A unionist and former military man has hit out at efforts to brand Donald Trump a “far right extremist”, and accused the SDLP of denigrating voters who elected him to office.
UUP MLA Steve Aiken was speaking as protests were held across the UK against Mr Trump’s state visit, which began on Monday.
A rally is being staged at Belfast City Hall on Tuesday evening, and Amnesty International, the Green Party, and the SDLP all issued statements in recent days hitting out at the US head of state.
For instance, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood’s said: “When Donald Trump was elected in 2016 he rode a wave of ignorance, misogyny and racism all the way to the White House.
“The people of Ireland know, better than most, how dangerous the politics of hate and division can be.”
Mr Trump received about 63 million votes in 2016.
Hillary Clinton got roughly 66 million, but lost due to the state-based nature of the US electoral system.
Mr Aiken’s wife is American, his children have dual nationality, and as a former Royal Navy submarine commander he was posted to American aircraft carriers and submarines throughout his 1980-2011 military career.
A strong UK-US relationship needs to be fostered in an “uncertain” world he said, and noted Mr Trump had arrived just ahead of the 75th anniversary of D-Day on Thursday – something which stands as the “epitome” of the transatlantic alliance.
Asked his views on Trump the man (as opposed to the nation he represents), Mr Aiken said he is a “great disruptor” of the status quo with “a unique presidential style” but that it is “far too early to tell” if his tenure has helped America.
He said: “People have got every right to demonstrate peacefully on any issue they have. That’s one of the great British values that we have in the UK.
“I’m never going to criticise anybody’s right to protest peacefully.”
He went on to add: “He would not be my cup of tea, by any stretch of the imagination.
“But to turn him into some kind of crypto-far-right extremist is probably completely over-egging it.”
And when it comes to the SDLP statement about a wave of “misogyny and racism” leading him to office, he said: “I think that’d denigrate many American voters.
“I know, as I say, with my close family connections to the US, many people voted for Trump because they were completely against Hillary Clinton and everything she stood for.
“So you can’t generalise.”