By Josh Inocéncio
“I heard the first foreign leader Trump is meeting with is Theresa May. Tell me, boys, will he grab her fanny?” quipped an Irish cab driver as my friend Jeff and I piled into his car on our way to a train station in Dublin.
Witty questions like these rained over our recent trip to Ireland and the United Kingdom, a stark reminder not only of realities back across the Atlantic but our changing image in Europe as President Barack Obama ended his eight-year tenure to make way for President Donald J. Trump. And while we mustered laughs in response, our somber transition from Obama to Trump was as gloomy as the moors we rode through from Dublin to Galway.
By coincidence, Jeff and I departed Houston for a research trip the day before the inauguration. We may not have purposely planned to miss the ceremony on American soil, but I’m thankful we witnessed it brimming with bold reactions from the Irish in Dublin, Galway, and even the rural island of Inishmore. And even though the British residents we encountered in London were less outspoken (perhaps from mutual shame over the Brexit mess), the members of Parliament in our tourist visit to the House of Commons weren’t restrained in their debate over the “threat of Trump.”
To be sure, the sting of embarrassment abroad over our raucous new leader was familiar. Shortly after I graduated high school in 2008, I left for Europe and toured seven nations over the course of five weeks. You could see the exhaustion many Europeans had with the waning Bush administration and the hope for then-senator Barack Obama. Traveling through Europe then, I couldn’t avoid political conversations over breakfasts in Lübeck or Bergen. What would America do, they wondered?
Nearly nine years later and in a new nation, my interactions with the Irish were no less pointed. As soon as we arrived in Dublin on our first day, our 70-year-old cab driver lamented Hillary Clinton’s loss.
“She did a good job as the secretary of state,” he said, as local news about the United States’ big day played on his radio. “She deserves credit for that.” Later as we checked into our hotel near St. Stephen’s Green, the receptionist handed us an Irish newspaper and chortled, “Going to watch the big show in a bit?”
We did watch, trodden with jetlag yet armed with the full repertoire of sarcasm from the BBC’s Katty Kay as she comically navigated the disbelief and dismay at Trump’s victorious march into the White House.
In Dublin, we had participated in the Women’s March—one of many international marches all over the world—and we discovered remnants of a smaller one in the college town of Galway. We found signs plastered in Eyre Square (where President John F. Kennedy visited in 1963) that read, “Galway Stands Opposed to Trump,” and graffiti that proclaimed, “My Body, My Choice.” The battle for reproductive rights is more fraught in Ireland as the 8th amendment in their constitution bans abortions.
This anti-Trump sentiment was just as ripe in Inishmore, a small island off the coast of Galway. In the States, you’d expect to find Trump havens in less cosmopolitan regions, but not so on Inishmore. As I browsed Celtic artwork in a stonewalled shop on my way to Dún Aonghasa (an ancient fort nearly 4,000 years old), the shopkeeper, an older woman, asked, “Are you American?”
“Oh! Your president is a madman.”
She then asked if I “did YouTube” and urged me to watch the America First, The Netherlands Second parody video.
Certainly, there are Trump admirers in Ireland. But in all of our interactions across the tiny country, the Irish lampooned the new president. And while Ireland remains a conservative bastion in the West for anti-abortion forces, they are no strangers to progress. They remain the only nation in the world that has legalized same-sex marriage by popular referendum. With a fast growing economy, their capital city is home to the European headquarters for both Google and Facebook. And despite their own right-wing parties, they have so far navigated through the brash nationalism swallowing the continent.
And as with many of our Western European allies, the Irish are deeply fond of Barack Obama who, like Kennedy, has ancestral roots in Ireland. While conservatives in the States peddled the absurd narrative that President Obama was harming America’s image abroad, our relationships to Ireland, Germany, France, and other allies only fortified after the rickety Bush years. In fact, a Pew Research Center poll last year “conducted in 10 European nations, four major Asia-Pacific countries, Canada, and the United States finds that half or more of those polled in 15 of 16 countries express confidence in the American leader.”
But far more worried than the jocular Irish were the British MPs in Parliament. In our visit to the House of Commons just hours before their Brexit vote, the government and the opposition both discussed imminent threats from President Trump and cast concerns on exiting the European Union amid uncertainty from the United States’ commitment to the proverbial “special relationship.” Naturally, the Labour Party was most resolute in their disdain for handing over negotiation powers to Prime Minister Theresa May, and several Scottish MPs offered colorful speeches with hellish predictions for the U.K. and Trump.
In a landslide vote hours later, they passed the Brexit resolution to allow May to trigger Article 50 and begin negotiations on a Brexit deal with Europe. Yet both sides in the House led by Speaker John Bercow have agreed that President Trump will not address Parliament during his state visit. Instead of a formal rejection, the visit will take place when Parliament isn’t in session in late July or early August—when Queen Elizabeth II is at her residence in Scotland. Thus, the British government is seeking to keep Trump not only out of Parliament and Buckingham Palace, but out of London to avoid protests (especially considering Londoners organized a massive women’s march).
Trump has barely hung up his golden curtains in the Oval Office and he’s created headaches for our European friends. Far from demanding respect for America, Trump has almost overnight made us appear both clownish and menacing.
Through a decade of traveling to foreign countries, I’ve unpacked most of my American exceptionalism. Many of our imperial ventures thrived under Obama as well, sewing animosity with our declared enemies. But as we teeter on a gusty precipice with Trump, I do fear the increasing mistrust from our most loyal allies. We may have domestic issues to confront, but we’re far too privileged and interconnected to espouse an “only America First” position in a globalized world. It’s true that Trump is only temporary, thanks to the prescient 22nd Amendment, yet his decisions may cultivate an irreparable isolation that a centrist Republican or Democrat could only wearily repair.
On behalf of our global influence, American citizens must continue to resist. The only way to sustain faith in the United States is through resisting Trump. We would be foolish to abate for four years until the next presidential election. Our reputation on this planet now depends on our durability as free citizens. Now isn’t the time to withdraw, but to stay informed and active. As we’ve seen over the last few weeks, resistance works.
After all, as the Oscar Wilde monument in Dublin reads, “There is no sin except stupidity.”