Gael Cronin looks at the depth to which humanity can stoop when we prioritise wealth, turning a blind eye to suffering in the process.
Fifty years ago, when people would be asked on the streets about what the post-2000 world would look like, many were very optimistic. The rapid evolution of science made us think that our cars would be flying and that no disease wouldn’t have its cure. Hell, we had gotten to the Moon in the 60s, was it so crazy to think we would be able to treat cancer and feed everybody forty years later? The world has come a great way since the mid-century madness of hatred and we have put everything into place for the devil to stay in hiding: international human rights treaties, investments in making our planet better fed, healthier, safer and greener. We put a focus on happiness rather than twisted definitions of success and the media, as it is free, holds the elite accountable. It seems we have gone full circle – now it is time to repeat everything from the start.
Elections, across the world, show a very worrying trend of nationalistic sentiments. It started before the Trump era and is only getting worse as the “leader of the free world” is setting a dangerous example. He encourages “Send Her Back” chants about congresswomen who dare to stand for their voters rather than their donors. He talks about consent as if it were only a detail, and, in his administration pulling out of the 2015 Paris Agreement, denies the worst threat humanity has ever had to face: climate change.
But Trump is not the only bully in office. The LGBT+ community is losing rights across the planet. In Brunei in 2019, the death penalty against the community was both instituted and then, thankfully, suppressed. Italian Minister Lorenzo Fontana has been quoted saying “rainbow families do not exist as far as the law is concerned”, implying that in many places the most dangerous thing you can be is a minority. Wherever we are, the men and women we voted for are yet to lift a finger to stop the agony of the Syrian people which have been seeking refuge since 2011. Oftentimes, their plight is almost intended to serve as a reminder that we are lucky to live in a country where we are not targeted by state officials for daring to demand decent living conditions.
As we read senseless articles about the record amount of air balloons in one place because reading the actual news is just too much for us, we cannot deny that history is repeating itself. When, in the aftermath of World War Two, we could say that we didn’t know what was happening in camps, now we know. It is of public knowledge that our favourite clothes brands are exploiters with Forbes reporting in 2018 that “Bangladesh is burning and sweatshops are the fuel.” We know that the people we voted for do far less to save us from climate change than Greta Thunberg, an actual teenager. In Ireland, we perform 49th out of 59 countries in the EU Climate Change Performance Index.
How do we break the cycle? By starting to hold politicians accountable for the deals they make in hiding with the people who have the actual, financial power. It is not enough that we just sit back and watch and do nothing. It is certainly not enough that we slowly, collectively, shift our vote to the extremes. It is not enough that American citizens can still keep guns in their night tables.
Decency has become a luxury – and one of the reasons is that few of us know our rights. We need to be taught what is legally unacceptable, whether it is being underpaid, evicted under false pretences or exiled from a country under racism. Often the thieves of basic liberties are the very people we voted for. Our enemy is not that immigrant that set up a kebab shop down the road, that woman who covers her hair with silk or the young black man, it is the men who point at them as responsible for our troubles. Despite the words of Trump or Nigel Farage, we cannot forget that if every asylum seeker in Europe was granted asylum and they legally “invaded” us, they would make up for a mere 0.5% of the EU population.
We are under no threat from outside our borders, but we should worry about who we allow to dictate our own. Those people, the Trumps of the world, will be gone when climate change really starts decimating us, but for us, the younger generation, whether we are rich or poor won’t matter when we are facing gigantic waves on our shores. Thus, we need to take back what is ours: our rights to live decently and to hope.