Opinion: protests against Donald Trump's Irish visit will be part of a global campaign against the US president

By Séamus A. PowerUniversity of Chicago

US president Donald Trump will visit Ireland in June and the visit will be met with a range of opinions. Support will come from those who endorse his conservative politics. Others will respect the office of US president regardless of the occupier or seek to highlight the historically positive social and economic relationship between Ireland and the United States. There will be others, including many in-power Irish political elites, who will publicly welcome his visit, citing the opportunity for constructive dialogue on immigration, climate change, and human rights.

But many people will oppose the visit and a subsection of the population will engage in various forms of protest against Donald Trump the man, the president and the symbol. Anti-Trump protests are not new. Beyond the myriad demonstrations across the United States, the president has been met with strong opposition during several European state visits. In England, the government, fearing mass street demonstrations, delayed announcing the date of his arrival in 2018, to shorten the amount of time available to organise protests. Despite this, tens of thousands took to the streets in opposition.

From RTÉ One's Nine News, a report on Donald Trump's first UK visit as US president

The ramifications of Trump’s policies extend beyond the boundaries of the United States. Therefore protesting state visits is justifiable and justified, as his thoughts, tariffs, and tweets affect global economies, societies, and sensibilities. 

In 1982, political scientist Benedict Anderson argued that the modern state was created when people formed "imagined communities." The proliferation of the printing press meant people could assume unknown others shared similar thoughts and attitudes because they read the same newspapers. This assumed connection between people lead to the creation of nations, united through shared mentalities.

A global anti-Trump social movement needs to demonstrate an imagined community - a shared and collective social movement – embodying strong and cohesive opposition against the decline of American democracy. Demonstrations need to create a re-imagined global community to influence US voters. Crowds are imagined communities made manifest. They have the ability to jolt US citizens to vote for a fairer, more harmonious,  alternative future.  

Protests online, on the streets or in the media might not influence Trump, but they can influence Irish politicians to be brave in their discussions and speeches

But what should an effective social movement against Donald Trump look like? Protests need to be (i) global yet local, (ii) sustained not solitary, (iii) multi-faceted, not one dimensional, and (iv) have an overarching aim to influence US voters.  

Global yet local

It is necessary to unite the localised Irish protest with global efforts venting anger and disagreement with Trump's politics. A proposal to share the "Trump Baby" balloon globally is a good one: a symbolic manifestation of anger with a myriad of socio-political issues, uniting individual protests, across nations, into a global condemnation of the US president.

One of Trump’s big domestic talking points was that the United States was disrespected abroad before his presidency. The big baby balloon and peaceful, carnivalesque, street demonstrations are hard to ignore on US televisions. They help refute the claim that the US president is respected abroad. Democracy is a dialogue and Ireland has the opportunity to add to a global discourse to re-imagine present realities.  

From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Max Wakefield, one of the people behind the Trump baby balloon, explains how it came about 

Sustained not solitary

Although single protests can be effective, sustained campaigns are best. For example, the Repeal the 8th campaign which led to a referendum to liberalise Irish abortion laws came 30 years after the previous vote resulted in maintenance of the status quo. In addition to individual issues, traumatic cases and personal stories, it was through collective action over time that this change was introduced in Irish society.

One of the most powerful tools to effect socio-political change is to make manifest an "imagined community", a group of people who by virtue of sharing commonalities generate a sense of collective identity capable of abstracting a community beyond individuals over prolonged time, to create socio-political change enshrined in law. Uniting the Irish protests to global demonstrations adds a dimension to a prolonged campaign. 

Multi-faceted

Prolonged protests also need to be multifaceted. Street demonstrations alone can be ignored. Protesters at Trump’s Scottish golf course were merely waved at by the president as he teed off. It is more difficult to ignore multi-tiered protests. Social media campaigns again add to "imagined communities idea" – that others think like you, creating solidarity amongst individual complaints. Multifaceted protests – online, on the streets or in the media - might not influence Trump directly, but they can influence Irish politicians to be brave in their discussions with, and speeches about, him.

Former Taoiseach Enda Kenny's address at the White House in March 2017

On his last St. Patrick’s Day visit to the White House, former Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, criticised Trump’s "travel ban" when he said "Ireland came to America because, deprived of liberty, deprived of opportunity, of safety, of even food itself, the Irish believed. And four decades before Lady Liberty lifted her lamp, we were the wretched refuse on the teeming shore. We believed in the shelter of America, in the compassion of America, in the opportunity of America. We came and we became Americans. We lived the words of John F. Kennedy long before he uttered them: We asked not what America can do for us, but what we could do for America."

Kenny remembered low Irish status in the United States to help imagine a future where those who are on the wrong side of advantage can thrive in a welcoming United States. There is potential for the current Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to use his position as representative of the people to make brave statements critical of the Trump administration.

Kenny was leaving office and held little personal risk from a statement that went viral, but Varadkar can be influenced by Irish demonstrators to take a stand against the president. Multi-faceted pressure from those protesting against Trump on mainstream and social media as well as by taking to the streets, in unity with other progressives, liberals, and robust cultural pluralists, around the globe, offers the potential to amplify political opposition to Trump’s controversial policies. 

From RTÉ One's NIne News, a report on this year's White House meeting between Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and US president Donald Trump

Influencing US voters 

The historical connection between Ireland and the United States needs to be amplified by protesters. People around the world can protest against Trump, but voting is the best way to remove him from power. As such, an multi-faceted, prolonged global discourse, might try and inform the US electorate. Again, the concept of imagined communities becomes important: peaceful, creative protests on a global and local level can inform political elites to challenge those in power and influence the US electorate.

Global criticism can help shine a mirror on US life and reflect international abhorrence at the separation of children from parents, the denial of human rights, racial, social and economic inequality and the belittling of free speech. It might edge those who are eligible to vote to actually vote in the 2020 presidential election. The world can make noise, but only those registered to vote can chose to endorse or oppose Trump’s policies. Trump needs Irish-American votes to be re-elected and the Irish public and Irish politicians can influence the voting behaviours of all those Americans with hyphenated identities. 

Combining these strategies, a prolonged, interlinked, global protest movement against Trump can influence US voters. Highlighting public and political disgust and abhorrence with Trump’s conservative views with carnivalesque, sustained, multi-faceted demonstrations is an effective way for local Irish protests to contribute to a global reimagining of the current political zeitgeist. Protest is the defibrillator that can jolt the weakened heart of an American democracy. It is a manifestation of an effort to re-imagine a fairer, more justice, and harmonious global community that is truly great (again). 

Dr Séamus A. Power is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ