Wednesday 14 November 2018

Mr Varadkar goes to Washington

Leo Varadkar.
Leo Varadkar.
Editorial

Editorial

Today Leo Varadkar has begun a trip to Washington, his first as Taoiseach. Some would demand he take the opportunity to stand up to President Trump in the White House. Some would want him to raise the threatened imposition of tariffs on steel and aluminium imported into the US. There is concern over the tariffs - 25pc for steel and 10pc for aluminium - because the Aughinish Alumina plant in Limerick, with a workforce of 450, is Europe's largest producer of the raw material for manufacturing aluminium. And heavy American tariffs could displace product from elsewhere and depress the market outside the US. But wisely the Government seems happy to leave it to the EU Commission to deal with this issue through the World Trade Organisation.

There is an assumption that this country is somehow emotionally attached to the American Democratic Party and that we therefore must behave better towards Democratic presidents like Obama and Clinton than we do towards Trump or George W Bush. It may go back to our love affair with John F Kennedy. It may be sheer opportunism where we show our moral superiority by shunning unpopular presidents. And President Trump is riding high in the unpopularity stakes, though that may change a little with the news from North Korea last week.

The Taoiseach would be wise to treat the St Patrick's Day visit for what it is - a diplomatic opportunity to engage with one of our greatest friends and allies abroad. First, any note of criticism from the Taoiseach would be water off a duck's back to President Trump, a man who has spent the past 14 months being excoriated daily not just by the Democratic Party and the mainstream American media, but by a significant section of his own Republican Party. He seems impervious to losing his chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, a Goldman Sachs billionaire and the latest in a long line of departures from the White House staff. And even the mild criticism of the Speaker, Paul Ryan, has left him undaunted. He has his base and he knows that as long as he keeps implementing Republican policies like cutting taxes and trying to tackle the cost of healthcare, up-market Republicans will hold their noses and still support him. His blue collar supporters, meanwhile, will be satisfied with tough measures against illegal immigrants and tariff threats which they believe will bring back their manufacturing jobs lost overseas. In the past 14 months, 2.1m new jobs have been created. The S&P stock market index is up 25pc in the past year, though it is looking a little brittle at the moment, no doubt affected by talk of tariffs and tearing up the Nafta agreement. But like him or loathe him, Donald Trump is going to be in the White House for the next three years, and maybe for a further four years after that. Impeachment seems unlikely and the Democrats getting their act together to mount a credible challenge, only a little less so on current evidence.

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