Trump is everything we do not want our children to be
We can deal with incoming US president without abandoning our self-respect
Reacting on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland to Donald Trump’s election as United States president on Wednesday, one commentator based in New York quoted an adage popular in the US Senate about how dramatic political happenings never turn out to be truly as bad or as good as they are immediately perceived. He expressed the hope that Trump’s election, which appeared catastrophic to many outside the US, may in time not prove as disastrous as initially feared.
The senators’ adage derives from the ancient observation that material conditions, positive or negative, are temporary, summed up in the phrase: “This too shall pass.” The Trump presidency will pass but is set to last at least four years. That gives him a lot of time and power to do a lot of harm.
The careful tone which president-elect Trump, Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama and House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan struck in their first speeches after the election augurs well for an orderly transition. The relative calm of the initial response from the stock markets also offers a sliver of hope.
Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan observed on the BBC programme Newsnight that global markets appeared to share the view of many in the US that Trump may be merely an actor playing the part of a divisive candidate and may settle down to be a more sober and moderate president.
There can be no doubt, however, that Trump’s election has deeply damaged the global standing of the US. Trump managed to convince half of his country’s voters that he would “make America great again”. From outside, however, the US looks diminished.
US presidential elections can have dramatic political, diplomatic and economic consequences internationally, especially in the western world, including Ireland. They also have an impact on our wider public consciousness. US presidents are large figures in our popular culture and sometimes have even been icons.
Occasionally the occupants of the White House have been popular villains on this side of the Atlantic, as were Richard Nixon and, to a lesser extent, George W Bush. More often than not, US presidents are seen by us as heroes. Anyone interested in history will see Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D Roosevelt as heroic figures. For our parents’ generation the election of John F Kennedy was an iconic representation of how there were no limits to what an Irish person or a Catholic could achieve.
Anyone of our generation wishing to direct our children to real heroes and strong role models could point them to Obama’s life story – his eloquence, his intelligence and his political optimism are all qualities they should seek to emulate. We could identify Obama as an example of how one can succeed through hard work, study and personal effort. He rose from relatively humble beginnings, from within the US’s most oppressed minority and from outside the wealthy political classes – in his case, to the most powerful office. Obama espoused what we felt was best in public values.
No role model
The next incumbent of the White House is no role model. During the last 18 months of the election campaign Trump has been vulgar, abusive, anti-immigrant, misogynistic and narcissistic and he has been elected despite this. We now have to warn our children that there is nothing about the man, who from January will be the world’s most prominent politician, which they should seek to emulate. He is everything we don’t want our children to want to be.
Ireland’s relationship with the US is shaped primarily by ethnic and family ties. The US has been the largest recipient of our emigrants. It has influenced much of our culture in the modern media age. We also now share strong economic ties. Trump’s policy on reducing corporate tax and containing globalisation may threaten some of those economic ties.
The Clinton and Obama visits to Ireland cemented a sense of political closeness between our countries. Notwithstanding the fact that Trump has already extended the traditional invitation to the Taoiseach to present a bowl of shamrock at the White House on St Patrick’s Day, our relations with President Trump will not be as close. So be it.
There is no reason, for example, why Enda Kenny should apologise for correctly characterising some of Trump’s views as racist and dangerous. There is no need for us to mute or edit our true views of Trump or to forget his many noxious utterances and views. We can continue to be close to the US and its people without having to pander to the peculiarities of their new president. Ireland can and will adjust to the shifts that come with a Trump presidency. There is no reason why we can’t do it in a way that maintains our integrity and self-respect.