The Irish Times view on Trump: They know not what they do

They have voted for a man who is the most unprepared president-elect in modern history


The great wave had built gradually, sweeping over and back across the Atlantic, Its strength gathered from the collapse of Lehman and sub-prime markets, feeding on the US economic crisis, then on Europe’s, then on the backwash from the Middle East’s wars … A social and political tsunami that was fed by globalisation’s unconstrained reach, the austerity politics it in turn fed, and the millions who sensed that they were left behind.

A tsunami, whose mostly ugly and dangerous political manifestation has been felt in every country of Europe in different forms, but above all reflecting a tide of anti-politics, of resentment of establishment elites and foreigners and those of another skin, an often-incoherent, inchoate shaking of the cage and the old order.

The election of Donald John Trump (70) as the 45th president of the United States was the latest nativist manifestation of that tide, washed up again on the shores of the US. It is America’s Brexit vote. He is its Putin, Orban, Erdogan, Duterte, wrapped into one unique, grotesque, autocratic form, and, yes, also a cry of despair. But caveat emptor US voters have no idea what they have bought. Few believe his wild promises - only that he represents change and “speaks his mind”.

This, a real estate developer-turned-reality television star with no government experience, was a powerful rejection of the establishment forces that had assembled against him, from the worlds of business and government, and the consensus they had forged on everything from trade to immigration. We know no more.

The temptation is to take heart from the idea that the legal constraints of office, the tempering effect of the new circles of experts who he will have to recruit, and the reality that he is no longer in campaign mode may free the “real” Trump to moderate or reconsider positions.

But similar repeatedly expressed hopes from commentators, and, it is believed, his own team, throughout the campaign appeared not to have one jot of influence on him. “He’ll have to tack to the centre now the primaries are over” or “now it’s just Hilary”…. Nothing doing. As Clinton repeatedly pointed out “this is Trump”. What you see is what you get, so perhaps we should have a little less wishful thinking about his intentions and accept that he will try to do what he says he will.

On the world stage we have to take seriously Trump’s promise to reverse the internationalism practised by predecessors of both parties, policies that have served Ireland well, and to build walls both physical and metaphorical. To rip up international trade deals, made and in the works. To impose tariffs on China and withdraw US defence guarantees to allies.

Tom Wright an Irish foreign policy expert at the Brookings Institution warns about his foreign policy: “What makes 2016 especially significant is that for the first time one of the two major party nominees for the presidency, Donald Trump, is campaigning on a platform of weakening the core elements of the international order, including the US alliance system and an open global economy. He promises instead to partner with Russia to fight Islamic State and to create a mercantilist economic system where the United States uses tariffs and economic leverage to exact favourable terms of trade. The overall effect of Trumpism would be to transform the United States from a leader of the liberal international order to a rogue superpower.”

Trump’s election represents a major bilateral challenge for Ireland’s diplomats to maintain our influence, but also a profound reshaping and destabilising of the multilateral security and economic environment. A return to a world economy beset by new tariff barriers, whether imposed by the US or the result of Brexit, bodes particularly ill for an open trading economy like our own. And there is every reason,as Clinton put it, to fear a man who has control of the nuclear button and yet can be vexed by a tweet.

His election is particularly disappointing from an Irish perspective because it promises to shut off all hopes of even the mild immigration reform embraced by Obama and because of Trump’s threat to evict up to 11 million undocumented aliens.

It may have been a cry of pain, and we may understand and sympathise with those who supported Trump. But they have voted for a man who is the most unprepared president-elect in modern history, a racist abuser of women, who has threatened to prosecute and jail political opponents, and has said he would curtail the freedom of the press. He lies without compunction. He will cut taxes on the wealthy and gut Obamacare for the poor …. Is this really the America they want?