HE HAS been one of the biggest talking points across the globe in recent times, but on Saturday night the topic of the infamous Donald Trump reached Lerwick’s very own Staney Hill Hall for the first Althing debate of the year.
The motion ‘Trump – we got what we deserved’ was simple yet complex, and often led to discussion about semantics rather than the US president elect’s prospective policies or personality.
An initial show of hands revealed the room was largely divided, with 15 people for the motion, 18 against and 15 undecided.
However, after all speakers had their say, an extra eight people supported the motion and 11 were in objection.
Speaking for the motion were writer Donald Murray and Thor Holt, a Shetland expat who spent a few years in the US working at Boston’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Representing the opposing side was councillor Jonathan Wills and Tagon Stores owner Ryan Thomson, who spearheads the campaign for fairer ferry fares and is standing for council in May.
There were few fireworks on show in what was an often humorous debate, with the speakers seemingly in general agreement that Trump’s character left a lot to be desired.
Murray, who originally hails from Lewis, opened by joking about his possible family connections to the outgoing Barack Obama – not Trump – with the Scottish island seemingly having ancestral links to both men.
Much of the writer’s case centred on the “great, vast echo chamber” created by the mainstream media and the public, who are afraid of “challenging preconceptions” by examining both sides of the debate in what he described as a clickbait culture.
This led to many being unaware of the huge levels of support for the controversial Trump, he said. “From the beginning, we failed to take him, or the people who chose him, with sufficient seriousness.”
Wills responded by questioning the motion and what is ‘we’. “How many of us voted in the election?” he asked the audience.
He went on to criticise the US voting system, which saw rival candidate Hillary Clinton gain nearly three million more votes than the “sinister buffoon” Trump, saying it doesn’t create a “democratic mandate” for the victor.
Referring again to the motion, Wills asked if those in the 1930s “deserved” the Nazis, and whether he “deserved” Margaret Thatcher. Americans, he said, do not deserve a president like Trump.
Holt – who said he bet £250 on Trump winning the election – commended the online alternative media for not being afraid to cover all issues, describing them as sources now deemed more trustworthy than the mainstream media. This in part helped to build support for Trump, he suggested.
He believed Americans were fed up of Obama’s “celebrity cult leader” style, further leading citizens to side with the right, and attacked the outgoing president’s record of deaths on foreign lands by drone strikes.
Holt added the at times “cringeworthy” celebrity support of Clinton was likely to have put off some undecided voters, while he raised WikiLeaks and its dissemination of Democratic National Committee emails.
Concluding was Thomson, who said he woke up on the morning of 9 November expecting to see a Clinton victory speech on TV.
He said the “sexist and racist” Trump is “so out of touch” with the world that people simply can’t “deserve” him.
Thomson used his speech to attack Trump’s character, highlighting some of his dubious comments, before ending with a poem apparently written by a schoolgirl which took aim at the president elect.
The floor was then opened to the audience, with Dave Hammond ruminating on the specifics of the motion and what ‘we’ exactly related to, and how the word ‘deserve’ could be construed.
One man said Trump’s victory was a “wake-up call” and that members of the public need to start taking more “responsibility” for themselves.
Teacher Irvine Tait reflected on the wider US presidential campaign, suggesting that it could be described as the “good, the bad and the ugly” – the good being left-leaning Democrat hopeful Bernie Sanders, the bad being Clinton and the ugly…well, he left that for the audience to decide.
One man agreed that Trump’s controversial comments have been sexist and racist, but he said – from first-hand experience – that staff on building sites, for example, say worse things but aren’t “bad” people.
An audience member suggested sexism was at play when Clinton failed to become the first female US president, while SIC leader Gary Robinson drew comparisons between Trump’s election and Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.
He said that some people wrongly believed inequality would be effectively tackled if Trump was voted in or if Brexit took place.
One American audience member said she felt the presidential campaign’s rhetoric about immigrants and minorities had been “very upsetting”, while one local expressed her concern at the “sheer volatility of the electorate”, adding that she hoped “this will make people think before they jump on a simplistic bandwagon”.
Summing up, Wills responded to numerous points made earlier in the night, including expanding on his criticism of British newspapers like The Sun and The Daily Mail and coverage of political campaigns. “Some of the mass media was acting in a fascist way,” he said, adding that he felt some US voters were “deceived”.
Murray said we have a “wider responsibility” than just our own country and are now part of a “worldwide movement”. He then suggested the older generation may be partly responsible for allowing the “system” to continue, creating a “deadlock” for democratic forces.
“We’ve got what we deserved,” he said, “and that is an unfortunate fact.”