US presidential candidate Donald Trump with his wife Ivana in 1990
ALAN FRAME explains why Donald Trump and the late Dr Ian Paisley are two of a kind
In the 1990s I spent the night with Ivana Trump. Yes, I thought that might get your attention. To be accurate I spent the early hours, I think from midnight to 3am, with the newly-divorced wife of the lunatic now appealing to all the other lunatics in the US. We were not alone, Ross and Ingie Benson were with us in the Dorchester Club where the price of a beer would keep most families in food for a week. Memory is hazy as to why Mrs T was there or indeed why I was there, but I do recall she seemed rather vacuous with very little to say in her stagey Czech-American Zsa Zsa Gabor voice .
I was musing on this while reading about the latest Primaries, as depressing an indictment of the state of that nation as one could not wish for. And then I saw the nasty footage of minders at a Trump rally this week attacking photographer Chris Morris for daring to take one step outside the designated press pen and other memories began nagging away. It was then it became clear: Donald J Trump and the Rev Dr Ian R K Paisley (it was a mail order doctorate from the Bob Jones University, S Carolina) are cast from the same ghastly mould. Let me explain:
As a very young reporter on the Belfast News-Letter I had to report on the revolting Paisley, a fundamentalist rabble rouser who appealed to the same bunch of half-witted neo-cons as Trump does today. One Sunday he was leading a march along the Antrim Road, one of the better parts of Belfast and home to a good deal of the city’s Jewish population*. I was sent to cover the event alongside my very good pal and News-Letter photographer David Liddle. David was small and round but utterly fearless to the point of foolhardiness. Fully aware that stewards were forbidding photographs, Liddle ran to the head of the march, turned round and walked in reverse snapping away. Within moments some large sweaty thug approached: “Clear off friend” (for those of you lucky enough never to have experienced a sinister ‘loyalist’ addressing you as ‘friend’ – pronounced ‘free-end’ - it is not a term of affection). But Liddle, later driven out of Belfast after the Provisionals tried to kill him, ignored the order with the inevitable result. Both cameras smashed and David badly bashed. Not unlike the fate of Chris Morris exactly 50 years later in Radford, West Virginia.
Both Paisley, pictured right, and Trump represent the ugly side of populism. Both were/are Presbyterians, both have had clashes with various Popes – Paisley called the Vicar of Rome ‘Old Red Socks’ and ‘The Anti-Christ’ and last month Trump called Pope Francis a ‘disgrace’ for criticising his policies – and both have a sense of demagoguery. Both of them represent that phenomenon that the more outrageous the comment, the better it goes down with the faithful. And both rely on the fact that there has to be the right audience which, remarkably, is the already enfranchised majority and not the opposite.
Right up to Paisley’s apparent conversion to Martin McGuinness’ fellow ‘chuckle brother’ he was champion of those Ulster Protestant Unionists who felt threatened by Catholics being given further rights, such as the end of vote gerrymandering and the deeply embedded sectarianism which was rampant at the time. He wanted the Irish border to be rigid and forcibly controlled. He hated the Catholic church and Free Staters, as he called those from the Republic. In short he was a vile bigot whose attitudes, until he either saw the light or, more likely, realised the game was up, were in part responsible for the Troubles and thus delayed the birth of the modern, prosperous, mostly peaceful, easy-with-itself province that Northern Ireland is today.
And Trump: the modern day bigot: Let’s arm all of America as long as it’s us, not them; let’s build that wall to keep out the Mexicans and their filthy ways; let’s keep out every Muslim; let’s not disparage the Ku Klux Klan (as Trump refused to do recently); we don’t want inclusivity, we just want America to be great again and only for those who agree with me. It’s all very disturbing.
For all decent sensible liberal people who think that the Trump phenomenon won’t last and that America will come to its senses before it’s too late, just remember it took 30 years of death, misery and heartbreak before Ulster found some sort of peace.
*The old joke goes that those stopped on the Antrim Rd and asked, threateningly, ‘Are ye a Prod or a Papist?’ would reply: ‘I’m a Jew’. ‘Aye, but are ye a Protestant Jew or a Catholic Jew?’ These days in the melting pot that is modern Belfast, the reference is to Muslim Catholics and not Jewish ones…