Like many sane thinking political followers, I awoke on Wednesday saddened at the news that an odious individual who traded on a campaign of fear had been elected President of the United States.
Many commentators have rightly chastised Trump for his verbose demeanour and truly dreadful attitude to women, minorities as well as to those with disabilities. Added to that, Trump’s policies, what few he has actually discussed, could directly impact upon the world and indeed Ireland more specifically.
By turning his back on global trade and punishing US companies that seek to invest abroad, Trump will negatively impact on Ireland’s recovering economy, one that has benefitted so much from a close relationship with the US.
Trump will take office at the end of January and his election is not a massive surprise as his victory unfortunately follows a trend evident across the world in the wake of the economic crash of 2008 onwards.
Apart from countries like Canada and Australia, who were insulated by the crash by strong mineral wealth, we have seen mainstream governments, across the western world, defeated and challenged by a wave of increasingly populist and reactionary politicians and parties.
In Greece, Syriza came from nowhere to take the reigns of the country, promising the world and the moon with scant regard for any sane economic reasoning. In Italy, former stand up comedian Beppe Grillo steered the 5 star movement into a leading position on a platform of direct democracy.
In Spain, Podemos has risen from being a street movement to one of the largest parties in Parliament. In Germany, the reconstructed Nazi and Communist parties in the form of the AfD and Die Linke have made huge gains.
Closer to home, the Right to Water movement and the collection of supportive parties such as AAA/PbP and Sinn Fein as well as a plethora of independents have been able to take on, and admittedly defeat or at best badly wound, the mainstream parties on a fairly minor issue.
A minor issue that dominated the 2016 General Election and became the cause celeb for those fed up with politicians and the political system.
In the US, Trump was the anti-politician. He defeated establishment figures such as Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio to win the Republican nomination. In the Presidential election, he defeated the arch-establishment candidate in Hillary Clinton.
He tapped into a huge sense of disillusionment in the US and was able to position himself as the man to fight for the ordinary man despite coming from an extremely elite and privileged background.
Another man from such a background to ride this wave of anti establishment politics is Nigel Farage, former leader of UKIP, who played a pivotal role in convincing the working people of Britain to back Brexit, blaming the EU for all their perceived woes wrapped up in similarly racist, anti immigration language.
The US and the U.K. are two of the world’s largest economies and two of the leading democracies in the G8, another two members of the G8 facing electoral challenges next year are Germany and France.
The German parliamentary system, the tradition of grand coalitions and the relative popularity of Angela Merkel should be enough to keep the populists out of government. However, in France, the outlook is not so positive.
In all opinion polls, Marine Le Pen of the Front Nationale is leading the way and almost certain to repeat the feat of her father and reach the run off election in May.
Unlike Trump and Farage, Le Pen does not hide her openly racist and thuggish brand of politics. She is vehemently anti immigrant; thinks that citizenship should be tied to ethnicity or race; supports the death penalty; is sceptical on climate change; opposes French membership of the EU and NATO; like Trump and Farage she wants closer ties to Vladimir Putin’s Russia and finally she is of course the daughter, albeit estranged, of the notorious anti semite and islamaphobe, Jean Marie Le Pen.
A Le Pen victory is far from certain but both Brexit and Trump make it even more of a possibility. A Le Pen victory could be the end of the EU and the beginning of global chaos. It will be the culmination of a triple attack on liberal democracy and sane thinking politics.
It is vital that the centre holds in France and across the world.
What is the alternative? It is no longer fanciful to point towards 1930’s Europe as an example of what happens when we allow populism and reactionary politics to succeed.
Our generation really doesn’t know the utter devastation that war can bring and I hope we never have to find out.
However, reactionary decisions like voting for Brexit and electing Trump could lead to such an eventuality, it poses the greatest challenge to us as a people but most importantly to those of us in politics.
We must adjust our policies, listen more and genuinely seek to bring people with us to fight off the rise of populism. The sneering judgement of those who vote leave or who elected Trump will merely increase the backlash, it is a huge challenge but it is up to us to take this on and take it on quick.
I truly hope, in France, that the socialists, republicans and liberals can join together to keep Le Pen out but that one result will not be enough. Politics, politicians need to change.
Based in Dublin Rathdown, Senator Neale Richmond is the Government spokesperson on EU affairs in Seanad Eireann.