Rise of Trump and Ja­maican po­lit­i­cal con­text

Jamaica Gleaner - - IN FOCUS PLUS - Dr Maziki Thame is a re­search fel­low at the Sir Arthur Lewis In­sti­tute for So­cial and Eco­nomic Stud­ies at the Univer­sity of the West Indies, Mona. Email feedback to col­umns@glean­erjm.com and maziki.thame@gmail.com.

THE VIC­TORY of Don­ald Trump is a vic­tory of right-wing pop­ulism, and in this case, the Right is also aimed at re­turn­ing white peo­ple, es­pe­cially men, to their ‘right­ful place’ – above ev­ery­one else.

Those on the po­lit­i­cal Right be­lieve that so­cio-eco­nomic hi­er­ar­chies are a nat­u­ral out­growth of hu­man dif­fer­ence and are, there­fore, un­likely to sup­port po­lit­i­cal ef­forts to cre­ate con­di­tions of so­cial equal­ity.

Trump’s vic­tory emerged out of the dis­tance be­tween the party ma­chin­ery (both Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic) and ‘the peo­ple’, es­pe­cially those at the bot­tom. On elec­tion night, Trump’s cam­paign man­ager, Kellyanne Con­way, told Fox News that Trump res­cued the Repub­li­can Party from its elitism by draw­ing the work­ing class into the po­lit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion.

John Nicols’ ar­ti­cle, ‘It Re­ally Is That Bad, in The Na­tion, de­clared, “White work­ing-class vot­ers were so des­per­ate for change that they em­braced an oli­garch.”

What we now know from exit polls is that Trump did not only bring out the white work­ing class, he also out­per­formed Clin­ton among whites in all so­cial classes. His pop­ulist rhetoric spoke to white racism, to work­ing-class alien­ation, and to male supremacy. Most of all, though, racism’s ap­peal brought whites across class into the fold of ‘Make Amer­ica Great [White] Again’.

There are lessons to be learned by com­par­ing these elec­tions to the Ja­maican po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion. What was the change that we voted for on Fe­bru­ary 25? Voter ap­a­thy can be coun­tered by pop­ulist mes­sages Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump

that meet peo­ple where they are at. Catchy num­bers like 1.5 and 5-in-4 can mo­bilise peo­ple by speak­ing to the core of what is miss­ing from their po­lit­i­cal re­al­i­ties – op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Ev­ery­one wants more, but those at the bot­tom, es­pe­cially, seek so­cial mo­bil­ity and a more just and egal­i­tar­ian so­ci­ety. Ja­maican vot­ers’ ap­a­thy has to do with a view that po­lit­i­cal en­gage­ment has no real im­pact on their lives, ex­cept in cases where they are di­rect ben­e­fi­cia­ries of clien­telism. Many quickly re­alise, how­ever, that those prom­ises or even real ma­te­rial gains are mo­men­tary, not sus­tain­able, be­cause in the end, there is lit­tle within the larger struc­ture of Ja­maican pol­i­tics that is aimed at re­duc­ing in­equal­ity and in­jus­tice.

Whether it is called Progress or Pros­per­ity, at­tach­ment to the IMF and neo-lib­eral eco­nomics is un­likely to pro­duce an end to so­cial in­jus­tice. We know that neo-lib­eral eco­nomics, which con­trib­uted to the Obama-Clin­ton de­feat and Brexit, has deep­ened in­equal­ity around the globe and A sup­porter of the Peo­ple’s Na­tional Party shows off a wrist­watch with the im­age of leader Por­tia Simp­son Miller out­side the nom­i­na­tion cen­tre at the Green­wich All-Age School in Kingston on Novem­ber 11.

has led to the rise of the Right in Europe and now, Amer­ica.

Por­tia Simp­son Miller is the only politi­cian across par­ties who rep­re­sents the plight of the poor. I do not mean this in ref­er­ence to her pol­i­tics, since Simp­son Miller, like all lead­ers since 1980, has not ad­vanced pro-poor or egal­i­tar­ian eco­nomics. Rather, I’m re­fer­ring to what she sym­bol­ises – as An­nie Paul put it in her Gleaner ar­ti­cle, ‘Trump does not equal Por­tia’: “The as­cent of Por­tia in Ja­maica to the pin­na­cle of representational pol­i­tics rep­re­sents the rise of an un­der­class that had never held power be­fore.” The re­al­ity, how­ever, is that they have not risen to power.


Simp­son Miller’s re­al­ity is that of a black Ja­maican woman from the grass roots in the midst of power but with­out the power to ad­vance an agenda for the poor. No party has come to terms with the mean­ing of her and her place in Ja­maican pol­i­tics.

In the 1990s, the PNP be­came an elec­toral ma­chine. Pat­ter­son over­saw the fastest open­ing up of the Ja­maican econ­omy (lib­er­al­i­sa­tion)

and re­lied on sym­bolic pol­i­tics (‘black man time’) in elec­tions be­cause there was very lit­tle ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ence be­tween the par­ties.

I heard Karl Sa­muda say, at a fo­rum on po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship at the UWI re­cently, that the JLP’s chal­lenge af­ter Michael Man­ley re­turned to power in the late 1980s was that they were “out­Labourit­ing’ the Labourites, re­flect­ing the fact that the ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences be­tween the par­ties had vir­tu­ally dis­ap­peared.

It was in that con­text that Simp­son Miller came to power as rep­re­sent­ing a group that no longer felt that the defence of their in­ter­est could con­tinue to be left in the hands of the male mid­dle class. But she can be seen as a tool of elec­tion­eer­ing or sym­bolic ma­nip­u­la­tion by the PNP. For a party do­ing lit­tle to im­prove the con­di­tions of those at the bot­tom, they could rely on sup­port for Simp­son Miller given by the most dis­en­fran­chised, who would see one of their own in the high­est po­lit­i­cal of­fice.

This ma­nip­u­la­tion of the sym­bol­ism of Simp­son Miller, with­out any se­ri­ous at­ten­tion to the

con­di­tion of those at the bot­tom, has de­fined the PNP.

The JLP may have learned a par­tial les­son from los­ing to her in 2011 when al­most their en­tire cam­paign sought to den­i­grate her. They may have learned not to al­low their elitism to take over their rhetoric, but they, too, have not de­vised a pol­i­tics aimed at ad­dress­ing mat­ters of jus­tice and in­equal­ity in Ja­maica.

Simp­son Miller’s be­lea­guered lead­er­ship, on the other hand, is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of her party’s dis­tance from those at the bot­tom and their fail­ure to meet them where they are at. Her place in the po­lit­i­cal con­text mir­rors that of other black Ja­maican women and those below the mid­dle class.


Por­tia sits in an in­ter­sec­tion of class, gender, and race that tells us much about our so­ci­ety and what is likely to hap­pen to women like her who as­cend to the top. Sex­ism is not some­thing to which men alone sub­scribe. White women ral­lied be­hind Trump de­spite his ad­mis­sion of sex­u­ally as­sault­ing women.

Many men and women be­lieve that women do not be­long in power. To un­der­stand Clin­ton’s de­feat, we have to be clear that men typ­i­cally get more sup­port than women in their bids for lead­er­ship. Many whites who voted for the black man (Obama) did not vote for Hil­lary, and Trump out­per­formed Mitt Rom­ney among blacks, Lati­nos, and Asians by seven, eight, and 11 points, re­spec­tively. Those groups could not have been in­spired by white na­tion­al­ism.

We can­not rule out gender con­cerns in our as­sess­ment of Clin­ton’s per­for­mance in spite of her short­com­ings. Sim­i­larly, Simp­son Miller does not get a pass when the men do in Ja­maican pol­i­tics. She has per­formed no worse than other politi­cians if we as­sess her in terms of the di­rec­tion of pub­lic pol­icy, which has re­mained con­sis­tent since the 1980s or in elec­toral con­tests – Ed­ward Seaga only won one gen­eral elec­tion, if we elim­i­nate the 1983 elec­tions; which the PNP did not con­test, and Nor­man Man­ley lost four of six elec­tions to Bus­ta­mante since adult suf­frage in 1944.

She is con­stantly called out as vul­gar and un­be­fit­ing lead­er­ship, even while men per­form equal or more vul­gar­i­ties and face no sanc­tions for them. I would ar­gue that this tells us more about the sex­ism, racism, and clas­sism of the peo­ple as­sess­ing her than Simp­son Miller her­self.

The Right will win, in the US and in Ja­maica, un­til we re­ject the idea that those at the bot­tom do not de­serve equal rights and jus­tice or to be at the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble.




Maziki Thame


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