BY NOW, many of my readers have either voted, are getting ready to head out to vote, or are withholding their vote in symbolic disgust – an act of flaccid defiance observed by no one.
For me, voting has always been like sitting an exam. You go into the examination hall armed with knowledge acquired over the past five years. With the brain power you’ve developed, you answer a single question based on the available information. Just like the SEA exam, that answer can have repercussions echoing across your natural lifespan.
Casting a ballot in isolation is not really exercising one’s power, though. That comes after the vote.
The words of someone I held dear still echo in my mind. “Election come, election go...I still have to go out there and earn an honest dollar.” For this person, no politician, regardless of party or race, was guaranteed a space in her mind or heart. She always viewed politicians as separate from ordinary citizens. As such, politicians were constantly on trial in her mind.
Unfortunately, not enough of us see the importance of our role beyond the ballot box. “Here, I do my part. I give you de wuk!”
Think about it, you wouldn’t hire a contractor to build your house, only checking in on them after the house is complete. That’s a recipe for doors leading to nowhere, uneven floors and electrical work specifically designed for house fires. No, you would monitor the work and give feedback, both positive and negative, during the construction period.
During the election campaign, people moaned endlessly about noisy music trucks. “In 2020 that is what you comin’ with!”
Well, the year may be 2020, but TT is still in the 80s politically speaking (in the 60s on other fronts). Nuisance music trucks, political posters on electricity poles and last-minute road paving and sod-turning ceremonies are a reflection of how far the nation has travelled politically. While some methods of delivery have evolved, the messaging is the same. Flashy new videos, old, uninspired ideas. Our politics haven’t changed much because we, the people, haven’t changed.
Politicians draw strength from our immutability. Voters are carved up into groups defined by tribal loyalties and synthesised hatreds; this livestock requires no significant effort. The rest – the undecideds – are the safari game. Citizens reduce themselves to mere commodities through their unflinching loyalties. Their dogged refusal to call politicians out regardless of party makes the voter little more than chattel to be activated when needed.
Corruption, impropriety and incompetence in public office should be unreservedly condemned in all politicians. Instead, we fall back on the zero sum game of “an’ allyuh do de same ting when allyuh was in office?”
Corruption among politicians will never be vanquished because the electorate, the citizens, have flexible positions on the subject, depending on who is in office.
Politicians aren’t accountable for their statements or divisive posturings. That’s because there will always be loyal disciples ready to point out where someone “on the other side” has done or said worse, whatever worse is. Members of the political class have no reason to adopt a culture of contrition; admitting they’ve made a mistake, vowing to do better and then actually doing better. Why should they when so many supporters are ready to die in battle for a war that will never touch the generals?
What becomes of TT now depends on our ability to see the larger role ordinary citizens have in determining our future. That rests heavily on a willingness to ditch allegiances built on flimsy tribalism and keep all politicians on their toes with an unbiased, critical eye. If something is wrong, it’s wrong, regardless of who is responsible and whether we like them or not. There can be no selective application of moral outrage.
Additionally, where a government advances good ideas or policies, needless criticism rooted in hatred of a political party is counterproductive. This only serves shortsighted vindictiveness and drowns out reasonable discussion with rah! rah! rah! We must develop the maturity to embrace measures that will push progress and discard the tendency to decry suggestions simply because that will make “dem” look good.
Whichever party prevails at the polls in GE2020, that government will face unprecedented challenges requiring deft management, creative thinking, intellectual enterprise and a strong work ethic. If citizens are to survive what’s to come in this pandemic world, we must do more than pose with an ink-stained finger for social media.