Politics in 2017
By Matthew Hanrahan | Jan 23 2017Above: the US Embassy in Dublin.After Trump's inauguration and announcements of a "hard Brexit", Matthew Hanrahan, looks at the uncertain political future of 2017.UNLESS North Korea launch a couple of nuclear weapons into the sun, the aftermath of Brexit and Trump’s elections will dominate 2017. The other element is to see whether the right-wing lean of 2016 will spark a move to the right across Europe in several key elections scheduled to take place in the Netherlands, France, and Germany.With the inauguration of Trump as the 45th President of the United States, the new administration’s legislative agenda will quickly begin to take shape. The Women’s March on Washington attracted some of the largest crowds gathered for a protest in US history. The challenge for those who oppose Trump will be to marshal that energy into an effective opposition.The problem is that, with Trump, distractions seem to be readily available. One such distraction was the paltry size of the inauguration crowd in comparison to Obama’s. This was one of the main news items for many news organisations in the day after the inauguration. This reporting drew a sharp response from White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer who dismissed the underreporting of the crowd as shameful and untrue.Spicer pledged to hold the media to account for their “lies”. Ultimately, however, this should not have been the most important news item of Trump’s first day in office, especially when it’s directing focus away from far more significant issues. Issues such as just how qualified Trump’s cabinet picks are for their roles, with Betty DeVos and Dr Ben Carson faltering under questioning at their respective Senate confirmation hearings. Even more significantly, Trump passed an executive action that undermines Obamacare by stopping any further federal funding being directed towards it.
In Trump’s first press conference of 2017 he said “If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what, folks, that’s called an asset not a liability.”On the whole there is a lot of uncertainty as to what 2017 will hold for the United Sates. While Trump’s rhetoric has marginalised various groups from LGBTQ people, to people of colour, to an entire gender. While issues such as the defunding of Planned Parenthood have been mooted, this has not materialised itself into an actual policy as of yet. In regards to the economy, Trump’s focus is on rebuilding American infrastructure and creating manufacturing jobs, something that is in principle, if not in method, welcome to both sides of the aisle.Managing the economy, after the relative stability and steady job growth of the Obama years, this will probably be Trump’s greatest challenge, particular in delivering jobs to the rustbelt areas which Trump turned so successfully from blue to red.On top of governance, the new administration must also contend with allegations of an untoward relationship with Russia. In Trump’s first press conference of 2017 he said “If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what, folks, that’s called an asset not a liability.” This attitude has not done Trump any favours and a central focus of the early days of the Trump administration will be what the relationship with Russia becomes.In the last number of weeks, Obama imposed sanctions upon Russia following the conclusions of the NSA, CIA and FBI report, that Russia had targeted the US. Trump must decide whether to lift those sanctions and decide on what type of relationship his administration will have with Russia.
Only in the last week have we finally been told what it means; exiting the single market and negotiating trade deals with other nations outside of Europe.Brexit was the other landmark political event of 2016. Despite the referendum passing in June, we know surprisingly little about what Britain’s exit from the EU actually means. British Prime Minister, Theresa May has promised that “Brexit means Brexit”. When asked exactly what type of Brexit she hopes to bring about, May helpfully clarified her intentions; to get a “red, white and blue Brexit”.Only in the last week have we finally been told what it means; exiting the single market and negotiating trade deals with other nations outside of Europe. Beyond that however, the details are sparse. We do not know whether Britain will attempt to remain a member of the customs’ union, whether EU citizens in Britain will be allowed to remain after Britain leaves or whether Britain will make good on threats to become a tax haven for multi-national corporations.This sense of confusion has been confounded by the resignation of the UK’s head diplomat to the EU, Sir Ivan Rodgers who announced his resignation on the 3rd of January. He felt that the government’s approach to Brexit was so unclear that he could no longer perform his role and questioned the government’s timetable on delivering Brexit. The task of the Conservative Prime Minister however is not easy, she must marshal a divided Conservative party who have a plethora of views on Brexit. They range from pro-EU to hard line Eurosceptics and all will have differing demands from a Britain post EU.Following May’s announcement earlier this week however it is now, at least, clear that Parliament will have a vote on the final Brexit deal which brings more certainty than waiting for the outcome of a Supreme Court case on the matter.
In some quarters however, there has been pushback to an EU that is seen as increasingly dictatorial regarding member states economic policy.Front Nationale leader Marine Le Pen has said “2016 was the year the Anglo-Saxon world woke up. I am certain 2017 will be the year when the people of continental Europe wake up.” For the last number of years, the EU has spoken of ever closer ties within the Union and its fragmentation seemed unfathomable. The EU saw its role cemented by the fact it had significant economic benefits for member states. Moreover, the peace since WWII had seemingly secured its position.In some quarters however, there has been pushback to an EU that is seen as increasingly dictatorial regarding member states' economic policies. Those elements sceptical of the EU have been fringe movement up until Brexit. There is speculation that Brexit may embolden Eurosceptic political parties across other member states. These movements have had ample ammunition in the last year, in particular; fears over Europe’s open borders have heightened in the wake of several terrorist attacks in Paris, Nice, and Berlin where the assailants utilised the relative openness of European movement to aid their terrorist attacks and evade capture.In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders Freedom Party looks set to improve it’s standing in the country's general election in March although it will be unlikely to attain an outright majority needed to form a government. The Freedom Party is anti-immigrant and opposed to the EU. Wilders was prosecuted for hate speech for comments regarded as having the potential to incite racial hatred against Muslims in the Netherlands.More significantly, in France, the Presidential elections in April will probably see Marie Le Pen of the Front Nationale reach the final two candidates. Le Pen has built a disciplined party unit who have distanced themselves from the anti-Semitism and homophobia of the past. In making the far right more mainstream, Le Pen has begun to build a coalition of voters who are willing to vote for a hard right candidate if they believe that they will be protected from what they see as the threat from terrorism and Islam.Traditionally in France, the left and the centre-right have been willing to lend votes to each other if they did not reach the last round in the Presidential Election (where it is a head-to-head). Against the far right Front Nationale however, that is ever more uncertain in this election cycle as fears of terrorism reach a high point.2017 has the potential to deliver even more turmoil than 2016. It may be the year where Europe pivots towards right-wing parties, the year when we find out if the EU as an institution has a viable future. We will finally begin to see what a Brexit Britain and a Trump U.S.A. looks like. On second thoughts, maybe nuking the sun wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world?