President Trump: Time to renew our democracy

Had anyone suggested on January 31, 2013, the day Barack Obama took America’s presidential oath for the second time that the billionaire developer cum television host Donald Trump — he’s worth $3.7bn — would be the next person asked to offer that loyalty to the American people and their constitution, they would have been, at the very least, ridiculed.

President Trump: Time to renew our democracy

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all,

Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886

That television-reality-show-becomes-actual-reality eventuality seemed an utterly impossible, laughable idea. How deeply fate has twisted that eviscerating knife into the liberalism that believed Trump unelectable.

Such a possibility was unimaginable as America seemed, that January afternoon, to confirm that it had crossed a Rubicon and permanently left behind a past riven by race, isolation, trade barriers, religious intolerance, xenophobia or the kind of demagoguery built on fear and resentment — all of the dark, threatening impulses again stirred by the alt-right movement and shamelessly exploited Mr Trump during his explosive White House campaign rallies.

Yet, this afternoon, at 5pm Irish time, Supreme Court chief justice John Roberts — nominated to that court by George W Bush — will administer America’s Oath of Office and Donald Trump will be sworn in as America’s 45th but most implausible president.

He has never held an elected office of any kind. He has never shown the understanding of human or international relationships that might suggest he has the capacity or the skills, or even the ambition, to honour the office he assumes this afternoon. He seems unable to appeal to anything other than our basest, attack-dog instincts.

His business style, his reliability and track record of incomplete deal after incomplete deal suggests he would be a poor, risky business partner, much less an exemplary leader of what was once called the free world. That he has filed for bankruptcy six times — how many victims did that duck-and-dive weaving leave in its wake? — raises the most serious questions about his idea of integrity.

That he has more or less scoffed at the idea of paying personal taxes and, unlike others at his level, refused to publish his tax returns, confirms that he seems uninterested in the idea of social responsibility or obligation.

Though he will follow the steps of Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson and Obama it is hard to suggest there is any parallel in character, temperament or trustworthiness — much less experience — with the great majority of the 44 men who occupied the Oval Office before him. That Mr Trump has achieved his victory with the clandestine support of Vladimir Putin’s kleptocracy makes any comparison with his predecessors even more unrewarding.

All of that, however, is now irrelevant. America has ordained Trump as that superpower’s president even though his opponent Hillary Clinton got a far higher proportion of the popular vote. Just as we must face the consequences of Brexit, the world must brace itself for the Trump presidency and how it might undermine painstakingly won treaties designed to confront environmental, trade and other issues.

As a parting shot that spoke volumes, President Obama transferred $500m to the Green Climate Fund agreed at Paris. Speaking at Davros, Chinese president Xi Jinping echoed that sentiment and warned the world must not allow the Paris deal to be “derailed”.

“We only have one homeland,” said Xi Jinping, in a clear warning to Trump not to dismantle the agreement. Trump has threatened to pull out of the deal and dismissed climate change as a Chinese “hoax” and “expensive… bullshit”.

It is hard not to be frightened by such naked ignorance but the choice seems simple enough. We can be cowed by the idea of such a vainglorious, unhinged man, one with no idea of the difference between the truth and lies, in the White House for at least the next four years or we can remember Emily Dickinson’s inspirational words: “Hope is the thing with feathers, That perches in the soul, And sings the tune without the words, And never stops at all ...”

But hope is hardly enough, it needs to be supported by determination and vision. Trump is a warning of what might happen when we take democracy for granted, when we imagine it can look after itself.

The best, the only valid response to Trump is involvement, in commitment to our democratic process to ensure that it is relevant to all of our citizens. Our own democracy would hardly pass that stiff test today. We have a lot to do and little enough time to do it.

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