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America’s Consequential Election

Most of us have been tuned into the upcoming election in the United States of America.

We know the parties, the candidates, and even some of the issues over which the election is being fought. It is fitting that we should be almost as engaged with American elections as we are with our own.

The USA looms large in our daily lives. It accounts for much of our imports and exports; it is the source of much of the technology we use; American tourists account for the majority of visitors to our islands for leisure and for business; we consume mostly American media and film.

Since the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, the United States regards this hemisphere as its ‘backyard’ and our nations as falling within its sphere of influence. American foreign and trade policies directly impact our livelihoods.

So, while we do not get to vote for the President of the United States, we understand instinctively and intellectually, that the choice made by those who are eligible to vote, matters very much to us.

It mattered in 2016, when after eight years of Barack Obama, Americans elected Donald Trump as their president. President Trump has been unconventional to say the least.

Whether one chooses to overlook his personal conduct as ‘quirky’ or ‘unconventional’, President Trump’s policies have been seriously consequential for Caribbean nations.

He withdrew the United States, the second biggest source of emissions on the planet, from the Paris climate accord at a time when the world recognised the need to accelerate the implementation of policies to reduce carbon emissions.

Caribbean island nations, because of rising sea levels and the frequency and intensity of hurricanes, are at the sharp end of climate change and need the industrialised countries, China, and the USA in particular, to take decisive action.

Under President Trump, the USA has reduced cooperation with the European Union while he has heightened conflict with China. China is a major trading partner of Caribbean nations, directly or indirectly, and has been a significant source of external financing for infrastructure projects.

Our foreign policy interests are arguably served by embracing a multipolar world order where the rights and sovereignty of our small, Caribbean island nations are acknowledged and respected, and this region demarcated as a zone of peace and not as the cockpit of super-power conflict.

President Trump embarked on building walls as emblematic of an immigration policy which seeks to exclude rather than welcome. Pope Francis in response had suggested the need to build bridges, not walls.

Over many decades, West Indians have emigrated to the USA for employment and for education. They and their progeny have made significant contributions to the development of the American economy and society.

We need recall only the names of Marcus Garvey, Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture), and second-generation West Indians of recent vintage such as Colin Powell, Eric Holder, and now vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris.

There are other issues domestic to American society and politics including the jurisprudence of its Supreme Court and its treatment of native and minority peoples, which are important to the rest of the world because of America’s leadership position and cultural dominance.

But what the President of the United States does in respect of the issues of climate change, foreign policy, and immigration matters greatly to Caribbean peoples.

The voting process has already begun, and the outcome will soon be known. We will be paying attention simply because we must.