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Noble: The virus and our democracy—the problem with ‘us’ and ‘them’

The Covid-19 pandemic hit our shores at the wrong time. Indeed, there is no right time, but the state of our nation had made us incredibly vulnerable. 

We were in a crisis, adjusting to the economic woes and experiencing lowered trust levels in our leaders. In the heat of Covid-19, we elevated a less than stellar bunch to our Parliament—on both sides of the floor. 

Photo: A post by former People’s Partnership minister of sport Anil Roberts on 10 August 2020, which was followed by several racist comments aimed at Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
Roberts is now a UNC Senator.

We were in the midst of a geopolitical battle with US and Caricom interests over Venezuela, and there was internal discontent everywhere. Our national discourse had become increasingly coarse. 

The fear of the unknown and the health-induced restrictions made citizens feel small and powerless. Self-governance requires a sense of national confidence, which was threatened by the ongoing societal uncertainty and the behaviour of our leaders.

The management of the response to the virus shows us how deeply our government’s team distrusts us. The public is seen as part of the problem, not partners. Even though well-intentioned, the tone moved from counselling to bouffs. Mixed signals in the communication led to disastrous errors at crucial times.

By emphasising how incapable we are to look after ourselves, the need for excessive regulatory control was justified. But this reasoning ignores that resilience is built at the group level. 

When a government constantly tells you that the problem lies in those around you, it destroys the communal trust already threatened by partisan political interests. 

Photo: Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh.
(Copyright Office of Parliament 2021)

Our testing and tracing system continues to be lacklustre, robbing us of the ability to manage the pandemic jointly and proactively. The routine recital of infections, hospitalisations and deaths is one way of making sense of the management of the health situation, but this does not capture the full impact of the virus on us.

The lack of behavioural science input into our communication strategy contributes to splintering public opinion and prolonging the restrictions. 

But our other leaders have not covered themselves in glory; their responses have revealed who they are. In the face of discouragement and looking for leadership, we met leaders who refused to act honourably. 

Our opposition could not rise to the occasion but opted to undermine the medical team, engage in deception over vaccine sourcing and add more bile and xenophobia to the national discourse. Those among them who understood the need for vaccination remained largely silent. 

Our business sector was like Daisy Buchanan from the novel ‘The Great Gatsby’, a careless driver who unfortunately met other reckless drivers. Its insensitive interventions over the period inflicted self-injury, incurring the wrath of the young activists. 

Photo: Jai Leladharsingh, coordinator for the Confederation of Regional Business Chambers, was fired from the Chaguaramas Development Authority (CDA) in 2015 after a racist rant.

The recent egregious assertion of 60,000 closed businesses due to Covid-19 restrictions, by one chamber head, should send chills down our collective spine. In this fevered environment, all our business leaders should exercise wisdom and judgment in their statements.   

Our religious leaders were a mixed bag. Prominent Pentecostal leaders have been silent. Instead of trusting experts in the field to explain the medical and social issues, some told their flocks to decide for themselves. 

Already independent by nature, these followers chose to rely on charlatans. Once an essential constituent of the ruling party, this group’s predisposition to listening to random Facebook sources will most likely lead to the rise of kooky political characters in the east-west Corridor. 

The selective policing tactics, epitomised by last weekend’s ‘down the islands’ episode, tell us all we need to know about who has power and how it may be wielded. The constant, convenient waffling of our attorney general is a sight to behold. The bluster of the police commissioner is chilling. 

Photo: Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith (left) and TTPS head of legal Christian Chandler.

The ‘essential’ workers now face rising prices (partly due to the global supply chain strains and partly to profiteering) and cannot keep bodies and souls together. Their children would have been severely disadvantaged with the inadequacies of remote learning.

We have been baking more and persistent inequality into our social fabric. The seeds of anger at the political system are being sown, and no amount of hampers will stave them off in years ahead.

What have we done? We have laid dynamite charges in the foundation of our democracy. Not only lives have been lost, but we have also been destroying our democracy. 

We cannot leave large swathes of our people distressed and still expect a vibrant democracy. We cannot disrespect our young and hope for a bright future.

Reversing the anti-authority, individualistic bent must be a top priority to build our community. To end the pandemic effects, we must do more than run an efficient health system. We must discard those who inject poison into our democracy. 

Photo: NCRHA CEO Davlin Thomas.
(via NCRHA)

We have to demand more from our leaders and actively repel the twins of fear and self-interest. May we rise to the occasion. 

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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