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America First: 'If President Trump stays “on message,” he may just unite, not further divide, the US'

In electing Donald Trump, the people of the US have, at least in part, signalled to the world that they want to recalibrate their relationship with it, writes Larry Donnelly.

Larry Donnelly Law lecturer, NUI Galway

“FROM THIS MOMENT on, it’s going to be America First. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.” And “We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American.”

These were some of the strongest lines in the inaugural address of the 45th President of the United States, Donald J Trump. Critics on both sides of the Atlantic blasted and lampooned the speech, describing it as divisive, nasty and devoid of vision.

Their take on it, however, suggests that they are unwilling or unable to process the reality of what transpired last November.

Focusing on America’s problems

By design, the short speech did not soar rhetorically like those of his predecessor in the White House. Barack Obama rather bizarrely claimed in his final speech that he is more confident now about the future of his country than ever. President Trump instead focused his remarks on the severe difficulties presently confronting so many in “Middle America” and beyond.

He returned to the issues that he stressed repeatedly during his campaign. His stances on trade, military interventionism and immigration – leaving aside their relative merits – and his overarching “America First” mantra resonated deeply with the electorate and propelled him to a most unexpected triumph.

If President Trump stays “on message,” given that the American people in 2017 are pessimistic about the future and isolationist when it comes to their country’s international role, he may just unite, not further divide, the US.

He is seriously flawed as a man and as a politician

His assertions about the numbers in attendance in Washington, DC for his inauguration were laughable. The media briefing in which White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer repeated the nonsense, saying that this was “the largest audience, ever to witness an inauguration, period,” was farcical.

It was profoundly disturbing to anyone who values the vital function of the “fourth estate” in holding elected officials to account.

It would have been easy for President Trump to contextualise the turnout on the national mall. He could have pointed out that, in light of how poorly regarded he is by voters in the capital city, the crowd was very good.

His outsized ego prompted lies

AP Poll Campaign 2016 Trump Woman Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally, in Toledo, Ohio. Source: Evan Vucci

He could have jested that he would give the speech again in Ohio or West Virginia and draw hundreds of thousands more. He could have argued that his ardent backers – the “forgotten men and women” – must go to work on a Friday and can’t afford to take the time off to come to a city they don’t know and don’t particularly care for.

Each of these statements would have neatly defused the buzz circulating in the media and among his foes about his apparent unpopularity. But owing to his outsized ego and extremely thin skin, he made up a preposterous lie.

It was a political mini-disaster of his own making, and there are likely to be more in the coming weeks and months.

What for those who are implacably opposed to President Trump?

Over the weekend, women and men in cities all over the world marched in solidarity with one another and in protest at President Trump’s election. It was moving and encouraging to see throngs of people stand up against the multiple unforgivable things the President has said in the past about women, minorities and persons with disabilities.

As the same time, though, as Democratic strategist David Axelrod tweeted, the “outpouring today is extraordinary and inspiring. But if all this energy isn’t channelled into sustained pol[itical] action, it will mean little.” He is right.

Here in Ireland, for instance, there has been considerable gnashing of teeth since November 8. The Trump-bashing and “racist, fascist” chanting have been incessant. At one level, it is understandable; at another, it is useless.

Get a grip and engage with reality instead

While it might feel good, what will come of it? Not much. Frankly, some people should get a grip and engage more fully with reality, unpleasant as it may seem.

What is needed in the US is a thorough re-examination by the leadership of both political parties, especially the Democrats, as well as the media, of how and why tens of millions of “ordinary Americans” have become incredibly disenchanted with the direction of their country and with their government.

Donald Trump won because the country is in a bad place.

Democrats must reevaluate now

Democrats and progressives specifically must reflect upon the truth that, even if Trump had lost to Hillary Clinton, they would still be very much in the minority at virtually every level of government in the US.

The Democratic Party’s perceived shift in emphasis in this era of rapid globalisation from the “bread and butter” economic issues that matter above all to American workers and their families to fulfilling the cultural aspirations of the left has cost it dearly.

In vast swathes of America, Democrats are practically an endangered species. A dramatic reconfiguring of priorities and consequent message repackaging are required.

As Axelrod opines, political action is imperative. The weekend’s marches were galvanising, yet identifying and reaching out to the many Trump supporters who can be won over or back is infinitely more worthwhile. Name calling is easy and futile; dialogue is hard and fruitful.

Americans don’t want to be the global police any longer

What is needed from America’s friends at the moment is a little breathing space. In electing Donald Trump, the people of the US have, at least in part, signalled to the world that they want to recalibrate their relationship with it.

They do not want their young men and women to be the global police force and they are demanding that their leaders try to resolve some vexed conundrums at home before even thinking about the problems of other countries. That is their prerogative and, in the wake of the recent history of failed wars, totally logical, perhaps even desirable.

A lot of Americans are hurting right now for various reasons, but in the end, it is important for everyone to remain mindful that our country is much bigger and better than one guy, even if he is the President.

Larry Donnelly is a Boston lawyer, a law lecturer at NUI Galway and a political columnist with TheJournal.ie and IrishCentral.com.

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About the author:

Larry Donnelly  / Law lecturer, NUI Galway

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