Monday, January 22, 2018

Painful but precious in its truth


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Now that the shock is beginning to subside, we should consider thanking Therese Baptiste-Cornelis for the raw insights she has given us into the insidious nature of maximum power.

In 37 minutes of uninhibited rambling, she blew the cover off our political pretensions, revealing us as a people represented by arbitrary, opportunistic power to which merit and standards are of no particular concern.

We now have new raw data in the form of a first person account of what, under the veneer of democratic political process, our politics really looks like. It ain't pretty but it is ours.

So, despite our huge investment in denial, it would serve us better if, after we're done beating up on the messenger of our mess, we would look into the mirror and ask: "So what are you going to do about it?"

Hopefully the political scientists at UWI already know what they're going to do. The Baptiste-Cornelis experience is rich material for a research project designed to bring greater clarity and understanding of our representation-resistant politics, masquerading as a variant of the Westminster system.

In those 37 minutes, the former lecturer of the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business provided a truly rare and privileged view into the nature of the political beast that we are up against, ripping apart the sham of democratic process and revealing arbitrary power in all its glorious nakedness.

For fifty years we have been knocking our heads, trying to understand why the Westminster system bequeathed to us by the departing British has been failing us so badly; why we remain so powerless and trapped in a dysfunctional relationship with our politics.Why, with all the trappings of democracy—free and fair elections and parliament and all—the will of the people is reduced to the impotence of a dipped index finger once every five years.

Lloyd Best, long ago, gave us a fully explicated theory of how and why, but we have needed learning moments like this one to see in concrete terms what he so easily grasped in the abstract. Having provided such an opportunity, Baptiste-Cornelis should now go on to pen her political memoir of real politik T&T style. Our politics needs to be informed by more than zeppo and grapevine; we need her to break the pact of secrecy that binds the cohorts of power. So Madame, please tell us more!

It is good, too, that in her casual innocence, Baptiste-Cornelis has pushed us to the point of pain. If we could hold on to the hurt and trace it back to its origin, we might find that it leads to a deep, unexpressed love for this place. And because love brings compulsions of its own—often dangerous ones—we have preferred to bury it under a flippant cynicism, afraid that it might ask more of us than we feel able to give. But what if we did allow ourselves to become articulate about our love for this place? And what if we found that, having done so, we could release the energy for its demands on us?

Can we not sense that with every fall down the spiral of possibility, what Trinidad and Tobago is really asking from us is a declaration of love of an order higher than that which we proclaim?

Now that the undiplomatic diplomat has helped us to know better, are we still willing to be counted among the cheering masses, mere grist for the political mill?Will we still pour praise and stain our fingers for now-for-now politicians who got on the ticket because the leader called them to service one mad night? Will we still refuse to scrutinise credentials for cabinet duty and fitness to act on our behalf? Will we demand no guarantees about expertise in dispensing our resources representing us to the world?

This is the culture of collective unresponsibility that has given rise to the political phenomenon of which Baptiste-Cornelis is only an extreme example. She is no aberration; just a logical outcome.

Yes, she scares us, but only because she presents the awfulness of a truth we would wish to deny in our pretence to be a sophisticated electorate in a fully functional democracy, led by real leaders, capable of change and of taking the world by storm.

The truth is that we are a people easily fooled, not because we're not smart, but because of our capacity for self-delusion as a means of escape from the effort required to act on our own behalf.

It is the hallmark of our disempowerment that we are willing to accept that our world is completely beyond our control, rather than exert ourselves to let change in. So much better that we start from early to line up the bobolees to beat when things go wrong. As they surely will.

First we invite them to 'fool me nah!'; then we complain 'they fool we!'

What does it say about the representational aspect of our politics that it repeatedly throws up leaders who know so little about the country and its people? If we think better of ourselves, how then do we explain the crop of leaders we repeatedly end up with as representatives of us?

What does it say about us that having exercised our right to vote, we must stand by powerless,watching government after government become a train wreck?

In our impotence, we resort to the standard weapons of the disempowered: character assassination and personal humiliation. We boo, we spread rake, unable to access institutional tools for initiating change.

Based on the current explosive levels of impotent outrage, the forecast now can only be for plenty more booing. If not worse.

Still, all is not lost.

In our defence, we should admit that, relatively speaking, we are new to the exercise of self-responsibility for which political independence is merely one conducive condition.

We can also admit that our history of material dispossession makes us prime targets for bribery and, therefore, for early compromise and quick surrender.

And we should admit that our willingness to ignore trespasses against our vaunted standards and values stems from a deep sense of insignificance that makes us thankful for the merest touch by the hand of power,

As a catalyst for opening up the conversation, we should now thank Ms Baptiste-Cornelis and wish her well in her return to private life.

• Sunity Maharaj is the editor of the

T&T Review and director of the

Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies