Responding to Trump as president

Trump is now beginning his term as president. We must hope that he serves a single term only. But to assume that he will fail in his objectives or that his unpopularity alone will prevent his re-election would be to fall into the same complacency that left so many surprised at each stage of his ascent. And for all that many Congressional Republicans may prefer to work with Mike Pence, and for all that there may be impeachable conduct in the manner he will continue to conduct his business while in office, in his continuing ties to Russian business and criminal interests, unless he becomes manifestly unpopular in their gerrymandered districts, House Republicans are unlikely to vote for impeachment.

Trump’s time in office will see a significant shift in the wrong direction. In domestic policy, change might be most pronounced at the Justice Department. Attorneys general Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch oversaw criminal justice reform, opposing transgender discrimination, protections of voting rights, securing the place of immigrants who arrived into the United States as children. The incoming AG Jeff Sessions has spent his career in opposition to reforms like these. There will be change too elsewhere. We do not yet know what will happen to the Affordable Care Act.

From a global perspective, we should be concerned at Trump’s preference for a despot like Vladimir Putin against alliances like NATO, or working with and supporting the European Union as other presidents have done, and his antipathy towards current trade deals, shared by incoming Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. From an environmental perspective, the appointment of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency is a setback for tackling global warming.

I was clear before the election in my support of Clinton, and certainly expected her to win. I do not regret my optimism, because it was matched by determination that it was a contest that needed to be won. Had I been there, I would like to think I would have campaigned for her to be elected and for the Democrats in Congress in as effective manner as I could, just I engage with politics here at home.

Political events across the world in recent years have been a challenge to those of us who believe in an open society, that each of us can be better off when we remain engaged with the world, and for principles of individual freedom and fulfillment. Yet we must maintain our resolve.

Defeatism can too easily lead to cynicism, or too easily lowering our standards and expectations in politics. But optimism should yet be cautious. Take each electoral contest ahead as one we can win, but one we could yet lose.

Late last year in Austria, when the presidential election was re-run, the former Green leader Alexander van der Bellen increased his margin against the hard nationalist FPÖ candidate Norbert Hofer. It was close, still worryingly high for the FPÖ, but enough of an organisation to rally behind van der Bellen. The insurgent candidate in the French presidential election may yet be the liberal Emmanuel Macron, keeping the hard nationalist Marine Le Pen out of the final round.

These defeats have shown the need to reach out. But before we invest the time and resources in addressing the concerns of those who voted for Trump, knowing all that was wrong with him, or those who voted for Brexit, where resistance to immigration was a major concern, let’s reach out to those who will be most affected by these policies.

Let us be proud to make a positive case for immigration, to stand up for the nobility of someone seeking to make a better or different life for themselves and their family elsewhere in the world. For what each of us can learn from this engagement and interaction.

Irish politics has not been infected to any significant degree by this sentiment, although with a science writer for The Irish Times calling for securing the existence of our people by maintaining indigenous fertility and restricting immigration, we must remain vigilant.

Living standards worldwide have improved dramatically in recent decades. We should remember this when we hear again and again a nostalgia for better times, but be conscious of the political challenges that will follow from increasingly competitive world. We face an enormous challenge in dealing with the effects of climate change, with increasing global temperatures.

Technological change will challenge all industries, but rather than allow immigrants to become scapegoats, we should be prepared to invest in retraining and resourcing sectors and communities most vulnerable to subsequent unemployment. We must vibrantly protect freedom of expression and investigation. Seeking out good and authoritative journalism will be as important as ever before.

So as Trump takes office, let us not allow this lamentable event chill our optimism, but strengthen our resolve in fighting for the rights and dignity of all, to resist an authoritarian style of politics and government.

Whether this be by activity in political parties or other forms of political activism, be engaged, and make sure it is effective engagement.

And let’s make sure we win the next electoral contest.


Barrister working in Dublin

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