By Jones Nhinson Williams
|President Elect Donald Trump|
Many Americans have and continue to express serious concerns about their president-elect, business executive Donald J. Trump, Sr. While some of these concerns may be legitimate, not all are real or based on facts. A good number of them are based on the President-elect’s campaign-fever/mood utterances, which contextually and in my understanding, reflect a man who was once a reality TV star that later on happened to become a candidate for president of the United States, and who clearly understood the anger and frustration of his fellow Americans, and indeed related to those angers and frustrations in ways that elevated his acceptance to the average American voter. That is why he won a landslide victory against Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton who most people viewed as the most qualified and competent candidate for president in U.S.’s history.
Do we agree with President-elect Trump on everything, especially on some of his utterances? Absolutely no! Even the First Lady in waiting, Mrs. Melanie Trump, disagreed with her husband on some of his utterances during the campaign, and has made this public. President-elect Trump himself has admitted some of his faults and repeatedly stated that even his elegant daughter, Ivanka and his wife have scorned him about these things.
This sort of admission references a sense of humility and self–awareness. And for this, President-elect Trump deserves lots of credit. After all, not many people have such self-awareness and humility. Mainly when they have become leaders. At least, in Africa, we see how uncommon for those in power to admit their faults and wrongs, even as their actions and bad leaderships drag their people in excruciating poverty and sometimes death.
Do we believe that Mr. Trump would make a good president? Presumptively, we can say yes, but it also depends on the yardstick to be used for such measurement. Considering the fact that numerous Americans are unsure as to what type of presidency Mr. Trump will champion, there is a reason for concern and, expression of such concerns by those Americans is fair game because they are the governed and Mr. Donald J. Trump, Sr. will be their leader for the next four or eight years. This leads to my disagreement with President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s unfortunate interference in recent U.S.’s electoral politics.
It is clear that a lot of people, including me, would have loved to see the United States elect its first woman president. Even my two young daughters, ages 9 and 11, are inspired by Secretary Clinton’s determination to run for president and the grace and poise with which she went about it. Secretary Clinton’s inspiration also prompted my 11 years old daughter to run for senior class/school president at her elementary school this year, going on to win and defeating two boys in the contest. Secretary Clinton’s has left an incredible on girls all over the world and this will remain an indelible imprint. As a father of two girls and a strong supporter of women’s right, Secretary Clinton is my champion. Like my mother, she has a special place in my heart forever for breaking an unusual ceiling in the most powerful democracy alive.
It is also an established fact that President Sirleaf is a good friend to Secretary Clinton, and as a good friend, she would have loved to see her win, simple as that.
The truth is, the fact that Secretary Clinton did not win the U.S. presidential election should demand a reason for concern from the Liberian leader for many reasons. However, it does not permit, as per diplomatic courtesy, the Liberian leader to grossly interfere in American politics verbally as she has displayed during her recent BBC’s interview, especially so when all other world leaders, including her counterparts throughout Africa, are only sending congratulatory messages to Mr. Trump. The president of Egypt, a powerhouse nation in Africa, called President-elect Trump and wished him well and luck. Kenya the same. Even leaders in Muslim-dominated nations in the Middle East did likewise. Liberia did the opposite.
I respect and like President Sirleaf and after some reflections, I resolved not to criticize her nor her administration. As president of Liberia and Africa’s first woman president, she deserves some praise and admiration. But I am compelled to register a disagreement on the prevailing issue at hand because the Liberian leader is not an ordinary Liberian citizen. She is the president of Liberia, a struggling and poor nation of 4.5 million people. Whatever she says and does carries a significant weight and besides, it will not only be newsworthy; it would also be taken seriously by policy makers in the United States and around the world.
As such, the new administration or the president-elect of the U.S. would see it as an affront or a premature attack against him by a foreign leader when he has not even taken office. This could then make the incoming U.S. administration to perceive Liberia and the Liberian government as unfriendly to it. Who suffers when this happens? The poor Liberian people, including those on Deferred Removal Status in the U.S.; it would not be President Sirleaf nor any member of her family or inner circle. This is the broader point here.
This point is important because a similar thing happened in late 2007 when President Sirleaf verbally disparaged the competence of then Senator Barack Hussein Obama during his primary contest against then Senator Hillary Clinton for the U.S. presidency. That did not sit well with many of Obama’s top supporters and others in the administration after the election was over. What made this a non-issue for Liberia throughout the Obama’s presidency is the fact that President Obama is a decent, kind and God-fearing man. Moreover, Senator Clinton became an integral part of the Obama’s administration as Secretary of State. In the case of a Trump’s presidency, such opportunity may not exist that would give Liberia a free pass this time around due to the Liberian leadership premature attacks against the leader of an incoming U.S. administration where there is no apparent reason to do so.
Like almost all presidents around the world, the president of Liberia has a team of legal and foreign policy’s advisors. These people inform and guide the president on legal and foreign policy issues. It is expected that they would have informed the president on a simple legal concept: “Standing.” From all that we know, the Liberian leader’s verbal interference in the results of the U.S.’s election lacks ‘standing.’ All it does is that, at least, it makes members of the incoming Trump’s administration to perceive Liberia as unfriendly to it. At least, this is what I am hearing from higher-up friends I know who are associated with the campaign and the transition team of the president-elect.
This is why in diplomacy people don’t take side more openly. The best the Liberian leader would have done was to call her friend, Secretary Clinton, and share her lost and grief. Even if it meant crying, that wouldn’t be a bad idea. But to demonstrate condemnation of an incoming U.S.’s president is not only an unconstructive engagement; it is equally a bad diplomatic move for a small, poor and inconsequential nation like Liberia where unemployment stands at roughly 85% or more.
One may argue that American leaders or the U.S. intervenes in the affairs of other nations. True. But the U.S. is a superpower nation that is realistically self-sufficient. Liberia is not. Also, the U.S. does not beg Liberia to feed its people, treat its people, provide simple things like materials for education and vehicles for use by government service agencies etc.
In addition, strategic intervention to stabilize and reconstruct failed, failing, fragile, and even re-orient hostile countries like Liberia may not be avoidable for the U.S. and also for its serious E.U. partners. All of these and many more reasons such as adherence to the fundamentals of transparency, accountability, the rule of law, the provision of basic needs and social services for its citizens and the fact that there are continuous investments in science, technology, engineering and math, agricultural-food production and infrastructure make the U.S. to have a moral high ground in many of the things it does as a guardian nation. Liberia, again, is not there yet because we cannot even feed ourselves; our roads are still in the days of dark ages, our entire nation has no ambulance service, and our airport resembles an aircraft mechanic garage for farmers in Alaska. This is precisely why criticizing an incoming U.S. president, no matter who he or she is, is just not a good idea at all.
If Liberia was that close to self-sufficiency, we would not have thousands of Liberians around the world still in refugee camps, hundreds more on Asylum status in Europe and Canada, and more on Deferred Deportation or Temporary Protective Status (TPS) in the U.S. which has been annually renewed by President Obama and beforehand by President Bush. How does President Sirleaf expect a President Trump to reconsider renewing the status of the vulnerable Liberians in the U.S. if the first thing her administration does is to question the integrity of the incoming U.S president and his incoming administration? As legal minds would put it: What is the “standing” here? As lawyers would question: Does President Sirleaf have any ‘standing’ to do so?
I know Donald Trump and some of his immediate family, I have met him on few occasions. I am also closed to some of the prominent people in his orbit and many of them, people like Chris Christie, Kelly Anne Conway and Mayor Rudy Giuliani are expected to play key roles in his administration. These people are human beings and people of conscious minds. A lot of them shared the same faith (Catholic faith) with me. In fact, one of them, the former mayor of New York City, is like a mentor to me. I have met, sat and ate with him several times. Like me, he once studied for the Catholic priesthood before going on to becoming a successful and brilliant lawyer, an assistant U.S. Attorney General and later Mayor. He is also a world-renowned leader in his own right. So too are many other people around President-elect Trump.
This means Mr. Trump as president is not going to lead/run his administration single-handily. Besides, the U.S. government is one of check-and-balance between the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary. So for people to think that the world will fall apart under a President Trump is mind-blowing and unreasonable, at best. Trump cannot change the overall traditional policies and culture of the United States unilaterally. It is not like what African tyrants and dictators do because they govern in lands where the rule of law is either abused, violated or nonexistence.
What I do know for a fact is that a President Trump will not tolerate corrupt and inept leaders, be it from Africa, Asia or Latin America. He will also not tolerate leaders who are not patriotic to their nations and people or, not constructive and competitive in terms of developing their people and countries. Mind you, Trump is a competitive developer and ‘show man’ who has a serious test for class and elegance.
He is not going to sit or welcome leaders who have no passion to transform their countries into first class environments. His mantra, whether one likes it or not, is to “Make America Great Again” by creating more jobs, investing in infrastructure and making sure every nation and leader takes responsibility. He does not share the view that some countries and leaders will always want the U.S. to take care of them, especially when their leaders and officials pocket resources for personal gains.
This is the Trump I know and this is the Donald J. Trump, Sr. that will lead the greatest nation on earth for the next four or eight years. Yes, we can disagree with his campaign utterances for legitimate reasons, but not everything he said and promises to do is wrong or bad. Equally, Mr. Trump is a nice man who needed to win an election in a nation where certain people feel disfranchise and aspire to certain views. To win such people over, one has to speak their language to achieve the ultimate results. So this idea that Trump dislikes immigrants, Muslims and all the nine yard is going to be proven wrong. Transitioning from a businessman to a typical politician was new for Mr. Trump. But technically, what the other politicians who competed with Mr. Trump said about immigration, foreign policy, domestic policy etc. is no different in substance from what Mr. Trump said. The difference is tone and approach.
That said, I disagree with my friend and my president, Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in her verbal expression of serious concern about Mr. Trump’s victory and possible tenure as president. My disagreement is rooted on the simple premise that Madam Sirleaf is not an ordinary person or Liberian citizen; she is a sitting president of an independent nation that is relying heavily on foreign support, mainly from the U.S.–from healthcare to even our staple food. This is why the parameters for the Liberian leader’s verbal intervention in recent U.S. politics is unfortunate, even though we are certain that she may have done so with the purest of intent. I would conclude by urging President Sirleaf and her administration to reach out to the Trump’s transition team and explain the exact meaning of her messaging on the BBC so that Liberia can start on a good note with the incoming U.S. administration. If not, and based on what I am hearing from inner circles, the odds would not be good either way. After all, Mr. Trump is a counterpuncher. No joke about it.
About the Author: Jones Nhinson Williams is a Liberian citizen and Secretary General of the Israel-Africa Friendship Organization.