The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed longstanding structural weaknesses in the US’s healthcare system and existing worker protection laws against the backdrop of an immediate failure of governance. How could the United States, after one of the longest sustained periods of economic growth in its history, be so fragile, so unprepared? The immensity and immediacy of these questions inevitably drew Greek America into the national conversation.
I will focus here on one example, the unequivocal critique of the Trump administration’s handling of the emergency in The National Herald, primarily in the form of editorials by Antonis Diamataris. He served as the Editor-Publisher of its English language version for 22 years, before his appointment as a Deputy Minister for Expatriate Greeks under the New Democracy government. He resigned in December 2019, amidst a much-publicised scandal relating to accusations of falsifying his college resume.
Why focus on this example? The National Herald is a major weekly Greek-American publication in English with significant circulation. The newspaper exhibits a considerable current catering to conservatives, voters of the Republican Party, and Trump supporters, which constitutes a significant Greek-American demographic. Still, my choice is not primarily motivated by the paper’s editorial reversal from promoting conservative views to mostly critiquing Trump’s administration. Instead, I draw from this case study to raise a broader issue: the ethics and politics of diaspora media. If the diaspora is both a home and a homeland institution, then what is the civic responsibility of one of its major newspapers in relation to the ethnic community, the American public, and Greece?
Since the onset of the pandemic in early March, Diamataris has been an outspoken critic of the Trump administration’s handling of the issue, often in tones of utter shock and disbelief. In his own words, “How is it possible that the American authorities did not foresee the possibility of such a catastrophic crisis, given that we all assumed that as a rich superpower they have ready-made plans for every contingency and to fight any threat– internal or external – that one can imagine?” And, “the American people are watching in amazement and shock at the lack of preparedness of the government to control the spread of the coronavirus and its inability to provide medical and hospital staff with the most basic tools to deal with it” .
Diamataris’ critique and the stance of The National Herald’s editorial board is representative of a larger outcry, a sense of astonishment, both domestic and international, over the nation’s grave mishandling of the pandemic, and this is echoed elsewhere in US media. At another level, however, as a publication relying on a relatively small demographic, The National Herald’s position risks alienating those sectors of its Republican ethnic readership who support the President. Historically, Greek-American media has struggled to survive, relying on a complex constellation of funding sources from Greece and from within the diaspora itself, which requires careful navigation of the divisions among their readership via-a-vis US and Greek politics.
But what are the political calculations motivating Diamataris? Diamataris is not a stranger to openly criticising Trump. As the editor of The National Herald during the 2016 presidential election, he threw his political support behind Hillary Clinton––albeit grudgingly––and did not mince his words in denouncing her political adversary, “We are frightened to imagine Donald Trump as commander-in-chief,” he wrote, “we believe he presents an unacceptable risk to the country.”
Yet he reversed course upon Trump’s election. Praising the selection of Reince Priebus, a Greek-American, as White House chief of staff, he saw the appointment as a venue for the “community” to access the new power. Diaspora interests trumped home political interests .
A diaspora public figure known for his close ties with the Karamanlis family and an open supporter of the New Democracy government, Diamataris places Greece’s interests, and particularly the current government’s, high up in his agenda. Can it be that his critique of the Trump administration serves broader diasporic calculations?
The landscape is complex when it comes to Greek-America’s positioning vis-à-vis the current administration. To contextualise some aspects of this terrain it is necessary to list the following sequence of political events involving Washington’s foreign policy in relation to Turkey and Greece.
In November 2019, lobbying organisations such as The Order of the AHEPA and the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC) officially condemned President Trump’s meeting with Turkey’s President Erdogan, and mobilised public opposition. “Turkey is not a friend of the United States, and Turkey’s President Erdogan should never have been invited to the White House,” the HALC’s Public Affairs Director said.
In November 13, 2019, in a joint press conference, President Trump welcomed President Erdogan as a “highly respected,” and “very good friend” to the White House. He added a personal note, declaring himself a “big fan” of the Turkish leader.
Only two months later, in January 2020, in contrast, no such joint Press Conference was on Washington’s diplomatic agenda on the occasion of the Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis’ visit to the White House to garner support for the Greek position on the Turkish-Libya deal as a geopolitical move that “breaches of Greece’s sovereignty by Turkey.”
The Greek media and Greek journalists did not fail to criticise President Donald Trump for “pass[ing] up on the opportunity to hold” a joint press conference, seeing this move as “snub[bing]” Greece’s diplomatic overtures.
These diplomatic developments did not sway Greek-American support of the administration. A poll conducted between February 19 and March 9, 2020, on behalf of the online media Greek Reporter, indicated that among Greek-Americans, “support for US President Donald Trump has increased compared to 2016, despite negative views of his handling of Greek issues.” As the headline of the reporting indicates, Greek-Americans think of Trump as “Turkey-friendly but still support him.” In this case, home political allegiance trumps solidarity with the historical homeland.
In conclusion, Greek-America’s political engagement during the pandemic illustrates the operation of certain diaspora institutions as simultaneously national and transnational. The articulation of homeland and home is active in the political discourse of selected Greek-American media.
There seems to be at least two political forces in the fragmented and contested terrain of Greek-America’s public sphere. First, a vocal lobby criticises the President for what is seen as his preferential treatment to Turkey, a critique which Diamataris has rearticulated in the context of the pandemic, where his critique of the US government seems to underline his political resolve to promote Greece’s national interest in the context of geopolitics in the Eastern Mediterranean. Second, rank-and-file Greek-American Republicans continue supporting the President despite his diplomatic strategies in the geopolitics of the Eastern Mediterranean region. The launching of “Greek Voices for Trump,” self-described as “a coalition to empower and unite the Greek-American community to re-elect President Trump,” signals the administration’s investment in winning this demographic in the upcoming national elections. At the time of this writing, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Energy, Francis Fannon, “called on Turkey to refrain from any provocative actions,” regarding Greece’s maritime space. Will Diamataris continue his critique of President Trump betting on the Democratic Party’s win in this year’s election? In a parallel editorial line, Eraklis Diamataris draws a strong distinction between conservatism, which he values, and Trumpism, which he castigates.3 In our uncertain and fluid times, a great deal may happen between now and November.
Yiorgos Anagnostou is professor of transnational Greek studies at The Ohio State University (https://classics.osu.edu/people/anagnostou.1). He is the editor of the online journal Ergon: Greek American Arts and Letters (https://ergon.scienzine.com/).
 Antonis Diamataris, “The Collapse of the U.S. Image.” Email to The National Herald Subscribers. April 26, 2020.
 Only one year into Donald Trump’s presidency, Priebus was dismissed as chief of staff. “He was undercut by the president himself at every turn—in private, [it was] reportedly common for Trump to mock and belittle Priebus.” https://www.vox.com/2017/7/28/15724206/reince-priebus-fired-trump