When presidents were presidential

By Noel Campbell

History was indeed made on November 8 when Donald Trump was elected 45th president of the United States. I am not quite sure why history was made, a Republican beating a Democrat is not new, but it certainly feels like something immense has happened. Only something immense could sway the US electorate from voting to return a black Democrat in 2012, to voting four years later for a white billionaire Republican who holds overtly racist and misogynistic views. 

During his acrid campaign, Trump's character was cut open by the media and the condition of every damaged political and personal organ was reported on to the electorate. It mattered little though. The electorate bought what the businessman was peddling and duly returned him in the certainty that he would 'Make America Great Again'. In his first week of being elected, President-elect Trump has already, and perhaps unsurprisingly, rowed back on some of his more controversial and unworkable election promises. Mass deportations, a wall along the US-Mexican border, the banning of Muslims from the US, and his promise to imprison presidential rival Hillary Clinton are now being officially unravelled. But it is too late for the reputation of this generation of US voters. The damage has been done because those who voted for Trump's odious policies did so in the ultimately misguided belief that they would be enacted. My, how the US has changed since poet Emma Lazarus first gave Lady Liberty voice — "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore."

One would have thought that a necessary quality for a president would be that he or she were, well, presidential. This month marks the 26th anniversary of the election of Ballina-born Mary Robinson as the seventh, and first female, President of Ireland. In stark contrast to President-elect Trump, Robinson was the personification of presidential long before she was elected. An exceptional academic, Robinson studied law at Trinity College, King's Inns, and Harvard Law School. At the age of just 25, she became Reid Professor of Criminal Law in Trinity College. Representing her alma mater and still in her twenties, Robinson was elected to Seanad Éireann in 1969. It was in her role as a senator that Mary Robinson argued for reform on issues that at the time were denounced by conservative Ireland but today are enshrined in Irish law. By 1990, the year of her election as President of Ireland at the age of 46, Robinson had 20 years' experience in the Seanad, as well as having served on Dublin City Council for a time and had, with her husband, founded the Irish Centre for European Law.  

Mary Robinson's exceptional diplomatic skills have been utilised by the United Nations since becoming UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in 1997. In 2007 Robinson became a founding member, together with Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan, Desmond Tutu, and others, of The Elders, an independent group of global leaders working together for peace and human rights. If only Mandela was alive today. What great work he and Trump could have done together! Robinson's incredible public life and legacy have been recognised by Mayo County Council, NUI Galway, and the Irish Government through their partnership in opening the Mary Robinson Centre in Ballina. The centre will include a museum, archive, research and education facility, and events venue. Mary Robinson's work is not done, however. After a lifetime of fighting for the rights of women, LGBT people, minorities, and immigrants, Mary Robinson's ideals face a new challenge from the presidency of Donald Trump.


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