Sat | Jan 23, 2021

Ronald Thwaites | Trumpism unleashed

Published:Monday | January 11, 2021 | 12:08 AM
President Donald Trump holds a Bible outside St John’s Church across Lafayette Park from the White House in Washington on June 1, 2020.
President Donald Trump holds a Bible outside St John’s Church across Lafayette Park from the White House in Washington on June 1, 2020.

The United States and its people have been very good to me. I was educated by American Jesuits who gave their lives to advancing Jamaican youth. Later, the taxpayers of that country paid in full for four years of superior undergraduate schooling, during which I enjoyed every freedom of expression and of association which any human could crave.

I deeply respect their generosity of spirit even as I deplore the denial of equality and justice to blacks and native Americans, as well as US hegemonic foreign policies.

So the growth in the United States of intolerance and the erosion of moral principles, on both the left and right of the social and political spectrums, have been deeply troubling. Not ignoring the millions who live in poverty in the US, how do people with the greatest wealth and opportunity of any country in the world turn in on themselves – not wholly, but to a dangerous extent – abandon the Judeo-Christian ethical moorings of their society, confuse liberty with libertinism, and individualism with systemic racism?

Then came last week’s coup attempt. Many of us saw it coming in the dystopian persona and anti-ethic of Donald Trump, supported as he is by more than half a hundred million people. How could it have happened?

Technology and wealth untold unleashed to reverse democracy in the supposed defence of democracy; the elevation of toxic fiction in rejoinder to the assertion by others that there is no such thing as objective truth and a social contract which is grounded in moral principles.

This carbuncle which burst and is still oozing, should shock and disappoint every Jamaican. The strange-speaking Mr Tapia is correct. This nation was, is and ever shall be under the American “umbrella”. Our geography, our presumptions and aspirations are similar. Everyone has family in the USA, and most of us want to go there. Not to mention the remittances and investments which keep us in food.

So while we don’t have much talk in Washington, we have to take what is going on there to heart. We have to show ourselves that we are different and make sure we do not go down the same destructive paths that led inexorably to last Wednesday’s tragedy.

Last week, Prime Minister Holness is reported to have challenged people of faith to instil and sustain the “heartware” of values and behaviour which are the foundations of crime-free social harmony. His appeal is commendable. Never mind that it was accompanied by some futile effort to legitimate continuing states of emergency. Abrogating peoples’ human and constitutional rights is what Trump’s people tried and nearly succeeded. Banish that tendency here!

WEAK AND SERVILE RESPONSE

For the past four years and now in the face of the coup attempt, the response of Jamaica’s political class has been weak and servile. Trump has sent his satraps to hector us; made leaders wait outside his kitchen door; manhandled our fisherfolk; arm-twisted us into following ‘pee-pee, cluck-cluck’ regarding Venezuela and the OAS; and made life much more difficult for our migrants.

No need to be rude, but our standards require more than to say that we are “disturbed” by the coup attempt. Big-stick diplomacy must be denounced. It is self-affirming for us to support American democratic institutions when they are under attack.

Beyond this, the occasion calls for us to deepen our promotion of the principle of the common good as the guiding star of the nation’s social construct. Maybe Mr Holness’ challenge to the churches will serve to awaken them from the slumber of accommodation with the ‘trumpish’ elements in our midst.

Government without consensus inevitably leads to extremism. Distortion of truth, rule by public relations, selfish egotism, tribal politics, cultic loyalty all lead to undermining shared values. The thread which holds Western civilisation together is slender and requires constant nurturing and strengthening. Social media, unhinged by its very structure, can be the agency of right or left anarchy, not of enlightenment.

This is why it is so egregious that many Christian churches, especially evangelicals and Catholics, support ‘trumpism’. People who say they are pro-life or pro-Zionism cannot shut their eyes to the official neglect and falsehood which contributes to over 4,000 daily COVID-19 deaths. This at the same time as the Donald-inspired, Cruz, Hawley and scores more elected Republican-abetted mob screamed “Hang Pence!” and erected a gallows outside the Capitol.

Fascism does not develop overnight. Right-wing American politics have been lurching in that direction for four years and more. Frighteningly for them and for us, the tendency will survive its avatar, Donald Trump.

For us, it is left to urgently refashion our education system to rivet liberal values and common good ethics among all our children; to insist on standards of respect, order, personal discipline and individual responsibility.

No matter how poor, fathers and mothers must be encouraged by every persuasive voice of the Church and State to mind their children, get them back to school safely, and stop normalising ‘leggo-beast’ sexual standards.

Jamaica has much to learn and something to contribute in the face of trumpism unleashed.

Rev Ronald G. Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.