Thu | Oct 24, 2019

Editorial | Managing the Trump-Pence matrix

Published:Monday | August 26, 2019 | 12:08 AM
Vice-President Mike Pence (left) looks on as President Donald Trump addresses a press conference on August 5.

Even as he embraces Donald Tapia’s pledge to help drive more American investment into the Jamaican economy, Prime Minister Andrew Holness should be wary of being seduced, as appears to be the effort of Vice-President Mike Pence, any more deeply into the orbit of Donald Trump. For anyone anointed by this American president is quickly diminished, if not atrophied.

At first blush, Mr Pence appears the polar opposite of his boss, President Trump. Where Mr Trump is rude, vulgar and an apparently clinical narcissist, Mr Pence is an evangelical Christian with a mellifluous voice, seemingly programmed to spew unction. There might be an inclination to perceive him as a man of reasonableness and high virtue.

But in more than two and a half years as vice-president, Mr Pence has proved himself to be as morally deficient as, and a coreless enabler of, his boss. He chooses to be either quiet, or to defend, Mr Trump whenever he engages in xenophobic and racist tropes, including the president’s reference to nations whose populations look like the majority of Jamaica’s citizens – one of which, Haiti, is our partner in the Caribbean Community – as “s***hole countries”.

Mr Pence’s behaviour represents, at once, an absence of character and a triumph of ambition. In abject acquiescence to Donald Trump, he sees a pathway to the presidency, although he would probably easily jump ship if Mr Trump’s hold of the Republican Party and its support base were to decisively falter.

This, therefore, is the broad context of our warning to Mr Holness, who Mr Pence last week praised for his “strong leadership of his country and in the Caribbean Community” and in the Organization of American States (OAS).

Mr Pence is, of course, right that, in historical terms, the United States and Jamaica are natural partners. Both have, by and large, remained committed to liberal democracy and have strong economic ties. The United States is Jamaica’s biggest trading partner and, until recent years, our largest source of investment capital. Many Jamaicans live in the United States.

Favour with administration

The Trump presidency has, however, placed these presumed common values under severe stress. Jamaica, thus far, has earned some favour with the Trump administration for its votes with the United States at the OAS against Venezuela and its general posture toward Nicolás Maduro.

At the same time, though, Mr Trump’s unilateralist ‘America First’ ideology threatens to weaken, or topple, multilateral institutions such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, to which small, weaker countries like Jamaica look for insulation against the powerful. Even where there is consensus on the need for reform, the Trump imagination thereof is of organisations that march to his drumbeat. At the same time, Mr Trump’s tendency towards authoritarianism at home is at odds with the inspirational democracy the United States offered to the world.

The challenge for Mr Holness and his administration, in the circumstance, is to avoid being caught in the Trump-Pence maelstrom while embracing the initiatives, should they materialise, of Mr Tapia, America’s newly installed ambassador to Jamaica, facilitating “investment, trade and cooperation”, including in energy and education.

“I am committed to working with US businesses and within the US government to build relationships with Jamaica in these areas,” Mr Tapia said in Washington last week at his swearing-in.

We welcome this undertaking and wish Mr Tapia success, which would be to Jamaica’s benefit. He should be aware, however, that Jamaicans will be watching where he stands on the Trump-Pence moral and political curves, and for what Jamaica might be asked to barter for its relationship with the United States in this paradigm. Our Government, too, remains under scrutiny for how it manages this relationship.