A President Trump and the Caribbean
In the last few years the world has seen the emergence ofwhat has become known as post-factual politics. This is the practice wherebysome running for high office speak untruths, draw factually incorrectconclusions and provide no policy detail.
Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s Presidential candidate,has skilfully used such an approach to translate voter anger against economicglobalisation, elites and as migration, to facilitate his hoped for rise topower.
It is a tactic not dissimilar to that taken by those who,without any clear alternative or plan, encouraged the UK electorate to vote toleave the European Union. It is also reflected, for example, in the remarks ofPresident Putin, President Erdogan in Turkey, or President Assad in Syria whoreject fact as simply the mistaken perception of others.
The inference is that rationality is dying, that democraciesand voter anger are there to be rendered not into practical alternatives, butused to drive a belief that an individual somehow has the ability to transformthe life of voters because they say they know best.
This has implications for the Caribbean. The region hasbecome used to the global status quo that emerged from the second world war,independence, the cold war, the rules driven trade system at the WTO,multilateral treaties, and organisations such as the UN that have given eventhe smallest countries a global voice, based on a recognised need forconsensus.
Now, in a cry of rage, huge numbers in the Republican Partyin the US have chosen as their candidate a man whose approach is so low ondetail and high on ego that it requires voters to trust him alone to make themfeel great again.
This has enabled Mr Trump, only months before the USelectorate decide on who will assume one of the most powerful positions in theworld, to continue to make assertions about what he would do as President,without any substantive explanation on how his ideas are to be achieved, ortheir likely consequences.
In Mr Trump’s dark acceptance speech at his party’sconvention, and in his earlier remarks, it is, however, possible to see commonthemes when it comes to US foreign, security and trade policy.
He sees no value in trying to change other countriessystems. For him relationships are about winning, and extracting the maximumvalue for the US. As an aggressive deal maker, he places value on strongauthoritarian leadership, a huge defence budget and the decisive use of militarymight only when absolutely necessary. He is adamant that others countries willin one or another way have to pay their way if they expect US support. For himthe strong recovery of the US economy and the US national interest isparamount. He will, he says, break with the World Trade Organisation if it doesnot accept his thinking. He will abandon existing trade deals. His policy will be isolationist andprotectionist, and not burdened by ideology.
If a Trump presidency were to be consistent in this approachone can see many practical problems emerging for the Caribbean. For example, ifnations like Mexico are to pay to secure the United States from flows of its orother nations migrants, his administration may well also require the Caribbeanto fully meet the costs of its own security; guaranteeing the safety of USvisitors on the basis that through them and investment the US is alreadycontributing enough to the Caribbean economy and its development.
Secondly, if he is genuinely intent on changing US traderelationships, it is not hard to see his administration making demands foraccess for US goods and services on the basis of reciprocity. Just as likelywould be a slow-down in US investment in the region. From what he has said, taxpenalties would be levied on those US manufacturers who have offshored theirmanufacturing or assembly plants into locations like the Caribbean to takeadvantage of a more favourable tax environment. It is also possible to imaginenew, hard to resolve, complexities in trade emerging if as President he were toabandon the WTO rules basing global trading system.
Thirdly, it is far from clear what his willingness to acceptPresident Putin’s wish and his actions to make Russia great again will mean, orMr Trump’s decision to face in two directions on China at once. Both nationsnow have a presence in the region. Russia continues to develop its ties to Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua andothers in Latin America. China has become a major investor and intendseventually to become a significant manufacturer and transhipper in the region.How a Trump Presidency may seek to address what this may mean in future in theCaribbean in geostrategic or transactional terms is far from clear.
And fourthly, the impact of a Trump Presidency’s seeminglyjaundiced view on European integration, defence and trade could be the finalstraw that breaks and already divided EU, raising questions about its viabilityas a single market and development partner for the region.
In short Mr Trump’s approach may have significant strategicimplications for the Caribbean, not least because his views do not accord withthe way that the region has previously tried to manage its relations with theUS.
A world in which ignoring fact, strategic ambiguity, tradedoff spheres of influence, deniable actions in the military or cyber world bythird parties acting as proxies for governments, is not the one in which theregion operates.
It is an approach that does not relate well to the perhapsquaint mix of intellectuality, formality, populism and the fierce, if sometimesmeaningless, defence of sovereignty, which defines Caribbean leadership.
The Trump doctrine would set aside the emollient approachthat the region has become accustomed to since the end of the cold war. For thecountries of CARICOM, the implication is that what little influence they maystill have in Washington could disappear entirely unless they ally themselveswith much stronger regional, hemispheric or international partners. It suggeststhat only Cuba and perhaps the Dominican Republic will be able to find ways toexert leverage in a Trump Washington.
In the US and Europe, visceral voter anger is resulting inthe rise of new types of politician and political parties, notionallyanti-elite, desiring to be seen as authentic and somehow able to restore thepast. Should Mr Trump win, the Caribbean is ill prepared to address his brandof twenty-first century politics.
David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council andcan be contacted at
Previous columns can be found at www.caribbean-council.org