Irish News journalist Bimpe Archer writes about the view from Belfast, Northern Ireland, of the US presidential election and America’s first black president.
On the morning the results for the presidential elections came in I was at a breakfast hosted by the US Consul to Belfast. Everyone was a Democrat that day.
It was being held at a further education campus on the outskirts of west Belfast and the invites were a mixture of American ex-patriates living in Northern Ireland, educators, members of the media and public relations professionals.
We hadn’t expected to know the result of the election at that time. Everyone was hoping that it wouldn’t go to a `hanging chad’-style recount, but all the indicators seemed to be that it would be a relatively close race.
In the days running up, everyone was asking each other – “Who do you think is going to win.”
For myself I couldn’t see Obama losing. I did not see the now notorious First Election Debate, but all the reports I read were pretty scathing. Nevertheless, from my vantage thousands of miles away, Romney did not seem to have what it would take to unseat one of the most popular US presidents of recent years.
There was, however, always that lurking doubt. After all, four years ago it seemed almost inconceivable that America would really elect a black president. Segregation, after all had been within living memory and slavery just a few generations past. Yes, times had changed, but…
If 2008 was the token election of an African-American, then, to me, 2012 was the test election. Was America just doing a little PR and saying to the world “Hey, we’re liberal. See!” and then, once that box was checked, return to the hundreds of years of status quo.
Irish News journalist Bimpe Archer (r) interviews Rev. Edwin Sanders
Of course that did not turn out to be the case and by the time I pulled up at the campus the election was won and what had been planned as an event to watch the results came in turned into a celebration instead.
Obama is popular in Belfast. We get how significant it is that he is in the White House. We’re as affected as the rest of the world by his easy charisma and general sense of decency. It’s refreshing.
However, there is disquiet in some quarters at his administration ordering four-times as many drone strikes as George W Bush and moves to clamp down on whistleblowers.
There’s not widespread support for military operations in Afghanistan, and before that Iraq. We do tend to see the US as more war-hungry than necessary and are suspicious about the battles it chooses to fight, that they’re more about economic imperatives and its own security than the great good of the world.
Ireland in general loves US presidents, though. Before they’re even elected we find their `Irish roots’ – yes Obama has them too! – and as soon as they set foot in the Emerald Isle they’re whisked off to the little village where their folks hail from to meet their long lost cousins. I don’t know what we’ll do when we get the first US president with no Irish roots. I wonder if that would have more to say about changing demographics in the US than anything else so far.
Last time we had two of our journalists in Washington for the inauguration. By all accounts the atmosphere in the capital was electric that day.
This time I’m in Belfast’s sister city of Nashville on the big day, learning about the parallels between the two, some of which were unexpected. When I get back home I plan to write a feature about that which we hope will also appear in the Tennessee Tribune.
I will definitely be reporting back about how friendly and kind everyone has been during my stay.