Monday 24 April 2017

John Downing: 'The Donald' was Ireland’s nightmare – but our leaders must make terms with a new order

A man dressed in red-white-and-blue sits on the curb during a protest against President-elect Donald Trump, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
A man dressed in red-white-and-blue sits on the curb during a protest against President-elect Donald Trump, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
John Downing

John Downing

Suddenly the already perilous waters of international trade and politics have become even more lethal for a little country like Ireland.

Mainstream Irish politicians can lament all they wish. They are very probably going to have to make terms with Donald Trump - someone they never seriously considered could become the “Leader of the Free World.”

The lessons of this horrific US presidential campaign, which mobilised legions of long dormant and forgotten voters in an angry backlash against political and economic elites, will be studied for a long time in Ireland as elsewhere.

Back in late May, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said comments from Donald Trump were "racist and dangerous."  He  added that the US public has "an alternative to vote for."

Donald Trump and his supporters have not been shy in speaking their mind in the most unparliamentary language. Their official campaign press releases have often dubbed his rival, Hillary Clinton, as '”crooked' Hillary.

But our Taoiseach’s comments were understandably never on the Trump radar as long as the campaign continued to boil. Mr Kenny's words were and still are of little consequence in the US and global scheme of things.

But the Taoiseach’s blunt assessment is unlikely to be forgotten when the prospect of a St Patrick’s Day visit to the White House occurs.

Throughout his life, and especially this horrifically bitter election race, Mr Trump has shown a propensity to take personal slights to heart.

And there is the issue of multinational company taxation.

A tribe of politicians including outgoing President Barrack Obama, and his would-be successor were  heavily critical of US corporations coming to Ireland to slash their tax bills.

But Mr Trump has struck a different note. He did not blame Ireland, or even these multinational companies.

Mr Trump said these firms were leaving the US because its current tax code is not competitive.

"In the old days you would leave New York and go down to Florida, or you would leave New Jersey to go to Texas to save taxes," he told the financial agency Bloomberg last November.

"Now because of the way the world is so different, you leave the United States and you go to Ireland, and different places in Asia and you go to Europe. It is a different world and we have to compete better," Mr Trump continued.

If a Trump White House cuts US company taxes it could have major implications for Ireland.  For those corporations “staying at home” would become an attractive prospect.

Trump is an isolationist by instinct and his politics preach that the US is being ripped off by international trade deals. He has promised to renegotiate all existing trade agreements - and to redraw the terms of proposed future deals.

Much of his rhetoric focused on China. But his victory could have implications for the future of EU-US trade compounding Ireland’s Brexit problems.

And watch for the future of the “J1” student visa programme under which thousands of Irish students travel to the US each summer. He has spoken of terminating this.

The implications of a Trump world are only beginning to dawn.

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