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'I remember a Paddy's Day visit by Haughey when four Irish were put on a London-bound flight in handcuffs'

It took Trump’s sledgehammer assault on travel and the right of refugees to seek shelter for us to take notice, writes Ray O’Hanlon.

Ray O'Hanlon

I WAS IN Manhattan on 9/11. Ever since that day I have not envied any American president. The burdens of the office would keep anyone awake 24/7.

Barack Obama would stay up late reading. Donald Trump stays up late tweeting. They are very different men. But not entirely so. The idea of Obama being some kind of goody two shoes Walter, and Trump being Dennis the Menace, will only take you so far.

Obama was no shrinking violet when it came to wielding power. But he would do so quietly. Sometimes very few noticed. Like those who never heard or saw the drone overhead in the desert night sky.

Extra scrutiny applied by Obama

It took Trump’s sledgehammer assault on travel and the right of refugees to seek shelter in the land of the free, to make Americans see that the seven Muslim majority countries on Trump’s banned list were actually borrowed from his predecessor.

Obama and his team had singled them out for special attention, extra scrutiny, “extreme vetting” to borrow a two word term from the new President, who likes to keep his terms short.

There was no outright Obama travel ban, no de facto wall built in the face of the frightened and desperate, seeking to escape Syria or Iraq. Obama, in this context, was Trump lite. He only applied the brakes on admitting people from the seven countries. Trump switched off the engine. For the time being at least.

It is the case that none of the 9/11 hijackers came from any of the seven nations on the Trump/Obama list. And yes, no Muslim majority country where the Trump organisation does business has been singled out for the President’s very busy fountain pen. But, hey.

Trump sells newspapers

It is probably better for bodily and mental health not to get too worked up over all this. At one level, as a journalist, I see Donald Trump as the mouth that keeps on giving. The man has done more for the “failing” New York Times than all the brightest minds in that paper have been able to do this past decade or more.

On another level, as an American citizen (the naturalised version) I have to accept the fact that Donald Trump is my President. As a naturalised citizen – and unlike the natural-born variety – I had to pledge to bear arms to defend the United States. I would have been happy enough with one on 9/11. But the pen sufficed.

But I don’t have to defend the policies of any president. And I don’t feel inclined to defend much of what Donald Trump has done thus far.

It’s a dangerous time for the undocumented

As a citizen, of course, I am relatively secure in any critical position. One can only imagine how the undocumented or illegal are feeling less than two weeks into what could well be the longest four years of their edgy lives.

During his campaign, Trump pledged to unleash the federal authorities on the eleven million who live in the shadows. And his eye was cast well beyond “criminal aliens”. This is a perilous hour for the undocumented, the Irish undocumented included.

If Trump is to make a serious move in the direction of mass deportations, it will likely begin sooner rather than later. Trump is not a man who does later.

Haughey presented the shamrock despite deportations

I remember a St Patrick’s Day visit to the US, many years ago, by then Taoiseach, Charles Haughey. By coincidence, or maybe not, the then Immigration and Naturalisation Service decided to mount a series of raids in Boston and New Hampshire.

Agents led six young Irish women out of a Boston bar in handcuffs. Four Irishmen were picked up on a construction site in New Hampshire and put on a London-bound flight in prison garb and cuffs. The shamrock presented by Haughey to President George HW Bush looked a little limp that year.

For Enda Kenny’s sake, hopefully President Trump will declare St Patrick’s Day 2017 a holiday free from all harm, a green-tinged Saturnalia. Don’t bet on it.

Ray O’Hanlon is Editor of the New York-published Irish Echo. A native of Dublin, O’Hanlon has reported from three continents in a newspaper career spanning 38 years. His book, The New Irish Americans (Roberts Rinehart, 1998), was the recipient of a Washington Irving Book Award. 

‘A country that invaded and destroyed my dad’s home is now telling people like him they are not welcome’>

‘Trump is a bully. And we have to stand up to bullies’ – Mary Robinson>

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