Jamaican politics is a tribal thing. It always has been. This is in no small part due to our size and the domination of only two political parties since the people gained the right to both vote and self-governance.
Many are the tales of people from as far back as the 1940s, who can recall being labelled a Labourite or a Comrade due to their simple questioning of the party line. While this has always existed, while the tribal lines have always been drawn and maintained by tribalists, there has historically been a space for dissenting voices — whether they are taken on board by those in power is a different matter — and even a grudging dose of respect from those in power as they realise, eventually, that surrounding oneself with yes-men is a recipie for disaster.
Something, however, has changed and, if we are to be honest with ourselves, the change happened right around the time that the previous administration was dishing out the bitter fiscal medicine, much to the acclaim of those in positions of power. What has changed is that the room for dissent is rapidly shrinking and people — beginning with politicians and their cronies — are now painting dissenters as not only opposition supporters but in thinly veiled ways as enemies of the state, or rather, people who wish to see criminality prosper and who have no wish to see the nation and its people attain prosperity.
Such a move, not simply labelling dissenters as opposition supporters, but as people who wish to see the nation fall prey to criminal elements and see its people fail, smacks of nothing more than authoritarianism, and that is a road which this administration — and quite frankly the opposition based on prior behaviour — seem more than happy to take us into.
To say that this administration is begging for supreme authority or even autocratic power is far from hyperbolic. It is something which their actions over the course of this term have shown. First, there was the famous — or in some circles infamous — $1.5 million which was so hyped up. When issues were shown, and clear revenue shortfalls were predicted, the people who made those predictions were roundly condemned as individuals who don’t want to see the burden eased off the majority of people. When, during that same budgetary year, the Government realised that their giveaway was actually done on bad math, they did not apologise, but still went ahead and filled the budget gaps.
Then there was ZOSO, which had, and retains, many flaws and issues, to the point where even the JDF admitted that it was taken aback at its responsibilities and powers — and lack thereof. When the matter first came up as a bill, everyone who pointed out facts and issues with it was condemned as having no heart and happy with the runaway murder rate. Now we have people wondering if the Government has a plan as the ZOSO looks to have failed. Instead of apologising they instead look to craft a new plan, again without consultation and funding, etc.
When potential pitfalls were — and still are — pointed out to them regarding PEP, the people who highlight the issues are mowed down by sycophants chanting that they only wish to see our children held back in this fast-changing world.
When the wage negotiations were going on, any form of dissent was labelled as hoping to see the nation fall flat on its face financially, or people were just sheer greedy and need to put in the work more. It is interesting that as life in the public sector gets worse (see constables, nurses, doctors, teachers) much talk is made of squeezing the most out of them (professionalism) and aiming for the best candidates, but scant regard is being paid to the original complaints of remuneration.
In all of this, one feels the ground for debate shrinking as the dissenters are — in a rather shocking way and at a shocking pace — now no longer simply labelled as opposition supporters but as individuals who wish to see the downfall of the state and the rule of anarchy. Dissenters are in essence quickly being labelled as potential enemies of the state who must be watched closely.
I say again, it is something which seems to be okay with both parties. Note that the PNP hasn’t come out very hard against this nonsense, and note that any and everyone who told the previous administration that more creative and less harmful ways could be found to implement the IMF plan was labelled as a person who wants to see the nation fail, as well as being a JLP supporter.
This hardening of positions and the refusal to listen to the other side is extremely dangerous and could see us, if the politicians continue to play this game, turn to violence in the event of any external shock or economic disaster. This hardening of positions and tuning out of sceptical voices is something which only leads to trouble during times of international strife and we, in this country, have witnessed where it has gone and can go in the form of the 1970s.
We see the hardening of stances also taking shape in the form of politicians saying the other side did it, you said nothing, and therefore you are a hypocrite and must shut up. This was perfectly illustrated in the current JLP Government ‘finding’ paraphernalia from the previous PNP administration showing that it was gearing up to start a campaign aimed at sensitising the public towards NIDS. This was to illustrate that those who oppose NIDS are only doing so because they are PNP supporters because they never had any criticism when the PNP was about to do it.
It was an argument designed to miss the point and throw the public off as the core of the matter isn’t who does it but that it is wrong, intrusive, excessive and illegal under any administration, and people remain convinced that if the JLP were opposition they, with their attorney members, would have challenged any law looking like this. It is an argument to tar all critics as hypocrites at best thus clearing the scene of anyone except yes-men
This type of political thinking, that every naysayer is against us personally and wishes to see the greater project fail, only works in a nation under siege or in a time of war. We face neither and our current behaviour is that of a sick or dying nation. It is the surest symptom of the loss of reason and rational thinking and the accepting of the demagogue and those who in the end wish to rule unopposed, in every sense of the word.
It is, in short, the most visible symptom of a people who are fast losing patience with debate and proto-democracy and craving for a dictator.
This type of talk and behaviour won’t really shock anyone, it may not even merit billing in any of our newspapers and won’t warrant a large call for change as there are more visible signs of our decay and strife. The sad thing is that the other more visible signs will only get worse over time as the room for debate eventually disappears.
All we will then be left with are the individuals who can’t think, won’t reason a problem through and see force — any kind, but most especially violent force — as the only answer to a solution. It is a recipe for a failed state, and it is the recipe for future despots and true foreign domination, as opposed to our play-play domination.
We need not like each other or agree with each other, but we must move past this creepy new habit we have of labelling dissenters as enemies of the state. No discussion leads to anarchy and violence as those become the only way of being heard and taken seriously, that is, in the end, what we are trying to avoid. Let us, instead of killing the messenger or bearer of bad news, ask how we can move past it and then take it from there. A novel concept, I agree, but if it works elsewhere why can’t it work here?