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On Tour

Bernie Sanders brought his 'resistance' message to Dublin (after stopping by the Áras)

Trump “lied through his teeth” to America’s working class in last year’s campaign, according to the Vermont Senator.

IF THINGS HAD gone another way – perhaps the world wouldn’t be hearing so much from Bernie Sanders.

Ever since Donald Trump’s shock win last November, the independent Senator from Vermont has ramped up his activism, becoming a focal point for the ‘resistance’ to the new administration.

Under a Hillary Clinton White House, he may well have been sidelined. Instead, he’s been travelling the length and breadth of the US alongside the new chairman of the Democrats, Tom Perez, to pump up the party’s base.

He penned a book ‘Our Revolution: A Future to Believe in’, which sets out policy ideas and reflects on his much-stronger-than-expected showing in the Democratic primaries last year.

He is, of course, a vociferous critic of the Trump administration – regularly issuing statements and giving interviews in response to the various crises at the White House.

The 75-year-old’s also taken up a role in the Democratic leadership in the Senate, as head of outreach – becoming the first independent to hold a leadership position since the party’s modern structure began.

Irish outreach 

The ‘outreach’ to convince Sanders to appear in Dublin began with a call to his wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders, host for the evening David McWilliams explained to the crowd, ahead of last night’s much-anticipated Dalkey Book Festival event at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre.

O’Meara Sanders has strong Irish roots, McWilliams said – and had managed to convince her husband to add the country to his itinerary.

Taking the stage to a rapturous reception, the Senator told the crowd that Jane had taken a genealogy test that day – and that it had turned out she was 96% Irish. As he put it, “more than the average Irish person in Ireland”.

The couple had paid a visit to the Phoenix Park to visit President Michael D Higgins during the afternoon, we were told. But unfortunately, we never got to hear what was discussed.

Instead, Sanders took the opportunity to unleash a battery of criticism on the Trump administration, in a barnstorming speech.

He then joined McWilliams for an interview for an hour or so. That was billed as the ‘sit-down’ part of the evening – but Sanders (yet again confounding expectations) took to his feet whenever he was asked anything and instead stalked the stage, addressing the crowd and even engaging in brief conversations with audience members.

bern2 Conor McCabe Photography Ltd Conor McCabe Photography Ltd

He began his appearance by expressing his condolences to the families of those killed and injured in the recent Manchester and London attacks – before going on to decry Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate deal as “incredibly stupid”.

The main body of his speech dealt with a question, he said, he got asked regularly these days – “How did someone like Donald Trump end up as President of the United States?”

“I know you will be shocked to learn I am not a great fan of Donald Trump,” Sanders said.

He reminded the crowd that while Trump may have won the US electoral college last November he had lost the popular vote by a considerable margin – adding that the Republican was now the least popular president in American history at this point in a first term (Sanders – though he didn’t mention this stat – is the most popular US politician currently serving).

Trump, he said, had played on the fears of voters in white working-class communities who had been overlooked by politicians from both parties for generations. People were experiencing enormous economic pain – but Trump had lied “through his teeth” to them in the campaign, and was continuing to lie now.

Republican legislation to repeal and replace Barack Obama’s healthcare programmes was some of the worst lawmaking he had come across in his long political career, he said.

And on the international front, the President’s actions since his inauguration, he said, had harmed the reputation of the office.

American people, he observed, are “finding it very strange that we have a President who seems to be more comfortable with autocrats and authoritarians than with leaders of democratic nations”.

Trump’s attitude towards the established media is also cause for concern. It was “not normal”, he said, for a President to lambast any criticism from TV or newspapers as ‘fake news’.

As part of the second-half of the event, McWilliams asked about Sanders’ criticism of countries that use their tax laws to attract the business of US companies – observing that Ireland happened to be one of those countries.

“I was trying to be nice and not mention that,” the Senator responded – avoiding any direct criticism of the country by saying that Ireland was not unique in its tactics.

“In general, for the international community, this is not a great idea,” he said. The need to be constantly in competition with each other could only result in a “race to the bottom”.

In one of the lighter moments of the night, he was asked about the famous moment when a small bird somehow managed to fly down onto his podium mid-speech at a campaign rally last year.

He recalled:  ”We spent months training that bird.”

And, of course, there was the obligatory question: would he run for the presidency in 2020?

The answer: “Honestly, I don’t know.” (Admittedly, it would have been a strange choice of timing and location for a major campaign announcement).

Asked whether he would consider running as a third-party candidate in the next general election, he said it was unlikely. “The decision I have made right now is to open up the Democratic party and bring millions more into it.”

And after taking a few more questions, Sanders announced it was time for him to go – telling the crowd “to have confidence that, at the end of the day, the American people are going to do the right thing”.

Let’s go forward together.

Read: ‘Trump took London Mayor’s comments out-of-context to promote his divisive Muslim ban’ >

Read: Enda’s off to Chicago to promote Ireland >

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