The US reality TV show now playing on screens everywhere as The Republican Primaries, brings to a head some very large questions about the nature of the democratic political system and its capacity for delivering the promises of democracy.
This American Spring of Republican rebellion has caught the US political elite flat-footed, prompting a mad dash to bolt the gates. Who let the dogs out?
Well, the dogs were roaming long before election compulsions turned them into a pack.
Donald Trump is not an American problem but an American symptom of the problem of democracy unrealised.
We who languish under the mimicry of the West Indian variant of Britain’s own Westminster variant could teach the Americans a thing or two about political accidents like Trump that are really no accidents at all but inherent to the condition of alienation.
Trump may be attracting some loathsome types. But, at their core, they share with Team Bernie Sanders the feeling of being outsiders in a system in which their power is limited to the single act of voting.
Both sides want to turn the power equation on its head, even if for diametrically opposite reasons.
If, as some say, 2016 is the year of the US outsider, here in the Caribbean every year is the year of the outsider.
Governments routinely confuse an electoral victory with a five-year mandate to run the country by fiat. That politics is a process of ongoing negotiation of interests remains a hard-sell to governments which, 16 years into the 21st century, still cannot escape the autocratic culture planted here by the British Crown Colony system.
Inevitably, the consequence has been electoral punishment on a regular basis, delivered every five years, more or less.
In their union under one flag, the Americans designed their democracy for “the people”, blind to its fundamental contradiction with their subjugation of native peoples and subscription to African slavery.
Two hundred and forty years later, this is the original sin for which the republic is paying as the historic forces of exclusion square off against the rising demand for inclusion.
Even if it makes it onto the agenda, this battle cannot be settled by any simple election. There is a reckoning with history that will not be glossed over in the rhetoric of a campaign or corralled into the votes of a triumphant majority.
Its demand is nothing less than justice.
In the New World created out of Europe’s 15th century encounter with the Americas, history is a long-memoried woman waiting for justice, prepared to grab at almost any opportunity passing by.
This longing for justice and the squaring of historic wrong is the seed of the seething rebellion running deep inside the social fabric with explosive potential when conditions present themselves as favourable.
With the genie of people power fighting to break the bottle, holding America together—as could be with Tobago and Trinidad—is shaping up to be the challenge of the 21st century.
As one point along the vein of injustice running through the Americas, Trinidad and Tobago has experienced enough to be suspicious of what passes for democratic order. We have seen its ephemeral nature up close and personal and know that it can disappear in a flash.
There is nothing sturdy about our democracy which is why protest and subversion survive as strategies of people power. Inside the same parliament, we know that our power can be hijacked as easily by a gun as by a constitutional majority.
This inability to find a place inside the power system underpins the widespread phenomenon of the leaking of sensitive information. Relegated to a position far from the centre of power, how else would we know what the powerful are up to, both with our resources and in our name?
To support this political system that looks like democracy but does not behave like democracy, we have introduced an array of institutions that do little more than implement the lie.
We pose with our Integrity Commission while climbing up the global corruption charts. We have an Equal Opportunity Commission existing comfortably alongside rampant discrimination and a Freedom of Information Act that leaves us more dependent than ever on leaked information.
Here, where the mask that was once a medium of spiritual power has been demystified and turned into a prop, we have settled for the mask of democracy, making as if we have a say while working the contact system of privileged power to get things done.
When so-called democratic systems deny themselves the capacity for involving people in the processes of power so that they become knowledgeable, informed and engaged, they stunt themselves and put their societies at risk of rebellion and subversion.
The consequences is a logjam in with both people and government are caught, unable to move backward or forward, locked in a dangerous stasis. This is the zero sum situation into which our political failures have thrown us.
Under such conditions, no government will be able to solve the pressing problems of our time. They simply cannot do it without all us.
In such circumstances, the wildcard can be very easily brought into play with the promise to shake things up.