- 21 Sep 18
It was to have been a Presidential visit unlike any other – with an unprecedented scale of protest to match. In the week prior to the cancellation of Trump’s Irish trip, Hot Press spoke to various activists and politicians, who gave a remarkable insight into the intensity of opposition to his administration.
Like virtually everything about the Trump administration, the mooted Irish visit of the US President has turned into a pantomime. Yes indeed, less than two weeks after it was announced, Donald Trump’s planned stop-off in Ireland was unceremoniously cancelled.
At the time of going to press, the reason for the abrupt termination was not forthcoming – it may well prove to have been just another example of Trump’s mindless caprice. Perhaps he genuinely just couldn’t find us on a map. Or – more likely – he and his “advisers” (any left outside Hope Hicks, that is) were too worried about the scale of the protests that would take place, in an environment positively seething with hostility to the alt.right agenda, to allow it to proceed. Rewind to the pre-cancellation atmosphere. The backlash on Irish social media to the news was fierce. One Twitter user dubbed the president “the least welcome American here since Tom Berenger in The Field.”
The avalanche of negativity notwithstanding, both Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney had said they didn’t have a problem with their upcoming guest. “President Trump will visit Ireland in November,” Coveney said on Twitter. “The US President is always welcome in Ireland. Our two countries have such strong historic, economic, cultural and family ties. Maintaining those connections is always a top priority.” Opponents of the visit saw this as embarrassing, albeit predictable, stuff; it looks even sadder now in light of Trump’s decision to back out. As several commentators noted in the immediate aftermath of the cancellation, far from the brave public face the cabinet were putting on, the fact that the trip will not take place must come as a massive relief.
Opposition to the trip had grown swiftly in the wake of the original announcement, as Hot Press discovered, speaking to politicians and activists, whose views gave an indication of the depth of the animosity the President would be faced with. “You can justify meeting anybody on the grounds of, ‘Oh, it’s a historic relationship between our countries, blah blah blah’,” said Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy. “Trump does not represent some healthy relationship between Ireland and the US. He doesn’t represent Irish immigrants in America. In fact, they are the ones in the crosshairs of his attack on migrants, which is obviously mostly aimed at Latino people – but the Irish will also feel that impact.”
Elsewhere, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan took issue with Trump pulling the US from the Paris Climate Agreement, a UN accord between countries which aims to combat global warming. “He just can’t go uncontested,” insisted Ryan. “That’s not just the United States’ business, that’s all our business. They are the biggest polluters, and them leaving the Paris Agreement undermines the efforts the rest of us are making.
“They’re one of the only countries out of 195 to leave. Even Venezuela, which had previously threatened to withdraw, have now signed. We can’t afford to do nothing and allow that to happen.” “No invite should have been issued to Trump in the first place,” added Murphy added, in a comment that now looks positively prescient.
It’s for those reasons that both the Green Party and Solidarity were intent on protesting. Both had planned to collaborate with a variety of anti-racist, anti-war, women’s and workers’ rights organisations to build a national movement against the visit. Indeed, bearing in mind the President’s notorious tendency to change his mind, these measures may still be revisited in the not too distant future.
Another interesting element of the brief mobilisation was that Murphy and Ryan both dismissed the argument that demonstrating is pointless, because it only gives the US President more publicity.
“If there is no protest, the image will be Trump speaking to Varadkar, very statesman-like,” Murphy had observed. “That’s the image he wants to bring home. I think it’s important for us, and for people in America that instead, the images picked up are huge protests filled with ordinary people showing that the president’s policies don’t represent us.” “Trump is brilliant at turning protests to his advantage either by ignoring participants or deriding them,” Ryan had noted. “The key to success in demonstrating against him is to make it really big, clever and humorous. It must be so big that it can’t be ignored. We want it to be the news story that Fox News can’t turn or play in any way other than, ‘Wow a lot of Irish people turned out against Trump’.”
A key aspect of Green Party strategy was to be securing the famous Trump Baby Blimp for the Irish protests. Designed by Matthew Bonner, the 20ft balloon depicts the US president as orange, in a nappy and clutching a mobile phone, the latter a jab at his Twitter addiction. It was originally created for Trump’s visit to the UK in July.
Oliver Moran of the Green Party was liaising to bring the balloon to Ireland, on what would have been the first pit-stop on a world tour. “It’s funny,” said Moran. “Some people think it makes light of the issue. They feel it makes a joke, rather than the serious point you want to make. I think you can do the two things at once. From my point of view, it’s big and iconic. It speaks to what people think of Trump – that he is a big baby and a bully.”
It will be interesting to see if the plan to bring the blimp to Ireland might still go ahead! Jennie Carlsten is an American expat living in Belfast. Through her political action group ExACT (Expat Action Group), she was planning to get anti-Trump protestors down to Dublin. “I was disappointed I didn’t get a chance to see Baby Trump in the UK,” laughed Carlsten. “So I’m excited.”
Jennie had planned to hire private buses to make it easier for protestors to travel.
“When he came to the UK in July,” she reflected, “a lot of people would have been willing to travel if he’d made a trip over to Ireland that time. There was a lot of talk about ‘Let’s go to where he is’.”
Hiring the buses would have made it affordable for people to get to the heart of the anti-Trump action. That a major protest was looming cannot have been in doubt over in Washington.
Meanwhile Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) have taken a case against Trump’s plans to build a 38,000-tonne rock barrier on Doonbeg’s beach, to protect his golf course from coastal erosion. The US President is being challenged in the High Court on the issue, although the case is currently on hold pending a decision by An Bord Pleanála. FIE’s New York-born spokesperson, Tony Lowes, told Hot Press about his own personal connection to Trump.
“He rang me up six months after he bought the golf course in 2014,” said Lowes. “At the time, I knew very little about him. He was concerned there was going to be a windfarm built that would intrude on the visual amenities of his golf course. He knew we had objected to it too – not because it was a wind farm, but because it was a big structure on an area of important nature.
“It was real sweat lodge buddy kind of stuff. He said: ‘Anything you want, come back and tell us and we’ll work it out’. So I went back to the group and said, ‘This guy Trump has rung us up and offered us his help’. They all came back unanimously and said ‘Tony, you ring those guys up and say, no, thank you very much’. By god were they ever right!”
Alongside Californian group Save The Waves, FIE recently shot a video celebrating the Doonbeg coast. “The video is a bunch of people arriving at the beach in the morning and parking their cars and heading down to the sea,” Lowes said. “There’s kids, dogs and surfers on the water. We walk all the way down the beach and all the way back. It’s a splendid example of how the coast is used.
“It’ll be edited by the end of the month. I have a feeling the most sensible thing to do would be to release it at the time of Trump’s visit and let people see what will happen if he gets his way there.” Thanks to the cancellation, that thought now seems redundant. Still, the fact that the scale of the planned protests quickly became evident – and gave a real insight into the huge level of opposition the President will face if he ever sets foot here – may have played a part in Trump’s decision to back off, or butt out, or whatever is is that overgrown babies do.