By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
December 31, 2017
A democracy was always meant to be a big boisterous place where all citizens come together to share their ideas about what constitutes the ideal state. In recent time radio talk shows and social media are serving that role-the exchange of ideas-but such avenues are not necessarily the most efficacious ways of soliciting/eliciting citizens’ views.
How we behave in society and the courtesies we extend to others are also important for building social cohesion. A country expects its leaders to lead exemplary lives and conduct themselves in ways that are worthy of emulation. In our society, things have been slipping for a while. We need to see where we have gone wrong.
The behavior of our Chief Justice may be telling. Our citizens pay him a handsome salary and there are substantial benefits that go with his job. I am not sure what he is accused of, the insinuations surrounding his behavior, or the queries about how he carries out his functions.
The Express asks him to clarify some matters, which they believe are pertinent to the administration of justice. At first, he relies upon circumlocutions, then, in a terse statement declares that it is “‘false, and indeed irresponsible’ to suggest at a meeting of judges, that he or any other judge discussed the retention of any private security firm for the purpose of providing personal security” (Express, December 16).
The purported allegations may have been false, but I thought the Express wanted to know if the CJ was associating himself with a known criminal and, if so, does such an association impinge upon how he conducts judicial business and can his association bring the judiciary into disrepute. Ramesh Lawrence asserted “a judge who is the subject of published allegations which have the effect of damaging the reputation of the Judiciary owes a duty to the public and to the legal profession to answer the allegations by giving satisfactory explanations in response to the publications” (Guardian, December 17).
Then we have the vulgarity of the Prime Minister who threatened to kick the shit out of Roodal Moonilal. Pointing to the shit kickers he was wearing, he announced: “You see these boots I’m wearing? We, the farmers of Tobago and Texas, we call them shit kickers, right. And I am hoping that I meet Dr. Moonilal today but I haven’t met him so far.” (Express, December 18).
In his puerile braggadocio, the PM sounded as one of the worst brothers from Beetham Estates, Enterprise, Train Line, or Maloney. Texans implore, “Put on your boots and cowboy hat. We are going shit kicking tonight.” Rowley, on the other hand, was feeling much pride in his “shit kickers.” He infers, “This is ass-kicking time today!”
The PM and the CJ are the second and third highest office-holders in the land respectively. They stand atop the social order. They are expected to be our social exemplars, both in how they behave and how they use the language. Moreover, in an age of growing criminality and disrespect for the judiciary, they must be careful of their behavior and their speech. They must always conduct themselves in a manner that is beyond reproach.
We marveled at the coarseness of the behavior of the people of Beetham Estates when they descended on the city to defend their dawgs. But is there any fundamental difference between their behavior and those of the big dawgs? Didn’t the PM declare that the gentleman who is alleged to have siphoned off $80 million from the oil company is his friend, and isn’t the gentleman who accompanies the CJ on his many visits abroad a reputed criminal?
I prefer to explain the behavior and language of our leaders as products of a common zeitgeist. Thus, it is not the characteristic of the individuals who find themselves in leadership positions that we should focus on but the internal social factors that shape their behavior. They are neither better nor worse than those around them.
When residents of Beetham demanded their “rights,” and that we don’t touch their “dawgs,” or some unnamed individuals liberate $5 million from Piarco in broad daylight, they are behaving no differently from those “respected” citizens at the top of society who feel that their status gives them liberties that those at the bottom do not possess.
No amount of money can solve this problem. Each day our society degenerates and we act coarser. It grows worse as we continue to believe that somehow the essence of our problem consists of a war between “us” (the respectable ones) and “them,” the wretched of the earth as Franz Fanon once called them. We lie to ourselves.
In The Shy Lady, Rhonda del Bocccio suggests, “When the sun rises, it rises for everyone.” Bob Marley, the people’s philosopher, puts it this way, “When the rain falls, it don’t fall on one man’s house, Remember that!”
In a way, we are all caught in a trap of lowered expectations. Is it too much to ask those at the top of the social ladder to behave with more circumspection, grace and dignity?
Who knows, it might be a part of our salvation.