LAST WEEK US President Donald J Trump spoke in a prime-time address to the nation in service of his pet project, the US/Mexico border wall. In an unprecedented move, several major television networks agreed to the Democrats’ demands for equal time. The reason for this exception was simple: Trump has proven himself incontinent with falsehoods. Some networks accepted that Trump’s address to the nation was more a political speech that was quite likely to be a work of fiction.
Here at home, we experienced another example of the facility of address to the nation being undermined as an instrument of authority. Few can dispute that the two-part presentation performed by Prime Minister Keith C Rowley was anything other than an extended political speech.
Citizens watching such a broadcast typically expect to be apprised of important national developments such as natural disasters or issues of national security. Instead, viewers were confronted with a meandering diatribe feigning purpose and structure through the addition of graphs and charts. It was indeed worrying that there were so many people on Facebook announcing they couldn’t be bothered to tune in.
Charts and graphs aside, Dr Rowley made some claims which, at the very least, call for the disinfectant qualities of scrutiny. He asserted, for example, that the ferries plying the inter-island sea bridge in the years prior to his assuming office “were run into the ground.”
This is a difficult proposition for many to swallow. There are just too many witnesses to the facts. Many of them have surfaced with a proper accounting of the maintenance of the vessels under the previous administration. Additionally, most users of the sea bridge probably have a clear recollection of when troubles with the ferry service began.
The larger point, however, is ordinary citizens can be excused for thinking this was merely a political cottage meeting masquerading as an address to the nation. In fact, in the wake of “Mind Your Business: Infinity talks and Endgame” there were also suggestions the Opposition ought to have been given equal time to challenge the PM’s narrative.
From a communications standpoint, this two-part presentation was a bad idea in many ways. It blurred the line between Office of the Prime Minister and role of political leader of the PNM. This in itself isn’t surprising given that Dr Rowley has never actually made the transition from politician to prime minister.
Moreover, continuing to decry the previous government after having been in office for more than three years doesn’t inspire confidence in this administration. The UNC doesn’t have access to the apparatus of state delivery. It can’t approve infrastructural works, establish economic policy or roll out crime-reduction strategies. These functions are within the sole authority of the government of today.
Using a homespun yarn, the Prime Minister explained he learned as a child that when you’re digging a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging and make your way out. It’s confusing, therefore, that Dr Rowley put his back into digging an even deeper hole for himself in his presentation.
Whoever was the brain trust behind this wildly ill-advised tactic isn’t particularly skilled at reading the population. People who’ve lost their jobs, or have been victimised by crime, don’t want to hear about Kamlageddon. Some PNM supporters have been bleating the vacuous justification that “We have to know how we got here!” If the Prime Minister failed in 2015 through 2018 to explain how we’ve come to this then his communications team has a lot to answer for.
Dr Rowley and his Government have spent their entire time in office shadow-boxing with a political ghost. The People’s Partnership doesn’t exist anymore. The UNC, which is basically a life raft jettisoned by the coalition, hasn’t rebranded or rehabilitated its image since losing office. Yet Kamla Persad-Bissessar, the villain that keeps on giving, haunts the Prime Minister’s consciousness.
What the nation witnessed was the Prime Minister and the party doing what it knows best: preparing for electoral battle. Dr Rowley has failed to appreciate that in these dire times, citizens demand leadership, not of party but of the country. Instead, the Prime Minister used a national platform to speak exclusively to obsequious loyalists, for whom Balisier House is merely an anteroom for public office.
No one confident about his or her track record and capabilities obsesses over opponents and obstacles. The recent address to the nation, unfortunately, nakedly cavorted in “what dem do” as opposed to what we’ve done and what we will achieve together.