The challenge of reinvention
Looking back on 2020, no question that two big events stand out: Covid-19 and the historic landslide election victory of the Progressive Labour Party. They were not entirely unrelated.
The pandemic presented the Premier with what was an unforeseen and an unwelcome opportunity that required him to show his personal mettle, and that of his government, as they were called on to lead us in uncharted waters. He and his team excelled, and Bermudians responded. Special mention here to the Minister of Health, Kim Wilson, who, together with David Burt, presented — and continue to present — an impressive front: steady, unflappable and apparently indefatigable.
Their leadership stood out in unmistakable contrast to a muted Opposition — difficult as it may have been for them to find fault, and to find voice, in those circumstances. It also didn’t help that the Opposition appeared totally unprepared for an election campaign, let alone able to form a viable alternate government.
Once that election was called, a PLP win was always on the cards. It was only a matter of: by how much? We have our answer. Done and dusted.
But the virus has raged on, sadly, and in some cases, tragically.
Tackling it was never going to be easy. Personally, I have rather liked the recommended approach of the Canadian Association of Independent Schools, which urged members to concentrate on the three Rs.
No, not reading, ’riting and ’rithmetic but instead: Respond. Recover. Reinvent.
The response here to date has been good, measured and strong. Recovery, absent a vaccine, is taking longer than any of us would like. We see what has been happening elsewhere. It was never going to be easy.
Our government has not taken an extreme, hardline approach to the problem, although there may be some who wish they would in light of the present spike in cases.
The Premier has spoken repeatedly of the need to strike the right balance. Understandable, really, and understood. The right course has been pursued to this point: what do we need to do to keep Bermuda open?
Of course, the difficulty with this approach is that it depends on the co-operation of people and their willingness to follow the rules, whether voluntary or enforceable by law — always a risk, whatever course of action is taken. We can but urge our families, neighbours and friends to continue to adhere to recommended protocols, by word and by what we practise.
But here’s the other thing the pandemic has shown us: there are two Bermudas. The pandemic in its impact has laid bare that while we are enduring the same storm, we are not all in the same boat. Some boats have simply not been secure enough. Some have no boats at all.
There are those among us who do not want to hear about two Bermudas. Any analysis invariably leads us to acknowledge two communities, black and white, and critics very often dismiss such as exploitation purely for political purposes.
We come back to that election. Sure, this plays a part in any campaign, and in any given year. Why? Because the very idea of two Bermudas resonates with a very large proportion of Bermuda’s voting population — and, yes, read black voters mostly — and it resonates because it is true.
The expression is: he or she who feels it knows it. Call it the empathy factor.
Common experiences have a way of bringing people together, but when experiences are markedly different in any community, economic distress can prompt markedly different views and responses — and, frankly, that is only natural.
It is therefore hardly surprising that in times of economic challenge such as these, and uncertainty about the future, voters will look to who they think they can trust, and trust to have their backs. At the same time, there emerges the potential for heightened tribalism in politics. If you are not one of us, you are one of them, etc, etc, and a divide can deepen, appearing, in some quarters, unbridgeable.
This is what makes the third R, reinvention, an even greater challenge, and not just because the PLP is the government, but as it would be for any government, assuming that with the boost of vaccines — and they cannot come fast enough — we master recovery.
What role will you play?