This White House transition

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This White House transition

Comedy, fantasy, satire or drama?

Lance Neita

Monday, November 16, 2020

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The joke is on US President John F Kennedy in the 1960s who, having given Martin Luther King Jr his private number, may have regretted his impulsive action as King used every opportunity to press ideas for change and make regular use of this privileged access to the president's ear.

A former member of King's press liaison team, while on vacation in Jamaica, gave me this hypothetical and amusing story about one of those conversations:

The phone rings in Kennedy's bedroom one morning during the thick of the 1960s civil rights movement and the president answers, half asleep: “Oh, hi Martin... Yes, it's okay, you know you can always call me at any time…. Yes, Martin… but, Martin… but, Martin, you know it's always been called the White House.”

In these times the occupancy of the White House is now the subject of controversy and wild speculations with one commentator even wondering if there isn't some secret plan to change the name. But this too will pass, and reason will prevail, as the White House remains the official residence and office of the president of the United States. It is located at 1,600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, DC, and has been the residence of every US president since John Adams in 1800.

According to Wikipedia, the earliest evidence of the public calling it the White House was recorded in 1811. A story emerged that during the rebuilding of the structure after it was destroyed by the British invading army in 1814 “white paint was used to mask the burning it had suffered, giving the building its namesake hue”. So no racial undertones here.

The White House, as a symbol of residential State power, is as traditional as our own Jamaica House or Number 10 Downing Street, the traditional residence of the English prime minister.

None of us can seriously tolerate the idea of a US president being forced out of office or, as wild conjecture would have it, being taken out by the military. Preposterous, and unheard of!

I am convinced that in this instance the normal transition will take place and America will settle down to business.

I am reminded of a column I wrote in this newspaper years ago parodying Hans Christian Andersen's classic folk tale on the The Emperor's New Clothes, when the emperor, who we put into a Jamaican context, is tricked into wearing an amazing new outfit that his swindler tailors assure him is invisible only to those who are stupid and incompetent.

They mime dressing him into this new outfit and he sets off on a procession down King Street to show off his magnificent new clothes.

And, as the procession got close to the Parade Square, the emperor posed and waved, turning around to show the people his wonderful outfit from every angle. The people cheered and applauded because no one in the crowd wanted it to be noticed that they were incompetent, unfit, or plain stupid.

Suddenly the voice of a little boy rang out: “But, Mama, di emperor no have on nuh clothes, him naked!”

“Shut yuh mout', bwoy,” said the mother, feeling shamed by her son who was making the family look stupid. “Yuh rude, and a goin' sen' yuh home mek yuh father beat yuh skin.”

Her neighbours also started to hush the boy: “Tell him fi keep quiet, Liza. Di bwoy fly past him nes' fi true. Facey an' outa order!”

Instant pandemonium as the parade is brought to a halt, the emperor is shamed and embarrassed, and mama tries to hush the boy with a “Quiet yuhself, Errol, as yuh reach home a goin' mek yu fada beat yuh! Fresh and have no manners!”

But it was true. The emperor was naked. He was exposed.

Over at the White House, the embarrassment of being asked to leave instead of carrying out the traditional transition of power would not fall on one man's head, but would be to the embarrassment of the entire country. This is why I believe President-elect Joe Biden, and President Donald Trump will eventually meet and make the transfer.

When you overstay your welcome people tend to look at you as if you were a side dish that nobody ordered. Worse if you are asked to leave. For example, being dropped ignominiously from the cricket team, suspended or expelled from classes — as in my case from my maths class (at the time that was sheer joy), or reading about your demotion in the newspapers without prior notice from your department head.

Or, if you are not as mixed up as the butler who was serving dinner at her Ladyship's reception for a visiting head of State. The butler had earlier got into the wine bottles and, by the main course, was acting visibly tipsy. Her Ladyship summoned him and handed him this note: “You are drunk. Leave the room at once.”

The butler, by now exceedingly merry and carefree, placed the note on a silver tray. Her Ladyship looks on aghast as he sails around the dinner table and hands the note to the guest of honour.

Her Ladyship passes out. End of story. End of butler.

In the meantime, the world is watching recent developments with anxiety and a degree of impatience. Will what happens at the White House stay at the White House? The answer is, of course, no, as America is too large, too influential, and too powerful to be a nation unto itself.

Thanks to the free press we have a ringside seat to everything that is happening, and the next two years will be as crucial to the world as it will be to America. That's the time frame set for the dust to settle and for America to resume its normality in terms of world affairs, diplomatic relations, mutually respectful and beneficial trade deals, and its position as leader of the free world.

All of this outside of the novel coronavirus pandemic which Biden has acknowledged will be his biggest headache and his immediate priority.

How will the realignment of alliances formed by the new, emerging America affect Jamaica? Sometimes the incumbent president's belligerent behaviour may have upset or been contrary to our own values and attitudes, but give due respect Trump, and our own prime minister, there has been no lessening of good relations between Jamaica and our largest trading partner during the Trump years.

With China and the US eyeballing each other for stronger footholds in the Caribbean Basin and the Latin America, Jamaica has done an excellent balancing act while maintaining our independence in spite of pressure from both sides.

There must have been some tension as we walked between the raindrops. And, from an observer's armchair it would seem as if America has threatened to pull the plug at times. We can expect that under a new and different kind of president that will be water under the bridge, and Jamaica can be much surer of itself as we make choices and decisions based solely on returns to the country, and not a matter of offending anyone.

As US President Lynden Johnson said when he took over from slain former President John F Kennedy, and as the plane took off for Washington with the president's body on board, “Now let's get airborne.”

Lance Neita is a public relations professional and author of the book In Partnership With Jamaica, the story of Kaiser Aluminum's 50-year history in Jamaica. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or lanceneita@hotmail.com.


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