Young Americans in Ireland: What’s their take on Trump?

Students met in Dublin this week to chat about man set to take over as US president

American students studying in Ireland talk about Ireland's perception of American politics, their sense of fear and the task ahead to make America great again. Conor Pope reports.

 

What do young Americans think of Donald Trump?

For a group from Champlain College, a private university of some 3,000 students in Burlington, Vermont, recently arrived in Ireland for a four-month study spell, the Trump/Clinton contest was the first presidential election in which they were able to vote.

They will watch the culmination of that contest, the inauguration on Friday of president-elect Trump, from afar.

Tempered by apprehension

In their case, the optimism that normally - and naturally - attends youth is tempered by apprehension about the man taking over.

This week in Dublin, they met Irish Times journalist Conor Pope to chat on camera about the man about to take over arguably the most important leadership role in the world.

Dominique Cornacchia (20), who is studying broadcast media production, voted Bernie Sanders in the primaries and so she is no Trump fan. She was surprised at the reaction she got when he won.

“I got several messages saying ‘Are you OK?, How are you coping with this?’, like, ‘Let me know, are you safe’,” she said. “I think that is something that has never happened before.”

‘Very troubling’

For 20-year-old Jack Thomas, who is studying finance, the looming dismantling of the Affordable Care Act, outgoing President Obama’s signature “Obamacare” measure which delivered health insurance to millions who were hitherto uncovered, is “a very troubling situation”.

“That’s a huge worry. A lot of his policies are just going to damage the country and disadvantage people in the country,” he said.

Daniel O’Brien (21), also studying broadcast media production, supports some of what Trump stands for but does not like some of the atmosphere that accompanies him.

‘A lot more toxic’

“This election tore families apart, friendships apart,” he said. “I know people who won’t talk to old-time friends over simple disagreements in political views. It’s gotten, I would say, a lot more toxic.”

He is hopeful Trump’s approach to economics will deliver prosperity, and supports his position on the Second Amendment to the US constitution (which declares the right of citizens to bear arms).

“I believe that if you get rid of the ability of private citizens to legally own firearms, then the only people who will own firearms will be criminals - and those citizens going about their day, doing nothing wrong, won’t have a way to defend themselves against a criminal element,” he said.

Did the mass murder of children, such as occurred in December 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut, an hour’s drive from his home, give him pause for thought?

“It certainly does,” he said. When the 20 children and six teachers were shot dead, “I was questioning it [the availability of guns] for a minute but, when you look at the numbers as a whole, and you look at where the concentrations of gun violence occur, its usually just in an urban inner-city area or it’s not economically developed or they don’t have opportunities to get out or they’re experiencing systematic racism in the system, and when it comes to mass shootings, guns are certainly an aspect of it, they’re an element of what feeds into that.

“But we also have a failing mental health system; we don’t have a very caring and loving culture.

“There are so many factors that go into it and it’s easy to point at guns and say that that’s the key, the heart of the problem, but somebody held that rifle.”

“I’m not a fan [of Trump], it’s safe to say,” said Rebecca Weisburgh (20), a mathematics and education student.

“Since his election, there have been a rise in incidents in Vermont that I’ve noticed. There have been swastikas drawn on posters. Make America Great Again has been written on many places that had been considered safe spaces. So it seems like that’s kind of difficult.”

It’s going to be an “interesting” four years, says Jeremy Paiva (20), also studying broadcast media production.

Originally optimistic

“I’d like to remain optimistic simply because I think remaining pessimistic at this point does no good,” he said. “I was originally optimistic when he was elected but as time has gone by, he has revealed who he has selected for his cabinet, its just really, really hard to be optimistic. So I’d say I’m pretty pessimistic now.

“It seems like there is going to be a huge shift in how our government is dealing with social issues and international relations. We’re going to do that with Tweets now. It’s going to be an interesting four years.”

And will he make America great, again?

“I hope he will, in the sense that he will improve it, not his version of Make America Great Again but a genuine version of it,” said Emma Moskowitz (20), a legal studies student. “It’s my finest hope. I don’t know if it will happen but I think it has the potential to.”

“I don’t know if we were ever great because like any country, we always have our problems,” said Meghan Neely (20), a student of professional writing.

“But my hope would be that, as far as making us great that, maybe within his presidency, more than a divided country, we will unite and hold him to his word as president and come together as a country.”