Beware the new political dawn
In another 11 days, on January 20 to be exact, billionaire businessman Donald J. Trump will take the oath of office at midday on the steps of the historic Capitol Building in Washington, to become the 45th President of the United States of America.
However, the mood surrounding Trump’s inauguration stands in sharp contrast with that of eight years ago when outgoing president Barack Obama took office. Obama’s inauguration was characterized by unprecedented hope and optimism, not only in America but also across the world, that a new era in US international engagement was unfolding.
While it can equally be said that a new era is unfolding with Trump’s assumption of the presidency, the mood this time around is defined by uncertainty and anxiety, as the world watches with bated breath to see if Trump – a political outsider whose victory over Democrat Hilary Clinton took most of the world by surprise – will really carry through on his campaign pledges.
He vowed, for example, to build a wall on the US border with Mexico to keep out illegal immigrants and to make the Mexican government pay for it. He also threatened to deport millions of illegal immigrants from the United States to their home countries – a move which certainly would have a direct impact on Barbados and other Caribbean countries.
The mercurial Trump has also threatened to scrap a nuclear deal with Iran that was negotiated by the Obama administration and to take a tough stand on trade with China which he accused of “raping” the US economy. Carrying through on these promises – which some commentators say is quite unlikely – would naturally contribute to unwelcome global conflict and instability.
At least, there is one significant positive. The stock markets seem excited by the possibilities for wealth creation under a Trump presidency, given his solid business background. In the two months since his election, share prices have rallied in anticipation of lower taxes, less regulation and increased spending on infrastructure which Trump has promised.
But what will a Trump presidency really mean for this region? While some interests are obviously concerned, there is optimism in other quarters over the fact that Republican administrations have historically tended to be more supportive than the Democrats of our economic development, even though the Caribbean has traditionally leaned more towards the Democrats.
That might have been the case during the Cold War era when the Reagan administration, for example, channeled millions of dollars in aid money into the region and provided one-way trade concessions under programmes such as the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI). However, it is a completely different era today: the Cold War is history and, from a geopolitical perspective, the region no longer has the same significance in the eyes of Washington.
We will therefore have to wait and see what policies Trump brings, given that he has already come out against so-called “offshore tax havens” and vowed to take action to ensure that some of that money stays in America.
Hopefully, our governments have been pro-active in terms of foreign policy coordination and have carefully weighed their options to see how we will engage the US going forward under the incoming Trump administration.
While the region can hope at least for a sympathetic hearing and policies which will support rather retard the region’s development, it is about time that the Caribbean comes to a full realization that its future development is not America’s problem but its own. Errol Barrow gave this piece of advice back in the 1980s.
Trump’s election has been described as marking a paradigm shift in US and global politics, especially with the dawn of what is being described as the “post truth” era. So profound was its impact that the Oxford Dictionary chose the new adjective, “post-truth”, as its 2016 Word of the Year.
Referring specifically to tactics used during the Trump campaign and the “yes” side in the campaign leading to last year’s Brexit referendum which resulted in the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union, post-truth is defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.
Whether this approach will come to define the Trump presidency is left to be seen. However, given the relative ease with which metropolitan trends catch on in the Caribbean, it may well be just a matter of time before the ‘post-truth’ approach also shapes our politics.
Needless to say, that would be a most unwelcome development.