Post-traumatic political stress
I am not even going to try to comment on our Prime Minister’s latest Cabinet reshuffle. I simply challenge anyone to explain how such repeated shuffling will in any way transform the deck of cards. A deck made up only of jokers remains a deck of jokers no matter how often it is shuffled.
What I find far more interesting than the shuffle itself is what our Prime Minister had to say about her own expectations as she announced the details of the move. Forgive me if I quote rather extensively from the newspaper reports of her statement.
Her statement had two themes. The first theme related directly to the expected impact of the reshuffle. In this regard our Prime Minister declared that it “… ushers in a new era of my Government.” And that “This is lift-off time — (the) launch of the most aggressive development and progressive period of governance in T&T’s history.”
Having made this bold declaration our Prime Minister then enunciated her second theme, becoming even more grandiose as she soared on wings of fantasy to describe her vision of what the politics in our country should be. In almost spiritual and symphonic tones she declared: “We will embrace every group in this country,” as she invited all opposition groups “to work with me in making a difference”.
“It is time for balisier, rising sun, circles, cane stalk and refinery, fist, tree and any other political symbols to be overwhelmed by national aspirations symbolised through the Scarlet Ibis and the flag,” she said.
“If (Nelson) Mandela persuaded forgiveness and unity for the good of South Africa, if (Mahatma) Gandhi demonstrated the power of non-violence in India, if Martin Luther King could have birthed a dream for a different America, why can’t Daaga, Ramadhar, Rowley, Warner, London, Kamla or any other, embrace the same noble aspirations for the good of all who follow us?” our Prime Minister asked.
And then, in a grand crescendo, our Prime Minister stated: “If I had my will, I would form a national government comprised of all groups. But our coalition government happens to be the closest ideal to that pursuit.”
There are so many things that statement reveals to the discerning eye about our Prime Minister and her current state of mind that it would take several iterations of this column to explore them all. For the nonce however I want to focus on what for me is the most troubling and yet most instructive aspect of all, the clear signs that our Prime Minister is suffering from what is known as cognitive disassociation.
Cognitive Disassociation is a term in psychology describing a continuum of mental reactions ranging from mild detachment from immediate surroundings to more severe detachment from physical and emotional experience. The major characteristic of all disassociative phenomena involves a detachment from reality. Disassociation is regarded as a coping or defence mechanism in seeking to deal with instances of severe stress. Cognitive Disassociation is now widely recognised as a precursor of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
I am no psychologist or psychiatrist and I may well be wrong. If so I humbly apologise. But what if I am right? What if our Prime Minister is indeed losing touch with reality? What does that portend for our Prime Minister as a person and for the politics of our country going forward?
One of the aspects of our political system which we have not perhaps sufficiently explored is the impact on the personality of the incumbent of the enormous weight of authority which is reposed in the office of Prime Minister. Our Prime Minister, under our current constitutional arrangements, stands like a colossus over all he or she surveys.
Such enormous power is difficult to handle even for the most balanced and well-adjusted of personalities. For personalities that are flawed and are possessed of weaknesses and dependencies the impact of the possession of such power could very possibly lead to some strange behavioural patterns.
But the problem does not stop there. For the real problem of possession of such enormous power is that the Prime Minister becomes the target of every demand of every citizen and group and association in the country. Not only does the buck stop with the Prime Minister but it originates there as well. And, notwithstanding the enormous power of the office, it is impossible for the Prime Minister to even deal with, far less to satisfy, every demand made.
The end result can only be stress. Enormous, overwhelming stress! It is possible that it is these conditions of enormous stress which have resulted in the paranoiac and megalomaniac tendencies which we have observed in some of our previous prime ministers towards the end of their days.
For our current Prime Minister we would have to add to the enormous stress inherent in the office on a personality prone to difficult dependencies, the trauma that would have been brought on by the significant electoral defeats suffered in Tobago and very recently in Chaguanas West.
Just consider, carefully, the words of her statement I quoted above. Is not the retreat from reality very clear? Is not the grandiose and bombastic verbiage a testament to a mind increasingly detached from reality? And if it is, what next can we expect?
Back in 2009, almost a year before Mr Manning in his megalomania called an election he was certain to lose, I wrote an article in this column called “Conducting a political pre-mortem” in which I sought to forecast some of the political developments which would arise as a consequence of the collapse of the regime.
Given our Prime Minister’s statement I think it may be timely to remind readers of some of those words. “While we, as ordinary citizens, may feel utterly lost in the bewildering cavalcade of events we often do not recognise that the political leadership finds itself in an even worse predicament. As the momentum of disintegration gathers pace political leaders find themselves losing all control over events.”
—Michael Harris has been for many years a writer and commentator on politics and society in Trinidad and the wider Caribbean.