Sat | Feb 27, 2021

Ronald Thwaites | Avoiding the extremes

Published:Monday | January 18, 2021 | 12:06 AM
A barrier is guarded on Saturday, January 16, in Washington as security is increased ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice- President-elect Kamala Harris.
A barrier is guarded on Saturday, January 16, in Washington as security is increased ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice- President-elect Kamala Harris.

I have become anxious that we in Jamaica avoid the tragic polarisation of the United States (US) body politic in the inauguration week of President-elect Joe Biden.

Actually, we have some reason for satisfaction. Never have we had to mount barricades and call out the army to assure a peaceful transition of power, and we have never yet had a prime minister who wore vulgarity, ignorance and cruelty as a badge of honour like the refugee of Mar-a-Lago. Ironically, the US seems to need Citizens Action for Free and Fair Elections more than we have in recent times.

But hold on before we gloat. ‘Boasiness’ in power, victimisation, ego-soaked swag and discrimination of perceived political enemies are regular parts of our culture. Just check out the air-conditioned phlegm of the Gordon House Chamber.

Cool chic, what you wear on your feet and your celebrity connections are often more important for local leaders than what is in their heads, their coherent policies and personal integrity.

Superficiality and half-measures reign supreme. We say agriculture must become a dominant feature of a restored economy, but little attention is given to the competitiveness of our products. We are faced with a serious deficit of foreign exchange, but still spend wildly and unsustainably on old cars and imported consumables. We acknowledge the catastrophic fallback in educational attainment, but only respond with ‘pity-mi-likkle’ remediation.

Want some more? We recognise that real recovery is impossible without political consensus, while embedding tribalism in the award of scarce benefits and contracts and excuse egregious waste.

There comes a point where thoughtful people see through the ugly farce, ‘chups’ their teeth and opt out of the political process. Isn’t that just what happened last September?

We need to avoid offering the circus without the bread. Pandering to minority money interests while parlaying know-nothing populism and public relations jags to the majority, can’t make for prosperity.

WAKE-UP CALL

January 6 in Washington ought to be our wake-up call also. Let’s ask ourselves why people were/are prepared to kill for Donald Trump. He has played cunningly to the legitimate fears of middle-America that hedonism, selfish individualism and anything-goes sex would erode traditional values. They see Trump as quixotic and flawed, but still a bulwark against destruction of traditional culture – translate that as white, capitalistic superiority.

Every fibre of liberal righteousness urges the deconstruction of racism and economic inequality. Go Bernie and AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez)!

But it’s more than that. The unravelling of the core principles of the social contract is the terror of many who voted for the Donald. Here is how one of our own dance hall divas explained the counter-ethic.

“Whatever I want to do, I do it. People should be free in their own life. I’m not standing for the things they (presumably those who espouse traditional notions about family, work and personal responsibility) stood for. If I want to do it, I’m going to do it. This generation is like that.”

Tell me if you can hold a society together on that basis. How did it come to this? Forget 2030!

There soon comes the point that left and right converge. It is a point of intolerance – a dialectical antagonism. Consensus becomes impossible. The opposition become the enemy. Extremism poses as righteousness. Facts and truth become the servants of choice, of opinion and bias.

Everything, including human life, becomes relative and contingent. The rioters at the Capitol and the ‘true believers’ here among us become prisoners of themselves, and perhaps their little group.

It is a short step from this mentality to Trump justifying his incitement and his “patriots”, not “p---ys”, baying for Mike Pence, Pelosi and Shumer. And it isn’t over yet. Fearfully for them, and for the rest of the world, the United States is in the throes of a spiritual civil war, compounded by the ravages of an implacable pandemic.

As we watch and pray, let us resolve not to ever slip into extremist views and behaviour. Those of us who remember 1980 can remember how close we came – and how much of it was contrived and based on lies and narrow interests masquerading as the common good. Ideology, or in its absence, political praxis which drives each other to the wall, spilling other people’s blood and blunting the nation’s prospects, serves no noble purpose.

Last week’s finding of a cache of weapons, obviously just a sample of such imports; the murderous, internecine killings; all prove that we have the hardware even without a Second Amendment. And the mindset, too.

But do we have the progressive, principled, level-headed leadership to steer clear of what could be Armageddon?

And on the basis of what philosophy are we teaching our children?

Rev Ronald G. Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.