ONE week ago tonight, we saw the biggest political upset in living memory, and the world is still struggling to come to terms with its impact.
Donald Trump turned everything upside down, as well as delivering some heavy body blows to sundry rivals in the process. It will take a long time for the pollsters - those unquestioned soothsayers of voter intent - to recover from this setback. And the traditional American news media, which had aligned itself so unapologetically against Trump, not only now finds itself on the back foot but, more ominously, with its credibility in tatters.
Trump’s election was a victory for small town America, where a marginalised public fell easily for his rhetoric and for the promise to go back to a golden age where, in the words of the famous song, ‘we still wave old glory at the courthouse’. But the price of all that is a nation divided as never before, where simmering anger and frustration found its outlet in the polling booth, and where issues like race and tribalism were shown to be not very far beneath the surface, however much the country would have liked to think otherwise.
So what of the impact of the new presidency when it comes to matters of Irish concern? For the undocumented Irish, the prospect of an amnesty or for a regularisation of their situation seems further away than ever. The call to bring home US companies, with the lure of a sweeter tax deal, could spell trouble for foreign direct investment in Ireland. The Trump threat of tearing up existing US trade deals and reverting to a policy of protectionism will badly hit our trading ties with America.
That annual presentation of the White House bowl of shamrock on St Patrick’s Day is about to take on a significance never experienced before.
Whether or not Mr Trump’s win is another manifestation of the Brexit phenomenon across the water is a moot point, but there is little doubt but that the world is increasingly in the grip of a disgruntled, disillusioned public, which feels disconnected from the status quo. All over Europe, the swing is away from mainstream politics and towards the politics of protest and dissent. There is a feeling that the new world order favours the rich and privileged, and that middle and working class people have been written out of the script. Traditional employment has collapsed, new technologies mean that greater numbers of people feel isolated, discarded - and angry.
And it is this latent anger which Donald Trump so successfully seized on and manipulated and wrapped around himself. A week before the US election, Vladimir Putin said admiringly of Trump: “He has chosen his own way of reaching the hearts of the voters. He is representing the common people, and he is acting like a common guy himself.” It is a tribute to the new president’s astuteness that he, a multi-billionaire, was able to cast himself as the common man; even more so was his ability to pander exactly to whatever message his audience wanted to hear, and to give them exactly what they wanted.
The Trump election rallies were, by all neutral accounts, intimidating experiences. He fired up the crowds; he revved up their anger; he unleashed torrents of personal, offensive abuse on all who dared cross his path. And his supporters loved him for it.
His problem, now that he is elected, may be in putting the genie back in the bottle. His followers will demand no less than what he has promised them. So unless he starts to build that wall; to expel those immigrants and to lock up his erstwhile opponent, he could find his adoring public turning very nasty, very quickly.