With the chaos and drama of the American election ongoing, public figures are already wading into the fray to share their views. Among these are the celebrities publicly expressing their desires to leave the US if unhappy with the election results.
Actor Samuel L. Jackson says he will move to South Africa if Trump wins (although one suspects the amount of government corruption would be, at best, a lateral move), while singer Cher plans to move to Jupiter – which seems a bit extreme, as the majority of the world’s population probably should not be blamed for America’s choices and decisions. Who knows how Jupiter would vote in its next election? Regardless, it is worth noting that similar commentaries were made by celebrities during George W. Bush’s campaign in 2004 – with less than dramatic results after his eventual re-election.
The reality of the American experience is that emigration is still rare. Estimates are that about 8 million Americans (2.5% of the population) reside abroad. The results of American elections do not have a particular impact on that figure and it seems clear that such joking statements are easy to make for the privileged American, secure in the relatively insular nature of life in the American economy.[pullquote] It is hard to imagine similar jokes being made in Ireland, where changes in economic policy do indeed mean that young Irish people leave the country by the thousands.[/pullquote]
However appealing Justin Trudeau’s Canada may seem compared to an America ruled by Donald Trump, the US’s cultural narrative is one of immigration rather than emigration. It is hard to imagine similar jokes being made in Ireland, where changes in economic policy do indeed mean that young Irish people leave the country by the thousands. That is not to say that poverty doesn’t exist in the US, but simply that emigration is viewed not as an economic coping mechanism, but a decidedly middle class experience for university students studying abroad or for wealthy jet-setters like Gwyneth Paltrow and George Clooney.
Which is, perhaps, why it’s so jarring that political commentator Bill O’Reilly claimed that if Bernie Sanders won the American election, he planned to move to Ireland to escape Sanders’ socialist views – “and they already know I’m coming.” Leaving aside the question of who exactly knows that O’Reilly is coming (does he seem like more of a Fine Gael or Fianna Fail man?), O’Reilly certainly seems more enamoured with the romantic ideal of Ireland than embracing the realities of its current political situation.
O’Reilly did not grow up in Ireland. In fact, his family emigrated to America before the end of the Irish colonial era. Perhaps this is why there is such a gap between his understanding of Ireland and the reality of modern Irish politics. Socialism has a long history in Ireland, with James Connolly as a prominent example. Irish austerity has certainly recently minimised many of the supportive social structures from the government and the charity sector, but child benefit, a sole registration fee for third level education, and subsidized medical care are probably not what O’Reilly is envisioning when he contemplates a move to Ireland.[pullquote]O’Reilly certainly seems more enamoured with the romantic ideal of Ireland than embracing the realities of its current political situation.[/pullquote]
Perhaps O’Reilly is visualizing Ireland’s abortion laws. With Donald Trump’s recent comments supporting the prosecutions of women who access abortion services, the Republican party’s views are becoming ever closer to adopting an Irish model, in which women who access illegal abortions can face up to 14 years imprisonment.
Yet if O’Reilly is intending to move to Ireland in order to escape from legal access to abortion, he will be disappointed to realise momentum for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment is growing. According to a recent Amnesty International poll, 87% of Irish people would prefer abortion access extended, while 72% would like it to be decriminalised entirely. As American states impose increasing restrictions on abortion access, Ireland seems to be heading in an opposite direction of liberalising abortion access, which would mean that O’Reilly would not necessarily find Ireland to be a haven for long.
The most notable difference between the US and Ireland would, perhaps, be the distinction between Irish law and O’Reilly’s views on gun control. While he does support some forms of gun control in the US, he seems unconvinced of the wisdom of greatly limiting the amount of firearms available in society. [pullquote]Ireland seems to be heading in an opposite direction of liberalising abortion access, which would mean that O’Reilly would not necessarily find Ireland to be a haven for long.[/pullquote]
Yet in Ireland, it is a matter of public policy that the government chooses not to promote handgun ownership for personal protection uses – the Gardai are even an unarmed police force. Far from the dangerous dystopia that O’Reilly and other American Republicans fear with restrictive handguns laws, Ireland has far less intentional homicides than the US. For anyone who would feel uncomfortable without access to a handgun, Ireland does seem like an odd choice of new home.
As easy as it would be to simply educate O’Reilly about the social policy and political views of the Irish people, his assumption that he would escape socialism in Ireland speaks of a gap between modern Irish society and the assumptions of a distant member of the Irish diaspora. In an interview with Matt Cooper on Today FM, O’Reilly noted that he would love to eventually retire to Ireland, focusing on the beauty of the country.
Ireland is undeniably a beautiful place to live, but O’Reilly notably fails to understand the sense of community and solidarity which has been such an essential aspect of Irish culture. These are the qualities which have provided such eloquent objections to austerity and driven the progress Ireland has made in beginning to craft a secular society. If O’Reilly is concerned by the idea of living in a country with a socialistic spirit, it’s probably best for him to reconsider moving to Ireland.