This statement was released yesterday by the SDLP Leader, Colum Eastwood on the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States. Both Martin McGuinness and Arlene Foster have pledged to continue on engagement with the Trump administration.
“As things fall apart, the centre ground is struggling to know what is worth holding on to. Mainstream politics remains uneasy and unsure as to its place, its power and its purpose.
“Donald Trump has swept in to fill this vacuum. Trump’s victory was anti-establishment, anti-immigrant and most particularly anti-globalisation.
“This morning there will be the easy and understandable temptation to turn to anger at the ignorance, misogyny and racism which has fed this victory. I am conscious that this is particularly the feeling amongst a huge swathe of young people, not only in America, but across the world.
“Instead of anger though, I think it would be better for us all if we displayed the softer sentiment of sadness. It would be better if we reflect on and react to this result and ensure that his victory and vision is not one which endures.
“Trump’s was not so much a victory of right over left, it was a victory of fanatical and fantasy absolutism over a more considered, coherent and kinder politics. This is increasingly the choice that western electorates now face.
“It is for this reason I have said that I will not attend a Trump White House. I choose to stand by a very different set of values than those displayed by this man.
“I will understand if those in government, North and South, feel a duty of office to attend. However, I feel it is important that as an Irish leader I take a stand, even if only small and only symbolic, for the kind of politics which we continue to believe in.
“I will continue to work with our many friends across America. Trump’s presidency will not stop that engagement with business and political figures. It will not stop that special bond of friendship and history which will endure beyond the Trump presidency.”
I get why people feel so annoyed at Trump and his politics. I often argued that he was not really a Republican, rather a populist, who would say anything and do anything that would advance his position.
Yet, after the dust settled yesterday morning I realised the American people had sent a message and we always intending to send that message. That message should be not just heard, but understood by everybody if we are to avoid future elections such as this one.
Irish leaders have long had connections with the USA, the traditional meeting on St Patricks Day in the White House being one of them. I am at sea as to what this course of action achieves. Boycotting the democratically elected leader of American people is surely a retrograde step, when the SDLP’s own history has demonstrated the value of engagement between folks with whom we disagree.
What about other countries? Do we ignore China, where the Executive are opening an office and human rights abuses are well documented? What about places in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia and their treatment of women?
I appreciate that Colum is not arguing for a general boycott of the USA and he recognises its small place in the bigger picture, but Trump is the elected leader of the American people for the next four years. I am not happy about it, I respect the reasons why Eastwood is not happy about it, but Irish Nationalism should take the few opportunities we get to engage with the American institutions when we can. As the former Canadian Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney observed when he was criticised for being close to Reagan “nobody can energise the American system of government like the President can.”
Like re-tweets on Twitter, a meeting is not an endorsement.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs