The “S” word has always been big in politics. The word “commess” has always been associated with politics in Trinidad and Tobago. For example, a Daily Express front-page headline on August 8, 2013 boldly declared, “ELECTION COMMESS: Outcry after PM says councillors want local govt polls postponed.” A headline for an article by David Bratt MD in the Trinidad Guardian of February 5, 2013 read, “Commess T&T Style” and Dr. Bratt’s quotation from a calypso by Black Stalin explained what “commess” is all about, “Too much of fussing and fightin/ Too much of petty scrambling/ Too much of damn disunity/ Too much of dishonesty!”
Politicians are also given to “X-S”. In the last presidential elections in the United States people were inundated with advertising. In Ohio, on one station alone, there were 11 political ads in 10 minutes. But advertising is overshadowed in terms of excess by politicians like Silvio Berlusconi the disgraced former prime minister of Italy.
A close associate of Berlusconi described the Prime Minister’s “bunga bunga parties” as “excess, abuse of power and degradation.” Burlusconi was sentenced to seven years in jail for paying for sex with a minor and abuse of office. For a 76-year-old man, that is truly excessive and just like another 76-year-old politician who told his doctor that he was marrying a 20-year-old blonde. The doctor warned, “At your age that can be fatal!” The man replied, “So if she dies, she dies.”
While nothing exceeds like XS, nothing in politics succeeds like BS. If money is the mother’s milk of politics, “BS” is its fuel of choice. The Urban Dictionary defines “political BS” as “Any facet in the realm of political stupidity, ignorance, or extremity. Often referred to when describing the pointlessness or ridiculousness of a subject.”
A US blogger makes the case for BS with the comment, “If, through some miracle, anyone was elected to any public office without the aid of BS, they’d have a hard time getting the public to buy into any legislation because they wouldn’t be able to hide the fact that nothing in life is free like they can now…I won’t even go into foreign policy sans BS. Diplomacy wouldn’t exist. Yes, without a little BS here and there, this country, and perhaps the world, would cease to exist as we know it. I therefore conclude that BS is an essential part of our political system.”
While we have always associated BS with politics, there is another “S” word that might have even more power over the political process than the BS that surrounds and threatens to overwhelm us especially at election times. It is “HS” which stands for the “Hubris Syndrome.” On September 13, 2013, The Independent ran an article headlined, “Power corrupts but it also plays with your mind: Lloyd George, Chamberlain and Thatcher all suffered from ‘hubris syndrome’. Ex-foreign secretary, Lord Owen, tells conference that condition leads to disastrous decision-making.”
The Independent reported, “Senior figures in politics, finance, business and academia told a conference at the Judge Institute in Cambridge this week that current leaders must become self- aware of hubristic tendencies in themselves, and take active steps to avoid the development of Hubris Syndrome (HS), an acquired personality disorder which unchecked, can result in disastrous decision-making. It tends to remit on leaving office.”
Interestingly, it took a politician who is also a neurologist, Lord David Owen, a former secretary of state to identify the problem. He and a US colleague, Jonathan Davidson, described the characteristic pattern of “HS” as being exuberant overconfidence, recklessness and contempt for others, displaying Bertrand Russell’s “intoxication of power”. Four British prime ministers (Lloyd-George, Chamberlain, Thatcher and Blair) and one US president (George W Bush) were said to have met the clinical diagnosis of HS.
Owen defined HS as a “disorder of the possession of power, particularly power associated with overwhelming success, held for a period of years and with minimal constraints on the leader.”
While I did not have a term for it, I encountered HS many times in my life. When the Trinidad and Tobago prime minister, Dr Eric Williams, said “When I talk let no damn dog bark” or (as Sparrow sang), “Who don’t like it get to hell out of here”, that was pure HS. When Richard Nixon told interviewer David Frost “When the president does it that means it cannot be illegal” that was both BS and HS.
I have found that power has three distinct qualities – it corrupts, it is an aphrodisiac and it is an amnesiac. Lord Acton, the historian, dealt with the first issue when he wrote, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” HS is a sign of the second – power gives you the sense of omnipotence. Nixon felt he could do no wrong and Berlusconi felt he could do every woman in sight. The final one, power as an amnesiac is something we in the Caribbean know about very well. It makes politicians forget where they have come from and who helped them in the process. They forget the mistakes they made and go on making the same mistakes. Ronald Reagan was the best at basic forgetfulness. During a South American trip, Reagan concluded the Brazilian leg of it by saying “I’d like to thank President Figueiredo and all the people of Bolivia”. When it was pointed out that he was in Brazil, not Bolivia, he said “Sorry, we’re going there next”...... but he wasn’t!
* Tony Deyal was last seen
saying that if you want a good BS indicator for when you go to a
political meeting, buy a pair of earplugs.