They trotted out tales of ancestral hardship at the drop of a hat, then again and again refused safe harbor to suffering refugees. Their actions were not rooted in ignorance. They were a deliberate turning away from something they refused to understand — that it could be them trying to get in, that in fact it was once them, or an earlier iteration of them, struggling to keep their children alive through oppression and war and forced migration.
Their departure from power is no loss to the world or to Ireland. The country now stands to benefit from a friendly American leader. Micheal Martin, Ireland’s prime minister, spoke of the longstanding tradition of United States presidents visiting Ireland, noting in early January: “When I invited President-elect Biden to Ireland, he just said ‘Try and keep me out,’ so it won’t be any lack of enthusiasm.” This affinity could have powerful political implications for Ireland’s position in the world, particularly after Britain’s departure from the European Union.
What should the Biden administration and a Democratic-controlled Congress prioritize?
Mr. Biden seems glad to wield that power. In September he put the British government on notice, tweeting, “We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit. Any trade deal between the U.S. and UK. must be contingent upon respect for the agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.” His intervention is reported to have “significantly influenced decision-making in Downing Street.” Of course it did. Imagine your biggest, smiliest, deadliest boss publicly threatening your workplace bully, and having the chops to back it up?
It’s gratifying to see, certainly. But what my Irishness leads me to is the old Ireland, the truly dark and terrifying place that Mr. Biden’s forefathers fled from. Who is their equivalent now? And can the president see them for what they are and act accordingly?
The parallels between Ireland in the 1800s, when Mr. Biden’s forefathers left, and, say, Syria or South Sudan today are horribly apt. The Syrian people, brave and revolutionary, simply needed a fair system of government and, later, a safe place to recover and restart their lives. But Americans have looked away. The South Sudanese, reeling from brutal colonization, continue to struggle through ethnic division and civil war. Surely too in Juba, South Sudan’s capital, there are poets and musicians who dream of the rhyme of hope and history, if only we stopped to listen.