The election of Donald Trump as President of the US heralds a seismic change, not only in American politics but in global politics. In contemplating this change, I have, as an Irish emigrant in North America, naturally turned my gaze eastwards to see how this might impact Ireland and Irish-American relations.
It is as clichéd as finding a four-leaf clover on St Patrick’s Day to say that Ireland and the US has always had a unique relationship. Ireland, more exposed to the storm of the international economy than any other European country, and more connected to the US through bonds of commerce, sentiment and blood now faces a second (following Brexit) dramatic adjustment of its closest economic allies in just a few months. A key area of Ireland’s economic policy has been to use a low corporate tax rate to attract US multinationals, to generate employment (Ireland’s biggest export, is after all, its skilled workforce) and to provide tax revenue for the State. US companies pay billions in euros in corporation tax in Ireland. The Irish Government spends that money on public services, pensions, social welfare payments, etc.
Reversing to protectionist policies, Trump focused his campaign on ensuring that American companies bring jobs back home. He has proposed big tax cuts for companies like Apple that keep billions of profits offshore from the US. His economic plans called for a reduction in US corporation tax rates from 35% to 15%, very close to the Irish rate of 12.5%. If this was enough to attract US companies back to home soil, and if the corporate taxes Ireland enjoys from these companies were to cease, what would replace it? Would this ignite another economic crisis and resulting mass emigration not seen since the mid 19th century?
And what of the Irish currently in the US? The self-proclaimed spokespeople for Irish America rarely miss an opportunity to talk about the 43 million Americans who claim Irish heritage. Ireland has, with Trump’s ascension to power, slowly come to acknowledge that this relationship is changing. “Donald Trump may be the only presidential candidate in history to think that the era of the Cold War and Senator Joseph McCarthy’s communist witch-hunts is something to emulate”, writes James Nevius in The Guardian, and he does this by calling for a revival of McCarthyism, which he refers to as “extreme vetting.” Bluntly, it’s a new era of aggressive American nationalism. But what does this mean for the thousands of undocumented Irish in the US? Irish immigrant advocates are acutely aware that the American public doesn't identify the Irish as alien, let alone illegal, and they consciously leverage this positive prejudice to their advantage. It’s all in the stereotypes – race-based, language-based, class based. And this begs the question that I can’t help but ask myself - who could have imagined that Ireland would be a more socially progressive and welcoming place than America in 2016?
Is it fair to say that the Irish-American relationship is of declining contemporary relevance? If so, all the four-leaf clovers in the world will not change that reality.