Monday, December 18, 2017

Time travelling through politics

There are probably very good reasons why the foreign travel schedule of T&T prime ministers turns hectic just about that time when the tide of public opinion begins to lash into rocky waters. Among the most dramatic examples is that of the reclusive Eric Williams who, with oil and sugar on the boil in 1974, left his St Ann's lair to pay the first official visit to China by a prime minister of this country.

Whatever the reason, not excluding sheer co-incidence, the travel schedule of T&T prime ministers has tended to have a strong co-relation with the level of public discontent at home. The expansionary impact of heat in de place, one might say.

Whatever the reason, imagine the relief it must be to escape, if only for a few days. How good it must feel to leave behind the sense of impotence in the drowning chaos at home and feel like a prime minister again: ordered, in charge and with power.

Ours is not special in this regard. Leaders all over the world often shore up flagging popularity at home by images of themselves as important people in foreign lands. As political strategy, it could be useful in putting distance and cool-down time between leaders and the discontented led. But, equally, it could backfire in thedisconnect conveyed between image abroad and reality at home.

Following this line of thought, current political conditions would suggest a very busy travel calendar ahead as temperatures continue to rise in this political hothouse.

The most important thing about the recent debate of the no-confidence motion wasn't the debate itself but the extent of political capital burnt by the prime minister inside her own People's Partnership in defending an innocuous parliamentary initiative.

Every significant aye, it seemed, turned out to have real bargaining power.

The long-suffering partners were able to negotitate a public promise of a leaders' summit before the end of March; the unions got a nine percent with Mr McLeod having a turn in the PM's office; and Jack Warner got a big enough big-up from centrestage to convince him to take the plunge into the UNC internal elections. At the discounted price of some primetime PP togetherness and an unthreatened vote of confidence, a huge downpayment was made without surety on either side as the now-for-now was settled, leaving the future to fend for itself.

Well, it's not even month-end yet and the parties to the resounding vote of confidence are already in default. A rival has emerged against Warner, the MSJ is issuing ultimatums, the ToP is flexing muscle, the CoP is intensifying its individuality, and, as yet, the Summit of Leaders remains to be summoned.

In short, the tempo remains steadfastly extempo, hugely entertaining with an occasionally memorable line but, ultimately, evaporating into thin air from whence it had come, and whence it was sure to go.

QUESTION: If you knew that anything worth doing could never be achieved in your lifetime, would you:

a) Stop wasting time on things that you know will never happen in your own life-time? or

b) Do them anyway, content to hope that it might make a difference to a future generation whom you don't even know?

Every day, in a hundred little ways, this question posed by Reinhold Niebuhr's assertion that "nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime", is answered through every one of our actions, big and small. If we can agree that it is our actions, not our words, that are the best indicator of who we are, then we have no choice but to also agree that no matter what declarations we make about (b), the facts are that our politics is incorrigibly addicted to the rush of instant gratification. Always a factor in popular democracy, expediency has gone completely mad in T&T where the ideology of now-for-now has us by the throat, choking the very life blood to the future.

In 2012, as we lend our voices to the rising ride of discontent against yet another collapsed government and feel the impotent anguish of 'who we go put?', we need to face the obvious fact that governments don't get into office by themselves. It is we, compos menti, being of sound mind, who, after due thought and consideration, decide to dip our finger in red ink and mark the spot for building the edifice of the future. Repeatedly, the spot we select is on ground that is shaky, hollow and infertile. And yet, to evoke Lloyd Best, we know this to be a fertile land, a place accustomed to building from nothing but the earth, of finding space to limbo where there is none, where superior solutions come to minds that have managed to escape schooling and where hope and laughter can cut a highway through pain and defeat.

True, there are people among us whose psychic desperation cannot wait for tomorrow. They are the protuberant ones driven by the fear of standing on roots so shallow that they have no choice but to ride with every wind that blows. But look through them to the ground below and see the durability of our communities going about their business, tending to life, limb and legacy. The tragedy is that so many of them are in that alienated half of the population that refuses to enter the theatre of politics to even cast their vote. The even greater tragedy is that these may be the few people among us with the critical commitment to the very idea of a better tomorrow.

For them, escape by travel is not an option. They accept no choice but to stay and face the music of their damaged communities and lives. Like the Birdsong Academy in Tunapuna, teaching boys and girls about music and life; like the women of Mayaro who produce smoked herring in front yard sheds hoping to catch a break from the supermarket addiction to imported herring; and like the farmers wondering how to compete against a state preference for sponsoring mindless activity at the expense of the agricultural sector.

With the political merry-go-round digging itself deeper and deeper into the ground, the urgent imperative now is to get off, shake the dizziness, look around this place, find a footing and cut a new path into the future of our choosing. In some future lap of honour, can it not be enough to have carried the first baton?

•Sunity Maharaj is the editor of

the T&T Review and director of the

Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies