It was, American President-elect Donald J Trump announced, a “movement”. During his victory speech at a rally in New York on Wednesday morning Irish time, Trump chose the word “movement” over “campaign” to describe what had seen him sweep (quite comfortably) into the most powerful political office in the world.
We are perhaps more accustomed to the word movement being attached to specific causes; events like the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, civil rights or Black Lives Matter. These are largely protests, attempts at an uprising from an undermined minority.
And yet, for soon to be President Trump to use that word, for him to call what we have borne witness to over the last 18 months a “movement”, felt about right.
Like all successful movements, the greatest strength of what Donald Trump said was how it resonated with people. The message of Trump’s movement was simple: “I’m different, I am not the establishment, let’s challenge it together”.
For a man who has supposedly divided a country like never before, Trump’s movement showed a remarkable ability to pull different people together. Admittedly, these people were largely white, but they came from right across the economic spectrum.
Middle class white men and women saw a maverick unafraid to speak his mind.None of this political correctness rubbish. This was America for God’s sake; land of the free and home of the brave. Trump was offering them the freedom to treat people any way they saw fit and the freedom to say what they liked.
Working class white voters were sick of the status quo and no presidential candidate in history represented the status quo as much as Hillary Rodham Clinton. The establishment had never done anything for them, the Great Recession still burned hard while the establishment reinforced that same old status quo that sent things to shit the last time around.
Trump’s message was so strong and resonated so clearly with lower income white voters that they were somehow convinced that a billionaire who lives in a penthouse suite at the top of building with his name on it represented something other than the establishment.
Those who voted for Trump were not swayed by his reasoned policies and undisputible facts. Because there were none. In this post-fact reality, make no bones about it, this was a protest vote.
Trump’s victory was the continuation of a movement that has spread right across Europe in the last year, hitting its peak with June’s Brexit vote. Sick of facts and evidence and experts, Britain voted with its heart to leave the European Union.
Again, the working and middle class white voters were brought together by apparent anti-establishment rabble rousers such as Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage.
Those who voted for Brexit did so as a point of protest against the government, those idiots who had apparently allowed the EU to dilute ‘their’ Britain to a point where the country was unrecognisable. Brexiters pined for a return to an imaginery ‘before’ where there were no foreigners wot would take British jobs, only good British men and women and a few Paddys wot would pave the roads.
Ireland has not been immune to protest votes in recent history, though ours have been on a far more docile scale; we sent Lisbon 1 packing and voted to keep the Seanad despite not knowing what it was to show the respective governments at the time that we did not approve of the job they were making of our country.
The 2016 General Election, however, saw Irish voters properly exercise a protest vote and give the major parties an unprecedented kicking. With the absence of a traditional and established left (or a right really), voters opted for Independents and small left wing parties instead of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour. Though no smaller party made it into power, the incumbent Fine Gael were forced to go cap in hand to a coalition of Independents to form a government.
Interestingly, though Ireland have joined in on the protest voting fun, it has been to the benefit of left wing parties rather than the far right we have seen in Britain and America. In fact, a new right wing party was totally rejected in the general election, with Renua failing to win a single seat.
This begs the question that if Ireland is to go full on America and protest vote an anti-establishment man or woman into its highest office, who would it be?
A quick glance around those left wing parties most likely to benefit from a protest vote leaves us with one stark option; Sinn Fein.
As controversial as Donald Trump is as President-elect, Gerry Adams would match him stride for stride if he ever becomes Taoiseach. But that is, if we are to hypothetically extend this protest vote movement to Ireland, a distinct possibility in the coming years.
As unlikely as it may have seemed even 5 years ago, Adams and his party represent the political entity most likely to unite working and middle class voters in the same way Trump and Farage have managed. Sinn Fein’s voter base has always been in the poorer working class areas of Ireland’s cities but the ever-rising cynicism and ambivalence towards the major parties from voters, as well as the emergence of a young generation of voters who might be more easily swayed by Adams’ cheery social media personality and his anti-establishment, populist message means that the prospect of Adams as a power broker in the next Irish government is not totally out of the question.
So what of those brave men and women, those bold protesters who voted for Donald Trump? They voted against the establishment, they voted against the political status quo and they voted for change. But what happens when their change becomes the status quo? When the anti-establishment Donald Trump becomes the establishment President Trump? What happens when the movement they have been told they are part of is exposed as just another campaign? What happens when their protest vote is laid bare as fear and anger and hate? I guess we’ll find out.