Ahead of Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday 20th January, our Account Advisor Tony Heffernan gives his take on tomorrow’s events and the impact this could have on Ireland.
Never before has the inauguration of a President of the United States been greeted with such apprehension and concern as generated by Donald Trump, not just in the U.S. itself, but throughout much of the rest of the world.
2016 was a year of political surprises and there was perhaps none greater than the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States. This time last year, few political commentators gave Donald Trump much chance of securing the Republican nomination, let alone defeating Hillary Clinton in the November election.
Not for the first time, the commentators and pundits got it wrong.
They failed to recognise the level of disillusionment with the established political order amongst vast sections of the white working class community. They also grossly underestimated the appeal of Trump with his simplistic, slogan-based soundbites and solutions to problems, including his pledge to “make America great again”.
Commentators also underestimated the difficulty for either party in the United States to secure three successive four-year Presidential terms. Since the U.S. constitution was amended in 1947 to limit a President to two four-year terms, the Democrats have never won three successive terms and the Republicans have only achieved it once – when George Bush Snr succeeded Ronald Reagan in the White House in 1990.
When the election results became known some of Trump’s critics drew comfort from the belief that when controversial political figures are elected to high office, they frequently prove to not be as great as their supporters hoped and not as bad as their opponents feared. Unfortunately, nothing we have seen since November suggests that this will be the case with Trump.
The appointment of people to key political offices with shocking records and appalling views and his ongoing egocentric, vainglorious and aggressive (especially to the media) approach suggests that Trump the President will differ little from Trump the candidate.
For most of the past 100 years the office of President of the United States has alternated between liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans, but Donald Trump is not so easy to categorise politically. Generally regarded on this side of the Atlantic as being right-wing, it is worth recalling that some of his most bitter opponents during the primaries were right-wing Republicans (such as Ted Cruz) and it also appears that some of those who supported Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primaries may have switched to Trump in November.
In an era of populism, Donald Trump has proven to be the ultimate populist, making promises that may appeal to sections of the electorate, but which many will regard as being impossible to implement (such as the infamous promise to build a wall along the border with Mexico). The real danger of Donald Trump is his sheer unpredictability. When Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton were elected, the American electorate and the world in general had a fair idea of what they would do. Nobody knows what Trump will do and it is even quite possible that he has not much of an idea himself.
But certainly if he attempts to deliver on his pre-election promises of mass deportation of immigrants, the re-establishment of trade barriers, the opening of a trade war with China, and a more aggressive military approach (not to mention his apparent desire to see the EU disintegrate), then the world from January 20th onwards will be a much more dangerous and unstable place.
For Ireland, the inauguration of Trump poses particular problems. The Irish political system (which in any event has always leaned towards the Democrats) was shocked at Trump’s conduct during the campaign and astonished at his election. But maintaining good relations with the United States has always been a cornerstone of Irish foreign policy.
The United States is by far the biggest source of foreign direct investment (and job creation); tens of thousands of Irish people are illegally in the United States and now in potential threat of deportation; America remains a key market for Irish tourism; and up to 40 million people in the U.S. claim Irish ancestry.
Calls from some of the wider fringes of Irish politics for boycotts of Trump are perhaps understandable but politically unrealistic. How to maintain a decent working relationship with the United States without being seen to endorse the likely extremism of a Trump presidency will be (along with Brexit) one of the great challenges for whatever government is in office here over the coming years.