One of the greatest social observers of the Victorian era – an age in which life was nasty, brutish and short – once remarked: “A great man shows his greatness by the way he treats little men.”
Perspicacious as the Scottish philosopher, essayist and polymath notably were, he would be no seer or prophet in our modern era of dulled sensibilities, muted sensitivities, coarse and violent ideas, and cheapened life.
We have been raised to expect the lowest of the low to lurk in bushes, in the corridors of prisons and the gutters of ghettoes. But now, ugly thought and speech are being normalised in the highest corridors of power and in the most powerful nation where braggadocio has usurped statesmanship. We consider it our solemn duty to condemn it here as it begins to strike out from one nation to a neighbour, a member of our CARICOM family.
We have by and large resisted the very easy temptation to comment on the machinations and mouldings of the 45th president of the United States.
The temptation is great indeed for this garrulous neophyte political leader daily presents new atrocities, against sound reason, the English language, human dignity, the rule of law and democratic conduct.
But we feel compelled on this occasion to denounce in the strongest possible terms the very blatant racist, xenophobic, selfish and spiteful comments of the American leader in relation to some people in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas which sought to label all.
This follows an incident in which survivors of Hurricane Dorian, evacuated from the stricken Grand Bahama and Abaco Islands by ferry, were made to disembark for failing to possess a United States visa.
While this was not a decision of the US immigration authorities awaiting the boat’s arrival at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Trump, with typical ‘wrong and strong’ bravado, doubled-down on the disdain.
He said: “We have to be very careful. Everyone needs totally proper documentation. I don’t want to allow people who weren’t supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States, including some very bad people.”
Very bad people is an ominous echo of the worst excesses of this present. It was the language he used from New York, on the day he announced his candidacy for the president to the day as president he saw no distinction between white supremacists and anti-fascist protestors in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Freshly descended an escalator of his gold-washed Trump Tower atrium, the man would be president of the United States described Mexicans as “rapists and murderers”
Another variant of this Trumpism – the moniker “bad hombres” has been used by him to describe refugees fleeing persecution in Guatemala as they arrived on the southern border.
Would that the leader of the so-called free world would resist such knee-jerk impulses when confronted with the first fierce urgency of now – humanitarian compassion and the need to preserve and protect life following the onslaught of the worst hurricane in modern Bahamian history – no doubt linked to the climate change he denies exists.
This, sadly, is not in the DNA of Donald J Trump, who provides the starkest example of moral maxims ignored. Character is displayed not when times are good but in times of crisis. He displayed an abject lack of character.
When pressed further by the White House press corps, he said: “Look, the Bahamas had some tremendous problems with people going to the Bahamas that weren’t supposed to be there.”
Needless to say, not a whit of fact accompanied the American president’s assertion.
Despite the fact that a portion – not the whole – of the Bahamian archipelago was badly affected, Trump averred that there were in the midst of the refugees some “very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very, very bad drug dealers”.
Once again, Trump has made reference to mostly brown or black nations and ethnicities in the basest and most reprehensible terms.
The Bahamas – much to the American’s chagrin – is not Norway, his apparent preferred source of immigrants. Among his obvious roster of undesirables are the many thousands of Haitians who have made a life there on the Abaco islands. He has already referred to Haiti and other mostly black nations as “s**thole countries”.
Such structures on entry into the US are not placed on residents of Nordic countries or of western Europe, or indeed, Russia.
We face in our hemisphere the greatest threat to humanitarian action, honourable thought and basic decency such as were unknown, safe in the ugliest dictatorships of the 1970s and 80s in Latin Americans.
These words are not merely rhetorical flourishes. These are thoughts become reality for a man known more for blarney than statesmanship.
These thoughts become actions and actions beget policies stuck like daggers to the hearts of many Bahamians seeking food, water and shelter.
The Ugly American, coined by the English satirist and novelist Graeme Green, presage Donald Trump by more than half a century. It is a pejorative used to refer to perceptions of American ethnocentric behaviour abroad but also at home. Ugly Americans are arrogant, rude, thoughtless, demeaning, and ignorant.
We see no point in heaping hot coals of criticism on the head of one inured to shamelessness. But Trump’s latest daub of his racist brush comes just a day after our Government, matched the contributions of Barbadians, rich and poor, old and young, black and white to yesterday’s appeal to “Rise Again Bahamas”.
Barbadians of every hue and stripe, businesses large and small joined together to cut a provisional cheque in the amount of $440,956.41 – for the windswept islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama. We presume that when matched dollar-for-dollar by the Government that close to one million dollars will be given in the name of the people of Barbados to the people of the northern Bahamas.
And today, an insurance scheme formed by Caribbean nations, doubtless some more “s**thole countries”, announced it was paying The Bahamas about $22 million (US$10,936,103) following the passage of Hurricane Dorian that caused widespread devastation in the northern part of the 700-island archipelago.
And in an unprecedented move, no doubt unsolicited by the government in Nassau, the insurance scheme, the Caribbean Catastrophic Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF) – the world’s first and so far only multi-country risk pool decided to advance half of the payout before the standard 14-day window to allow the Bahamian government to begin to address its most pressing needs.
This is practical, functional cooperation of the kind that shows our Caribbean Community at its best – not lofty rhetoric, no sounds or sweet airs – and no bombast and buffoonery.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. And woman. And child. Ordinary people and their governments have shown the strength of character befitting a civilisation that has endured horrors beyond the destruction of cyclones.
Where the leader of the richest and most powerful nation fails constantly to show magnanimity we can at least report and commend the actions of a charitable and caring people who have wrought much good with just a little.
While there are attempts to normalise unconscionable thoughts and policies that seek to deny human rights and dignity, we encourage this nation and its neighbours to continue to live up to its creeds.
The root of all evil is an absence of empathy. We must condemn those who fail to show compassion and understanding while praising, encouraging and thanking those precious few who by their living do credit to their nation and continue to make this little nation great.