‘Let me smell your breath!’ , Ian Paisley demanded of Martin Bell, the BBC’s Northern Ireland correspondent during the early years of ‘ The Troubles’. Bell had asked for a comment on a recent display of militarism in East Belfast by a loyalist group. The exchange was typical of Paisley’s relations with the Press. While clearly recognising its importance, he bullied and harassed individual journalists when they raised issues that were either unfavourable or uncomfortable. He could switch rapidly from sectarian rabble rousing to friendly banter and seemingly genuine , solicitous enquiries about a mutual acquaintance. Bell, on one occasion , had to crawl out of a lavatory window in Limavady to escape from a Paisleyite mob.
Rarely on public view, it is reported that Trump in private can show charm and consideration towards some who may harbour doubts about his suitability for the Presidency. However, at Charlottesville, in Trump’s behaviour, when he attacked the assembled Press and with minimal subtlety encouraged his supporters to action, we saw a reflection of the young Ian Paisley. The Big Fellow would never allow himself to condemn any of the extreme Loyalist groups and rarely condemned violence such as the shooting dead of Gunner Robert Curtis, the first British soldier to die in action in the 60s.. Usually, he attributed Loyalist violence as an understandable response to provocation by the enemies of Ulster .
A young woman, protesting against the arrival of a fascist mob in her beautiful , university town, was murdered for her views but the normally voluble US President declined to comment. The World had seen Charlottesville invaded by torch-bearing crypto fascists, many of whom were carrying guns and had heard their fascist chanting. Donald Trump , when he finally spoke in Virginia, refused to disavow the Nazi Right, since , apparently , he had been repeatedly told by Bannon that these were his core supporters, whom he could not afford to alienate, given his low poll ratings. The GOP Brahmans , the Security Services , the senior executives of his administration, the media have all deserted Trump and fled the tethers of the racist Right. He is now left only with family members to fan his bloated ego.
Paisley knowingly conflated religion and politics, convincing his followers in fundamental, evangelistic rant that any proposed political change was a threat to their religious freedom and liberty. He convinced many followers that the demand for a United Ireland was a religious war and that the IRA was the militant, armed wing of the Catholic Church. You may think that this is rather fanciful and lacking in evidence but a look at the final chapter of Paisley’s life is interesting. At St Andrews there seems to have been an acceptance by him that change was inevitable and that only he could lead the faithful across the Rubicon. His unpredictable forging of a close relationship with Martin McGuiness for the short period that they lead the government together became uncomfortable for his Party which turned to his long-serving deputy, Peter Robinson and the bitterest blow of all was his discharge from the Church which he had founded.
Trump will not learn from Paisley; he has neither the ability to lead nor the wish to concentrate on the detail of Government. He has no political allies and his end will be even more ignominious than Paisley’s proved.
His deeds will come back to haunt him as the man who set out ‘to make America Great’ and whom history will record as its worst ever President.