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Dislike Trump if you want, but ignore the anger that swept him to White House at your own risk

Outsider elected on tide of protest at a political establishment that had lost touch with voters, says Alban Maginness

Published 16/11/2016

President-elect Donald Trump meets Barack Obama, who he takes over from in January
President-elect Donald Trump meets Barack Obama, who he takes over from in January

Is Donald Trump a paper tiger? Given the recent pictures of a mild, almost deferential, Trump with President Obama, it would be hard not to come to the conclusion that, post-election, he was softening his previous hostility to the Democratic President and the liberal political establishment.

Whether this was simply the actions of an exhausted candidate or a deliberate change in both tone and substance remains to be seen. Nonetheless, given his previous incendiary rhetoric about racial and religious minorities and vicious personalised attacks on individual public figures, it is to be welcomed that he has, at least for the time being, taken a conciliatory approach.

Despite the severe mauling in the election, where the Democrats failed to regain the Senate and lost significantly in the House of Representatives, President Obama, in keeping with his customary dignified style and impeccable inclusive manner, has demonstrated in an exemplary fashion that the protection of the interests of the American system of government is more important than partisan political interests.

Given Trump's outrageous and personalised attacks on Obama the man, as well as Obama the politician, Obama has displayed surprising cordiality to Trump in his welcome to the White House and a firm commitment that he will fully cooperate in bringing about a smooth political transition.

In doing so, he has emphasised the need to put the interests of the American people at the very heart of the process of governmental change, which in Washington literally means the hiring and firing of 4,000 political appointees. This is a major change-management process, which for an outsider like Trump, who lacks any political experience, will mean a huge headache.

Trump's election has been formally, though not warmly, congratulated by world leaders, including Theresa May and Enda Kenny. Both of these premiers have previously been critical of Trump during his presidential campaign. Now they have to, albeit reluctantly, accept the reality of his election to the highest and most powerful office in the democratic world.

Some politicians who are not in public office have not gone back on their previous criticisms of him and, indeed, have reiterated their hostility to his political ideas. This includes Ed Milliband, the former leader of the Labour Party, and, locally, the SDLP's Colum Eastwood.

But now the real question is, will Trump attempt to deliver his radical political programme and, if he does, what will the consequences be?

Firstly, his programme (if it could be called such) is a strange mixture of protectionist and isolationist policies that could see the USA become an inward-looking superpower.

No longer would America be the international policeman that we are accustomed to seeing in the world today. There could be a complete withdrawal from the Middle East, where the US has been embedded since the Iraq war and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Afghanistan may also be abandoned by America, as the Russians did in the 1980s.

Maybe that would not be a bad thing for both America and the world. Why should young American soldiers sacrifice their lives in putting out other people's fires? Whether this would lead to a more peaceful and settled Middle East is unanswerable, but military withdrawal would be the inevitable consequence of Trump's new foreign policy and something that would strike a chord with the isolationist mood among the people that elected Trump.

More positively, if Trump is able to defuse the tension and confrontation that exists between Russia and the US, that will serve all our interests. The simmering anger and antagonism between the two nuclear superpowers is a dangerous situation that threatens world peace.

The mutual admiration between Trump and Putin may be a positive step towards repairing the damage to good relations between the two superpowers.

But if, as he promised during the election campaign, he "reins in China", tears up the nuclear treaty with Iran and isolates Cuba, he will be destroying the immensely valuable work of Obama. Likewise, if he recognises Jerusalem as capital of Israel before there is a two-state settlement, he will reignite the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with nightmarish consequences.

However much we dislike Trump's unexpected victory, we have to face up to the new world of angry, populist politics that Trump's triumph represents. It is driven by the alienation of many hitherto silent voters, who see their interests being unrepresented and - even worse - their votes being taken for granted by a political establishment that they perceive to be out of touch and self-serving.

We have witnessed the same electoral phenomenon in the south and in Britain, with Brexit and Corbyn, and in Spain and Greece and now, finally, in the US with Trump.

Sadly, the world is in for a very unpredictable and potentially dangerous roller coaster.

Belfast Telegraph

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