You could say that we were shocked at President Trump’s recent attack on four Democratic Congress women, where he urged them, if they didn’t like the state of the US, to go back to their own crime-infested countries. For a start, three of the four were born in the US and all four are bona fide US citizens. And we might also note that he attacked four women of colour. He could have attacked someone like Congressman Brendan Boyle, whose father came from Donegal and his mother from Sligo. But then Boyle is male and white.
Note I start with “You could say that we were shocked”. But we shouldn’t say anything of the sort. All of Trump’s bile has a familiar ring.
For example: hands up if you’ve ever heard of a unionist politician telling Catholics/nationalists that if they were so keen on being Irish and independent of Britain, they should cross the border and go and live in “the Free State”?
And hands up if, in the old days at least, you have heard unionist politicians talking contemptuously about the impoverished state of the Free State,with its narrow, inward-looking state of public consciousness? Maybe not crime-infested but parochial and a bit dim.
The truth is, we’ve all heard it in one form or another. It comes from believing that you are inherently superior to your fellow citizens. It comes from a gut-level dislike of people because they look or act differently from you. It comes from exaggerated suspicion and fear of these different Others: remember decades back how John Taylor (now Lord Something Or Other) told his constituents that next time they met three Catholics, that one of them very likely supported the IRA? This on the grounds that Sinn Féin at that time enjoyed one-third of the nationalist vote.
Assumptions of superiority are difficult to shake off when they’ve been a core part of your thinking since early years. And there’s nothing like fear of the Other to help rally the troops for a coming election than casting your opponents as second-class and subversive.
So put away the smelling salts, Virginia. We’ve been here before.