Thursday, November 1, 2018

Even `Land of 100,000 Welcomes' has its limits -- Nov. 1, 2018 column


Scores of angry emails and letters bombarded Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar after the White House made a surprise announcement last August President Donald Trump would visit Ireland.

Trump planned to stop at his golf resort in Doonbeg and in Dublin on his way to Paris for the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I on Nov. 11.

Protesters began to mobilize, saying they’d use the 20-foot tall “Trump Baby” balloon that floated over London in July when Trump met with British Prime Minister Theresa May. More than 60 furious letter-writers urged Varadkar to withdraw Trump’s invitation.

The letters, released under a Freedom of Information Act request by the Irish Times and reported on Tuesday, provide a glimpse into Trump’s unpopularity in a country that traditionally has welcomed U.S. presidents.

“For all that is holy, please do not let Trump into Ireland,” one correspondent emailed, the Times reported.

“Seriously, every time you come out in support of Trump you experience a massive backlash,” another wrote Varadkar. “Why do you keep putting your hand back on the hot stove?” 

Noting Trump’s record on immigration, trade, climate change and human rights, he or she signed the letter “a thoroughly disgusted and disappointed citizen.”

Varadkar was sympathetic to the outcry but, like other leading Irish politicians, he called for respect.

“I know a lot of people dislike him,” he said Sept. 2 on Irish radio. “A lot of people object to him, a lot of people disagree with a lot of his policies -- just as I do, in fact -- but he is the president of America.”

After 11 days of turmoil, the Irish government said Trump wouldn’t visit after all. The White House cited “scheduling reasons.”

In the United States, about one in 10 people claimed Irish ancestry in 2016, the Census Bureau reports, and many presidents, most recently Barack Obama, play up their Irish roots.

Obama was an Illinois state senator in 2007 when discovered his great-great-great grandfather came from Ireland.

As president, Obama enjoyed a warm Irish welcome in 2011 when he and Michelle Obama visited the village of Moneygall and met several of his distant relatives. An eighth cousin named Henry instantly became known as Henry the Eighth.

In Dublin, Obama told a crowd described as “rapturous” by a British newspaper, “My name is Barack Obama, of the Moneygall Obamas, and I’ve come home to find the apostrophe we lost somewhere along the way.”

As a tourist in Ireland last month, I met many people eager to talk about Obama’s and even President John F. Kennedy’s visit. Galway honored JFK’s 1963 visit with a bust in Eyre Square, also sometimes called JFK Park, and a mosaic in Galway Cathedral.

No one brought up Trump – or another American president who got a cold shoulder.

Protesters marked President Ronald Reagan’s visit in 1984. A leader of demonstrations against Reagan and U.S. policy in El Salvador and Nicaragua was an Irish senator named Michael D. Higgins.

Higgins had an American connection, having earned a master’s degree in sociology from Indiana University. Decades later, the 77-year-old poet, writer, former minister of culture and socialist is still involved in politics.

Higgins was re-elected president of Ireland last week. He is head of state, a largely ceremonial post, but it does give him a platform. He has been an outspoken critic of Trump and this country’s direction.  

“Today we are witnessing a worrying surge of unapologetic sexism and the undermining of women’s rights in one of the world’s most advanced democracies,” Higgins said in April in New York.

Trump may own a fancy golf resort on the west coast of Ireland, but he has much to learn about the country. Last summer, he raised hackles when he said Ireland is in the United Kingdom.

Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Pa., son of an immigrant from Donegal, Ireland, fired back: “Ireland is not a part of the UK. It’s been an independent country for about 100 years … Please stop embarrassing us on the international stage.”

That’s a tall order for this president, but at least he won’t embarrass us in Ireland this month.  

©2018 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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