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'Two terms of Donald Trump will not be twice the damage': Samantha Power on her career - and life after Obama

Irish-American Samantha Power, who served as a UN ambassador, has had a long and storied career.

Samantha Power (right) speaking to TheJournal.ie's Aoife Barry in Trinity College Dublin
Samantha Power (right) speaking to TheJournal.ie's Aoife Barry in Trinity College Dublin
Image: Hayley Halpin/TheJournal.ie

“WHAT I CARE above all about is ending the presidency of Donald Trump, not least because two terms of Donald Trump will not be twice the damage.” 

Irish-American woman Samantha Power, who served as a UN ambassador, has had a long and storied career.

After moving to the US from Dublin as a child with her mother, brother, and stepfather, Power fully immersed herself into American life. A sports-mad young girl, in college she began to work in sports journalism. But seeing footage of the Tiananmen Square protests made her move to news arena, and she went on to report from the Bosnian conflict.

Her work then led her to the White House – after a senator named Barack Obama read her Pulitzer Prize-winning book about genocide and foreign policy, A Problem From Hell, she ended up working as a special assistant to him from 2009 and later as Special Assistant to the President for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights on the US National Security Council. 

She then moved on to serve as the US Ambassador to the United Nations from 2013 to 2017. After Trump’s election, Power became the Anna Lindh Professor of the practice of global leadership and public policy at Harvard Kennedy School and the William D Zabel Professor of practice in human rights at Harvard Law School.

Now, she has written a memoir about her life so far. In The Education of an Idealist, Power traces her journey from an activist outsider to a government insider, bringing the reader onto the streets of war-torn Bosnia, and into the White House Situation Room and the UN Security Council. 

The book emphasises the work that goes into making diplomatic decisions, with Power detailing the bureaucracy within the White House. The conflict in Syria and Libya are explored in the book. But the book also shows the major things that can be achieved by someone in power, such as the fight against Ebola, and the Iran Deal.

However, many policies being implemented during Obama’s term in office are now being rolled back by current US President Donald Trump, something which Power is concerned about.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie during a lunchtime conversation hosted by her publisher Harper Collins and the Harvard Club at Trinity College earlier this week, Power discussed her take on the upcoming 2020 presidential election in the US.

When asked who she would like to see take over the role of president, Power said: “What I care above all about is ending the presidency of Donald Trump, not least because two terms of Donald Trump will not be twice the damage. 

“I don’t know what the exponent is, but probably five times, 10 times the damage, so it’s weird that four plus four is not eight.” 

Power went on to say she “just can’t even conceive of just the erosion of the rule of law and the corruption” under Trump. 

She said that it’s “so incredibly important that people rally” during the upcoming campaigns, adding that this election is “going to be all about turnout more than it’s going to be about persuasion”.

She added that getting people out to vote will be key in whether Trump continues in his role or not. “In 2016, 9% of the people who voted for Obama in 2012 voted for Trump in 2016. That’s millions of voters. And 7% of people who voted for Obama in 2012 stayed home in 2016,” she said. 

“Again, this was an election settled by 78,000 votes. If you just had comparable turnout of just the women who had voted in 2012 turned out in 2016, or the young people, we may be in some mess, but wouldn’t be in a Trump-inspired mess.”

The Education of an Idealist front cover (1)

In her memoir, Power is also quite candid about some of the more controversial moments in her political career, such as when she had to resign as Obama’s foreign policy advisor during his 2014 campaign after she called Hillary Clinton a “monster” while in an off-the-record portion of an interview with the Scotsman newspaper. 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Power explained that she had written to Clinton to apologise, but she had not been able to meet her in person for some time. 

However, a meeting with Clinton finally came about in an unusual way.

“The day after my wedding, Richard Holbrooke, the famous – late unfortunately – American diplomat mediator informed me that as a wedding present, he had arranged a summit with Hillary Clinton,” Power said, adding that Clinton was “very gracious” and accepted her apology in person. 

“And then I got to call Obama and I got to say ‘We’re good, I think, maybe you know, it’s possible for me to come back’,” she said.  

“He said ‘What do you mean we’re good?’ and I said ‘Well, Richard Holbrook, he got me this wedding present…’,” Power said. 

“He said ‘What? Your wedding present was a meeting with Hillary Clinton? Really? Don’t most people get toasters?’ And so, he thought that was a bit absurd, but anyway, then I was able to get back into the campaign.” 

Climate change

Following her discussion with TheJournal.ie, Power also took some questions from the audience, which led her to touch on issues such as climate change, bureaucracy in government, Ukraine’s military aid, and even her choice of wedding location.

Addressing the issue of climate change, Power said what’s happening with the climate protests is “inspiring beyond words, exhilarating, necessary, urgent, angry, in just the right way. In the appropriate way, given the lack of action and the lethargy at a state level, not just by the United States where we’re doing nothing, but even in a place like China that’s claiming to be at the helm of this leadership … but then is building coal plants as part of the Golden Road initiative”. 

Power said she hopes that there will be a “politicisation of the activism” surrounding the global protests. 

Ending on a positive note, she pointed out that the young people who staged the protests against gun violence in the US had voter registration booths along the routes. “So basically, they were sort of steering people also into politicisation.”

Listen to the full interview below:


Source: thejournal_ie/SoundCloud

Samantha Power’s The Education of an Idealist has been shortlisted in the 2019 An Post Irish Book Awards’ Ireland non-fiction book of the year category. To vote for your favourite books, visit the awards website.

- With reporting from Aoife Barry

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