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Noble: The cost of our polarisation—where ‘do them back’ gets us

In a week shortened by the long Easter weekend, we ended up exhausted and battered. 

While our neighbours in St Vincent contend with a raging volcano, we wreck our society. They would lose their livelihoods, and some will need to be evacuated outside of the country. We are voluntarily destroying our economy, and the more fortunate among us will depart, leaving the rest of us to swirl around in a cesspool.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (right) and Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

Our political polarisation laid over our other religious and ethnic biases will be our death. 

The partisans among us cheer and behave more like football fans than as sober parents with a family. Our emotional connections are bonded more to the political party we support than to the country’s welfare. 

Our anger boils over at the slightest perceived threat to our party. We set aside our social norms and become willing to display open prejudice and spiteful ill-will for opposing partisans. The broadcasted negative sentiments give some an incentive to engage in confrontation rather than seek cooperation. Look at the Facebook troll armies regurgitating their leaders’ lines. 

The actions and the rhetoric of the political leaders tell us that being hostile towards those we oppose is acceptable and appropriate. We adopt a ‘do them before they do us’ or ‘do them back’ attitude. 

We do not like politicians who try to work along with those who are on the other side. Our leaders prefer the use of exaggerated language to put down others.

Photo: Sangre Grande Regional Corporation chairman Anil Juteram.

The case of the twelve persons who were fired and re-hired at the Sangre Grande Regional Corporation (SGRC) told the tragic story of how centralised political direction and interference poisons our communal well. The ‘scorched earth’ approach adopted blew up, embarrassing several persons. 

The tale of polarised behaviour has real-life costs. The SGRC incident is not an isolated case but is repeated within public and private sectors. Whether you get called for a job or get good health care is filtered through partisan lenses.

As a country, we, therefore, lose the capacity to put our best people forward. 

Repeated public polls tell the sad story that our partisan lens affects how we support public policy—like our views on the economy’s management and how effective the government is. This week we had the spectacle of a former minister on a morning television show calling for transparency (a worthwhile call) in the Ni Quan fire investigation but refusing to acknowledge that he did not use the same yardstick when in office. 

We need social institutions to bind us together as a society. Yet over the last 10 years, we have witnessed a declining trust in the Judiciary, the Police, the healthcare institutions and the mass media. Read the caustic comments when a newspaper challenges the action of a partisan figure. 

Photo: National Security Minister and Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister and MP Stuart Young (right) has a word with Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
(Copyright Trinidad Newsday)

Loathing motivates voters more than party loyalty. The feeding of negative partisanship has radically changed politics. Anger is now the primary tool for encouraging voters. Who gains? The politicians win, but we, the people, lose.

We do not retain the capacity to process complex matters which face us as a nation. It is easier to reach for the ‘them vs us’ lens to make a quick decision. As things get more challenging, we opt to become more insular instead of getting together to conquer the world.

How can we find solutions to grow our economy if we opt to throw stones at the other side? 

Questioning and testing can help to solve problems, but there must be goodwill. We have more than any of our regional partners. We can save ourselves with collaboration.

Let us stop pulling down each other like the proverbial crabs in the barrel.  

About Noble Philip

Noble Philip
Noble Philip, a retired business executive, is trying to interpret Jesus’ relationships with the poor and rich among us. A Seeker, not a Saint.

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One comment

  1. Some background on the SGRC situation would have been useful here even if to reiterate what has already been published or refer with a link.