Roy Mitchell bw

Part III

Exactly where and when nationalism emerged as an integral facet of nationhood is uncertain.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, it is generally believed that it reared its head during the French Revolution and the American Revolution in the late 18th century and during the ethnic/national revolutions of Europe.

Today, nationalism has been transformed into one of the most powerful political and social forces in history, so powerful that in some states it stresses absolute loyalty and obedience to the state, whose purpose is to serve the interests of its nation alone. Patriotism, on the other hand, while accentuating the ideal of loyalty to country, is not as isolationist and self-serving. It is a nation- building attribute which considers the interests of other states. The Encyclopedia further claimed: “Prior to the advent of the philosophy of Nationalism, people were generally loyal to a city or to a particular leader rather than to their nation.”

Following his passing in 1981, rather than intensify the loyalty and passion engendered within the spirit of patriotism and nationhood which the Father of the Nation had firmly implanted within the fabric of the society, the fires of hope began to be so systematically and diabolically doused that it forced former president Max Richards to caution of the nation’s descent into becoming a failed state.

There is perhaps no parallel in modern history of a country which had been so abundantly gifted with an overwhelming head start as was the case with Trinidad and Tobago. The tragedy is that, a weird political grouping purportedly representing almost half the population, uncompromisingly persists in exhibiting open disdain for our precious emblems of national unity, stubbornly loathing identification with our national anthem, Independence celebrations or promotion of our national motto or watchwords. Alternatively, they have pledged to undermine the constitutionally established strongholds of democratic nation building which had been so resolutely laid and wholeheartedly embraced.

So, nation building is addressed in tribal terms: percentages of the national patrimony dispersed among the races and tribes—numbers of Africans versus Indians who sit in the Cabinet, are members of boards, work in the Public Service, access tertiary education, own businesses, are employed by their own. We question the inalienable rights of the minorities and how the THA powers compare with those of the regional corporations in Trinidad, etc.

Hitherto, the Indians played mas with Garib, the Africans with McWilliams, the whites with Harts and the Chinese with Lee Heung. The upper class and professionals played with Berkeley, and senior public servants and the middle class with Mavericks. So tribal have we grown into that, lately, even with the replacement of the old bandleaders by the new, the whites still play with Harts, Africans have migrated to Trini Revellers and the like, and the upper class, high brown, social climbers and Indians settle for the most congenial of the Tribe conglomerate, Poison having exited ­unceremoniously.

We flock to the Savannah for the steelband Panorama, only to abandon the orchestras on Carnival days. Yesteryear, the privileged, whites, half-whitish and brown-skin occupied the western side of the North Stand, while the blacks occupied the eastern side. Most Indians congregate in the Grand Stand West. You know your place even on the beaches: Chaguaramas, Maracas, Tyrico, etc, all belying the illusion, “Here every creed and race find an equal place”.

Moments of national pride overwhelm us and dissipate just as speedily on rare occasions that we win a Miss World, Miss Universe or Olympic or Commonwealth Games gold.

In reflecting upon these spasmodic illusions of togetherness, I recall the writings of the renowned French historian Ernest Renan (1823-1892) who, among his works pertaining to nationalism, articulated in his famous essay, “What is a Nation?”, that a Nation is “a daily referendum” and that countries are built on what the people collectively forget as much as they are on what they remember”.

Renan postulates that there is frequent confusion between the idea of nationhood and of racial or linguistic groupings, a form of confusion which he says can produce “the gravest errors”.

And grave errors abound at a monumental price: no clearly defined national purpose, absence of national spirit, low-quality parliamentary/local government representation, patriotism gone, party before country, obstructionist politics, worsening racial divisiveness, abandonment of social dialogue, abominable dignity and decorum, scarcity of role models, disrespect for authority—including the presidency, widening generational gaps, abysmal levels of productivity, unacceptable standards of work ethic, poor implementation performance, neglected treasured legacies, deplorable customer service, outdated labour legislation, runaway crime and lawlessness, unimpressive and uninspiring political and labour leadership and more.

Nationhood will remain an elusive dream until we confront our grave nation-building shortcomings: a cause greater than ourselves.

• Next Thursday: Part four will discuss the way forward.

—Author Roy Mitchell is former special adviser and co-ordinator, National Tripartite Advisory Council (NTAC).