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Tuesday 14 August 2018
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Crocodile patriotism, real traffic tears

Part II of Crosswords & blockchains, promised for today, will appear next Friday, unless Trinidad does even more firetruckery in-between.

If you can measure Trinidad’s compassion viciously accurately by how it treats its weakest members – the homeless, the helpless, the homos, the stray dogs – you can measure its superficiality similarly by what it chooses to invest with pomp and circumstance.

And this week’s three-day pappyshow around the burial of former president Max Richards should make anyone with any pride cringe and reach for a Canadian refugee application form.

If we had to shut down Port of Spain for three days to “recognise” Richards, we need to put up a statute to Abu Bakr; however you measure it, Abu Bakr had a greater impact on Trinidad than Richards.

Or any president before or after him.

Some may remember that, in a column titled House Negro in charge, I mocked the grotesque – and hideously expensive and revoltingly gratuitous – public ceremony at the Hasely Crawford Stadium that marked Richards’ installation as president in 2008; I see no reason not to mock a burial equally transparently pappyshow.

Now, I think Richards was a decent man, if one given a little too easily and a lot too lavishly to partying. A public obituary written by Dr Kirk Meighoo underlines the late president’s decency, which extended to accepting criticism of him – as he did, even when it came in my own savaging of his expensive, unnecessary coronation ceremony. He deserves to be remembered in a respectful ceremony – and, if it were up to me, a street fete, with an open bar.

That’s not what he got this week.

If ever we needed proof that we don’t take ourselves seriously, we got it in spades on Wednesday.

Whether or not any of its occupants are genuine, our presidency itself is not: it is an almost purely ceremonial position with very little real powers that may be discharged by any figurehead. We’ve had four so far and are about to have a fifth. The only reason we wouldn’t call them “a-dime-a-dozen” is because they come at a considerably greater cost, especially if you add in the bar bill.

Indeed, unlike in an executive presidency, the individual ceremonial officeholders are potentially more prestigious than the office itself. I suggest that Noor Hassanali was our most popular president and that our appreciation of him was founded not in how he maximised his official duties and powers, but in how he minimised them: people loved him not for his official presidential wine, but because he didn’t serve alcohol at all at state functions. (Of course, he ought to have been prevented from bringing his private religious belief into what ought to have been his public secular job.)

There is no genuine outpouring of national grief over any president’s death in Trinidad, unless it is over the traffic jams caused by our pretentiousness, or the waste of resources that went to empty multi-faith ceremonies that might have gone towards filling potholes. Discounting primary schoolchildren, who will wave flags at beauty queens as eagerly as presidents, no one really gives a flying firetruck if the president dies – although very many people may be saddened that Richards or Anthony Carmona does.

But all three television stations covered, live, the dead boring ceremony of the state funeral. We really didn’t need the expense of having three channels all showing the same pictures of a ceremony that, though it puffed its chest up to the max, could not fill the hall in which it was held to one-third.

Two sets of seats were filled: those right at the front; and the nosebleed ones.

At the Oscars, there are people paid to quickly rush in and occupy the seats left empty when someone like Brad Pitt goes to the toilet. The Motion Picture Academy understands that empty seats make the whole spectacle collapse and reveal its utter meaninglessness.

Hollywood knows more about reality than the “nation” of Trinidad and Tobago.

If there are not enough important people in your play-play country to fill the VIP seats – nor even the cheap ones – you ought to ask yourself whether you ought not to move your grand ceremony to another, much smaller, forum.

Like a rum shop.

Or a nightclub.

In either of which locations the real Max Richards might have lain in a far more fitting state.

BC Pires is a traitor with Newsday. Read more of his writing at www.BCPires.com Next week: Blockchains that free


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