In a few days, America goes to the polls to elect the person who will run the country over the next four years. The choice is between Barack Obama, the incumbent, and Mitt Romney, the Republican challenger.

If the people of Ireland were allowed a vote in the Election, we would vote overwhelmingly for Obama. This has raised a few eyebrows across the pond, but in Ireland it’s pretty clear why this is the case: the modern Republican party has an outlook that is totally alien to most Irish people. It’s an extremist dominated party characterised by a slash-and-burn approach to social welfare, touting an aggressive military policy towards foreign states, all the while attempting to row back decades of progress on womens’ rights, gay rights and worker’s rights and softening the boundaries between church and state.

A case in point: the Republican case for small government and laissez-faire economics calls to mind the Great Famine in Ireland. After successive failures of the potato crop, you would have thought that Britain would have done everything it could to prevent a catastrophe. Instead, they rationalised themselves with mantras such as “let the market decide”, and “God’s providence” to make a bad situation much, much worse. Over a million people died. It was left to charitable organisations such as the Quakers to pick up the pieces.

Having visited America many times, I have always been impressed by the friendly, hard-working nature of its people. It’s a place where friendships are made easily. People are caring, thoughtful and considerate. Normal, in other words. So why are so many people – almost 50% of the population – in thrall to the destructive policies of the American Right Wing?

Anger must play a factor. I remember many years ago, talking to an elderly American couple that I knew well. It was a polite, warm conversation until I mentioned Bill Clinton. The man’s face crumpled up and he quickly launched into a diatribe of how the man was the greatest liar the country had ever seen. If anything, this sentiment has increased, both in scope and intensity. The economy has been doing badly. Government debt is measured in the trillions. Unemployment is at record highs. It seems that everyone is looking for a scapegoat. For many, Obama is that scapegoat.

Coupled with anger is fear: the worry that left to his own devices, Obama will increase taxes on the rich and elderly, socialise the economy and punish small businesses. They worry that he will open the borders to unconstrained immigration from Latin America and make America’s borders defenceless against perceived and real enemies from outside the country. Despite four years in power, where none of these supposed inevitabilities have come to pass, these fears have not abated.

The media must take a large slice of the blame for this climate of fear. A propagandist media, the likes of which does not exist in Europe, dominates the airwaves. Theirs is a message of doom, anger, and dare-I-say-it: hatred. The word “liberal” is spat out with venom from right-wing pundits the length and breath of the country.

All one can hope for is that the demographics in the US are slowly changing. The country is transitioning from a WASP dominated culture to a more diverse, internationalised one. The Internet gives people more links to the outside world and younger people are itching to rid themselves of the Generation X and Y burdens.

The USA is a wonderful country, and one I’m in thrall to. Its ethics of hard work, freedom of speech and opportunity are ones worth aspiring to. Hopefully one day we can look back on this time and reflect on the damage that ideology can do.