Why Enda Kenny must not meet Trump on St Patrick’s Day
Ireland should find the best of itself and reject the US president’s vision of the world
A participant in a Donald Trump mask dancing to Irish whistle music during a festival on St Stephen’s Day in Dingle, Kerry. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters
It’s not every day that you are forced to ask yourself what your values are. Perhaps that’s just as well, because it is very difficult sometimes to admit to some of them.
Irish people love the idea that we are a plucky little nation fighting above our weight on the world stage, promoting decency and charity and good sense.
We love to share the story of our “peace process” and how we talked the gunmen into a power-sharing government, a victory anyone is free to mimic.
We even retail our sorry economic history, how we embarrassingly maxed out the national credit card on jeeps and holidays, and then found we couldn’t even make the minimum monthly payments. But wait! We have pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps and we’re back in the consumer game, a tale to lift hearts everywhere!
There are other ways to look at modern Ireland, of course. In the corporate, globalised world, we are seen first and foremost as a tax haven much valued by US multinationals, the standout fact around which so much of our economic and foreign policy revolves.
When the then US treasury secretary Timothy Geithner told us to stop rabbiting on about our plan to cut repayments to bank bondholders, we quietly backed off the idea, and continued to levy extra taxes on our own people instead.
At Shannon Airport, we have played our part in ill-considered interventionist US and British wars overseas, with all their chaotic consequences.
Our role in international tax-shuffling helps to deprive the poorest nations of Africa of desperately needed funds for food, hospitals and schools.
Now and then we get reminded about these uncomfortable truths, and we look at our feet and mutter something about the weather.
Perhaps in the past we could have made excuses. It’s a complex world, and a small country such as ours might feel it has to make compromises to get along.
We have spent most of our time since independence parent-shopping, and our relationships with the US and Britain have been hugely important to us, so naturally we might feel a bit awkward now about reappraising where we stand in relation to them.
But something has changed. Surely we can see that the Trump regime is not the US we know and love, any more than Theresa May represents the Britain we value? (The fact that May would dash from her toe-curling meeting with Trump to sign an arms deal with President Erdogan of Turkey, who has locked up thousands of journalists and political opponents in recent months, tells us enough about where her government’s priorities lie.)
Trump has put before us not just a harsh vision of the world, but a new set of values, and on St Patrick’s Day we are being invited to sign up to them.
Undoubtedly they are his own values, but they are also the values of the white supremacists, reactionary conservatives and locked-and-loaded generals that he has chosen for his inner team.
Quite apart from the racism and misogyny that were the hallmarks of his election campaign, and were rightly condemned by Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the time, is there a single thing Trump has done since entering the Oval Office that we support? Are we in favour of his famous wall along the border with Mexico?
Are we happy with his nakedly discriminatory ban on people from predominantly Muslim nations entering the US? Are we at one with him in flinging aside the hard-fought progress of decades of human-rights law? Do we support torture too?
This is not America; this is Trump and Trumpism, and we do not have to be part of it. The idea that the Taoiseach might deliver any kind of lecture to the US president over the shamrock is delusional to the point of ridiculousness.
In any event, all Trump wants is the symbolic thumbs-up photo opportunity that shows he can do business as usual, and that he enjoys support across the world.
Let us be clear: there is no way for our Taoiseach to visit Trump on St Patrick’s Day without supporting him and what he stands for.
There is no way to shake Trump’s hand without shaking the hand of a man who is for torture, discrimination and racism.
We have quickly reached what may not be a big moment in global terms, but what should be a big moment for us.
We are not like Trump or his administration, and we do not have to try to be like them. Perhaps we haven’t been perfect, and perhaps we have become inured to compromise as we have tried to make our way in an uncertain world. But let us stand back from the Trump embrace.
This is the time to find once more the best of us, the part of us that stood against the nuclear arms race, that promoted the European Convention on Human Rights, that supports UN peacekeeping, that sends ships to rescue desperate people on rafts in the Mediterranean.
We are not obliged to go to Washington in March, and we do not need the hugs and hubris of the St Patrick’s Day visit.
It has meant a great deal to us in the past, and perhaps it will again in the future. But, for now, it is time to make it clear that we want no part of this regime.
Let us turn away from the Trump vision, and stand in support of all those innocent people in the US and across the world whom Trump has so casually and recklessly condemned.
John Maher is a barrister and former Irish Times journalist