Sat | Jul 11, 2020

Editorial | Here’s a lesson for Ambassador Tapia

Published:Sunday | August 18, 2019 | 12:00 AM
US President Donald Trump.

Normally, when diplomats from the United States, or any of our close developed-country partners are posted to Jamaica, there is a sense of looking forward to what they will bring – financial aid, or how they can influence policymakers back home to deliver projects to advance our development. It’s not usually about what we have to offer.

This time, though, things have changed. When Donald Tapia arrives, which is expected to be shortly, as Donald Trump’s man in Kingston, it should be a teaching moment which, hopefully, he can share with the American president – about matters of governance, competitive politics conducted in relative decency, and of ethnic and racial tolerance.

It ought to be a learning experience for Jamaicans, too – an appreciation that the country’s political and governance institutions work reasonably and ought to be protected from demagogues with an inclination to authoritarianism such as Donald Trump.

Jamaicans, of course, know little about Mr Tapia, 81, but the fact that he is reported to have been a successful businessman from Arizona and that he used to run that state’s largest Hispanic business, which causes us to assume that he is Hispanic. As a non-career, politically appointed diplomat, we assume that he is well-connected in Republican Party politics, and, perhaps, has a friendship with Mr Trump.

A lot, however, is known about Mr Trump. He is a racist xenophobe who will callously fan the nativist support of his support base for his narrow political ends. He is constrained neither by reason nor a sense of history. He has no moral core. We perceive in Mr Trump no sanctity for America’s institutions for its traditions of democracy. They, and America’s global power, are important insofar as they underpin his presidency and his personal sense of power.


It is against the backdrop of this unusually narcissistic president that there are real questions about how Mr Tapia perceives his assignment in Jamaica.

After all, he is coming to a place that Trump would probably characterise as a “s***hole country”, many thousands of whose citizens live in the United States. Also, if US-born Ayanna Pressley, who was among the four congresswomen Mr Trump recently advised to “go back” from where they came, walked in the streets, she wouldn’t turn a head. Nor would Elijah Cummings, another member of Congress who has suffered Mr Trump’s racist tropes.

It is highly unlikely that Jamaica would have a prime minister who would advise a foreign country and leader to bar one of our legislators, with whose policies he or she disagreed, which Mr Trump did last week when Benjamin Netanyahu banned Muslim congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from entering Israel because of opposition to Israel’s Palestinian policies.

Perhaps if Mr Tapia can look at Jamaica in lenses other than those that caused Mr Trump to see in Elijah Cummings’ Baltimore congressional district only a “disgusting, rat- and rodent-infested” place, he will acknowledge a polity of robust debate and processes in which strong disagreements don’t automatically lead to gridlock. He will perhaps note constitutional norms.

The evidence, thus, is that anyone who gets too close to Mr Trump for too long atrophies in his wake. Should Donald Tapia survive and relay what he sees back to Washington, it will, hopefully, be a reminder of a better way and of the dangers faced by their democracy. It might even be the basis of a serious and mutually beneficial relationship between Jamaica and the United States.