Monday 19 August 2019

Donal Lynch: 'In striking power coats and ferocious shades, Melania's poise is hard to resist'

Our cringe muscles are exhausted, but Trump was the best presidential box office since Kennedy, writes Donal Lynch

First Lady Melania Trump leaving the Trump International Golf Links and Hotel in Doonbeg, Co Clare after her Irish trip. Picture: Mark Condren
First Lady Melania Trump leaving the Trump International Golf Links and Hotel in Doonbeg, Co Clare after her Irish trip. Picture: Mark Condren
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

It was, in the end, the Trump trip most of us had secretly hoped for. Probably we disapprove of him, nobody has been digging up ancestors or naming plazas after him, Michael D spoke out against him and the Baby Blimp was cheered by the crowds when it made its appearance in the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin.

However, just like the rest of the world, Ireland is entertained and aghast by Trump. The silly hair and cheap charisma are iconic. The scowling Melania is a caricature of herself. The creepy children. Like political Kardashians, we love to hate them.

They are, of course, awful on many levels, but as Trump has lasted longer and longer without mistakenly pressing the nuke button it has become difficult to stay mad at him. A decade of being lampooned on American television has made him adorably comical.

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And in his brief stopover in Co Clare he was box office like no visiting president since Kennedy. Fifty US journalists - more than had ever accompanied Clinton or Obama - made the trip here to cover the visit, and all week Irish media squeezed every ounce of mileage out of the endless build-up to Trump.

On the steps of the plane - which are measured just to suit Trump's height - they appear like a flash of theromnuclear tan and white teeth against the grey sky. They looked very like themselves. Despite his great age - he is 72 now - he has never seemed remotely doddery.

She looks her absolute best in aeronautical settings - in Ireland, she wore her greatest hits to and from the planes: scarves, power coats and ferocious shades.

While Kennedy had the local link and the common touch, Trump had the power of the unexpected. Every moment of his brief advent in Doonbeg, his personal embassy here, was made more consistently interesting by the possibility that Trump might be about to issue one of his famous gaffes.

He delivered a couple of gems. When he said "it will all work out with your wall, your Border", it was quietly exhilarating, as was his fortune-cookie prediction that Brexit would be "great" for us. The follow up question, "what are you basing that on?" seemed irrelevant next to the joyful realisation that Trump had delivered a newly minted cheerfully ignorant observation - a Trumpism - just for us. Diplomatically speaking, it was worth any amount of Shamrock exchange. How could anyone doubt our significance on the world stage? "Good grief." screamed The Washington Post.

If Trump seemed as incongruous in Co Clare as Tom Berenger in The Field, Melania was positively otherworldly. As with Donald, it seems strangely difficult to resist her constancy. In the narrative that people want to rescue her from him - free Melania - there is an affection, and a sympathy, for her. She seems to have learned to walk beside him but not to hide her distaste. All affection still seems vaguely contractual.

She doesn't have the wholesomeness of Laura Bush or the mischievous exuberance of Michelle Obama, but she does have the aura of a mournful Bond villainess. Her lemon-sucking countenance seems testament to the truth of the saying that when you marry for money you earn every cent.

In the Trump era, handbag designers get appointed ambassadors and hotels serve as unofficial embassies. Add the slight uncertainty about the reception he might receive and Trump's insistence that Leo Varadkar travel to Doonbeg makes sense. The wind might be a nightmare for the architectural marvel that is Trump's comb over but Doonbeg has great golf, which isn't the real reason he came here at all.

Donald seemingly never left the resort but Eric and Don Jr - it's hard to tell which one looks more like a vampire - bought pints in several pubs and, in Eric's case, poured one Guinness so awful it was nearly a diplomatic incident.

There were protests in Dublin and Shannon and someone traced the word 'Impeach' onto the beach near Doonbeg, but the protest around Trump seemed curiously flaccid. Much of the debate centred around whether the people of the small Co Clare village were our own Vichy France for kowtowing to the Trumps, a ridiculous charge since being pleasantly two-faced with brash Americans is part of what makes Ireland great. "You're one quarter Irish you say? Do go on."

In his meeting with Trump, Varadkar had to dance another line between obsequiousness and the type of challenge that would play well with voters, who wouldn't have minded if Leo channelled Bull McCabe. Leo is much too pragmatic for anything that hostile however. If Britain is like a long-suffering wife, one who knows all the cruellest insults, Ireland is more like Stormy Daniels, dutifully, cheerfully staring at the ceiling.

Criticising Trump is its own kind of super-safe virtue signalling, which brought out the usual suspects. A few of the Greens attended a protest and Michael D seemed to have calculated that an all-out assault was the most suitable kind of reception - Higgins hit out at Trump's "regressive and pernicious" record on climate change. But, alas, the Donald did not, as he so often does, rise to the bait. It could have been that Trump had wasted all this week's bile on his latest feud (Bette Midler) but not getting at least a Twitter clap-back counted as a loss for our own President. Clearly he's no Meghan Markle.

Were those children planted there? Probably not, but you had to wonder. It all seemed a little bit irresistibly a coincidence. Not only will we let you play golf for half your time here (unlike the Brits, who bored the face off him with pomp and ceremony), we will send in some cute kids to humanise you.

As the dust settled, there was also the sense, having just come out of our own elections, that we really needn't be quite so sniffy about The Orange One. He might be fending off inquiries and lawsuits, but we have re-elected councillors and TDs who have been shown to be corrupt or mired in tacky lawsuits. We have politicians with exactly his brand of raging egotism and shaky grasp of policy.

Maybe, someday soon, we will get our own Donald Trump. And if he can't make Ireland great again, he can perhaps entertain us.

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