Saturday 25 May 2019

Ireland may seem immune but Trump's victory and Brexit vote could help turn more hearts into stones

President-elect Donald Trump Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
President-elect Donald Trump Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Liz O'Donnell

Super moons, tsunamis, earthquakes, the warmest year ever on the planet, the election of a white nationalist as president of the United States - what's next? One longs for the passing of this year. The world seems in turmoil. What Donald Trump campaigned on is a week later diluted but not denied. A fence instead of the promised "wall". Only the worst of the criminals who are undocumented to be deported instead of the threatened 11 million. Words have lost all meaning.

Mr Trump could fall between two stools. On the one hand, those who bought into and were captivated by his bizarre pronouncements may feel they have been sold a pup.

Democrats who supported Hillary Clinton and witnessed her being trashed and libelled are left bereft, cheated of victory and in fear of what the new order will bring.

Post-election trauma is widespread. People gather in different states to protest, New Yorkers are desolate. Millennials are visibly distressed that despite winning the popular vote, Mrs Clinton lost. Too late. Democracy had its day.

The only way to look is forward and be hopeful that ultimately good sense and constitutional safeguards will prevail. If Mrs Clinton and Barack Obama can be civil and pragmatic about this turn of events, the rest of us need to get with the programme. But for Mrs Clinton to attribute her defeat to round two of the FBI email investigation is to miss the point.

All the analysis is that the outcome, however close, was essentially determined by people who felt disillusioned and abandoned by the political establishment and wanted something - anything - better. Warts and all, Mr Trump represented radical change and in those rust belt states, maybe the hope of a job. Perhaps the biggest misjudgment Mrs Clinton made was to characterise Trump supporters as a bunch of "deplorables".

The smooth transition of power is being honoured by Mr Obama and he is managing this with remarkable dignity. He is utilising his final weeks as president to restate important values and extract lessons learned from the election result.

Everyone now sees the calamitous political error of ignoring "people's fears that their children won't do as well as they have", and that people voted to "shake things up".

This was a theme echoed in British Prime Minister Theresa May's speech this week. She sought to capture the sense of "huge change" demanded by the electorate in the Brexit vote and by implication in the US election.

She acknowledged that the forces of globalisation and liberalism "have left too many people behind, despite its delivery of unprecedented prosperity and lifting millions out of poverty". When the deeply held concerns of people are dismissed, anti-globalisation sentiment grows. She concluded that politicians should work to preserve the best of what works and change what does not when dealing with the twin forces of liberalisation and globalisation.

In Greece, as Mr Obama did a final overseas tour, there was an opportunity to speak in support of the indebted country's embattled government. "Austerity alone cannot deliver prosperity," he said. Music to the ears of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras as he faces a Eurogroup meeting on debt relief. And he gave full credit to the Greek people for their reception and kindness to refugees fleeing war. In Greece too, support is drifting away to the conservative opposition party New Democracy in response to resentment caused by enforced austerity measures introduced so as to repay loans.

One recalls Michael Noonan quoting Yeats in a budget speech: "Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart". In Ireland the last election demonstrated that very clearly.

When people feel unheard, and their anger is perceived as dismissed or disregarded, they will flee to the arms of parties and individuals who offer radical change. Thankfully in Ireland's case the flight has been to independents and parties of the far left, sparing us the toxicity of the far right. Here, the centre is holding thanks to an uneasy coalition of the two big conservative parties. But wage demands, a housing crisis and external shocks like Brexit and the American election outcome will pile pressure on this fragile minority government.

Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe is bravely holding the line on the spending front and our Taoiseach is the right man for the awkward job of forging relations with the new US administration. And who knows how the Trump presidency will turn out. Either way the outcome should galvanise American Democrats to reframe their offering in four years' time.

In the week since the election, Mr Trump has noticeably turned down the volume, chastened like the rest of us by his unexpected victory. But appointments to key positions are a worry.

To place a notorious white supremacist and provocateur Steve Bannon as his chief strategist means the most extreme and alt-right racist views articulated by the Breitbart website and in the Trump campaign will likely permeate his presidency. Outgoing Democratic senate leader Harry Reid remarked "as long as a champion of racial division is a step away from the Oval Office, it will be impossible to take Mr Trump's efforts to heal the nation seriously".

By contrast, the appointment of RNC chairman Reince Priebus as chief of staff is a nod towards the Republican establishment. Perhaps one will balance the other out, but Mr Bannon is more influential.

And as the spoils of office are dispensed amid chaos and firings in the transition team, the president-elect takes to his twitter account to wage war on the media. All rules are cast aside.

There are legitimate questions being asked also about possible conflicts of interest between Mr Trump's business interests and the presidency. The degree of involvement of his close family members in his future administration is raising eyebrows even among Republicans.

Meanwhile, Russian and Syrian bombs are falling all week on the civilian population of Aleppo and there is no one at home in the White House to take questions.

Irish Independent

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