Cause and Character: Making the US/Grenada Connection

josephBy William Joseph

Symbolism helps to facilitate easy communication, especially as it is often culture-based or widely understood in a given society. For the Americans, the eagle represents power, bravely, mastery of challenge and exploring new frontiers.

For Grenadians, the Grenada Dove is more of an unknown quantity. It cannot be said to be a cultural feature and it is not considered symbolic of who we are or representative of our aspirations as a nation. Nonetheless, it says something worthy about smallness, capacity, belonging, survival spirit and value, all of which are relevant to our circumstances.

It is commonplace that all nations are led by governments. All governments comprise of politicians who represent causes that are either popular (rooted in the culture, history, aspirations, needs and concerns of the people) or contrived (fashioned by ideology, personal ambition and elitist agendas).

People in politics are usually evaluated by their character.

Sometimes, followers are so attracted by personal qualities that they ignore the absence of national cause or genuine ‘movement’. This is often the case where charismatic leadership is present. Other times, the cause is made to be so dominant that character is hardly a valid concern. Yet, the embrace of cause without concern for character is like an ‘Esau’ meal which satisfies on the day of eating, but distresses in the days after digestion!

Remember the Revolution? No one stopped to think about the character of the revolutionary leaders. The cause was sufficient for us, at the time. Then, on October 19, 1983, character perished cause. The lesson is that the two must be in harmony.

The ongoing campaign for the Presidency of the United States is a test case for the twin issues of cause and character. We in Grenada must also reckon with these in our political conduct and decision-making. As between Trump and Clinton strong character weaknesses have been identified. However, each candidate has defined various ‘causes’ as a means of differentiation between them. But in Trump’s case, he has also resorted to contrived causes. Anyone who does that sends a clear and distressing message as to his character.

Rhetoric about rigged elections and threats to jail his opponent help to define Trump’s character. Hillary says he is, “dark and dangerous”!

Leaders in Grenada and in the US (and elsewhere) are often allowed ‘rites of passage’ (cut excessive slack) in circumstances where conduct is otherwise objectionable and character is lacking. Ordinary people who hold certain religious and personal values are sometimes prepared to set that aside in favour of material things of the world.

Rationality is a flexible and highly personal standard in politics!

The prominent issue in the US campaign may be summarised as displeasure with the ‘Establishment’. Evidently, the US society is conflicting over the notion of theirs’ being the land of opportunity.

For some, this has become a cultural myth in the face of brimming grievances over jobs, pay, justice and security. People are angry!

They say the system has failed them! They wish to dismantle the system and to replace it with a new ‘cause-bearer’! For now, they no longer care about the eagle! One Sheriff declares, “It’s pitch forks and torches time in America”! Woiii! Unrest is coming with a Trump defeat!

We know what is said about making certain decisions out of anger!
Sifting through the noise, it appears that although the temper feels revolutionary, the rhetoric is really about significant reform and re-distribution. It is mostly about economic justice because globalisation, the most advanced form of capitalism, having produced unprecedented wealth, has failed to share it ‘fairly’ with the middle and working classes. The consequential ‘punishment politics’ now being unleashed, is targeted at those who, by virtue of their Office, priorities, choices, favours and relationships, are stigmatised as the ‘Establishment’.

But what is the ‘Establishment’? Arguably, if not plainly, it is the US Constitution, the Presidency, the Congress, the Supreme Court, the Democratic and Republican parties, the military/defence complex, the electoral system, the economic ideology, US permanent strategic interests, the ‘Think Tanks’ and the educational and cultural institutions. On this evidence, the ‘Establishment’ cannot be dismantled simply by electing a particular President.

Effectively, the ‘Establishment’ is the central operating mechanism of the American political culture. One Presidential election will not change that reality.

As Grenadians get ready for another saga in our short electoral history, predictably, citizens will be offered more ‘character’ noises than substantive causes.

The ruling party may be hard-pressed to refresh its political philosophy and its development agenda. A successful Structural Adjustment Program could not save the NDC in 1995 and, by itself, won’t save the NNP in 2017. In that case, it is likely to be trading on personality trashing and old brand values, aspects of which have failed and others may no longer be valid.

Interestingly, they have implicitly exposed their main vulnerability, that is, with the young people. Obviously so, with the removal of Emmalyn Pierre as Minister for Youth and the naming of the now National Athletics Stadium after Kirani James. They will back that up with a fifty million dollars allocation for the IMANI Program in the 2017 budget, even though Grenada cannot afford it! Clearly, the NNP in government is no longer a money (borrowed) spinner!

As for the NDC, the electorate would be interested in an appealing re-branding and whether it can seize new opportunities presented by objective problems in the economy and society, as well as the expectations of crucial demographics. In short, its challenge would be to shape and champion new pro-Grenada causes. It must convince the majority that regime change will bring economic prosperity and find ways to mitigate known character weaknesses.

Happily, no revolutionary noises will be heard, but advocacy on governance, poverty and youth unemployment can be expected to be loud.

In Grenada, small size may condition the mechanics, but political moves since 1983 generally reflect personal ambition. Character!

Capacity may be restricted, but the appetite for ‘tricks and traps’ is rampant! Character!

Interestingly, our attitude toward government and politics shows that the attributes of the Grenada Dove, defined as cause and character, mean very little to us.

(William Joseph served as Chief of Staff under the 2008-13 National Democratic Congress government of Prime Minister Tillman Thomas)

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