The system isn’t broken – we are
It’s a line I heard recently on 60 Minutes, a pronouncement from British-American political commentator and podcaster Andrew Sullivan. It struck me as having a certain ring of truth to it. While he may have been talking about politics in Washington, and in the United States generally, it is an assessment that might equally apply here in Bermuda.
There are reasons why we are the way we are. There is our history and the inescapable influence it has had on our lives — political and otherwise.
There was official and legal segregation, which did not begin to come to an end until the 1960s, and then it wasn’t until 1968 that Bermuda enjoyed universal adult suffrage. Racism was at the root of so much that was done, or not done, as Bermuda emerged in the modern world.
The effect was bound to be pronounced. We saw how it manifested itself in the development of our neighbourhoods, our schools, our churches, our economy and the workforce.
Our politics and political structures — parties in particular — were not exempt.
There were the vestiges, too, of the long era of colonial rule — a willing partner and enabler of the twin forces of segregation and racism.
Surely, it can be no surprise that we still find ourselves today wrestling with and under the weight of that history.
William Faulkner had it right when he wrote: “The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.”
Interestingly enough, this was also the line Barack Obama invoked when he launched his first campaign for the US presidency in 2008.
This is not to say that there has been no progress over the years; there has been. But we cannot afford to stop and stand still. There is the obvious: Bermuda is and always has been a community of limited opportunities. There is only so much that 21 square miles can sustain.
Meanwhile, the old ways of tackling our problems, and our challenges, have their roots in yesterday. It is way past time that we looked at better ways of addressing our issues — that has as its overriding purpose the need to foster community of thought and action.
Discord and division, for political purposes, too often stand in our way.
The challenges that we face are “g-enormous”. They include but go beyond just the Covid-19 pandemic and any other variant that may come the world’s way. The list is a tall order for whoever forms the Government. That list is all too familiar to all of us:
• A flagging economy and mounting debt, both public and private
• A viable, workable immigration policy that meets with broad support
• Healthcare reform that works for everyone
• More effective policing from guns and gang warfare to the state of traffic on our roads
These are critical bread-and-butter issues any government is expected to address. While it may be trite, it is true: no government can do it alone.
This is where the need for community and building by consensus at the top comes in. And let me clear here for the naysayers and critics: this is not about wanting or expecting legislators to dramatically forge ahead in lockstep, singing “Kumbaya”.
Disagreement and debate on solutions is desirable — the hallmark, indeed, of a healthy democracy. What is key is how we provide for and encourage this discourse. This is one of the reasons why I continue to harp on the efficacy of a more robust and effective committee system in the legislature.
There is a lot to be said for having to work, and produce, sitting around the table. Contrast if you will the tone and tenor of the Senate to that of the House. I have over the years also seen the value of less formal opportunities such as Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conferences and the annual Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast, which returns on Friday.
There is hope. The Opposition in its Reply thought it was time to dust off the plan that was produced when it was in government to overhaul and strengthen management of the legislature. The Premier has recently spoken of his party’s wish to get House committees up and running.
He has also been reported as saying that any planned constitutional changes will be a bipartisan process — and if that opportunity for involvement could be extended beyond the walls of the legislature, and to the wider community, so much the better for putting community at the centre of our politics.