Every crook can govern

By Raffique Shah
November 16, 2016

Raffique ShahSixty years ago, Trinidad and Tobago philosopher CLR James penned a lengthy essay titled “Every Cook Can Govern”. As I recall its theme, having read it in the late 1970s, CLR argued that direct democracy, as practised in ancient Greece centuries before the birth of Christ, was the best form of governance ever.

In that system, at a time when independent city-states existed (he focused on Athens), all citizens assembled in public spaces a few times each year to elect from their ranks administrators and councillors, magistrates and generals, and other officials who would conduct their affairs for a fixed period. More importantly, for critical offices, citizens were chosen by lot, which was akin to pulling names from the proverbial hat.

That way, a cook or blacksmith or teacher could become the equivalent of today’s president, prime minister or judge. The only caveats were that all such elected officials could be removed by the citizens at any time, and office-holders rotated annually.

Those who did not participate in the democratic processes were deemed idiots, which also accounted for the origin of the word.

In the wake of the 2016 US presidential elections that saw Donald Trump pull off the biggest upset in history, or so they say, with more than 60 million Americans voting for him, and watching the confusion that reigned in the aftermath, with pollsters and analysts trying to explain why they were so wrong in predicting who would win, I remembered James’s essay, and ironically, one of the Mighty Sparrow’s hit calypsos.

Except that while 60 million Americans may not have been wrong in electing their new president, they misinterpreted the title of CLR’s essay, reading it as “Every Crook Can Govern”, inserting an “r” as they are accustomed to doing in ordinary speech. But then it struck me that while CLR never mentioned in his essay the prospect of crooks being named to high offices in ancient, or, indeed, modern Greece, surely that must have happened repeatedly, such is the universality of crookedness.

Trump must be a crook. After all, he is a billionaire, and it is generally accepted that the overwhelming majority of very wealthy people worldwide did not amass tonnes of money without, at the very least, cutting corners. Some may have even slit more than a few throats as they clawed their way to the stratosphere of the super-wealthy.

To be fair to the fella, he is not the first US president to be so dubbed, nor will he be the last. Richard Nixon, who was in and out of the White House as president and vice-president, and in US politics as a congressman or senator, for 37 long years, finally resigned as president before he was impeached for the Watergate scandal in 1974.

And Nixon’s notoriety was finally exposed only because he and his minions were stupid when they sanctioned a break-in at the Democratic Party head offices in the Watergate complex, leaving a trail behind them. Think of how many other presidents must have accepted bribes and committed other heinous crimes while in office, or as they clambered their way up the power-ladder.

So the 60-plus million who voted for Trump, the mostly white working and middle classes, the re-energised racists of the Klu Klux Klan and the non-whites who are hoping to keep other would-be immigrants of like colour out of great-again America have nothing to be ashamed of.

Oh, they will be sorely disappointed when Donald cannot deliver on his outrageous promises, for sure. I don’t know how many of them seriously expect him to build a 2,000-mile wall along the US-Mexico border. I heard one such person, a retired army general, cite the ancient wall around all 110 acres of Vatican City when he was questioned about the practicality of the Mexican wall. He was a general?

Anyway, the Mexicans and Canadians may yet pay for and build walls along their borders with the US—to prevent refugees from Trump-ism from flooding their countries!

Because US manufacturers who, through globalisation, have shifted their operations, hence jobs, to developing countries where costs are lower, will rather change flags than return to high-cost America.

Moreover, while Trump could revert to coal big time within his borders, dismissing concerns over global warming, the rest of the world will tell him to keep his nastiness at home. And any attempt to nullify trade agreements and impose tariffs on imports will invite backlashes that America will find too burdensome to bear.

So yes, as CLR posited, every cook or crook can govern. But since ancient city-states have given way to a globalised world in which boundaries and borders mean nothing, no land is an island—not T&T, and certainly not America.

Trump will be made to eat the unpalatable words he uttered during the campaign, and reality will soon swamp his supporters; this crook can’t govern.

2 Responses to “Every crook can govern”


  • “Therefore the 900 persons Young was referring to was part of the crowd that was catered for and not the total amount of attendees.” ….. so says Barry Padarath, MP for Princes Town, referring to the expenditure of over $350,000 for roti that the Prime Minister made public recently. Padarath was of course seeking to defend the indefensible – overspending by the Kamla Persad Bissessar of over $350,000.00 for Divali celebrations at the Prime Minister’s residence. He also went on to praise the behavior of some residents of Charleville, who accosted the Prime Minister on his visit to their constituency promoting the PNM candidate for that area. The chants of course was “We want we roti” or somethings to that effect. Padarath is an effervescent supporter and defender of anything Kamla does. His position therefore is not based on logic or objectivity. The roti controversy is not about roti but on government spending. This fact was emphasized by an Express editorial which stated in part
    “Under all the roti talk, the use of public funds is the substantive matter arising out of the Government’s release of expenditure details for a Divali dinner hosted by former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.”

    Social spending by government is a matter for concern. It is more than time that we become mature in expressing what should be and what shouldn’t be a consideration for spending on social affairs. Divali is a religious affair. Based on what has been explained to the public, it is supposed to be the time when light overcomes darkness or something to that effect. Padarath by his expressions does not want the spending to come to light, he prefers us be in the darkness about government spending on religious affairs. The constitution considers State to be separate from religion. It is an expected principle that has made democracy work, when we separate religion from State. Barry, as a member of parliament believes that his religion should be the beneficiary of government spending without question, whether justified or not. He also supports disruptive behavior by residents who oppose the PNM. There is nothing in his behavior or utterances that is conducive to good governance, unity or objective criticism. The mixture of religion and politics is a potent chemistry that foments racialism in Trinidad.

    From his point of view Padarath would want us to have respect for his religion – hinduism. By the same token he is producing a picture of hindu followers at the Prime Minister’s house, using taxpayers money to entertain them. Based on the picture he provided, this was clearly a religious affair. Non hindus were not a part of that occasion, I would be surprised if non-hindus were even invited. But our good friend Barry Padarath wants us to believe that spending tax payers money on such an occasion is justified. Hell NO! Religion is for religious people and occasions and the spending of taxpayers money should be to unite the population, if religion is to be used for that purpose. Padarath is a religious zealot, parading his ferver for hindu
    religious identity as something that should be national is scope.
    Divali, as celebrated in Trinidad is a religious occasion that stresses religious indoctrination, religious perseverance and coming to terms with a racial identity. While it is pronounced as a national holiday, there is nothing in the practices that encourages unity with non-hindus, nothing that promotes fighting corruption, nothing that encourages tolerance. The discipline that it encourages is the devotion to whatever the principles of divali they wish to promote.

    The discussion of roti and divali is more than just spending. It is the practice of race and religion interfering with the running of State affairs to be controlled by religion. In Trinidad, the christian holidays that we celebrate emphasizes unity, peace, brotherhood, fairness and goodwill to all. We are yet to see any such explanation for divali. It is purely a sectarian affair meant to enhance racial and religious domination. Christmas, Easter and other christian celebrations encourage the brotherhood of man. It is truly events that accentuate the positive in all of mankind. The behavior of Padarath does not promote love but encourages hate, while he uses the political means to deliver his vitriol, he is just as fervent in his use of religion to foster his career.

  • Good stuff Uncle Shah, but nah ,this ain’t Gambia ,Haiti , Russia, Saudi Arabia,China ,Nigeria, Pakistan, Iran,Israel, Yemen, or Syria.
    Whether it’s Billionaire Trump, or Millionaire Hillary, America will be fine in the end .
    Things always have a way of working out ,as their FARSIGHTED ,original Founding Fathers , created a political system , that would cater to control of actions , of all sorts of leaders,and the rabid fans who support them. Four years from January 20th , if Trump fail to deliver, or stink up de joint, they’ll do what we often do in our version of Democracy- vote him ,and his party out!

    http://www.carolhanisch.org/CHwritings/PIP.html

    They say the personal is political , and nothing bring’s this to the fore in as a vivid a fashion ,as the prospective efforts of MP Mc Donald and young Shaqueana Peoples here.
    I stumbled upon this phrase a few years ago , during my 1st Pol Sci theory class- from a radical neo feminist , Berkley Univ. educated Professor,and stuck with it ever since.
    How do we as individuals- or collectively ,as groups-flip the script, re our personal challenges/ ups ,& downs/tragedies/ trials ,& tribulations, to become ‘Change Agents?’
    It isn’t as problematic as many would think.
    Though they might be world’s apart, and their situations aren’t totally similar, one can sense , a need to use their own health concerns ,and or socially calamitous realities ,to push a new initiative, moving forward.
    The cynics might call this escapist idealism ,by a quasi damaged local politician, as well as a naive kid, and just might be correct, but let’s add- it’s a step in the right direction. Baby steps – though they might be.
    Part A :Miss Peoples
    “I wanted to better understand and monitor my diabetes,” Ms. Peoples said about deciding on her major.” Not just to go to the doctor to get information but to know how the food I eat interacts with my body.”…..She recently became a member at a gym, has started taking Zumba and yoga classes at school and is rollerblading at a park in her Bronx neighborhood. She also cooks most of her food — baked chicken is a frequent meal — and incorporates whole wheat into her diet.Because of her lifestyle changes, she is now off all diabetes medication ,and can maintain normal blood sugar levels with diet and exercise. She has lost more than 50 pounds in the last six months.
    Now she would like to help others in impoverished communities make healthy dietary decisions, she said. She is pursuing a career in social work. “Having a support system through hardship is so important,” she said.’

    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/15/nyregion/neediest-cases-fund-foster-care.html

    Part B:- MP Marlene Mc Donald

    http://www.newsday.co.tt/news/0,237226.html

    Her tentative efforts to start a debate on life choices,as it relates to diets , is a good start.

    Is it possible to encourage more citizens , to adopt a plant base Vegan diet,as apposed to the obsession with eating animals, and consuming Diary products? Si.
    Can we start a T&T initiative ,that would encourage more physical exercise- including walking ,and running? Sure , and it certainly won’t cost $50 million, as propose by possible political Crooks.
    In both cases , the elephant in the room, is obesity. Got to watch what be eat, and I should add- the portions. Ain’t only about not eating out in Fast food joints,or by unregulated roadside vendors stalls.
    Got to get active, as well ,Mrs Mc Donald. Got to cleanse one soul, and move beyond the defeatist pity party -both subjects, could have resort to -in effort to push forward.
    For Mrs Peoples it was overcoming her traumatic , social situation. For the MP , it’s moving past her publicly humiliating ,political challenge ,and finding some issue , that’s close to her heart.
    We should not ignore the fact that the state has a role to play, in helping to protect ,and propel citizens forward. So does caring individuals, and a vibrant ,honest , ‘Civil Society.’
    To the future! Yep , ‘every cook can govern!’ Can’t disagree with CLR James, on that score, & we should add, Uncle Shah, with respect to “Crooks.”
    Well…,maybe in a different context.
    Can we as individuals , become difference makers, or should we sit on our fannies,and await politicians to do all the social heavy lifting ,as has unfortunately , become the nome in our underachieving T&T?
    Your call!

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