The world is changing but our politics are still the same
An editorial the other day told the Progressive Labour Party that "the honeymoon is over".
Perhaps the government had already been extended more than a honeymoon; a period of grace or a temporary period given as a sanctuary when there is suspension of judgment, and an assumption of innocence before any indictments of guilt.
Or maybe it could just be likened to when summer turns to autumn, or winter to spring. David Burt could be in his proverbial boat rowing to shore, but unbeknown to the Premier, he is rowing against an ebb-tide.
There are classical truths about politics and governments and there are observations. Many remember that the old United Bermuda Party’s defeat in 1998 was no surprise. Many thought its defeat would end a political era to which we would never return and there was the hope that the PLP would be different and perchance better.
No one would disagree that they have been different, but there is no consensus that they have been better. There are some who solemnly feel they are simply opposite sides of the same coin.
Let's turn to the classic context of meanings as between leadership, style and the bones of politics. Going to basics, we find the dialogue between Socrates and his student Plato. Socrates saw the need for different roles within society. He saw the need for having leaders with virtue, intelligence, and ideals, even to the extent of those values being taught at a very young age. He saw the need for a force or a body to defend those ideals and he also saw producers who helped to create the bounties. Socrates had compelling arguments that leaders must have inculcated these values and must be informed and committed, more towards the creation of the ideals of truth and not bent towards their own appetites and satisfactions. Without that kind of leadership, let's call it Platonic, society would be under a tyranny. Compare that idea of ethical leadership to Machiavelli, who argued that the main objective is to gain or to retain power over society by any means.Telling a little lie or a big one is useful under Machiavellian style if it delivers power, .
Leadership styles are one or the other in the purest sense. We hear terms like left and right, which may be ideological and tend to determine how much or how little governance is by the government. But a leadership style is simple. It is either Platonic or Machiavellian. In leadership, you choose how and what you serve, you don’t stumble into it. If a leader is found in a bed in a light district surrounded by whips and chains, this is a choice, not a mistake made on the way to a house of prayer. Leadership ethics are clear and the price to maintain them is eternal vigilance.
Despite its size, Bermuda has all the structural elements that Socrates would prescribe to make a state. We have a leadership and have always had a force that kept that leadership maintained. During the days of colonialism and the early of the UBP, you had the police and army as the last resort for maintaining the politics of the country. The PLP always had the BIU as its essential defender and the political stances of the PLP were always buttressed by the militancy of the Union. One could be reasonably certain that if PLP demands were not met, industrial action was not far off.
Perhaps the times are changing because it seems clear the militant arm, which Socrates calls the defenders, that are supportive of change and can cause upheaval, are not contained within the walls of the union and are certainly not led by any of its leadership. It’s more grass-roots than that and history has shown is usually the “rebels” that brought change to Bermuda. The question is, what do the rebels want? This is less a question of what they are against to the more enduring issue as change agents of what are they for? I have seen throughout my lifetime a history of protests, beginning with high school movements in which the challenge was always, now that the attention is drawn, where do you go from here?
In the US, Rosa Parks was the catalyst for ending the social segregation of races. HEr “I can't take no more” stance became a moment in history followed by the multitudes. In Bermuda we had Ms Carol Hil and then the Theatre Boycott in 1959 which were “I cannot take no more” stances.
My takeaway from the pandemic protests is the question of whether this is another moment where a lady says “I can't take no more”. Was this a Rosa Park moment for Bermuda going forward or will it fade like a puff of smoke into the atmosphere?
Even if the protest was officially about vaccinations and quarantines, if any of what was on social media is near true or even half true, we have a lot more on our hands than anti-vaxxers versus pro-vaxxers. We have an issue of style on one hand but then on the other, issues that would have been better served with an inquiry than protest. The brute force of our political construct, which becomes a matter of style, allows the machinery to continue to grind on until people are driven to protest . That we historically saw no change unless there was some demonstrations or calamity too, is an unfortunate feature of our history.
The presence of the statue of Sally Bassett in those same Cabinet grounds begs the question of what her soul would be saying today. First, I could see the tears in her eyes because she would be completely disappointed to notice that over 300 years later, there was a statue of her as a slave on the Cabinet grounds. She would say she just got off a boat from New York and she was inspired by the statue of Liberty that was placed there 236 years earlier, but when she arrived in Bermuda her home, she became depressed to see the symbol of a slave as the iconic image on the Cabinet grounds in 2021. She would ask, “are there any who thought and fought for ideas of liberty, or would know what it means”? She would say to her descendants: “Oh my great-great- great-great0grandchildren, I do appreciate being remembered by you, but as long as you venerate slavery, I am afraid you will never attain liberty.”