What does a Donald Trump presidency mean for Ireland?

Analysis: Hard to see anything but negative consequences as world becomes darker place

Irish Times News Editor Mark Hennessy and Irish Times Managing Editor Cliff Taylor discuss President-elect Donald Trump and what his presidency will mean for Ireland.


The world woke up Wednesday a darker, scarier, more menacing place. Ireland, more exposed to the squalls of the international economy than anywhere and more connected to the US through bonds of commerce, sentiment and blood, now faces the second dramatic transformation of one of its closest allies in a few months.

First Brexit. Now Trump. The world is changing fast in ways we will almost certainly regret.

There is no good side to this.

Many Irish people despaired when George W Bush was elected and re-elected. But this is of a different order.

Irish people didn’t like President Bush. They should fear President Trump.

The immediate effects arrived in a cascade of crashing markets. Will that continue over the coming days as the world comes to terms with what a Trump presidency will mean economically?

First Brexit. Now Trump

Trump himself was predicting a severe market crash earlier in the year. He has probably made that a reality now. Forget the idea this has nothing to do with us. It has more to do with Ireland than most places.

US companies pay billions of euros in corporation tax here. The Government spends that money on public services, pensions, social welfare payments and a million other things. If that ceases or eases, what replaces it?

Governments everywhere must now rapidly come to terms with the knowledge that America’s understanding with the world, forged after the second world war, is now deeply in question. Going on what Mr Trump has said during the campaign, that understanding may be unilaterally withdrawn, torn up and rewritten.

The Irish Government will feel that more acutely than anywhere. With Republican hegemony now extending through the House of Representatives and the Senate, President Trump will have the opportunity to pass legislation and implement policies that will, in the words of his campaign slogan, “make America great again.”

He is unlikely to have the capacity to proceed with the sort of rewriting of the US corporate tax code that would immediately threaten US companies here, but he will almost certainly seek some repatriation of their profits.

The open and easy co-operation between the US and Irish Governments, the cultural ties that have been parlayed into tangible political and economic benefits — that cannot be guaranteed in the future.

This is about much more than the St Patrick’s Day hooleys in the White House: it is about the inward investment, the presence of so many US multinationals here, about a densely intertwined economic relationship. It is also about the continuance of freely trading open markets between states.

Few countries have benefitted so much as Ireland from the free trade and globalisation credo which has been the dominant economic philosophy of the past 40 years as Ireland has. If you want evidence, look at living standards, life expectancy, GDP. But that era, it seems, is now coming to an end. And Trump may bring it to a shuddering halt.

Consequences for Ireland?

What are the other consequences for Ireland? They are the consequences for the world.

As America turns inward, building walls, tearing up trade deals, stopping immigration, American global leadership will fade. There is no replacement for it.

The future of the western order’s international pillars — Nato, the EU, the UN, the World Trade Organisation — the organs of everyday international co-operation that have maintained the Pax Americana from which Ireland has been a beneficiary, is now deeply uncertain.

What will Trump do? Like the British Brexiteers, it is doubtful that he knows. Much analysis of his policy positions before the vote concluded that he wouldn’t implement most of them.

Build a wall? Withdraw from Nato’s guarantee of mutual defence? Bomb Isis strongholds in the Middle East? Withdraw from free trade agreements? Order China to change its management of its currency?

These were not really taken all that seriously by the policy wonks and analysts of Washington. They’re having another look at them now. We will soon find out. But it is perhaps his personal attitudes that represent the greatest cultural revolution facing Americans now.

There is official endorsement and broad public support for someone who demonstrated racism, misogyny, ignorance towards minorities. The entire current of US public culture has been arrested. The undeniable fact is this: Trump was elected while exhibiting conspicuous aversion or disregard for the norms of democratic competition and, for much of the campaign, for civilised behaviour.

Shared moral framework

Any society depends on a shared moral framework that embeds ways of behaving towards your fellow citizens. Like much else, that is heightened and stylised in the practice of politics. America has always depended on a common loyalty to its political institutions to bind together a raucous politics and a diverse and constantly changing nation.

That Trump shattered all these conventions isn’t the important thing. It is that he prospered by doing so that is so significant. Because it means that others will follow.

The norms of the western liberal order — democracy, free trade, a free press, an independent judiciary, a more or less civilised public life — can no longer be taken for granted.

True, the US constitution was specifically designed to prevent rule by tyrants. But it was so designed in the 1770s, and a few things have changed since then. Trump is likely to put the cautious balancing and restrictions on executive power crafted by the framers of the constitution to the test, at least. And partly because of their antiquity, these checks and balances on executive power tend to restrict more the domestic power of the president.

A President Trump will have a significantly freer hand overseas than at home. All Presidents do. Trump campaigned as a demagogue — threatening to lock up his opponents, trash civic norms and freedoms. And, like it or not, he won as a demagogue. The prospect of a Putin, a Berlusconi, an Erdogan, a Chavez in the White House has profound consequences for the way the world works.

Until Wednesday, it was unthinkable. Now it is the reality. This is a moment of history. We may all have cause to rue it.

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