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Sailing in the same boat, sink or float

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Ryan Hadeed

My father and I got into a heated discussion last week over a recent post I made on Facebook. For the record—No, my father doesn’t have a Facebook account, but he does sneak a peek using my mother’s own ever so often. Anyway, the post that peeved him was my description of Trump supporters as being either ‘dumb’, ‘deplorable’, or ‘discontent’. His position was that since a democracy guarantees everyone’s right to choose, I cannot insult a person just because I disagree with them. 

He then went on to make a lateral comparison with local politics, saying if I used similar language to criticise PNM or UNC loyalists, I would end up offending half of the population. The conversation ended in an agree to disagree stand off, with me choosing to stick to my assertion because I was trying to rationalise how a clearly awful and unqualified candidate could inspire so many people into believing he is the best choice to lead them.

As with most of our discussions, my father’s words managed to entrench themselves firmly in the back of my mind because I don’t like when we argue, plus there was the unspoken acknowledgement that he is probably correct. 

The budget presentation in Parliament gave me reason to further ponder our differing points of view, because it reminded me of just how deep our population’s partisan sentiments run. As the cutbacks and allocations were announced, Trinbagonians were quick to add their two cents and conduct their own debates on the matter. It’s interesting to note how everyone seemingly becomes a financial expert and presumes to know what’s in the best interest of our country. It comes as no surprise that the vast majority of comments had little to do with constructive discourse and were instead the usual biased views inspired by tribal politics. Unfortunately, the pleasure that some people seemed to take in the Government’s current predicament, reveals not only our inherent nastiness, but also alludes to something even worse. 

Let’s be clear—the PNM inherited a quagmire. There is little money to be made and thus little money to waste . . . I mean spend. Even the Prime Minister addressed the seriousness of the situation when he raised the issue of dependency, saying that we should “get weaned off the Government because the Government’s shoulder cannot carry the weight anymore.” 

While it is easy to place the blame on the previous administration, the fact remains that the UNC would have been facing the same difficult scenario had they won the last election. We are fooling ourselves if we choose to think otherwise. In the eagerness to see the other side fail, we are willing and even hoping things fall apart just so it reflects badly on their stewardship. Such an attitude, expressed as “It good for dem,” is not only unpatriotic but absolutely insidious. ‘Dem’ doesn’t exclude the rest of us. In the words of the calypsonian De Mighty Trini, we all have to sail the same boat—sink or float.

The irony is that just as politics makes strange bedfellows, it can also cause right-thinking individuals to abandon their sense of reason. Following the US presidential debate on September 26, MSNBC interviewed an Ohio voter, an older white woman who plainly stated, “I’m voting for the conservative party (Republicans) and if this jack... (Trump) just happens to be leading this mule train, so be it.” This is quite possibly the single most profound statement about what happens when loyalty to a particular political party or ideology takes precedence over what’s in the best interest of a country. 

While the spirit of modern democracy trusts citizens to choose their representatives for themselves, the failure of the process is that since it most often leads to a two-party system of government it essentially limits us to one or the other, so it comes down to either Democrat or Republican, Conservative or Labour, and, yes, PNM or UNC. Such narrow thinking is made worse for us because it ultimately hampers our development. 

The call for an end to our petty divisiveness has been made countless times already. Now, more than ever, we need to take heed, especially in light of our economic woes. There are more important things for us to be concerned about. The coming fiscal year will be running on a deficit budget, so we’re planning to spend money we don’t have. While cutbacks have to be made, nothing is being done with respect to curtailing wastage due to corruption and mismanagement. There’s no doubt that tough decisions have to be made, and the success of this administration in making them is about all of us, the citizens of T&T, and whether we are destined to prevail or fail.

It’s fine to put on party jerseys and wave the banners every five years, but for the time in between we have to put them away and work together. Otherwise, when it comes to civic responsibility, we too risk being ‘dumb’, ‘deplorable’, or ‘discontent’. 


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