The Presidential Apprentice: What a Trump administration could mean for Guam
Although Guam voters overwhelmingly chose former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by a margin of nearly three-to-one in its Presidential Straw Poll on Election Day, the nation as a whole – by way of the Electoral College, at least – decided otherwise.
While voters here were mostly unsurprised by the ushering in of a Democratic supermajority in the Legislature, the mood of the mainland was entirely different on Nov. 8 as Trump became President-elect and Republicans won majorities in both houses of Congress. Continuing upon a pattern of shocking outcomes and highly irregular theatrics that have made this election cycle unlike anything seen in living memory, the businessman and reality TV host stunned pollsters and pundits of all political stripes who did not believe he could woo enough support to win following nearly 18 months of a steady stream of sharp rhetoric directed against religious and ethnic minorities, POWs, a Gold Star family, and a leaked recording of a lewd conversation in which he bragged about sexually assaulting women.
Now that Trump will occupy the White House despite Clinton winning the popular vote by an estimated two million votes (the ballots are still being tallied), what will his presidency mean for Guam?
“I am deeply concerned about the election of Donald Trump and surprised that he won so many states,” said Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo in a joint Sunday Post/89.3 KPRG-FM exclusive.
“He ran an extremely divisive campaign that appealed to the worst in us as a people, and not about our hopes for a better future,” she said. “Also, some of his foreign policy proposals during the campaign were concerning – especially those that weakened support for our allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific, or suggested we place nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula or in Japan.”
Congresswoman Bordallo, who was re-elected by defeating former Governor Felix Camacho by eight percentage points, said Trump’s hawkish stance on China is likely to result in continuing the efforts promoted by the Obama administration to realign Marines from Okinawa to Guam – a position she has championed for quite some time.
However, she is also concerned about other policy issues Trump will be asked to consider as they relate to Guam, such as “relief from the H-2B visa denials, reducing the impacts of Compact-Impact and providing adequate infrastructure funding, and the importance of the Indo-Asia-Pacific rebalance strategy.”
“His election already has impacts for the region as it is becoming clear that we will not be able to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement,” which both Trump and Clinton campaigned against. “Without TPP, China will have an opportunity to gain greater economic influence in the region,” Bordallo said.
H-2B visa issues
While Trump has not been explicit on his stance toward H-2B visas for immigrant workers, he generally ran a campaign fueled by promises to return jobs to Americans that have been lost to globalization, immigrants, and trade agreements – causing many in the Mariana Islands to fear even stricter rules on hiring temporary immigrant workers to fill roles in key areas such as construction and health care.
As a new cottage industry of Trump prognosticators attempts to divine which of Trump’s campaign promises and threats may actually come to be, some have pointed out that the president-elect himself has shown a predilection for hiring H-2B workers for his own projects – even while running for president and railing against low-wage immigrants taking jobs from Americans. However, rumors of Cabinet level appointments of anti-immigration hardliners like former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, of Maricopa County, Arizona, and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer suggest that H-2B visa obstacles might remain on the menu for Guam’s sectors overly reliant upon immigrant labor.
It did not take long for Independence Guahan and some members of the University of Guam community to host a seminar to discuss the impacts of a Trump presidency on the island.
Last Tuesday evening, Dr. Michael Lujan Bevacqua, professor of Chamorro Studies at UOG and chairman of the Independence Guahan Task Force, co-presented a “Trump Teach-In” with Victoria-Lola M. Leon Guerrero, the managing editor of the University of Guam Press. The session was held before a packed classroom of attendees at the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences Humanities and Social Sciences building.
“It’s hard to know what kind of president Donald Trump will be,” Bevacqua said. “Part of it is that he is objectively the most unqualified person to be elected president of the United States given the metrics that are usually used, where you are a government official who’s served the people or you are a military officer who led troops into battle.”
While Bevacqua also stated that President-elect Trump’s penchant for controversial statements and contradictory positions add to the mystery of how he’ll govern, most of his portion of the teach-in dealt with the brass tacks of what a far more conservative federal government might mean for Guam – such as who might be appointed to head up the Department of the Interior (DOI).
“The Department of Interior is one of the most important things we need to think about in terms of a Trump presidency,” he said. “They are considered to be the office that handles the Territories.”
“[DOI] is in charge of fish, buffalo, Native Americans, and Chamorros, for example,” Bevacqua said, alluding to the less-than-equal status of U.S. citizens residing in Territories. “So, in the United States’ calculus, a Chamorro’s destiny and island is equivalent to birds, lakes, and buffaloes. So, in their minds, you are the frontier of the U.S.”
Bevacqua feels this presidential Cabinet position is extremely important to Guam this time around is because one person rumored to be short-listed for the Secretary of the Interior position is former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin.
“We do know she is not particularly strong on environmental issues, and part of the reason she might want that post is to open up oil drilling in wildlife refuges,” he said.
Bevacqua did indicate that one potentially positive outcome of a Donald Trump presidency was the Republican Party platform that mentions “unfair economic restrictions on Territories, such as the Jones Act.”
Provisions relating to the Jones Act restrict the carriage of goods or passengers between United States ports to U.S.-built and flagged vessels, require at least three-fourths of the crewmembers to be U.S. citizens, and other measures that artificially inflates the cost of shipping goods to Guam and elsewhere – an expense that is then passed on to consumers.
“Republicans would be willing to undo those, and that could be a benefit for Guam because it’s one of the main reasons why things are so expensive here,” he said.
During her presentation, Leon Guerrero focused on President-elect Trump’s comments indicative of what she described as greenlighting “sexual assault on women” and frequent use of coded language implying the criminality or inferiority of non-whites on American soil.
“That to me is what’s scary and very frightening for our community, because this is who we’re dealing with – someone who really won’t see us as anyone who matters,” she said. “That’s not who I want my children to look up to.”
With respect to discrimination, Leon Guerrero’s sentiment was shared by many, including audience member Lasia Casil, who founded both Save Southern Guam and ISA Guam, an LGBTQ rights group.
“I’ve already started to see racist remarks within our own community and people posting on Facebook: ‘Run and hide gays and lesbians. Trump is our president.’ I’m feeling a lot of anxiety and bracing myself for a potential tsunami of conflict on our island,” said Casil.
Guam certainly has reason to be concerned about China’s reaction to President-Elect Trump.
According to a May report published by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, “China is getting closer to deploying a new intermediate-range ballistic missile known as the DF-26 — or ‘Guam Killer’ — which could put American forces stationed on the western Pacific U.S. Territory at risk” in the wake of Washington’s Asia Pivot.
However, The Guardian stated just last week that “Veteran Pekingologists suspect the Chinese leadership [had] been secretly rooting for a Trump victory, wagering his elevation to the Oval Office would strike a body blow to their greatest rival.”
In that report, Orville Schell, the head of the Centre on US-China Relations at New York’s Asia Society, stated “it was Mao Zedong who said: ‘Without destruction there can be no construction’. And, if I interpret him correctly, Donald Trump is the suicide bomber of American politics.”
“He [Trump] wants to just bring the whole house down and start over. And I think that is quite tantalizing to China.”
Schell said Chinese president, Xi Jinping, praises the iconic Chairman Mao and a “key principle of Mao’s rule: ‘da nao tian gong’ – ‘make disorder under heaven’. I think Trump has every promise of doing that in America.”
In March, then-candidate Trump issued a press release recognizing former and current military personnel from the Territories and Commonwealths of the United States.
“Throughout the history of our nation, the patriotism exhibited by our brothers and sisters in the Territories … has often gone unacknowledged,” it read. “Year after year, these citizens quietly, without fanfare, send more of their sons and daughters per capita into the U.S. Armed Services than any of the 50 states. All Americans should stand in awe of this commitment to the service of our nation.”
“Unfortunately special interests have taken over our government and this has left the American people without voice. Hopefully, my candidacy and presidency will change that. No more will those who reside in the Territories or Commonwealths be ignored.”
In the release, candidate Trump also bolstered his stance with a commitment to appoint a Special Assistant to the President "responsible for day-to-day interaction with the Territories and Commonwealths.”
Although island voters replaced seven incumbents in the Guam Legislature, Republican Senator Tommy Morrison was re-elected to another term on Nov. 8.
He was also troubled by the divisiveness on the campaign trail this election season. In exclusive comments made to the Sunday Post by email, he stated unequivocally that he firmly believes “discrimination of any kind has no place in BOTH major political parties – and anywhere near the White House. I believe that President-elect Trump and his administration need to do what they can in the months and years ahead to unite our country.”
Nevertheless, as a local policymaker, Senator Morrison supports “plans by President-elect Trump to appoint a Territory and Commonwealth Advisory Committee which will be responsible for reviewing all federal regulations affecting the Territories and Commonwealths.”
He stated such commitments are necessary to advance Guam's agenda in Washington, D.C., and expects “President-elect Trump and his administration will work closely with Governor Calvo and other elected leaders to move forward with efforts related to the Guam buildup” and other issues facing the island.
“I believe he will also work with us to address various challenges and issues pertinent to the Compact of Free Association between the U.S. and the FSM, as well as Guam’s political status and the Jones Act.”
While Gov. Calvo did not respond to requests to his office for comment, he serves as the co-chair for the Asian Pacific American Advisory Committee, which was announced by the Trump campaign in late September.
According to the announcement, “Mr. Trump and Governor Pence will meet with members of the committee and AAPI leaders to discuss growing concerns over educational opportunities, employment and the economy, which are of paramount concern to AAPI families across this nation. Mr. Trump understands the critical role Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders play in the growing and providing for an energetic economic base, which has been lacking over the past eight years of Obama/Clinton policies.”
Guam’s political status
While the main focus of the teach-in was to discuss the implications of a Trump presidency on Guam, the island’s political status was also widely discussed.
“Social media posts appeared all over Guam. Interestingly enough, not necessarily people saying they are going to move to Canada or any other country, but instead saying ‘shouldn’t Guam decolonize? Shouldn’t Guam become independent?’” Bevacqua said, while showing screen shots on a PowerPoint presentation of such social media statements.
In his State of the Island Address earlier this year, Gov. Calvo shocked members of the Commission on Decolonization when he stated his desire to hold a plebiscite on Guam’s political status this past election. The Commission was not made aware of his desires prior to the announcement and they felt such a compressed timetable was unfair to properly educate and reach a consensus between both indigenous residents of the island who are the only citizens eligible to vote on the matter, as well as those Guam residents who were not born here but would be affected by the decision.
Leon Guerrero spoke critically at the teach-in of Gov. Calvo’s role as chair of the Commission on Decolonization.
“Having worked at the Legislature, the community doesn’t put a lot pressure on our own leaders and definitely not on Gov. Calvo, who [since the address] has done very little and now is doing nothing [regarding political status issues],” she said. “If he is in this position as co-chair and our community wants him to advocate in a certain way, then that is where we would want to apply pressure. He pushes Statehood. The chairperson’s role should not be to push for a particular status.”
President-elect Donald Trump made many promises of changes both big and small that he’ll implement during his first one hundred days in office – a trope echoed by his predecessors in recent times. On the whole, it is clear many of Guam’s residents and its elected officials expect him to offer more of the type of conciliatory remarks he offered following Clinton’s congratulatory concession phone call in the wee hours of Nov. 9.
Only time will tell if he follows through with the commitments to Pacific Island communities he outlined prior to his victory on the mainland.