As voters in the United States prepare to vote for a raft of senators, congressional representatives, governors, other public officials and on a variety of referenda, the toxicity that passes for public discourse is troubling for the world’s richest democracy.
But for our democracy, which is older, it has too long been par for the course.
We contend that there is hardly a single tactic deployed by arguably the most divisive president since the US Civil War that we have not seen and experienced in this Caribbean in the last fifty years of sovereignty.
Name it, we have seen it here first, folks. Interfering with people’s girl children; overt sexism and sexualization of politics; pandering to the lowest common denominator; aversion to facts; distrust of science; disregard for institutions; disrespect for principles of democratic governance, including the rule of law; bigotry and race-baiting; trotting of tropes and shibboleth and straw men; ad hominem attacks; incitements to violent retribution. The political history of the Caribbean – from the Enmore riots in Guyana to the rule of the gun in 1970s Jamaica, to the racialization of politics in Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana to the dirty tricks of Barbadian and Eastern Caribbean politics – bears testimony to well-worn use of language, and of people for political ends.
We look on, shake our heads, wag our fingers and say a disapproving “tut-tut” to the blatant warfare on truth, justice and what once was called the American Way by the 45th President of the United States as he barnstorms the American heartland spreading a reality tv show-styled brand of fear and loathing.
But we would do well to learn important lessons about ourselves, ask critical questions of our own conduct, and hold a mirror up to our collective faces, and take stock.
The only aspect of the current uncivil war among Americans that differs palpably from our own internecine warfare is the dominant theme of white supremacy.
But we have had other bogeymen, some racial in origin, to which our politicians, their sycophants, and a few well-heeled masters of mayhem have wrought on our people.
Exactly two years, a plurality of American voters confirmed the essential argument – America is not great. And perhaps it was only great in the heady postwar era of the 1950s – so the opinion pollsters say – when women and black folks knew their subservient place, where cultural and religious tolerance were at their lowest ebb, and consumerism, together with the military-industrial complex, profited mightily from their trade in fear.
Back then, the bogeyman was the Red Russian. So the US armed with nuclear weapons pointed to wipe the USSR off the map and the Soviets were similarly poised to wipe the US off the map – and the rest of humanity with it.
Today, the American’s greatest fear is of others. A black man born in Hawaii has been painted as a Muslim infidel because he sought to be president. Today, Puerto Ricans, whose island has been obliterated by a catastrophic hurricane, have been so stripped of their citizenship through government inertia that many mainland Americans doubt the citizens of the territory are indeed US citizens.
And now, after African Americans, Latinos, dwellers of “s***hole countries” and asylum-seekers are deemed The Other, deserving of hatred, if not oblivion, comes a caravan of internally displaced people, refugees from Central America’s political unrest and civil strife.
To these tired, poor, huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, the symbol and chief functionary of the land of the free and the home of the brave, says ‘stay away, you criminals’.
This lover of a constitutional right to bear arms has declared himself a hater of a constitutional right to citizenship, established, ironically, by the 1865 end of a war fought over slavery. This scion of immigrants, who spoke no English and possessed few skills on their arrival, now wishes to close borders to all but those who speak the language and have the skills.
We cannot predict what answer Americans will give to the last two years of discord, disdain and disruption over the next 24 hours. We can only suggest that there is an object lesson for our democracy, considerably older than America’s, which would do well to solemnly and soberly read, mark, learn and inwardly digest.
We cannot simply say, ‘it can never happen here’. Many said the same very thing, two years ago, of our neighbour to the North.