The trauma of the onlooker

Sean Walsh McDonagh from Ros a' Mhíl,  lives with the condition Hemimegalencephaly, a dream of eight-year-old was fulfilled on Tuesday when he was made a honorary Garda at the regional Garda HQ, Murrough. Pictured with Garda Sean were Brian O'Donnell, Alan Keane, Fiona White and Linda Walsh. Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

Sean Walsh McDonagh from Ros a' Mhíl, lives with the condition Hemimegalencephaly, a dream of eight-year-old was fulfilled on Tuesday when he was made a honorary Garda at the regional Garda HQ, Murrough. Pictured with Garda Sean were Brian O'Donnell, Alan Keane, Fiona White and Linda Walsh. Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

We are all suffering from it, yet we may not notice. There is a fatigue around that is engaging us; that is holding us in its grasp. A sort of voyeuristic urge to look on aghast at what is happening in the two countries which perhaps have influenced us the most over the past few centuries. This morning, we wake up to more news of Brexit, as we slide inexorably towards that date at the end of the month.

It is easy to ignore the unfelt trauma that we are all experiencing on the sidelines. The disbelief at the antics of two supposedly developed democracies; the almost Harry Potter-ian behaviour at Westminster...the infantile utterings and downright lies from the White House.

While it is sometimes easy to caricature it all as akin to watching a game between two teams, neither of which you support, we are never too far from the collateral damage that spills over the sidelines and onto our lives. And it has, with consequences that are beginning to be felt on every street in the world.

In the space of six months three years ago, a declared winning majority in both these countries introduced a sinking of the level of acceptable discourse that has Made Racism Great Again.

It might take a generation to get over the lowering of the bar of these two massive social and cuiltural influences — especially when we see the trickle down of that discourse to our communities. It is deemed OK now for some yob to roar abuse at someone of different skin colour, of different ethnicity. We see this in the gradual disintegration of society; the constant gun attacks in the US, the incidents at the UK football matches at the weekend where fans crossed the invisible line. Not content to sit back and bellow racist, homophobic abuse at the players, there is a feeling that some invisible lines are just there to be crossed.

On Tuesday night I watched the Westminster debate and noticed that it included one member wearing an electronic tag, while another former member who had done time watched on from the public gallery. One would love to think that at some time in the future, the folly, the foolishness, the lies, the hatred they have all stirred up would be brought and laid at their feet, that history would judge them. When we used to say that we truly live in extraordinary times, this is not exactly what we meant.

But they will get away with this, because when the bar is left so low, there is no depth that is left umplumbed.

When a nation makes too much of what it perceives to be its greatest difference, it is only a matter of time before it creates an Other-ing of society, that will too easily begin to see one another on the basis of ethnicity and lived experience, rather than as just human beings.

Just as we thought we could never let great wars and genocide take place on our doorstep anymore, and then stood by as the Balkans disintegrated in the 1990s, we are doing soemthing much worse now, by not holding our politicians and leaders to account in the same standard.

And lest we think that here in Ireland we are far removed from all of this, just think back about four months to the presidential election, when the incomprehensible ramblings of one candidate were rendered sensible by a segment of the population on the basis that it is acceptable to back racism, if “it is only what everyone is saying.”

We are 10 weeks out from our Local and European elections. Thankfully thus far, we have not seen any local evidence of a pandering to the extremes. However, we would be best advised to elect representatives who have shown a track history of compassion, of empathy, or at least a desire to not make difference an issue.

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