Last Tuesday, 08 November 2016, citizens of the U.S.A. elected their new President.
As predicted by the current incumbent of the post, Barack Obama, the sun rose the following morning, regardless of the result.
However, while the democratic election of Donald Trump led to joyous celebration among his followers it led to feelings of despair, despondency, and fear among those who opposed his views and values.
Since then these feelings have not lessened and with the news of the appointment of Steve Bannon, the Trump campaign CEO and executive chairman of Breitbart News, as chief strategist and senior counselor to the new president the reactions have become even more polarized, if that is possible.
Meanwhile the Papal Nuncio to the USA is reported as making a rare comment on the political situation. America Magazine reports on his comments from the Autumn meeting of the U.S.A. bishops’ conference.
‘The pope’s ambassador the United States, Archbishop Christoph Pierre, echoed Archbishop’s Kurtz’ assertion that the nation is divided, suggesting to the bishops that “mercy is what this country needs to heal the wounds of division.”
But he looked to the future, offering a nearly 30-minute talk about the challenge Catholics face in keeping the church relevant to young people, a topic bishops from around the world will consider when they meet in Rome in 2018.
“They matter, he said of young Catholics, including those who have fallen away from the church. “They are part of the family.”
The church needs “new language, new methods, [and a] new missionary heart so each young person can experience the mercy of God,” he said.’
Brendan Hoban, in his Western People column and Tony Flannery, on his own blog site, have shared some thoughts on the election of Donald Trump and possible implications for us in Ireland. Sean McDonagh comments on the potential devastating consequences his policies will have if implemented.
President-elect Donald Trump and the Environment
Fr. Seán McDonagh, SSC
I certainly did not expect to wake up on November 10th 2016 to hear that Donald Trump had been elected president of the United States. As a candidate he had offended Muslims, Mexicans, African Americans and many others with his populist rhetoric and bombastic tones. During his campaign Trump suggested that under his administration, Muslims might be listed and have their names recorded in a national database. They might be forced to carry special identification cards, and subjected to intensified surveillance in their places of worship – which would seem to be against the First Amendment. Donald Trump attacked Khizr Khan, a Pakistani immigrant whose son, Army Capt. Humayun Khan, died in Iraq in 2004.
Donald Trump has insulted women for decades. A famous example during the presidential campaign was his attack on Fox News host Megan Kelly. Mr Trump questioned her professionalism and suggested that she treated him unfairly at the Republican debate in 2016 because she was menstruating. Later he denied this. In the course of a bitterly divided campaign, many women claimed that Mr. Trump had molested them at one time or another, nevertheless, 53 % of white women voters voted for Trump. How do you now encourage teenagers, especially teenage boys, to respect woman?
As candidate, Donald Trump promised to deport 3 million “illegal immigrant criminals” from the United States. He got the maths wrong because there are not 3 million illegal immigrants criminals in the United States. To fulfil his promise will he now deport immigrants who are not criminals, but people who contribute hugely to the US economy and culture?
In my estimation, the most significant and destructive changes which the Trump presidency will initiate, not just for the United States, but for people around globe, are in his raft of disastrous environmental policies. On numerous occasions Mr. Trump has called human-induced climate change a “hoax”. If Mr. Trump follows through on his campaign promises the world would not be able to avoid the most devastating consequences of global warming, including rising sea levels, extreme droughts and food shortages, and more powerful floods and storms. Extremely weather is already having major impacts around the world, from the current famine in East Africa to the bleaching of 20% of corals on the Great Barrier Reef. 2016 is projected to be the hottest year in recent history.
Donald Trump will lead a double-pronged attack in on climate change initiatives. First of all, he has vowed to cancel the climate agreement which was forged at COP 21 in Paris in December 2015 and signed by 195 countries. If President Trump removes the United States from this agreement, as President George W. Bush did by taking the US out of the Kyoto agreement, it is unlikely that the global community will be able to keep the increase in average global temperature below 2º Celsius above preindustrial levels during the 21st century. This will have horrendous consequences for the poor, as Pope Francis pointed out in Laudato Si’ “that the worst impacts (of climate change) will be felt by developing countries in coming decades” (No. 25). Writing in The Guardian, John Vidal quotes a United Nations expert report which claims that “It will cost Africa approximately $350bn a year to adapt its farming and infrastructure to climate change if governments fail to hold temperatures to less than 2ºC and allow them to rise to about 4ºC, according to the report.”
If the United States abandons its responsibilities under the Paris agreement, many other countries might renege on their responsibilities. Industrial lobbies in every country, especially those associated with the fossil fuel industries, will do everything in their power to oppose reductions in carbon emissions. Politicians will be very vulnerable to such pressures, because they are often so obsessed with current issues that they fail to appreciate the long term damage destructive environmental policies.
Finally, the election of Mr. Trump cast a pall over COP 22 in Marrakesh, Morocco where global negotiators gathered in November for a 12-day conference to trash out the next steps for the Paris accord. These include how to verify commitments which countries have made, and how to pay for enforcement by poor countries that cannot afford the technology or energy disruptions.
In the Trump presidency, how will the United States as the largest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases, be held accountable under the Warsaw International Mechanisms for loss and damages caused by climate change in poor countries?
Are we in a nightmare scenario! Hopefully, environmental and Church groups will challenge him on every step along the way of his destructive policies. We owe it to future generations.
 John Vidal, “Cost of climate change adaptation could destabilise African countries, UN warns,” The Guardian, November 20th 2013. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/nov/20/climate-change-adaptation-cost-destabilise-african-countries.
Brendan Hoban on the Election of Donald Trump
Looking in from the outside most of us, I think, were surprised and appalled at the Brexit decision. At so many levels it didn’t make much sense for UK to turn upside down (and by a narrow majority) the legal, economic and cultural decisions and practices of the last half-century. And the emotional harking-back of an older world that was insular, nationalistic and self-serving seemed to make even less sense.
The unease, upset and embarrassment that ensued convinced many that if the UK electorate had another run at it – as we do in Ireland – in the light of subsequent events the decision might be different.
But if Brexit left us breathless, the Trump victory has almost blown our minds away. Already, as the implications become clear – for the USA, the world and not least for Ireland – we look into the far distance trying to work out what’s going on. And what the consequences will be.
Riddle me this: (i) Donald Trump made no secret of his disdain for women, even almost revelling in it; (ii) Hillary Clinton was the first woman candidate for American president in history. And yet more white women voted for Trump than for Clinton?
Isn’t America a strange place? Maybe ‘strange’ is an inadequate word to describe the Trump victory. Possibly ‘GUBU’, Conor Cruise O’Brien’s synonym for the Haughey enigma, would be better (Grotesque, Unbelievable, Bizarre, Unprecedented).
How could someone with such an apparently fragile hold on morality insinuate himself into the American consciousness to such a degree that he took the greatest political prize on offer anywhere in the world after such a car-crash of a campaign? And how did Clinton, with so much going for her, conspire to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory?
If the Brexit result left most people winded, the Trump victory is a devastating tsunami, taking every political axiom in its tide, demonstrating yet again (as with Brexit) that political ambition, a gullible public and an appeal to the lowest common denominator can produce a stunning result.
Or could it be that Trump is an astute political operator with a carefully tuned strategy of a studied series of interventions (building the Mexican wall, etc) aimed at stirring the pot and hoovering up support for a medley of strange policies, rather than the arrogant buffoon presented to us by the experts who once again got it exactly wrong?
So how did it happen?
One reason is that, as a friend of mine in Florida, a crucial state in determining the result of the election, told me Trump prevailed because ‘people are fed up with Washington’s politicians’. Another reason is that there’s at present a worldwide lurch to the right (Marine Le Pen in France, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, the AFD in Germany). And add to that the coalescing of agendas and grievances, like the powerful gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, as well as pro-life organisations, especially those associated with the Christian Churches, who stringently opposed Clinton’s unapologetic pro-choice policy.
Yet another factor was the effective (though from the outside nonsensical) emotional attitude of ‘Making America great again’, and even more bizarre the belief that Clinton was ‘unlikable’. Does it really matter if the pilot of a plane or the surgeon in an operating theatre is ‘likable’, if they are competent professionals at their job?
More crucially, I think, Trump for all his flamboyant policies seemed to touch a nerve that other politicians missed, the growing belief that political systems are all sewn up and that politicians, while they pretend they offer change, are happier to divide the spoils among themselves. The disenfranchised looked at both candidates, decided that Clinton was offering more of the same, and that with nothing to lose said let’s throw our vote at Trump and see what happens. His great asset, it seems, was that he wasn’t a politician. A message for Ireland too!
But the more immediately worrying message for Ireland is that we’re now caught in a double-bind between Brexit and Trump. A small and open economy, the gradual move towards a global business world suited us as we surfed the great international trade agreements of recent years. The truth is that the level of prosperity we now enjoy – even though we complain endlessly about how badly off we are – has been built on the security of trade agreements that Trump has said he will discard.
The level of security we enjoy in a fractious world that seems always on the verge of war depends on NATO, from which Trump now wants to withdraw. And at another level, the undocumented Irish emigrants in America have had another level of vulnerability added to their plight now that Trump intends to implement a robust policy on immigrants.
While all of this is happening, and as we become more and more aware of our fragile position in the Atlantic between Trump and Brexit, Irish unions are lining up to insist on a return to wages and conditions their members enjoyed during the Celtic Tiger (with the more militant unions bullying their way to the head of the queue) while economists are estimating the decline in the Irish economy if the American companies now mainly fuelling our exports fall victim to Trump’s tax ‘reforms’. If Trump gets his way his policies will have a knock-on effect on salaries, social welfare payments, pensions and the security of our world.
There’s a Chinese curse that translates as ‘May you live in interesting times’. They may well have arrived.
Tony Flannery on the election of Donald Trump
I was in Berlin when the results of the U.S. election gradually emerged early on Wednesday morning. Having spent the last two weeks of October in the U.S. I was very familiar with the campaign, and with the very diverse views of people there.
Like most most here in Ireland I was shocked and disappointed by the choice made by the American people. But, as the recently deceased Peter Barry said in 1992, quoting Dick Tuck after he had lost the State Senate election in California in 1966, “the people have spoken ……….. the bastards!” And that is democracy. It is by no means a perfect system, but history has taught us, I think, that it is the best we have.
Now we are facing into four years of Trump in the Whitehouse. It is impossible to predict what will happen. He is a man of no political experience, and without any coherent policies, beyond some very wild and general campaign statements. He promises to Make America Great Again, without spelling out in any convincing way how he might even begin to go about doing it. The two possible legacies of this election that concern me most are; firstly, a general decline in decency and tolerance in society, leading to more racism, sexual assault, and vulgar abuse; secondly, the danger that Trump and Pence will row back on Climate Change agreements, which could have disastrous effects for the future of the planet.
During the rest of my few days in Berlin I spoke with a couple of younger German people about the election. They were both unhappy and disturbed. For them, what had just happened in the U.S., coupled with the Brexit vote in Britain, had frightening echoes of Germany in the nineteen thirties. Populist demagoguery, full of extreme statements and wild promises, with no regard for truth or fact, and identifying people, races and classes as the enemy. And all of this feeding off a sense of anger among sections of the people, a feeling that they are hard done by, and that the ‘ruling class’ doesn’t care about them. Essential to this strategy is to brand the people in power as corrupt and greedy. Trump has mirror images in Duterthe in the Philippines, Farage (and even Boris Johnston) in Britain, and Marine Le Penn in France, as well as other less democratic countries like Turkey.
Could something like this happen in Ireland? I think so, and I fear that it may happen sooner rather than later. Already the foundations are being laid.
The belief that our political leaders are corrupt, that they are only in it for what they can get out of it, is being pedalled constantly in media and public debate. As a result, respect for our politicians, and for the democratic structures, is being eroded. Within politics itself, debate has become increasingly ugly and abusive. Our representatives often show scant respect for each other. Some even show little or no respect for the institutions of which they are a part; a simple matter of not dressing properly contributes to a lowering of the tone. Our parliament is being used by some as a way of maligning people, who have no way of defending their good name because of outdated and ineffective rules around parliamentary privilege. The rules were made for a time when representatives had more regard for each other, and for the institutions of State.
Media programmes like ‘Talk to Joe’ are doing something similar to what Russ Limbaugh and others did in the U.S. They promote populist paranoia, and encourage a sense of grievance and victimhood. Many political commentators are constantly critical and dismissive of everything the government attempts to do, and write as it the politicians were stupid not to see things the way they see them. Even columnists like Miriam Lord, who make a business out of presenting deputies as fools, in an attempt to be funny, are very damaging.
The initial effects of all this are already evident in the election of a diverse collection of populist independents, resulting in the failure to provide an effective government at a time when the international clouds are gathering around us.
But worse could well happen. I can think of a number of ‘celebrities’ who just might see an opportunity to follow the example of Trump at our next election. I have no great confidence that a large number of people would not follow his populist, empty promises.
Sometimes I am glad that I am getting old!