BOLDLY confronting visitors to the Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA, is a large, captivating full-colour advertisement, strategically placed in its main lobby to embrace the widest attention.
It entices all visitors to the 11th busiest passenger airport in the US to note also the airport’s new boast as “the gateway to the Caribbean islands” and to come fly directly from Charlotte to the Sandals resort in Barbados.
At Sandals Barbados, the ad says, “exclusive is always inclusive”, and visitors could “unwind to the relaxed calypso beat” as they enjoy the sun and surf. All this as Douglas airport authorities are said to be developing new strategies to increase its passenger traffic into the year 2035.
I found myself paused before the advertisement, sponsored jointly by Sandals and American Airlines, giving it the scrutiny of an outstanding work of art.
Then I seemed to feel my blood pressure rising, as I tried to contain the expletives, which in that moment, should have been directed to all those back in T&T, who last year mounted a malignant campaign against the proposed Sandals resort project in Tobago.
I reflected upon that parochial bunch, and their partisan, political opportunism. Watson Duke, the Minority Leader in the Tobago House of Assembly, who claimed to have single-handedly crashed the project, and Dr Bhoe Tewarie, the Opposition MP, were the first names that immediately came to mind in that band of objectors.
I wondered whether any of those objectors had come to understand, by now, that the “Memorandum of Agreement” between “Sandals” and the T&T government was, in fact, just a gentleman’s agreement, and in their misplaced, vitriolic campaign they killed off the dreams of thousands of Tobagonians for an improved quality of life.
But I was on a brief holiday, and why should this advertisement sour my stay, I asked myself. I am now in the land of Donald Trump, a country where some observers are likening their current societal divisions to that of the 1865 American Civil War; a place where friends and media commentators say the dominant question today is whether American democracy is in real danger, or worse in decline.
They agree that under Trump political exchange has lost civility; it is no longer about conflict and compromise. Instead it has evolved unprecedentedly into political rivals being now treated as enemies.
My social discussions last week circulated around Europe under Hitler and Mussolini in the dark 1930s, the repressive regimes in Latin America in the 1970s, and the military coups in post-colonial Africa.
I got the sense that observant Americans are dreading for the first time that political events, under Trump, are a precursor to some major democratic crisis.
Until now, America was respected as being above such crises. Historically, Americans felt that the majesty of their constitution, their attempts at reducing inequality, demonstrated in the strength of their wealthy and middle classes, improvements in their health, education, and technology, a diversified private sector, their control of the global financial sector, and their national creed of freedom, had placed them beyond such a condition.
But over the past two years, the checks, balances and buffers of American democracy appear to have weakened, under Trump’s attacks on the press, the judicial system, and the intelligence services, plus the president’s threats last week to use the police, the military, and a thug group called, “Bikers for Trump” against opposition liberal forces.
Alternatively, many are warning against Trump’s mental health, and that institutions, as the White House, and the Republican party had become his “laboratories of authoritarianism”.
In a recently-published book, long-time Republican strategist, Rick Wilson, writes “That everything Trump touches dies”. This book, I felt, should have been read by all Caribbean leaders, particularly the prime ministers of the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, St Lucia and Jamaica, members of the so-called Lima Group, who met with Trump in Florida, USA, last Friday to discuss the Venezuelan crisis, and “Chinese predatory practices”.
Many here say that the Trump presidency is hastening the decline of the American century, the collapse of one of the world’s most successful democracies.
This should have been a warning to those leaders: Be careful, with whom you dine. Prime Minister Keith Rowley took it further in the House last week, giving Opposition MP Rodney Charles that warning. Charles, UN Ambassador under the UNC government, dined in New York with the notorious French white-supremacist leader Marine Le Pen.
It is obvious that Trump’s decision to invite Caricom leaders, selectively, has the potential of spawning the same hostilities he created in the US, across the Caribbean.
To hold down my calm on my return flight, I deliberately avoided the Sandals advertisement. The prospects that the recently-released report of US special prosecutor, Robert Mueller could become nuclear, and that Trump, with the possible “collusion” of Caribbean countries, is thinking of new attacks on the Venezuelan people, are enough.
• Keith Subero is a veteran journalist