Tue | Oct 22, 2019

Editorial | Donald Trump’s absent moral core

Published:Wednesday | July 17, 2019 | 12:25 AM

It is entirely possible that Donald Trump, the moronic xenophobe who occupies America’s White House, would, at any imagined provocation, advise Colin Powell to take a hike back to the place from which he came. And he’d probably call that place a ‘s***hole country’, as he once described Haiti and African nations. Which, of course, is code for the homes of black and brown people.

In this case, though, Mr Trump would mean Jamaica, from where General Powell’s parents emigrated, although he, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley, the congresswomen who have been the subject of Mr Trump’s racist insults, was born in the United States. The fourth of Mr Trump’s latest victims, Ilhan Omar, has been an American citizen for approximately two decades, having arrived in the United States as a child refugee from Somalia.

General Powell served as commander of the US army’s land forces, was Ronald Reagan’s national security adviser, was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George H. Bush, and was secretary of state for George W. Bush. All of which would come to naught if, as happened with the congressional four, Mr Trump were to go off on one of his nativist rants. For, like the four women, General Powell is a person of colour.

Pay attention to Trump’s behaviour

Colin Powell, of course, isn’t the only person of Jamaican heritage living the United States. There are hundreds of thousands of those, whether they were born in Jamaica or their foreparents were. That is part of the reason why our Government must pay attention to Mr Trump’s behaviour as it seeks to protect the interest of our citizens in the United States. But there are also other profound reasons why Jamaica must be engaged, including that we subscribe to decency and similar values imposed by a common humanity.

Indeed, it is a subscription to these values and an appreciation of the corrosive nature of racism that triggered the global repudiation of Mr Trump’s advice that the group return to the “places from which they came”, with its echoes of Enoch Powell’s 1968 anti-immigrant, ‘Rivers of Blood’, speech in Birmingham, England and, to a degree, the ongoing controversy over Britain’s treatment of the Windrush generation.

Yet, the real danger of Mr Trump’s tweet lay not in the president’s ignorance, as it may be implied in ascribing foreign nationality to the quartet, but what it says about his exploitative and feral political instincts. Mr Trump is playing to his base, which he knows won’t be offended by overt racism or racist sentiments, and what he believes to be latent racist tendencies among large swathes of America’s white population. Clearly, it demands a racist soul and the absence of a moral core to consciously employ such a political strategy.

Trump is who he is

But Mr Trump is who he is. He is the man who advanced the racist ‘birther’ agenda against his predecessor, Barack Obama, the African-American president, whose legitimacy he continues to attempt to diminish, including through, as the British ambassador to the US, Kim Darroch, puts it, acts of “diplomatic vandalism”, such as pulling America out of the Iran nuclear deal. Or, in giving succour to white supremacists and neo-Nazis, such as those involved in the killings at Charlottesville, which Mr Trump declared to have had “fine people on both sides”.

Jamaica wants, and must maintain, good relations with the United States, a large and powerful neighbour, the vast majority of whose citizens share common values. But good relations doesn’t mean parking national pride, subsuming values or obviating our right to speak and tell truths. In which event, our Government would have been quiet on Venezuela.

Nancy Pelosi is perhaps right that Mr Trump’s xenophobic comments were primarily to divide his nation. But they also offend universal values.