Monday 20th March 2017 marked 60 days since Donald Trump was inaugurated as President of the United States. A distinguished panel of academics from the U.S and Ireland met as part of the Trinity Long Room Hub’s Behind the Headlines discussion series to explore what his presidency means for America, Ireland and the world.
Dr Elizabeth Tandy Shermer, of the Loyola University Chicago and a Visiting Research Fellow at the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Institute, reflected on American political history and the long-term trends of right-wing populism in the U.S.
‘American history can give us a lot of ways to understand how on earth a business man, more famous for his brand and declaring bankruptcy, became president.’
According to Dr Shermer, populism ‘trades in a David and Goliath rhetoric of the many weak and the powerful few. What’s really interesting about it, is that it can be found across the American political spectrum.’
But, she argued that ‘right-wing populists, like Trump, have been as much a threat to Republicans as Democrats’, representing a departure from political norms and convention adhered to by both parties.
Dr David Kenny of Trinity College Dublin’s School of Law asked what Trump's challenging of American political conventions would do to the future of America's constitutional democracy.
Talking about the immigration order or ‘Muslim ban’, Dr Kenny explored the constitutionality of the ban, referring to two recent court orders in the U.S. temporarily blocking the President’s travel order.
Dr Kenny said, however, ‘if you read this order you will not find mention of Islam or Muslims. You will in fact find no religious language what so ever. What you will find is an order that restricts issuing of visas and green cards for a certain period of time, to people who are citizens of six specific predominately Muslim states.’
While courts in the U.S are usually very reluctant to explore the intentions of the law and look behind the words, Dr Kenny said, the allegations of religious discrimination under the First Amendment have prompted courts ‘to look at whether or not there is a hidden religious bias, despite the fact that that is not apparent on the face of the law.’
Jacob Erickson, of the School of Religions, Peace Studies and Theology at Trinity College Dublin, said that ‘one of the most interesting stories that emerges in the first 60 days of the Trump administration is this story of organised religiously motivated resistance to the Trump agenda’.
He said churches, synagogues and mosques across the country are organising ‘sanctuary movements’, offering refuge and becoming places ‘of safety for undocumented immigrants who live in fear of being deported by this administration.’
‘Their religious world view is actively urging them to defy these executive orders,’ Mr Erickson said.
Dr Eileen Gillooly who travelled from Columbia University to attend the public discussion, spoke about the challenges to U.S. higher education posed by Trump’s immigration policies, and his proposed cuts to research and to federal funding for education.
‘So far, perhaps the greatest impact Trump’s presidency has had on U.S. higher education has been to heighten fear on campuses to levels unseen since the McCarthy era—and to have awakened unprecedented resistance to proposed policies that threaten the liberty and health of the academy. The most alarming of these to date include the so-called ‘Muslim ban’, a $9.2 billion cut in federal funding for education, and the elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities.’
Dr Elizabeth Tandy Shermer featured on Myles Dungan’s The History Show, on Sunday, and she was also interviewed on Newstalk’s Breakfast Show. Jacob Erickson featured on the Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk.