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'Last Sunday Bernie Sanders delivered a message Ireland needed to hear'

We are becoming increasingly like the United States, and not by accident, writes Ruairi McKiernan.

Ruairi McKiernan Social innovator and campaigner

IT IS A rare thing to be inspired by a politician or a political speech but Bernie Sanders’ visit to Dublin last Sunday did just that, as he delivered a message that Ireland desperately needs to hear. 

It was hard to listen to Sanders and not think: “what if?” What if he had had a fair crack of the whip? What if the people of the United States had had a chance to choose a real alternative to a system of casino capitalism that enslaves so many?

What if the Democrats hadn’t rigged the process to prevent Bernie getting a party nomination despite him having the energy, momentum and support to go all the way? 

Popular with young people

In the 2016 election, Sanders won more votes among young people than both Clinton and Trump combined. In a recent poll by Fox news, Sanders scored a popularity rating of 61%, versus 44% for Trump. 

The reason behind his popularity isn’t just his integrity, energy or passion and his age (75) appears to be no barrier to his massive appeal both at home and abroad. The answer is that Sanders, like Corbyn in the UK, is a threat to a global order that is inherently corrupt, violent and dominated by those who prey on the poor while pretending to save them. This is the same order that Trump promised to overturn but it was all a smokescreen for a more toxic version of the status quo.

While Trump is all too often written off as a fool whose days are numbered, Sanders suggests that the threat he poses is deadly serious. In his talk, he questioned Trump’s praise for authoritarian rulers, such as those of Turkey, the Philippines and Russia. He said Trump’s outrageous claim about mass voter fraud is all part of a wider strategy to disenfranchise young, poor and black voters.

And all the while, Trump ramps up the rhetoric about Muslims, seeing no issues with the rise in right-wing terrorism or the hypocrisy of arming the Saudi regime.

Sanders also raged against Trump’s cuts to childcare, welfare and healthcare, saying they pave the way for tax breaks for the wealthiest, including a potential $50 billion tax break for the Walton family,who already control more wealth than 40% of all Americans.

 The Democrats and Republicans have failed the US

This is the United States that, according to Sanders, says  both the Democrats and Republicans have failed. It is the only industrialised country that doesn’t give its people the right to healthcare, a situation that is set to worsen. It is a nation with some of the longest working hours in the world, where ordinary workers often have to take two jobs and rely on food banks to get by.

It is a country where tens of thousands are indentured into student loans or military service in order to carve out a path to a better life. It is a land where over two million people are imprisoned and, according to Sanders, huge numbers are turning to drug abuse, despair and suicide, while in some parts life expectancy is on the decline.

Hillary Clinton didn’t offer a real alternative to this, and this is why, Sanders says, the Republicans didn’t win the election, the Democrats lost it.

Asked by a member of the Dublin audience whether the US was ready for a female President, Sanders replied that “the United States is ready for a female President, for a black President, for a gay President, but what we need is a President with the guts to take on the billionaire class.”

The parallels with Ireland

Listening to all this, it was hard not to draw parallels with Ireland, especially since the talk was happening in the vicinity of the IFSC and the Silicon Docks, hotspots of what Sanders called “the race to the bottom” in global tax avoidance.

On his condemnation of Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, it was hard not to think of Ireland’s continued inaction on climate change. Sanders also referenced Trump’s attacks on family planning services, which are sadly familiar to an Ireland where women’s rights are still denied. 

This is the same Ireland where abuses by bankers and bishops go unpunished, where evidence is shredded and mobile phones go missing, where there is a witch-hunt on welfare fraud while billions in corporate welfare deals are facilitated. It seems nobody is ever responsible, and few in the political establishment appear to have the courage or conviction to do anything about it. It is no wonder Sanders has such appeal here. 

For Ireland is increasingly like the United States, and not by accident. We are a country of vast wealth alongside crushing poverty and low wages, as well as homelessness, housing and healthcare crises that are feeding hopelessness. This is the reality that Bernie Sanders says we must resist while mobilising towards the dream of a fair, just and prosperous society. He is not giving up on this dream without a fight, and neither should we.   

Ruairí McKiernan is an award-winning social innovator, campaigner, member of the Council of State, and host of the Love and Courage podcast. His website is www.loveandcourage.org.

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About the author:

Ruairi McKiernan  / Social innovator and campaigner

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