Politics in the United States has become a spectacle. Politicians have embraced political theatrics and, what was once the domain of serious governance now resembles a surreal spectacle. This transition has left many asking whether American politics morphed into a disconcerting hybrid of absurdity and fear, a real-life drama more riveting and alarming than any scripted show.

With the United States election season officially in progress, one can expect the experiences of the common citizen to sink even further from attention as candidates vie for the most powerful job in the world.

American Map made by Hugh Dooley
American Map made by Hugh Dooley

At the College Tribune, we wished to capture the truths of the people who live in the middle of it all. We reached out to two Irish-American UCD students, back home on holiday, to better understand the political cultures of their hometowns, their family experience, as well as their outlook upon the upcoming election. What they offer is far from the unrealistic experiences of America’s ruling figures; instead, it informs upon the realities of the American public.

Roisín Davoren:

Roisín took her call from the parking lot of a Raising Canes, a popular chicken-based fast-food restaurant throughout the Southern United States, sometime around midnight. The sun had long set in Sunset, Louisiana, the small town of 3,000 residents that Roisín calls home. Her Irish parents fell in love while dancing on the Riverdance tour and fell in love again after being introduced to Louisiana by a fellow performer. In the summer, the Davorens run a successful Irish dance camp.

Sunset, Louisiana like many places throughout the South, is a place where you can still see the deepest scars of the United States’ history of racial division. Redlining, or the practice of withholding services from neighbourhoods comprised of “inharmonious racial groups”, choked minority populations into poverty. Today in Sunset, the historic redlining finds the most impoverished people cut off by the railroad tracks, or as some residents would say, “on the wrong side of the tracks”. These divisions greatly shape political interests.

photo of u s a flag
Photo by Matthis Volquardsen on Pexels.com

“Everyone knows everyone in Sunset’’, Roisín detailed. From the shopkeepers to the waitresses and the school teachers, the town is the type one may see in a small-town drama show in which the heart of the drama revolves around the complex ways in which professions, bloodlines, and beliefs overlap. Roisín mentioned how high school parties would often come under scrutiny during Sunday church, with unruly teenagers often sitting between their parents and the police officer who had scolded them the night before.
Roisín views her townsfolk from two separate perspectives. First, the people that make her home special, the glowing faces which have illuminated the happiest memories of her childhood.

Second, people who are diehard supporters of Trump, people whose fears and hardships have been weaponized into dangerous, blind support —people who don’t vote like Roisín’s parents, themselves Democrats. Since the 2016 election of President Donald Trump, these two perspectives have often conflicted.

“I remember my parents used to feel more comfortable talking about their political opinions, but now we can only get it out with one another when we’re all at home. My parents know to be careful around family friends, so things don’t get ugly. You just don’t talk about politics, you can’t.”

Roisín recalled how the Irish flag her family flew proudly outside their home was found riddled with bullet holes following the election of President Joe Biden in 2020.

A neighbour, presumably, had interpreted the Irish flag as support for Biden and his Irish roots. Hostilities such as these, and nerves regarding the upcoming election, have led the Davoren family to consider moving to Ireland. As it stands, the reelection of Donald Trump would see them leave the United States. Their recent trip to visit Roisín doubled as a house hunting trip to Dunmore East, in County Waterford. Biden’s reelection offers little more confidence.

Rosín heads back to UCD with a renewed perspective on politics in the US, and a heightened stress surrounding the future. “I feel like my vote doesn’t matter since Louisiana is red all the way. I know I wouldn’t vote for Trump, but I don’t really want to vote for Biden. I feel just powerless to the system.”

Aoife O’Hagan:

When asked to describe her hometown of Milford, New Hampshire, Aoife compared it to the fictional town of Stars Hollow from the hit TV series “Gilmore Girls”; a quick internet search confirms her comparison to be true.
A historic quarry town of about 16,000 residents, Milford is known for its quaint colonial-style architecture and charming autumnal foliage, the type of foliage one might enjoy while drinking a pumpkin spice latte. The Milford Oval, itself the town square, is actually a triangle nowadays — no one had bothered to rename it.

New Hampshire has the responsibility of holding the first presidential primary in the United States, this year falling on the 23rd of January. A primary is an election to select candidates to appear on the general election ballot for a particular party. This places New Hampshire in the spotlight as the election year begins, with eager politicians, excited supporters, and media outlets from all over the nation pouring into towns such as Milford.

woman with a sign
Photo by cottonbro studio on Pexels.com

Aoife notes, “Some people during election years will just come up to you and get in your business. It’s a lot to face.” She said she reminds herself that she is an actual person with a complex story, not just a vote to be tallied.

Political confrontation, while it may peak during election years, is ever-present in the social spaces of Milford. Aoife shared how political divisions often overshadowed social interactions between friends, neighbours, and colleagues. “Politics and relationships don’t match well” is a motto that Aoife and her family have come to know the hard way.

The daughter of two Irish immigrants, Aoife noted how the term opportunity was often heard in conversations at home. A driving reason behind their immigration in 2000, Her parents tell her that they feel economic opportunity has fallen greatly in the United States— a common talking point is the extortionate price of college in the United States.

As for Aoife, opportunity takes the form of women’s rights and representation. She mentioned the 2022 overturning of Roe v. Wade (the removal of federally protected access to an abortion) as a moment of deep concern for her rights, as well as the rights of future generations.

As for this election, Aoife sees little opportunity for meaningful, sincere women’s representation: “I always thought that having a female president would be amazing, but the current female candidate [Republican Nikki Haley] is so poor.”

Haley is currently on the hot seat for her statements regarding racism in the United States, or the lack thereof. Haley’s prior statements on her experience with racism as the daughter of Punjabi Indian immigrants directly conflict with more recent stances.

Ultimately, a collective regression of opportunity has prompted serious discussions upon the future – a move back to Ireland is being considered by the O’Hagan family.

Aoife’s outlook on the future remains bright, despite the situation. She mentioned her faith in her generation to show up on election day and vote for progress. More importantly, her resolute faith in herself to create change comes as a refreshing perspective.

Aoife ended the interview with one simple demand, a demand which has shaped political direction throughout history: “I want to be heard”. It remains to be seen what place this simple demand has in the most decisive and dire election in recent memory.

Ben Floyd – Contributor