Politicians the same everywhere | Arley Gill


By Arley Gill

ST. GEORGE’S, Grenada, Monday February 29, 2016 – We, in the Caribbean, always complain about our politicians and politics. We complain how they engage in “gutter’’ politics. The politicians call one another names – and bad ones too; and they accuse each other of corruption and lying, among other things. We gripe and whine that our politicians never really address the issues.

I am now wondering if the people in the United States can justifiably have the same complaint. As a student of politics, the current US presidential campaign is interesting for several reasons, not least of which is the Donald Trump factor on the Republican side; and a confessed socialist, Bernie Sanders, running on the Democratic Party side.

In terms of politicians dealing with the issues in the American campaign race, a few candidates – in particular Trump and, to a lesser extent, Ben Carson – demonstrate a poor grasp of most of the issues. They just give some “merry-go-round answers’’ – not unlike our own politicians.

The democratic side of the presidential contest is less crazy, it must be said, and there is more substance in their discussion and debates.

However, if one looks keenly at the American media, the Republicans dominate the news. Maybe that’s because they have more newsworthy issues, are more entertaining and, as such, carry more ratings for the news networks. But it is clear, with all the name-calling and controversy, the Republicans control the media.

Republican Ted Cruz, so far, has conducted a campaign that we can identify with in the Caribbean region. His campaign tweeted that Dr Ben Carson was ending his camping when that was not true.

This week, the Cruz camp released a videotape purporting to show rival Republican candidate, Marco Rubio, saying some negative things about the Bible when, indeed and in truth, Rubio was saying something quite different. Cruz eventually fired his communications director.

Trump has called Cruz a liar and a cheat and has threatened to take him to court. Rubio has also labeled Cruz a liar at every turn. Does that ring a bell? Do you know of a politician near you that called another such names?

Trump has said many controversial things – some might say even crazy things. Certainly, not things that any smart politician would say. Trump even took on the popular Pope Francis. However, each time he is criticized, Trump seems to soar in the polls. Unorthodox, maybe, but he is extending his lead in the polls and winning.

But it’s not dissimilar to what happens in poor countries, where politicians also say and do all sorts of crazy things, whether those crazy things include bragging about an attempt to walk on water, addressing the United Nations on UFOs, or about getting the banana boat to travel up Birchgrove River. Even then they still won at the polls. Or, take the 1970s example of the opposition saying a Prime Minister was involved in obeah and later publishing photos of the supposed obeah room and the obeah gown.

Not so long ago in the USA, no sensible politician would dear declare himself or herself as a communist or a socialist. America is the center of capitalism. However, things have changed and there is this 74-year-old Jew Bernie Sanders, championing the cause of poor people and taking the fight to the richest of the richest. Refreshing, isn’t it?

But let’s take a further look at the convergence between US politicians and those in other parts of the world, including Grenada.

In developing countries like ours, opposition figures who lost their seats in the parliamentary elections oppose constitutional reform, not because of what is contained in the reform itself but what is not there. They oppose billion-dollar investments, even though they sought the same thing when they were in government. Politicians are the same, it seems, wherever they are.

You have the Republicans in the US Senate and Congress, as well as their presidential hopefuls, opposing for opposing sake. They vow to oppose anyone President Barack Obama nominates to the Supreme Court and argue he should wait until after the election. That’s despite the fact he has a constitutional right to nominate someone to the court. What will be the argument if a Democrat succeeds Obama in the White House?

Then, they oppose Obama’s upcoming visit to Cuba and the lifting of sanctions against the Spanish-speaking Caribbean nation, in spite the fact that the world has accepted and embraced the US change in policy towards Havana.

And, without missing a beat, they remain opposed to the closing down of the Guantanamo prison, even though there are detainees who, after so many years, are still locked up without charge – something that goes against all the moral standards the US speaks of and tries to enforce in other countries, not least Cuba.

As the US election campaign continues, it will be interesting to see who will eventually emerge as the respective nominees of the two major parties. Hillary Clinton seems most likely to get the nod for the Democrats, while Donald Trump appears to be the unlikely Republican candidate.

Whatever it is, and whoever are the final presidential candidates, I think we can feel less badly about our politics and politicians. And it’s not because the Americans have lowered their standard but, just maybe, they have taken it up a notch.

They now have taken it to a place where we have been for the longest while.

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arley-gillThe views expressed in this column are solely those of Arley Gill.

Arley Gill, a lawyer and magistrate, is a former Grenada minister of culture.