Talking turkey: About politics, and a grand holiday

The nightmare of the 2016 presidential election will soon end. A distressing question will linger amid the political ashes on Nov. 9: Will there be an even worse nightmare to follow?

As of this writing, the political pundits and cognoscenti proclaim Hillary Clinton will win, citing the bulk of the polling. According to many, Hillary is getting close to a “sure thing.” On the Republican side, bigotry, birtherism, misogyny, xenophobia, crudity, ignorance, a disturbing bromance with soulless dictator Vladimir Putin, no coherent policies (the “Wall” is not a policy) a blizzard of lies and insults, and charges of a “rigged election” that challenge the very essence of American democracy have polluted the nation’s eyes, ears, and senses.

On the Democrats’ side, Wikileaks, the murky, often-nauseating wheeling and dealing of the Clinton Foundation, Hillary’s propensity for secretiveness, her selective memory, and her sometimes interesting relationship with the truth, and Bill’s sexual transgressions redux have sullied the political waters. As this space and many others have noted, Trump has engendered strong support from various corners of Irish America.

In this scribe’s opinion—admittedly no more valid than anyone else’s—the election remains a no-brainer. Hillary is the saner choice. Yes, she drags a heavily piled political oxcart of personal and political baggage toward Nov. 8; Trump’s cart, however, lugs a reeking, fetid pile of personal and political slop. In my voting lifetime, I have never before thought that any presidential candidate of either party lifetime threatened the very foundation of America—not until The Donald bellowed and bullied his way into the Republican nomination. Any would-be president asserting that he or she is “the only one” who can “save” the nation is talking the talk and walking the walk of a tyrant-in-the-making.

Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, a key player in the campaigns of George W. Bush and John McCain, was nearly in tears after Trump’s final-debate pronouncement that he would not accept the results of the election. Trump later added that he would accept the tally “if I win.” Schmidt sagely pointed out—I’m paraphrasing—that “fascism can only take hold if democracy is weak.”
I do think that Trump is poised to lose, but there are still two troubling factors that could propel him to a victory. The first, as reported in depth by Bloomberg, is a concerted plan by the Trump campaign to depress the minority vote—voter suppression—at polling places and to discourage young women and millennials to stay home on November 9. Another possibility, a question with no answer until the election results are in, continues to gnaw: Are there enough closet Trump supporters to haul him across the finish line as the winner? Countless pollsters and pundits will tell us that numbers don’t lie. People, however do. Pollsters can be duped.

And as October drew to a close, there was the announcement by the FBI director that his agency was looking into more emails connected to the Clinton camp. The details of who, what, where, when, and why on the matter were sorely lacking as the BIR went to press.

Assuming the “experts” are correct in predicting a Hillary victory, we can count on the fact that Trump and his vitriolic movement will not fade into history’s backwaters. He might not be wrong in his bluster that this is perhaps the most important election in America’s annals.

Irish bookmaking behemoth Paddy Power puts Hillary’s odds at 1/5, Trump’s at 4/1. Despite that, Clinton’s victory doesn’t feel like a sure thing yet. If the Irish-American pollster, Trump campaign manager, and prevaricator extraordinaire Kellyanne Conway is correct, disgusted voters who stay home and—her contention—the millions of people who will vote for Trump but don’t want to admit that to family, friends, and pollsters will combine to make Donald J. Trump president of the United States. How does one awake from that nightmare? Again, just one voter’s take.

Talking Turkey
Thank God that presidential elections only come around every fourth November and that Thanksgiving arrives every November. Seasonal images of the Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians gathered at long wooden tables piled with platters of food abound. One might think that Thanksgiving traditions do not reflect anything Irish. One would be wrong in that assumption.

In 1889, at the ceremonies dedicating the national monument at Plymouth Rock, a broad-shouldered, mustachioed, famed poet rising to deliver the main speech was not someone bearing the name Bradford, Alden, Winslow, or Carver. The writer was not a celebrated Yankee author such as Oliver Wendell Holmes. The man who delivered the ode to the Pilgrims was an Irishman –a Boston Irishman. John Boyle O’Reilly had been a Fenian rebel, a British Army cavalryman condemned to death by a British military court for treason. Only his daring escape from a prison in Western Australia had brought his to the same shore where he now prepared to honor a vivid national symbol: Plymouth Rock.

O’Reilly, the nationally acclaimed editor of the Boston Pilot, an essayist, and a novelist, had carved out a notable literary career in Boston. Not everyone was pleased with the selection of O’Reilly to write a poem honoring the “Pilgrim Fathers.” Locally, letters to editors and people of “polite society” objected that a “foreign-born poet would write and deliver the words “for such an important occasion.” But former Governor Long, the president of the Pilgrim Society, admonished dismayed dissenters nationwide with his rejoinder that John Boyle O’Reilly was in many ways “a genuine New England Pilgrim, born not on the mainland, but on a small island out at sea.” The fact that the small island was Ireland distressed Americans who contended that only a “real American” – someone born on American soil – should deliver the paean to the Pilgrim Fathers and Plymouth Rock.
The dedication of the Pilgrim Monument garnered nationwide coverage by the press, and O’Reilly was under some pressure to deliver a poem worthy of both his talent and of the occasion to a throng of dignitaries and citizens from all over the nation.

After several testimonials to the Pilgrims and to the monument were delivered, O’Reilly stepped forward. In a reception that proved yet again how far the Irish-born writer had climbed in the collective opinion of his fellow immigrants and native-born Americans alike, a newspaperman recorded that “the introduction of John Boyle O’Reilly elicited much enthusiasm.”

“Mr. O’Reilly was the poet of the day,” The New York Times reported. The Irishman cleared his throat and began to read aloud his 260-line ode, “The Pilgrim Fathers.” The crowd was riveted.

“Here, on this rock, and on this sterile soil, began the kingdom not of kings, but men…,” he intoned. Emerging from his stanzas were verbal shots at “privilege and Crown,” redolent of a former Fenian who had been denied freedom in his own land, only to find it in that of the Pilgrim Fathers.

John Boyle O’Reilly recognized that in Boston and New England, the Irish were still clawing for their own foothold in America. His words in Plymouth brimmed with the hope that for the Irish, “all the idols” of the crown and Anglo-American privilege would fall.

This Thanksgiving, as families with Irish bloodlines gather to celebrate the holiday, they would do well to recall that Fenian and poet John Boyle O’Reilly claimed a place, so to speak, for the Irish at the Pilgrims’ historic table.