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(English) Trump’s Lesson

“That is how I realized, because I experienced it, how great democracy is in that country and how we are sure that Trump will learn to live with it” Eduardo Morgan Jr.

In 2009, on the occasion of Barack Obama’s election as president of the United States, I wrote an article titled ‘Obama’s lesson’, which I now want to replicate using Trump´s name. At the time I pointed out that Obama’s election erased a long history of racial discrimination. Now, with Trump, the ‘lesson’ to be highlighted is the reality of what makes America great: its democracy.

Donald Trump is undoubtedly a man out of the ordinary: a tireless worker with a multifaceted personality, successful businessman and owner of a great fortune that is largely a product of his work and ingenuity. He is also a stellar figure in television series, where he projects his own personality. It represents the philosophy of a people that admires and venerates the success that brings with it great fortunes and where billionaires are considered as idols competing every year for the first places on the ranking lists published by the media.

Donald Trump is one of those but also something more.

He made the decision to enter politics to become president of his great country. His charisma led him to win the primaries of his party with the support of the people, since the Republican Party itself never supported him. He focused his campaign on those states populated by the masses that best identified with him and with enough electoral votes that would grant him the win, albeit the fact that he lost by several millions the popular vote. Not only did he defeat his Democratic rival but also he defeated the polls. Because of his authoritarian nature, he caused early concern both in his country and around the world. His anti-immigrant measures, the absolutism he wants to impose on world trade, on defense alliances, and his promises to use great military power to defeat ISIS terrorism and stop the North Korean nuclear threat have caused, and rightly so, the fear that global instability will increase. But, oh surprise! The authoritarianism of President Trump clashed head-on with what really makes the United States great: its democracy and its institutions.

Not even the president, however powerful he may be, can go against the checks and balances that are the essence of the democratic system. Thus, a judge and a sheriff were able to put a stop to some president’s measures that violated laws that were under the jurisdiction of said judge or sheriff. And both the world and the United States breathed a sigh of relief that democracy would not only protect them but also the President himself. I’m sure Trump will learn the lesson and maybe he will become a good president for the United States. Let us not forget that what makes this country great is not its unequaled military power but the fundamental pillars on which its democracy is based: freedom of the press supported by its influential newspapers; great universities where talent, more than money, is the key to being admitted; excellent bureaucracy based on the ‘civil service’ that ensures the stability and competence of public employees; research centers that make it easier for Americans to win the majority of the Nobel Prizes and has allowed them to give the world great things ranging from satellite communication to the Internet, while democratizing access to communication technologies.

I was a witness during the time I attended Yale University, and then as Panama’s ambassador to the United States, of what the checks and balances of this great democracy mean. The Panama Canal’s ports, Cristóbal and Balboa, were obsolete as transshipment ports so the government of President Perez Balladares decided to privatize them. Those who won the concession would make the necessary investments to meet the load and the transshipment needs, which were the most important functions they would have as auxiliaries to the geographic position and the Canal. Major port companies from Japan and Hong Kong came to the bid, including Hutchinson Wampoa, which was perhaps the most important of them all, with ports all over the world.

The United States wanted Bechtel, one of its large companies, to obtain the concession and tried to convince the government to grant it directly, since it would make an offer that could not be rejected because of how advantageous it would be for Panama.  Ultimately they convinced President Pérez Balladares to halt the bidding process to tend to the Bechtel proposal, which in the end the President deemed to be a mockery, thus discarding it immediately. The bidding went ahead and was won by the aforementioned Hong Kong Company. The United States’ reaction and fury (there is no other word to describe it) came swiftly.

Right away the six most important senators sent a note to the director of the Federal Maritime Authority stating that they had to ‘punish’ Panama for discriminating against American interests in the bidding of the ports. They talked about how they would prevent ships bearing the Panamanian flag from reaching American ports. As expected, panic spread in Panama so the government asked me, as the ambassador, to hire a law firm to advise us on the subject. A single preliminary note from lawyers cost more than $ 5,000 and I realized that the meager Embassy budget would not allow for much more. I then sent the legal adviser to the Embassy, ​​Alfredo Suescum, accompanied by Lili Romero, who also acted as a lawyer, to find out with the officials of the Maritime Commission what could happen to us and what remedies we would have available to mitigate the damages. Alfredo and Lili returned smiling and relaxed. I asked them how long it would take the Commission to apply the penalty. Their response: ‘Ambassador, we met with the heads of the different departments and the message is: ‘Nothing will happen to Panama. This is an internal Panamanian matter and has nothing to do with us. Do not worry about the letter from the senators. It is just politics without any significance for us. Our director is also a politician, but these things we handle internally’.

This was a great lesson on the strength that democracy has in protecting officials against impositions from bosses they might have at a given time. In fact, the senators’ overblown threats deflated and besides some extreme groups’ propaganda stating that Panama was handing over the Canal to a Chinese company (they would wave the Chinese flag over the Canal in television ads), no more was spoken about the subject; there was no sanction of any kind and the Embassy saved a fortune in legal fees.

So I realized, because I experienced it, how great democracy is in that country.  We are sure that Trump will learn to live with it and hope that with his great dynamism it will help make the planet a little better not only for his people but also for the rest of the world. This is, without a doubt, the greatest responsibility that the world’s great powers must assume.

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