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Dublin: 3 °C Wednesday 23 January, 2019

'A sense of perspective about what Trump's presidency may be like is badly needed'

“Trump Derangement Syndrome” is affecting many otherwise reasonable, thoughtful people at the moment, writes Larry Donnelly.

Larry Donnelly Law lecturer, NUI Galway

ON NOVEMBER 9, most of us who like to think we know something about politics were force-fed an enormous portion of humble pie by tens of millions of men and women throughout the United States who cast their ballots for Donald Trump.

Gauging the reaction of politicians, the respective campaign teams and commentators in the weeks since then has been both fascinating and dispiriting.

Democrats in denial

The Democratic Party collectively seems mired in a state of denial about what happened. During the recent conference of campaign managers held every four years at Harvard University, staffers from Hillary Clinton’s failed effort asserted that their candidate lost the election because of the intervention of FBI Director James Comey, the hacking of campaign emails and Trump’s outreach to white supremacists.

One almost wonders if they are still congratulating each other for having the “discipline” to ignore Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and instead expending time and resources in Arizona, Georgia and even Texas. The truth is that Hillary’s was a terribly run campaign and those who led it should acknowledge their serious mistakes.

Meanwhile, in the wake of another disappointing result for the party – its failure to win more seats in the US House of Representatives – House Democrats were faced with a leadership election.

Tim Ryan, a well-regarded moderate representing a Youngstown, Ohio congressional district which has felt the negative consequences of trade deals and globalisation, and which voted for Trump, stood against the long-time leader, Nancy Pelosi.

Pelosi isn’t inspiring ‘Middle America’

House Democrats House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. Source: Susan Walsh

76-year-old Pelosi has held her seat representing the San Francisco area since 1987. She is the highest ranking female politician in American history and has inspired countless young women.

Yet her party has struggled electorally under her leadership and its difficulties in “Middle America” have been exacerbated. The congressional Democratic Party is now largely comprised of representatives from the two coasts and from districts with minority populations.

Tim Ryan would have seemed ideally placed to respond to the electorate’s dissatisfaction and to reach out again to white, working class, former or disaffected Democrats who feel that they have been left behind.

Pelosi, however, crushed him 134 votes to 63 and will remain leader. Of course there are a variety of factors that shaped the outcome behind the scenes. But from the outside looking in, it appears that House Democrats made a politically unwise decision.

If the reaction of Democratic strategists and politicians has been to deny or blame others for the earthquake that occurred a month ago, the response of numerous commentators has been nothing short of hysterical. Some claim that the Electoral College should decline to carry out the will of the people when it meets; some allege that racism is the primary reason for Trump’s win; and some view his upset victory in near apocalyptic terms.

Former White House aide and author Keith Boykin, echoing the musings of Harvard Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig, opined on Twitter:

“We can’t wait to impeach Trump after he takes office and destroys our country. It’s time for the Electoral College to stop him.”

Leaving to one side academic speculation about just what the electors who will meet later this month can do constitutionally, if they were to disregard the popular vote and the laws and/ or party pledges binding them to follow it in their respective states, there would be a crisis of epic proportions on multiple levels.

Those who advocate changing the rules of the game after it’s been played are every bit as in the wrong, and probably more in the wrong, as Trump was when he told his supporters that the election was “rigged”.

Racism doesn’t win US elections

Observers around the world have pointed to prevalent racism in many areas of the US as a pivotal reason for Trump’s triumph. While there is no doubt that racial prejudice still exists and that Trump subtly massaged this accordingly, it is not what got him elected.

Simply put, there aren’t enough votes to be found in racism to win an American election in 2016. Few aspirants for elected office in the US who have “played the race card” heavily have enjoyed major success in recent years.

By way of example, perhaps sensing something in the air, ex Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke sought election to the US Senate from deeply conservative Louisiana this year. He received 3% of the vote. Surely, if there were enough racists and if racism was an animating impulse for them in the ballot box, he would have fared better than that?

As Irish American Sandra Sheerin sagely wrote in The Irish Times, Trump’s appeal in rural Pennsylvania is:

“not about racism, misogyny or hatred. It is about the hope of improved employment, infrastructure and opportunities. The promise of reversing their fortunes and becoming prosperous once more has excited those Trump supporters and breathed new life into them.”

‘Trump Derangement Syndrome’ is real

And writing here last weekend, Daniel Geary of Trinity College Dublin, stated that Trump:

“is the closest thing to Hitler that Americans have ever seen” and that the “ideal of multicultural democracy is in serious danger.”

On the first charge, while some of Trump the candidate’s rhetoric was undeniably frightening and outrageous, there is no just cause to mention him in the same breath as the very personification of evil who ordered the executions of millions of innocent people.

And on the second, it’s hard to see how a country that chose an African American in 2008 and 2012 has morphed so dramatically by virtue of one election – especially given that Trump received far more votes from members of minority groups than anyone had anticipated.

I did not vote for Donald Trump. I am profoundly disappointed that he prevailed. But equally, I can’t abide the various strands of “Trump Derangement Syndrome” that so many otherwise reasonable, thoughtful people are obviously suffering from at present.

A better sense of balance and perspective – about why and how Trump won, and what his presidency may be like – is badly needed right now. Here’s hoping it will emerge in the weeks and months to come.

Larry Donnelly is a Boston attorney, a Law Lecturer at NUI Galway and a political columnist with and

‘Do not deceive yourselves: Trump is the closest thing to Hitler Americans have ever seen’>

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About the author:

Larry Donnelly  / Law lecturer, NUI Galway

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