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This is what a Trump presidency could look like

No matter what happens today, God save the United States, writes Bostonian Larry Donnelly with a sad heart.

Larry Donnelly Law lecturer, NUI Galway

IT’S HIGHLY UNLIKELY but not beyond the realm of possibility, that the American people could elect Donald Trump as their next president today.

If this happens, it will be the result of a perfect political storm.

The two things that arguably matter most in politics – luck and timing – were on Trump’s side in 2016. He was incredibly lucky to be one of 17 Republican candidates seeking the GOP presidential nomination.

The vote was divvied up from the very beginning and no mainstream, conservative candidate ever really got a chance to take him on one-on-one.

Then, he had the good fortune to run against Hillary Clinton. Two-thirds of the electorate think the former Secretary of State, US Senator and First Lady is neither trustworthy nor honest.

And the timing was ideal for a Trump candidacy this year. Polls indicate that Americans are extremely pessimistic and isolationist in their thinking. They are very receptive to a presidential candidate who pledges to amend existing trade deals and not to enter any new agreements – and not to wage foreign wars unless the country’s vital national interests, which he would define quite narrowly, are affected.

This message has resonated throughout the ‘Rust Belt’ and further afield.

Moreover, if luck and timing are the external factors that are most important in politics, fear and hope are the two strongest emotions in the toughest business there is.

Barack Obama used the latter to win the White House twice and inspire millions of racial minorities and young people. His defiantly optimistic speech at the Democratic National Convention this summer, however, was wide of the mark and suggested some tone deafness.

Campaign 2016 Obama Source: John Raoux/PA Wire

Trump, on the other hand, has appealed adroitly to the fears and desperation of millions of men and women. Some commentators have labelled his a far-right insurgency and allege that the rise of Trump is the logical outflow of the ‘Tea Party’ movement, which the GOP should have ‘stood up to’ – notwithstanding the reality that it would be strange for any political party to seek to repel those who want to support it.

At any rate, these commentators are wrong in most respects.

There is no doubt that elements on the hard right and on the frightening fringe of American society (eg, the Ku Klux Klan) have embraced Donald Trump. But there are not enough votes out there for a candidate for any elected office who is determined to help them realise their goals.

If there were, David Duke would be a US Senator.

Rather, Trump’s overarching message – and indeed his ingenious, albeit loaded, “Make America Great Again” slogan – is much less about left vs. right than it is about radically redefining America’s role in the world and turning the clock back decades, to a time when life was very different.

Many Americans, who have been left behind by globalisation, have been scarred forever in myriad ways by unnecessary military interventions and are worried about the impact of non-European immigration, want their politicians to put “America First”.

Trump’s stated policy objectives in this regard are not realistic and are not all readily classifiable as right wing, yet they have struck a chord. So, if enough Americans decide today that he deserves the opportunity to try and achieve them, where does that leave us?

Divided is the short answer.

Mexico U.S. Elections Masks of Unites States presidential candidates for sale at a costume store in the northern border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico Source: Christian Torres/PA Wire

Barring a miracle for Democrats, the Republicans will maintain control of the US House of Representatives. The Democrats have a good chance of retaking the US Senate. But because of Donald Trump’s stances on many issues, which are at odds with his party’s platform and with what has become orthodoxy in Washington, DC, getting anything through the Congress could prove a herculean task.

In fact, a President Trump might find more common cause with pro-labour union, anti-war Democrats than members of his own party on trade and on the potential use of military force. The coalitions he would have to assemble to advance his agenda – assuming, of course, that he is serious about accomplishing what he has spoken about during the campaign – would put the “politics can make for strange bedfellows” maxim to the ultimate test.

He could bypass the Congress and use the president’s executive authority in certain areas, such as trade, immigration and the environment. Observers have warily noted that he would have the power to impose tariffs, to order more deportations and to roll back environmental protections.

And some fret openly about someone with a volcanic temper like Donald Trump having access to the nuclear codes.

The world can only hope and pray that there is no real cause for worry on this final point.

And the robust legislative and judicial branches of government in the US, often lamented because they ensure that change happens at glacial pace, would be a powerful check on President Trump’s more malignant impulses.

What would be worst about a President Trump, though, is what it would say about America. Trump is widely known to be a bully, a misogynist, an egotist, a charlatan.

He is a nasty piece of work. That he still has a chance of winning the presidency is testimony to the bad place the country and its people are in right now.

No matter what happens today, God save the United States. It saddens me profoundly to write that.

Larry Donnelly is a Boston attorney, a Law Lecturer at NUI Galway and a political columnist with TheJournal.ie and IrishCentral.com. He will be analysing the election results as they come in on RTÉ on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

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About the author:

Larry Donnelly  / Law lecturer, NUI Galway

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