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Lifting the tone of politics

Trinidad Express / THE puerile tit-for-tat between the Prime Minister and the Opposition United National Congress over who should “shut up” about who said what or didn’t say what, underscores the low level at which public issues are discussed by those in high office.

Lest he has forgotten, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley came to office on a platform promising to change the tone and raise the quality of political discourse for which he had so roundly condemned the then government of the former People’s Partnership.

Apparently, it is too tough a task. Like other Opposition Leaders before him, the habit of confrontation and aggressiveness appears to have followed him into the PM’s office.

Clearly, the transition from leader of some to leader of all is not as easy as moving from one side of the Parliament to the other.

If it were, Dr Rowley would have instinctively recognised the need to engage his critics, especially his most offensive ones.

Trinidad and Tobago is a long way from the days when its first prime minister, Dr Eric Williams, could dare to say “When I talk, let no damn dog bark”.

Even then it was considered dictatorial and disrespectful, except by his supporters who cheered ever louder.

But that was in the last century. It is true that the quality of commentary splayed across social media can test the most patient among us.

To enter that world is to step into a morass where vile ignorance and orchestrated misinformation stand proudly shoulder to shoulder with intelligence and beauty.

But the best leaders are those who embrace the responsibility to be a living expression of all that they claim to stand for.

Frankly, our leaders have not distinguished themselves in this way although each has managed to inspire the hope of new standards in the process of being elected to office. By his repeated intemperate utterances, however, Dr Rowley is showing that he is not cut from any different cloth.

His regular dismissal of criticism as “foolishness? betrays a stubborn refusal or inability to respect people enough to engage their objections to him and his government.

Across the parliamentary aisle, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar and the UNC is caught in a similar psychology which, last week, prompted its statement telling Dr Rowley to take his own advice and “shut up”.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for Trinbagonians who consider themselves to be open-minded, thinking people to recognise themselves in the leaders that they are consistently bringing to office.

Surely, we must be better than that. It is only by being willing to reach beyond the confines of the echo chambers of applause in which they are trapped that our political leaders will learn to address the country as the leader of all, friends and foes alike.

As politician after politician has already discovered, speaking only from the platform of the faithful is the guaranteed path to failure and defeat.

What we need from our leaders is the politics of real inclusion, not that of continued division.

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