"The role of the politician is to inspire people to want more for themselves, so the politicians can have more for themselves."
– Paolo Kernahan
OVER THE past few weeks, the glaring absence of astute, firm leadership has been quite conspicuous. It is perhaps most noticeable among Trinis whose powers of discernment haven't been corrupted by partisanship and hereditary blind political loyalty.
Trinis had loads to say about the role of former US president Donald Trump in both fomenting the attack on Capitol Hill and his refusal to unequivocally denounce the violence. None were so outspoken on the complicity of our leaders in their failure to quell social upheavals we recently faced.
The kidnapping and murder of Andrea Bharatt wasn't the first tragedy of its kind our country has endured. This crime, though, and its satellite outrages hinged, in part, on the quick-succession deaths of two suspects in the case and prompted measurable convulsions.
Online, people clashed furiously, processing the tragedy through their limiting political script. Racism pranced nakedly on social media. UNC supporters swarmed paid PNM bloggers who are prosecuting their toxic, divisive agendas. In other virtual street fights the din of the mob baying for blood swelled. Society was ripping itself apart. Emotions ran high as people scrambling for answers fashioned their own, albeit conspiracy-driven. The turmoil called for steady hands on the rudder. Sadly, and infuriatingly, that never happened.
The traumatised nation needed words and actions that would pour oil on the troubled waters. Instead, there were servings of inflammatory rhetoric that poured gas on open flame. Politicians threw in with the rabble. At least one organ grinder cranked up worn-out tropes of the Opposition Leader and drunkenness and all this garbage. Others used snide commentary to mock participants in candlelight vigils. It was all hands below deck.
In this leadership vacuum questionable characters filled the void, and to the uproarious adulation of a lost flock. In every country on this planet where corruption and broken governance are prominent, those societies throw up messianic figures. Mussolini, Franco, Hitler, Jerry Springer. These proto-politicos rise up from the primordial ooze. With their seductive populist drivel they drape themselves in national catastrophe, drawing from the flailing population a much-needed fillip.
It has become clear to some that on these islands we are more enamoured of being good politicians rather than good leaders.
Politics, as interpreted by those who practise it here, is primarily the art of warfare waged in the narrow interests of the party, the connected, and, only occasionally, the grunts on the ground.
Now, most jobs are defined by specific skill sets. Accountants must be good with calculation, balancing the books and all this. Secretaries must draft and send e-mails, take calls, and book appointments. Politics isn't a job, per se. Our politicians interpret their responsibilities, as bestowed by the public, as a requirement to go to Parliament and give their opponents “bois.”
It's all about combat, maintaining the upper hand over your political opposites. They perfect these abilities (or at least imagine they have) and leave their leadership skills woefully underdeveloped or entirely non-existent.
As tensions in TT further clawed at an already fractious social environment, there was no voice of reason to force a detente among aggressors. The President, for her part, busied herself with silence in her mausoleum of procedural propriety.
Acknowledgments of public hurt over Andrea's killing from the leaders of the two major parties were faint at best.
This is regrettable because if there's one thing Keith Rowley and Kamla Persad-Bissessar have the power to do is rein their supporters with calls for responsible, mature behaviour eschewing race and identity politics. There was no shortage of balanced, impartial voices of hapless civilians trying to force perspective online. Such people are routinely ignored and invariably attacked by party acolytes. Political programming is notoriously difficult to overwrite.
In an atmosphere clouded by emotion and anger, common sense and perspective are first responders and immediate casualties. Consequently, there can be no national consensus on a way forward to bring violent crime under control. Ignorance reigns supreme while the silence of those from whom better is expected can't muster the courage (or ability it seems) to rise to the challenge of leadership.
In TT our governance is consistently tested by the challenges of our age. Our governance is consistently found wanting. Politicians cling tenaciously to the past, the outdated mould of politics, even as the future inches ever further from our grasp.