By SUNITY MAHARAJ
In every way Jack Warner is the Trinidadian writ large, the extreme expression of all that defines us as a people. Inventive, crafty, opportunistic, conflicted and contradictory.
It is as though the survival gene in the DNA that carried our people through centuries of impossible odds came to full bloom in this grandchild of the 20th century.
He is not the only one, of course. Trinidad, almost instinctively it seems, throws up these personalities. People born with the gift to cut through the veneer of our fake existence and grasp the reality of who we are: a schizoid lot, one foot in the world of arbitrary power, the other marching along to some notional beat of civilized values. To protect our fractured psyche, we have invented an entire world of mask in permanent limbo, where reality is a shifting shape and truth is made of plasticene. It could be anything we want it to be, on any given day. Among our standard bearers, mass delusion parades itself in the cloak of self-righteousness while hypocrisy elevates itself to nobility.
And therein lies the greatest danger as we face the future, a country with limited natural resources, in a world no longer interested in our navel strings, and anxious to disavow responsibility for what’s left of its plantation experiment on these small islands.
Subversion and masking were undoubtedly necessary tools of survival in the past; but today’s world requires clarity and truth in charting a way forward with some chance of survival and success. In this new world, empiricism and the rational mind are the required tools.
Instead, we are drowning in half-truths, lies and innuendoes to quote Basdeo Panday. Although what he didn’t say was that they’re all of our own making.
Which of us knows the truth about anything, anymore? More than ever, and with our full complicity, truth has become a servant of convenience and the great casualty of public life. The stream of public information is now itself so corrupt- and made so by the brightest minds and loudest mouths—that none of us, especially those who hold the reins, can now know anything for sure, anymore. What successive governments are discovering is that whether they are responsible for muddying the waters or not, we all have to end up swimming in the same waters that flow under all sides of the fence. Slowly, the body politic is being poisoned by the very pool designed for our democratic sustenance.
This is the tragedy of the Persad-Bissessar administration. Like almost every administration before, it has not had the courage to deal in truth and now finds itself trapped by the usual excess of rhetoric and preference for manipulation over politics that are, in truth, required to acquire political office in this land.
Would the prime minister, for example, have needed a three month separation between herself and the Prime Minister’s residence if the property had not been as demonised in the campaign as it was?
Over and over, we are opting for a convenient truth, innocent to the fact that it cuts both ways. In this netherworld of reality, we grope around, lost and grasping at mirage. We are obsessed, not with the truth, but with what we can say it is.
As long as it suits our respective purposes, we are willing to go along and even exalt. Lloyd Best used to say “Fool me nah,” in describing this attitude of a complicit electorate that would later turn around and blame its leaders for fooling them. It is we who invest our leaders with the power to re-invent reality so that, again, as Lloyd would say, when the right wo/man did the wrong thing, it became the right thing; when the wrong wo/man did the right thing, it became the wrong thing.
At one stage, all our leaders have been the right man- or woman. Until there came a different day when even wet paper could cut them. That day came for Eric Williams when he had to leave a protest-ringed parliament in an ambulance; when George Chambers had to disappear from national life after a devastating 33-3 defeat; when ANR Robinson was held hostage while the crowds either bayed for blood or stayed at home and partied; when Patrick Manning was twice abandoned by the adoring brigades and left alone like the proverbial cheese; when Basdeo Panday was looked in the eye and told to go. And now, it’s Persad-Bissessar’s turn.
When it suited us, we praised them for nothing; and equally we damned them for everything. No surprise then that they leave the field stunned and hurt, wondering why they were hanged for so little when they had gotten away with so much?
The amazing thing about this latest Warner episode is the suggestion it offers that Jack Warner might finally have lost touch with reality, too. For once, and under spectacular circumstances, his sharply tuned instinct for the shifting landscape around him appears to have failed him. The game was changing and he just didn’t know. If his declaration of shock from Zurich wasn’t convincing enough, his corridor entreaty with journalists on the need to stop Blatter certainly made the point.
How did this come to happen to Warner, of all people?
It might have to do with the beast of political power which is a hugely demanding taskmaster; but there are special circumstances affecting our politics that will put even- or especially- a Jack Warner at risk.
Mindful of the experience of the Panday government, the Persad-Bissessar administration has prioritized the invention of reality and, with the help of a battalion of technicians, is avidly at work in daily re-creating the world as an altered image. So we ask a political question about ethics and morality and get back a proper looking report, complete with QC and SC about law. You sense a lie somewhere inside there, but what exactly is it? And how to find it? And who could help us when the best minds have been co-opted in its creation?
We look for the SIA culprit and are given an IMPAC head on a platter. We demand quality education software and get computer hardware; we want a better health care system for all and get a fund for some; we ask for economic transformation and get construction.
All of this would be pretty much par for the course in politics, except for the fact that the organising principle that keeps this administration together is the fear of the coalition falling apart fuelled by the bruising memories of the NAR-ULF split, the UNC-DAC breakdown and the Panday-Ramesh fallout.
Consequently. more than any other administration, this one is committed to keeping a smile on its face, grinning and bearing it, plastering over every sore, making any deal and believing it must. Here is the real explanation for how Persad-Bissessar became the perfect candidate around whom the partnership could be struck and why she, more than anyone else, was able to survive and ultimately defeat Panday when the moment became propitious. This aside, however, the real point to be made here is that in a society of masks, this government has to wear more masks than the rest of us. Like the slaves of yore, its very survival depends on masking and subversion- until and unless it can find the means to tackle truth.
For Jack Warner, a man whose power resides in his willingness to deal with what’s real, however dirty that reality is, being in this government can be dangerous to his health.
The best political option for Warner would be to step away from the cabinet while remaining in the House. Unfortunately he might be tied by his own addiction to the role of king/queenmaker- in football with Havelange and Blatter, and in politics with Panday and now Persad-Bissessar.
Despite his very many talents and declared self-confidence, Warner has accepted the role of propping up power instead of standing on his own. Perhaps, this child from Rio Claro sees his lot as that of handmaiden to power, condemned to handling their dirty laundry in exchange for living vicariously.
For her part, Persad-Bissessar needs him in the cabinet where the internal dynamics of power require that he be brought into play as needed in her own interest. In any case, FIFA or no FIFA, Jack Warner would be far too dangerous on the outside.