By Peter Makem
Before the days of TV, we heard his roar over radio and put a face on him through the newspapers. Then he appeared on TV, it was if he was born roaring, that he could communicate in no other way and that when he eventually appeared on TV discussions with others, it was a mere lapse in concentration and seemed that when he left the studio and headed outside, he roared all his way home.
I recall that he always used very course language when describing his enemies, and everyone seemed to be his enemy, notably Catholics, republicans and the leaders of the Unionist Party. All of whom were his particular enemy for the simple reason that he aspired to one position in life and one only, and that was to be Prime Minister / First Minister of Northern Ireland.
He could never be second in anything in life. He was an Orangeman but formed his own independent Orange Lodge. He was a Presbyterian minister but established his own Free Presbyterian Church. He was a Unionist but formed his own Democratic Unionist Party.
Then all changed. At the age of 80, and after bitterly opposing the Good Friday Agreement at every stage of its process, he suddenly saw blue sky open up when the opportunity came to form a government in partnership with his sworn life-long bitter enemy, Sinn Fein.
His faithful followers in both politics and religion looked on aghast as Paisley did a momentous U-turn on every front without the slightest sense of embarrassment. While his former friends seethed, he beamed and entered a glowing relationship with Martin McGuinness — commonly referred to as the “Chuckle Brothers.”
Paisley did a momentous U-turn on every front without the slightest sense of embarrassment.
At an age when all other people of political aspiration were long shrivelled in ambition or were dead, while all of his age had long resigned and long gone into retirement, here he was entering the paradise of his life’s dream, totally oblivious to the trail of damage he had done all his life and to the bewilderment of all those political and religious people who had followed him faithfully down the decades.
And even though many of his old friends formally turned their back in him, including the elders of the church he had founded, this overarching ambition to be number one citizen in the North surrounded him with a mode of indifference to everything.
But he did not remain there long. At over 80, he was simply not up to the day-to-day mechanism of running a government and a gentle relentless push from his Democratic Unionist Party, and an equal push from sheer years sent him into permanent retirement, and there he largely descended into a time of loneliness.
But who was the real Ian Paisley? Who is the real Donald Trump? After the wild bull charge through the election, destroying all opposition with affirmations of a new American dawn, a prophet of a figure come to admonish and come to redeem in the one breath, a day of judgement and reckoning for America and the world.
Then at the zenith of election night, the wild man suddenly tamed. The world that he had just conquered stared back at him, as it stated back at Paisley in the full light of all its complexities. He had to be friendly with it, open his eyes wider and before the night fell on victory day became more and more human, more and more pleasant, that before he went to bed had compromised on many things.
In many ways, Paisley died a sad man after achieving all his ambitions, which were ultimately a quest for status, power and control. Trump’s election, I think, has filled an emptiness, a void of uncertainty in American life and he will no doubt steer the ship according to deep convictions.
Like Paisley, I think he will find that there is a very short step from achieving a dream to entering a nightmare, and that being in power is coping with the latter not the former. It is always easier to be shaped by events than to shape events, and the real Trump has yet to appear on the scene.