Reading this extraordinary story in Slate magazine, I was struck by the affinity between Trump’s supporters and Paisley’s, especially in the latter’s early days when he presented himself to his followers as ‘God’s Man for Ulster’.
The story, which bears witness to the terrifying power of organised religion over the human mind, takes place in Dalton, Georgia in the heart of America’ Bible belt. But it could just as easily have happened in Broughshane, Co. Antrim.
The folks in this story represent the ultimate distillation of the fruits of Protestant Ulster parochilalism. Ulster immigrants formed the sinews of the reactionary US Bible Belt, principally due to the fact that semi-literate biblical literalists constituted the preacher class who ministered to crackers. Half the population of Tennessee belongs to one or another evangelical outfit, with over a third being Baptists, the stream of kookiness most favoured by the descendents of Ulster immigrants. A related development occurred on the frontier in western Canada, where whacky evangelicals filled the void and built bible colleges in lieu of worldly educational institutions, and where in fact Ian Paisley brought his bullshit-artist show to Calgary to enthusiastic, if limited, acclaim, over half a century ago. North America provided fertile ground for the particular religious afflictions of Ireland. Catholic priests found the remote Irish enclaves in the upper Ottawa Valley to be a bountiful source of ripe young boys, with a willingness to turn a blind eye among their congregants that at least matched that in Baltimore, Boston and St. John’s Newfoundland.