At a time when the country needs a careful hand, a wise head and a straight tongue, it gets instead non-stop slackness from its most senior political leaders.
On Wednesday night, five gossiping men paid handsomely in cash for the dishonour of spending 60 unrestrained minutes on primetime television, peddling mauvais langue and innuendo in an unbelievably vulgar display of self-indulgent flippancy.
Even if he knew how to, the moderator was in no position to help them, cast as he was in the role of facilitating insider. And if there were communications strategists behind the scenes, well let's just say Keith Rowley and the People's National Movement (PNM) owe them big money for rebranding and resurgence.
And the Prime Minister: Did she really approve this message? Could she have been party to this strategy of silencing the media by naming and shaming journalists—female journalists in particular?
She, whose personal life has been the target of such fantastical gossip and rumours that some are prepared to explain her blunders as the result of blackmail? It is unthinkable that she could be party to letting this gang of men loose on the private lives of public women.
What irony that a Prime Minister and Cabinet that have so stoutly defended Jack Warner on the grounds of innocence until proven guilty in court, should so fulsomely embrace a strategy of throwing mud- any mud- till it sticks.
To viewers with the stamina, the one-hour United National Congress (UNC) show would have had all the fascination of a train wreck presented in slow motion. But it yielded so much more.
In 60 minutes, we got a rare and privileged window into the workings and psychology of the siege mentality, an affliction to which one government after another has succumbed since Independence.
The specific dynamics by which our political parties go from riding into office on the euphoric wings of public adoration, to being kicked from office amid howls for blood is a prime area for study in bringing greater clarity and understanding of our relationship with power and its institutions.
To those so inclined, Wednesday night's televised performance- mockingly advertised as a panel discussion given that all five were there to promote a common position -offers priceless research data. It was a public marker of that moment when regimes, having lost control of the public agenda, lose touch with reality.The road after that we know all too well, having witnessed the downward spirals that have ended in a pitting of government against their people.
We know from experience that it is almost impossible to break through the mindset of a government under siege. For them the world is a simple place of simple people, either for them or against them. Even if, by some miracle, there are minds inside the camp strong enough to resist the enveloping unreality, it is doubtful that their voices will cut through the miasma that strangles logic and common sense. The intriguing irony is how well the prescription works to achieve the very end against which it is designed to fight.
We have seen it with every administration past, but none as dramatically presented as in the current case where the Partnership's strategy of attributing every iota of public disagreement to Rowley and the PNM is serving, primarily, to build the profile of the leader and to inflate the significance of the party as the sun in a growing galaxy of anti-government dissent. If the Partnership keeps up this strategy, all points of resistance will eventually decide it is better to ride with the PNM than to walk alone-as in 2010 when the COP, MSJ, NJAC and TOP swallowed their reservations and accepted the role of junior partners to the UNC.
True, the march against Section 34 was a significant success for Keith Rowley. On a timeline, it might well stand as the moment he really became the leader of the People's National Movement, nipping in the bud a rising challenge from within his own party.
In calling the march, he took the political risk of his life, gambling on his reading of the popular mood on Section 34 in a move that could have gone either way. As it turned out, he had judged well enough to settle the leadership issue, at least within his own party.
Having itself misjudged the state of the public mind, the government has responded in ways that have opened up new room for Rowley to begin transcending core party support.
For Keith Rowley, this has been the greatest challenge of all. Brought into politics as part of Patrick Manning's New PNM of professionals in 1987, his CV has lacked the community grounding of the career politician, while his politics- Tobagonian by culture and West Trinidad by style- has limited his national appeal, notwithstanding his reputation as a socializer across all lines.
Now, with the strategic decision to train all its ammunition on him, the UNC has succeeded in singling him out for national attention, thereby catapulting him to the top of the heap on an issue of broad public outrage across the land.
The even bigger strategic mistake of the People's Partnership, however, stems from its confidence in the conquering power of money, a view drawn from the UNC's analysis of what it takes for a Caroni/Naparima-based party to cross the political rubicon of race and class in T&T. (See "Old Strategy, New Game" in tomorrow's T&T Review).
Much is made about the prevailing "Eat Ah Food" political culture exalted by the Persad-Bissessar/Warner administration which would seem to prove, with nauseating regularity, the principle that everyone has a dollar price. Those inclined to accept this view of us fail to take into account the history of Caribbean people which has been shaped not only by those who have called a price, but more powerfully by those who have been willing to pay the price.
This is the real meaning of the national revulsion over Section 34. It is not that we don't condemn all for sleeping on the job and being cavalier over matters of the highest import. We do and we worry because it shows the depth of the rot. But our unstoppable outrage stems from the fear that our weakness could have been exploited in the name of the basest worship of money.
If the Partnership administration understood the full implications of this, the last thing they would be doing now is throwing around money and provoking the spirit of the politics of principle, of which the youth is always in the vanguard.
• Sunity Maharaj is the editor of the
T&T Review and director of the
Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies