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Editorial | A polite welcome, Mr Tapia

Published:Thursday | August 1, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Anytime now, Donald Tapia will arrive in Jamaica as America’s new ambassador, succeeding the affable Luis Moreno, who left more than two years ago at the end of Barack Obama’s presidency. Mr Tapia deserves a polite, businesslike welcome, until he proves himself worthy of a warmer embrace.

Mr Tapia, 81, is not a career diplomat. He is a retired businessman from Arizona, who used to run what is described as that state’s largest Hispanic-owned company. It is fair to assume, therefore, as is usually the case with postings of the type, that he is either personally known to President Donald Trump or is a figure in Republican political circles in Arizona, who contributed to Mr Trump’s campaign. At the very least, Mr Tapia, who endured a long wait for confirmation by the Senate, must, as a political appointee, be comfortable representing Mr Trump in Jamaica.

In the circumstance, Ambassador Tapia, who had talked about focusing on energy issues here, should expect to be scrutinised for how he frames US-Jamaica relations, to determine where he stands in the Trump orbit, including whether he, too, engages in zealous, mind-numbing defence of America’s openly racist and xenophobic president.

For, if Mr Tapia hasn’t fathomed it as yet, he’ll be serving in what Mr Trump would have described as one of the “sh..hole countries”. More than 90 per cent of Jamaica’s population is black.

Donald Trump’s easily combustible racism is never far away, open to ignition at any time, as has been on display in recent days following his attacks on Elijah E. Cummings, a black civil rights icon, who is a member of Congress for a largely black district in Baltimore, Maryland, and chairman of the House Oversight Committee that has been investigating Mr Trump.

Mr Trump has suggested that Mr Cummings may have been a conspirator in theft and branded his district as “disgusting, rat and rodent-infested”, with the worst crime in America, which is not the truth. What is unchallengeable, however, is that Mr Trump’s remark is consistent with the racist tropes to which he often resorts and is at one with the Jim Crow imagery that was employed to dehumanise black people. The attempt was to paint African Americans as dirty, diseased and less than human.

It is same intent at delegitimising his predecessors and America’s first black president, Barack Obama, that propelled Mr Trump to being the ‘birther’ in chief, the conspiracy theorist who questioned whether Mr Obama was born in the United States and, therefore, eligible to be president. And there is a direct nexus between the president’s attitude towards Messrs Obama and Cummings and his recent advice to four Congresswomen of colour – three of whom were born in the United States – to return to the “places from which they came”, for daring to criticise his administration, which he characterised as hatred of the United States.

Racism as a political tool

Mr Trump’s strategy of projecting ‘otherness’ on to those of his opponents who are minorities or, more specifically, people of colour, of itself, is bad. What makes Mr Trump especially dangerous, though, is his cynical fanning of racism as a political tool, then barefacedly lie about his intent and attitude.

Jamaica has relations with the United States, which we expect to outlast Mr Trump’s presidency, which we hope won’t last beyond early January 2021. In the meantime, we have to engage Mr Trump’s administration and pursue our interest with the United States. This, however, shouldn’t be at the expense of our dignity, or to the hurt and humiliation of those Americans, who, like Mr Cummings, if they were in Jamaica, you wouldn’t know the difference.

Vast numbers of Republicans and others in the Trump orbit have diminished themselves in denying the president’s racism and his undermining of a global architecture important to countries like Jamaica. We may have to accommodate such folks, but need not greet them with red carpets and big embraces.