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Obama/Trump: the transition and challenge

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At 1 p.m. (Eastern Caribbean time) today, Donald J Trump will be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America, succeeding that country’s first Black President, Barack Hussein Obama. This is in keeping with the provisions of US laws governing its political system, under which presidential and congressional elections are held in early November, while the president so elected must undergo a two-month period of transition, leading up to the swearing-in of the new president on January 20, or January 21 if January 20 falls on a Sunday.

It is a system of fixed pre-determined dates, which some persons in our midst, myself included, feel has some merit in terms of providing clarity and stability in choosing and effecting new administrations. However, based on evidence from constitutional referenda held in SVG (2009) and Grenada (2016), it is not yet a system which seems to have won the favour of either our political classes or the mass of the population. So, we will continue to wallow in the uncertainty of elections called at the whims and fancies of prime ministers and the disruptive effects of overnight governmental changes.

Trump’s ascendancy to the presidency brings an end to the eight-year, two-term administration led by Obama, an unforgettable chapter in US history. It came to an end with a flurry of executive orders and actions, some domestic, others with international implications, aimed mainly at ensuring that delayed action of programmes and policies promised were instituted. Some of these were domestic and have their own political ramifications, but others had much greater international significance.

One such area has been his demonstration that the US commitment to the Paris Climate Change Agreement must be real. Even though there is indisputable evidence that climate change is real and affecting us NOW, not just in the future, (it has just been revealed that 2016 was the hottest year on record), many in the incoming Trump administration, led by the President himself, are not only in denial, they threaten to pull out from US commitments in this regard. Obama has, among his final actions, made another US$500 million contribution to the climate change fund. He has also signed orders protecting sensitive regions of the USA from the ravages of oil and gas exploration and banned mining in the Yellowstone valley.

The shift in American policy towards Cuba had long been a campaign promise of Obama since 2008. However, it took a frustratingly long period to re-establish diplomatic relations and the trade and economic embargo has not been lifted. Obama ended his White House occupancy by ending the so-called “wet foot-dry foot policy”, we would call it “wash yo’ foot and come”, under which Cubans only had to turn up on US soil to be granted citizenship.

It will take some time to assess the effectiveness of the Obama Presidency and what it has meant to poor and black people in the USA and in countries like ours. But, in the meantime, there are more urgent tasks. Entering the White House and occupying the reins of power in the most powerful nation on earth is a bunch of persons led by Trump, who, not only threaten to roll back any progressive actions of the Obama administration, but to launch a virtual assault on the future of humankind itself.

Those who lined up behind Trump’s messages of populism, are now themselves the self-proclaimed guardians of democracy, but who will guard the guards? Even before Trump’s inauguration, a protest movement has been growing, with millions concerned about losing their medical benefits under the Affordable Care Act, the so-called Obamacare, worried about deportation, discrimination and racism, all of which are hallmarks, to one degree or another of Trump and his new administration.

There are wider global implications too, in trade, military policies, threats to the future of Palestine and peace in the Pacific, an encouragement of right-wing and racist political forces in Europe and elsewhere. It is cause not just for concern, but for mobilization of billions of people the world over, not to revert to the liberalism of the past, under which the tiny one per cent of the world’s population who are billionaires would continue to benefit at the expense of the rest of us, but for a genuine realignment, a fairer demo-cracy and a more just world which a Trump administration cannot bring.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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