The British Foreign Office debated a fantastical idea in the 1980s to address two historic challenges at once.
Hong Kong would revert from British to “Red” Chinese rule in 1997, and its citizens were frantic about what might occur when the communists took control. At the same time, the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland appeared intractable; violence within the six counties disputed between nationalist Republicans who sought a single, unified Ireland, and Ulster Loyalists who swore allegiance to the Crown, was a daily occurrence.
The number of Tanqueray and tonics consumed in devising the plan is unknown, but it must have been considerable, for here was the proposal: Transplant the entire population of Hong Kong — 5.5 million souls at the time — to the north of Ireland to dilute the animus between mostly Catholic Republicans and mostly Protestant Loyalists.
A sober-minded member of Parliament from Northern Ireland helped scuttle the idea by chastising London for failing to appreciate the depths of the conflict. Twenty-five years hence, he quipped, proponents shouldn’t expect to see peace, but rather 2.75 million Hong-Kong-Irish Loyalists and 2.75 million Hong-Kong-Irish Republicans knee deep in the conflict. Tensions were that bad.
It’s worth remembering this silliness as Ireland thrives and a divided America boils, not to make light of either matter, but as a reminder of how desperate and cynical we as a species can become when we’re at each others' throats. Doom and gloom drag on the spirit; political despondency can feel absolute sometimes.
Such is the situation in the United States today. On Wednesday, we impeached a president for the third time in our history, and that’s not even the scariest part. It’s the collapse of honor and objectivity in Washington that’s most worrisome to those who see President Donald Trump and his apologists as a threat to our system of government. Facts no longer matter; it’s all about party loyalty and power.
To Trump supporters, the impeachment is immaterial. So, by the way, are many of the traditional policy debates — government spending, to name a big one — that historically marked the differences between Republicans and Democrats. All that matters now is the culture war, and Trump, warts and all, is their unlikely champion. He’s their big, bad, beautiful bull in a china shop begging to be wrecked.
The fight is about change, too much too quickly, thanks to a political left hellbent on erasing so many American norms. It’s about isms, as well, though not the ones we fought over last century. Now it’s elitism — academic, political and economic; secularism that feels like an attack on traditional Judeo-Christian values; globalism that’s swallowed whole millions of American manufacturing jobs; unabashed libertinism sold through pop culture and a growing bilingualism that came with illegal immigration. These are the enemies of the Trump supporter, and the war feels almost religious.
It’s striking to see on electoral maps just how much geography determines one’s views on the current American conflict. This truly is a rural vs. urban fight, with city and suburban voters overwhelmingly opposing Trump and the vast majority of small-town Americans cheering him on. It boils down to attitudes, I guess. To the perspective from which one is looking at America.
What would happen if we transplanted a few million progressives here and a few million Trump voters there? How long before their views of America changed?
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.