Tribalism has dominated the politics of Trinidad and Tobago since self-government, with our two major political parties having their support bases in the two major races in the country.
This has not served the cause of accountability. Tribal allegiance protects politicians from feeling the full brunt of public opinion, that most potent force in any democracy. The brazen about-turn on procurement reform is just the latest example in a long list of betrayals and broken promises, done with impunity. In the US, it is the primitiveness of tribalism that produced President Donald Trump. We stand warned.
After he lost to Joe Biden, Trump, with deliberate, diabolical constancy, peddled the falsehood to his tribal base that the US election was fraudulent and that victory was stolen from them. They believed him, even though his several lawsuits were all being thrown out by the state and supreme courts. The tribe swallows almost anything the leader says and does. And Trump knows it. He says he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose any votes. Indeed votes are the reason why so many Republican members of Congress dare not oppose Trump. They would lose the substantial tribal support in their districts.
Several rallies were held by Trump and his team. On invasion day, Trump incited the crowd “to show strength. You’ll never take back our country with weakness”. Rudy Giuliani wanted “a trial by combat”; and Republican Rep Mo Brooks instructed: “It’s time to start taking down names and kicking ass.” Trump exhorted the mob to “fight like hell”.
He achieved his goal. Thousands swarmed the Capitol. Some were armed, producing unbelievable violence. They “pinned a bloodied police officer in a doorway, his twisted face and screams captured on video. They wounded another with a blunt weapon and body-slammed a third over a railing into the crowd. They charged into police and metal barricades outside the building, shoving and hitting officers in their way. A man threw a fire extinguisher at the helmeted head of a police officer, picked up a bullhorn and threw it at officers, too”.
The police were vastly outnumbered. The mob erected makeshift gallows and chanted, “Hang Mike Pence!” while demanding the whereabouts of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and all lawmakers. In the Chamber, congressmen/women hid beneath desks and tables. In the Speaker’s office, “The staff barricaded the door, turned out the lights, crept below tables and remained silent in the dark for two and a half hours.” But with help from the National Guard, the situation was brought under control. The electoral college was then re-convened and Joe Biden was confirmed president-elect of the United States of America. The next night Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick died from wounds to the head.
Days later, the depth of the darkness was being understood. Rep Jim McGovern said, “This was basically home-grown fascism, out of control.” Pelosi saw “a well-planned, organised group”. The FBI started investigating whether the plan included kidnapping members of congress and holding them hostage and “why some in the mob had accessed areas of the Capitol generally difficult for the public to locate”.
This Wednesday the presidency of Donald Trump comes to an ignominious end. He is the first US president to be impeached for a second time, charged now with “incitement to insurrection”. But the tribe is not yielding. The FBI has warned of “armed protests” being planned at all 50 state capitals. Reports say thousands of armed extremists are plotting new threats against the Capitol ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Congress member Conor Lamb, briefed on the plot, told CNN, “They were talking about 4,000 armed ‘patriots’ to surround the Capitol and prevent any Democrat from going in. They have published rules of engagement, meaning when you shoot and when you don’t. They consider themselves ‘patriots’ and are talking about 1776.” Lawmakers are hoping National Guard troops being dispatched to the capital are vetted to ensure none is affected by the poisonous tribalism.
Trinidad and Tobago should take careful note. Our tribal politics remains dismally dark, stagnating in its shallowness, retarding the social and cultural evolution of this nation. Notwithstanding outward signs of progress, this country remains a fairly primitive place. We have already had an invasion of our Parliament. In 1990, after the ANR Robinson administration was demonised by opposing political parties and others, insurrectionists led by Yasin Abu Bakr stormed the Red House and held the prime minister and parliamentarians hostage for days. It remains one of the darkest days in this country. The army intervened and eventually a truce was arranged. Later, as a thoroughly disgusted Dr Morgan Job often reminded us, an utterly ugly sentiment emerged in the country. Referring to PM Robinson, people were saying, “Abu shoulda kill him. Abu shoulda finish the job.” This is the potency of tribalism’s poison with the nation and the individual. Character is degraded. The intelligentsia of both major races must wake up and provide enlightenment and direction. The politicians wouldn’t do it. We must send the message, beware tribalism!