Sunday 20 October 2019

Trump's successor: Warren could be great, but she might be bad for Ireland

Elizabeth Warren would be a liberal superhero but at a cost for Irish jobs, writes Donal Lynch

DILEMMA: Elizabeth Warren. Photo: Reuters
DILEMMA: Elizabeth Warren. Photo: Reuters
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

After the chaos of Brexit and the impending impeachment of Trump, one international political development ought to calm pulses - the emergence of Elizabeth Warren as the Democratic Party's frontrunner for the 2020 presidential race.

Last week, for the first time, Warren passed Joe Biden in a significant poll (of likely voters in Iowa) and now has the momentum to make it into a general election, where, it is also predicted, she would beat Trump.

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In some ways, that felt like sanity finally creeping back in. Warren is a calm voice of grandmotherly reason in an era of geopolitical spoofers. Where Trump and Johnson are painfully winging it, Warren has a plan - it's become her catchphrase. Where both men, and Biden, rely on salty humour to deflect, Warren is deadly serious for these deadly serious times. She would be making history as the first female US president (with the bonus of Not Being Hillary and Not Liking Hillary much) and her social policies are liberal enough to soak up most of Bernie Sanders' voters from last time.

Like JFK, she's also the senator for Massachusetts - the most Irish state in the union. And while her native American heritage has been a subject of mockery by Trump, who's dubbed her Pocahontas, she is also described as having "some" Irish heritage. Which is more than we need.

If she became president it would only be a matter of time before we unearthed an eighth cousin. She would certainly be the kind of president we would certainly name a plaza after.

And yet, from an Irish perspective, there is also something distinctly unnerving about Warren-mania. She may well be the kind of right-on, responsible world leader we're all in the market for right now, but while Trump seems to have merely boasted about cracking down on our multinational tax racket, Warren seems to have the will, and the knowledge to bring about real and painful change.

Three years ago she wrote an op ed in The New York Times in which she supported the European Commission's ordering of Apple to pay €13bn in back taxes to the Irish State. The case Warren wrote, is a "welcome sign that multinational corporations are running out of places to hide from paying taxes". Under a Warren presidency, American tax loopholes that incentivise companies setting up shop here in Ireland would be closed.

And that, however warm and fuzzy we feel about her now, would be a disaster for us, in the short-term at the very least. Ireland has long been overdependent on foreign direct investment. Despite the controversy around our tax regime, these corporations do pay more than €4bn in tax each year and contribute around €20bn to the economy. They make up about 10pc of our national income; one in seven people works for them.

If Warren wins the presidency, she wants to lay waste to all this and we are not ready for that yet. We still have a children's hospital to fully pay for, and a housing crisis to finance, and domestic industry to build up, all before we can be safely weaned from the multinational teat. That could take years, and Warren would likely not need that long to push through reform.

The corporations are fully aware, given her background in financial law, that she means business and are determined to stop her. According to CNBC last week, Democratic donors on Wall Street and in big business are preparing to sit out the presidential campaign fundraising cycle - or even back Donald Trump - if Warren wins the party's nomination.

She in turn has argued that her proposals could help avert another sweeping financial crisis such as the one that hobbled the US economy in the late 2000s and resulted in a massive bank bailout.

She might be right - and, to some, Ireland's place in an overall chain of financial injustice is a national embarrassment that smacks of State piracy. They will be pleased to see a US politician bolster the efforts of congress to force our tech giants to pay their fair share here and abroad, something our own politicians are unwilling to do.

We may not have a say in the way the rest of the Democratic primary plays out, but we sure have a stake. There is no doubt that the emergence of Elizabeth Warren presents a dilemma in terms of support here. In recent years Irish people have been drawn into US presidential elections like never before. Bush Senior and Bill Clinton were events when they were elected, but Obama and Trump were earthquakes. Warren promises to be similarly seismic.

Not all of Irish America has warmed to her - Irish voice publisher and friend to the Clintons Niall O'Dowd recently wrote that she hasn't a chance against Trump - but if Warren gets the Democratic nomination she will become a pop star here, a liberal superhero like no other.

And yet her candidacy means a battle for our head (our fears for our country's financial future) and the heart (our liberal values, which she shares).

She wants to create a more just America - and we, who smugly watch America's culture wars from afar, might be one of the casualties.

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