For four decades, Ian Paisley led unionists in Northern Ireland like a latter-day Moses. But he only led them - and himself - into a stalemate and a dead end.
Trump is Paisley's modern echo. He promised to Make America Great Again, but he has actually led us to the brink of ruin, with burning cities, 20 million unemployed, and a lethal pandemic he only ignores raging and growing.
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Many people have forgotten the Reverend Ian Paisley, M.P. because time only marches forward, but for those of us raised during The Troubles, he's still an unforgettable tale.
We learned the lesson of him over forty long years, roughly about the same time it took him to learn the lesson of himself. When you vote for an Ian Paisley-like candidate, you will get the Troubles that come along with him.
You may greatly enjoy watching him sticking it to all of your political opponents in his thunderous give no quarter sermons, but it'll come at a steep cost in the long run, and that cost will be peace.
It went like this. Back in the 1960s, when Paisley came to prominence, the unionists in the North felt under siege from within and without. Their Catholic nationalist neighbors, oppressed and gerrymandered for forty years, had been inspired by the Civil Rights movement in the United States to highlight their continuing exclusion.
They took to the streets in peaceful protest, they found a new voice and a new direction, they thought positive change was coming.
The unionist political leadership of the period could have made a deal with their restive Catholic neighbors, but rabble-rousing voices like Paisley's sank every serious attempt at reconciliation.
He wanted a unionist state for a unionist people, he wanted everyone else to shut up or leave. Catholic nationalists were soon being burned out of their homes by the thousands in the biggest demographic purge seen in Europe since World War II.
There was a little more to it, of course. More than just fearful of political change, Paisley saw the Republic as a papist backwater (“they breed like rabbits and multiply like vermin”) a place where the none too hidden hand of the Catholic church threatened his conscience and his religion.
He wasn't entirely wrong to think that, but his own bigotry built the threat into a monstrous bogey man that made any political progress inconceivable.
So he didn't trust his own community, he didn't himself to change his opponents' minds, instead, he simply drew a red line and stood behind it for four decades shouting never never never.
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Over time he became a sort of avatar of stuckness, a stone in the stream that everything had to flow around. He didn't notice until very late in life that even a stone in the stream is eventually ground to powder by water and time.
Like a latter-day Moses, he arrived in the darkest hour to lead his chosen people to the Promised Land. But the truth is he actually led them into a violent stalemate, where they all languished for four decades, making little progress and conceding more than they kept.
What did he learn from all that time in the howling wilderness? He learned that he had more in common with his nationalist neighbors than he ever did with the oily Oxbridge peers who would sell him out as quick as look at him.
This was a later in life surprise to him. He had been so busy working to remain British that he forgot to ask himself if he actually liked or trusted them very much. He also learned that he had been wrong, disastrously so, to push for a one community solution in a shared community.
There are so many parallels to what happened to Northern Ireland back then and what's happening to America right now. It can be quite painful for someone who has lived through The Troubles to watch the people here casually delude themselves about who their leader is or where his current path is actually leading.
So take it from someone who was born the year The Troubles erupted, we have seen this sad film before, we know where America is headed if you don't alter this course soon.
From the archive: Trump in 2007 describing Ian Paisley Snr as "a legend and a very smart public leader", as Paisley angled for investment pic.twitter.com/5t434NU8kl— Sam McBride (@SJAMcBride) November 9, 2016
The temptation to stand behind a thundering man who divides the nation up into winners and losers is a strong temptation, but it has to be resisted if you don't want to live in burning cities, where the police start to look like Stormtroopers from Star Wars and your privacy is daily invaded by overhead helicopters, mass surveillance, violent street clashes, tear gas and flash bombs and live munitions and much, much, worse. The worst is still to come.
Unionists had to make reluctant peace with the fact that they live in a wider Irish nation where increasingly they are becoming a minority, but Republicans here have yet to show a similar awareness or grasp.
The minority has never been able to control the majority without first denying the majority's humanity, and thereby losing their own. The quote is Stephen Colbert's and that's exactly what is happening on our streets and in our nation now. Humanity is being lost as power is being desperately clung to.
Right now, half of America has chosen a Paisley-like brow-beater to lead them to their Promised Land. They can't quite see that it's a dead-end yet.
Even the burning cities and the more than 127k Covid-19 dead (a 9/11 every few days now) hasn't changed their minds yet, so here's a hint: There are no red states without blue states, there is no America without all Americans. You either make peace with your neighbor or you lose it all. Choose wisely.
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