelings among Irish Americans who will vote for Trump.
The belief among many of the of 7,000 Irish Americans interviewed for a recent IrishCentral poll, is that America today is fading fast because of overly intrusice government, too many handouts, minority mollycuddling and a fear of saying the wrong thing. The poll indicates that 45 percent of Irish Americans plan to vote for Trump, 41 percent for Clinton and the rest are undecided.
The break with traditional ties to the Democrats and Clinton comes from a culture in which pulling yourself up by the bootstraps has become a powerful belief. Most Irish Americans spoken with had experienced a remarkable uplift in their lives.
Many were sons and daughters of World War II veterans, dubbed “The Greatest Generation,” who came home from war and used the GI Bill to arn college degrees, unheard of in so many families before then.
They then moved into the professional classes and out of the crowded cities to the suburban tracts, such as Long Island, where they had their own homes and neighborhoods which were mostly crime free.
Their jobs, especially union ones, paid well, as retirement was hugely aided by social security. Two car families became the maxim. In a generation their worlds leaped forward generations.
Now they believe America is moving backwards at a rate of knots. Quotas in universities, firehouses and police stations have impacted them in once traditional Irish professions. Getting money for no work offends them (many strongly believe Mitt Romney’s claim that 47 percent of Americans are on welfare). Government handouts are all seen as pecking away at what they considered their once-idyllic lifestyles, certainly in the rear-view mirror.
They're also aware that in the recent bank meltdowns, they got left holding the baby while bankers prospered despite the crash. A strong feeling of lost identity in a vastly changed world has became a powerful populist movement, amazingly mirrored on the left by Bernie Sanders supporters. America – left and right – is mad as hell and won’t take it anymore.
Then along came Donald Trump, who seized the moment perfectly and ran an amazing campaign that articulated the prejudices and the dreams of so many. He catapulted himself to being the Republican nominee – a scenario that top commentators openly laughed about six months ago.
Trump, as befits a publicity bloodhound, has his town criers, his adjutants who keep the masses informed of his every move.
The winged messengers of this new prophet are Fox commentators like Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Megyn Kelly, no surprise all Irish American. All grew up in suburban America and all genuflect nightly at the Blessed Trump altar – even Kelly, though she became a prodigal daughter for a time.
Night after night, they pump out the same warning signals: America is falling apart, Hillary and Bill are kleptomaniacs who’d steal your kid’s communion money, minorities are crime-ridden and getting special treatment, illegals are overrunning the country, and Trump is the only hope.
He would “Make America Great Again,” they bay, just like Ronald Reagan did. The old ways would be back – a chicken in every pot, a job in every house, better wages, no more bankers squeezing the little guy, no more pesky foreigners sneaking into our beloved land. It is all very alluring.
I have attended Trump rallies to observe and stood beside cops, firemen, teachers, factory workers; talking to them you realize they are not bad people at all but deeply disappointed people. They are struggling with jobs and with mortgages, their kid’s college tuition is as high as $50,000 a year. They are squeezed everywhere they look and they are ready to follow a new pied prophet.
But Trump is a deeply flawed vessel, something they fail to see. He is one of them the way that they are all part of the human race, but when he stands up with his fake pompadour and pluperfect family ranged behind him the initial response I had was to laugh. He reminded me of the bully Biff from “Back to the Future.” Biff had more substance.
Unlike the great populists like Huey Long or Al Smith, or even James Michael Curley, Trump has no authenticity whatsoever as a working-class hero delivering a populist message.
Yet, they believe – the Irish in the forefront – and one can see why. They desperately want change.
Once upon a time there were no more loyal Democrats than Irish Americans. The outreach by that party to the famine-stricken when they came off the boats and the connection of many Republicans to the anti-Irish Know Nothings seem to perpetually ensure that.
Except the tide has turned in recent American elections beginning with Ronald Reagan in 1980, when white ethnic voters known as the Reagan Democrats began to switch.
The Catholic vote went for Obama in 2012 over Romney by a razor thin 49 to 48 percent.
Judging from his rallies and Irish Americans I know, it is obvious The Donald has many Irish Trumpsters.
Why so? I asked two pro-Trump friends. Tim O’Regan a former senior executive with Xerox and now a volunteer fire officer and community activist in Breezy Point, NY whose folks came over from Monaghan and Cork is emphatic why.
“Authentic! Trump is resonating with the people – educated and less educated alike. Over this Memorial Day weekend I witnessed one of my highly-educated friends ‘coming out’ of the shadows … proudly wearing a white, made-in-America ‘Make America Great Again’ cap.”
O'Regan asks, “Should we be surprised that hard-working Americans (Irish or otherwise) have finally come to see the bullshittery dispensed by career politicians (of both parties) as inimical to their being all-they-can-be...?”
Mike Mullen a successful entrepreneur whose roots are in Clare, Cork, and Galway and who founded a successful software company that eventually employed 400 has very strong views on Hillary Clinton, too.
“I cannot remember a time when the choices for President were so poor. But, given the poor choice, I will have to vote for Donald Trump. There are many reasons for me to be disenchanted with Mr. Trump, but my opposition to Secty. Hillary Clinton far outweighs any and all of the issues I have with a Trump candidacy. Indeed, none of my issues with Clinton is greater than the upcoming Supreme Court appointment to fill Antonin Scalia's seat. I also think the Clintons (and without doubt Hillary) exhibit the lowest standards of integrity...”
It is clear that people will find a way to vote for Trump despite all his drawbacks. “Making America Great Again” is their sincerely held belief, the problem is they don’t see the message is being delivered by a modern-day Mephistopheles.
Niall O’Dowd is founder of IrishCentral, Irish America Magazine and Irish Voice newspaper in New York. This article first appeared in The Irish Times.