“Ignorance is the parent of fear.” – Herman Melville
olitics could be a noble profession. Persons who are motivated to public service for the right reasons, among which are to genuinely and diligently serve the public interest and promote the common good, should be commended and encouraged. Those who enter this arena for egotistically narcissistic reasons or to gain personal prominence and social stature are to be shunned and discouraged. Both political types can be found in every era and every political party, both here and abroad. However, the most egregious political types, who should absolutely be rejected, are those who prey on the fears and ignorance of persons whose support they seek to obtain through misinformation, disinformation and guile.
This week, we would like to Consider this… how should we view politicians who enter political life or seek to remain in office by preying on the fears and ignorance of others?
A foreign example
Over the past few years in our closest geographical neighbor, we have observed a blatant example of the behavior of one such prominent politician. President Donald Trump has unashamedly manifested the damage and danger of preying on the fears and ignorance of others. He has deliberately decided to exploit the fears of some Americans by excoriating the negative role of immigrants to United States of America.
From the moment he descended the escalator at Trump Tower to announce his candidacy on June 16, 2015, then-presidential candidate Trump berated illegal immigrants to the United States. His often-quoted inaugural campaign pronouncement is indelibly etched on our consciousness. He proclaimed, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best… They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with [them]. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Trump promised that he would build “a great, great wall” on the United States–Mexico border, and further that “the construction of the wall would be paid for by Mexico”.
Some of his rival Republican candidates, along with the leading Democratic candidates, condemned Trump’s remarks and policy stances as offensive and inflammatory.
Following a series of coordinated terrorist attacks that took place on November 13, 2015 in Paris, Trump stated that he would support a database for tracking Muslims in the United States, as well as expanded surveillance of mosques. Trump’s support for an American Muslim database drew sharp rebukes from his Republican presidential rivals and disbelief from some legal experts.
On December 7, 2015, in response to the San Bernardino attack, Trump accelerated his call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States. He said, “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on…” He repeated this at subsequent political rallies.
It was patently clear that candidate Trump was preying on the fears and ignorance of the American voters he sought to attract to his candidacy. Candidate Donald Trump’s offensive and inflammatory remarks continued during the election campaign and clearly succeeded in stirring the fears and ignorance of many voters.
In a surprising turn of events, candidate Donald Trump became his nation’s 45th president. True to form, many of his offensive and inflammatory remarks have continued unabated throughout his presidency, right up to his outrageous threat last week to bus illegal immigrants to U.S. “sanctuary cities”. These are cities where local authorities do not cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, denying information or resources that would help ICE round up for deportation people living in the country illegally. These cities are also, usually, Democratic strongholds, which would allow Trump to not only move his immigrant problem from the border but thrust the problem upon his strongest critics.
A local example
This week on Steve McKinney’s show, Leslie Miller declared that the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) does not support The Bahamas joining the World Trade Organization (WTO). Is this credible? The fact of the matter is that The Bahamas has maintained observer status at the WTO for almost 20 years and for 10 of those years the PLP was the government.
The Bahamas, under both FNM and PLP governments, has given every indication that the country intends to become a full member of the WTO. The present government has set that membership deadline for the end of the year, however ambitious that timetable might be. Last week, the minister of financial services and the chief WTO negotiator, along with a trade delegation, met with the WTO in Geneva to advance its accession negotiations.
In normal circumstances, one could and should reasonably assume that Miller’s comments were his own but there are two notable observations regarding these particular utterances. First, Miller asserted that the PLP does not support the Bahamas’ accession to the WTO. On what authoritative basis was he speaking? That is certainly not the position of successive PLP governments. Additionally, the PLP in opposition has not given notice of any change in its policy regarding the WTO.
Secondly, Miller, a veteran PLP member of Parliament and a vocal self-proclaimed candidate in the next general election, was the minister of trade from 2002 to 2006. So, what is the public expected to believe? Does he not appreciate that the PLP’s credibility could be severely damaged when he advances mixed and completely erroneous messages on international or domestic issues, purportedly on behalf of the PLP?
There is no question that there are many concerns that must be addressed before we can fully accede to the WTO. There are vulnerabilities that must be identified, and a massive national education process must be undertaken before we join the WTO. Preying on the fears and ignorance of others regarding this process must be avoided. It is equally important for our citizens that this is not a political issue because our accession to the WTO has long-term national consequences, which cannot – and must not – be politicized.
Several weeks ago, this column featured an article entitled “A Matter of Credibility”, in which this author observed: “If the PLP truly wants to regain the confidence of the Bahamian electorate, it must fully appreciate that credibility takes a long time to cultivate and a very short time to obliterate. The PLP should always be mindful that people are watching very closely and will immediately notice any deviation, no matter how minor, from its stated goals of rebuilding the party’s credibility. By focusing on the essential elements that foster credibility, namely trustworthiness, reliability, integrity, sincerity and discipline, the PLP can inspire the Bahamian electorate that it is worthy of its confidence.”
We fully appreciate that the PLP leader cannot respond to every comment, however misguided, uninformed and ridiculous, that is made by persons who happen to have the profile of being PLP supporters. We are certain, that in due course, the PLP leader will posit the party’s accurate, informed and considered position on The Bahamas’ WTO offering. Bahamians will patiently await the party’s authoritative position and should ignore this flagrant attempt to misrepresent the PLP’s position on the WTO by a former politician and minister who should know better. We must see it for what it was: a misguided and imprudent attempt to prey on the public’s fear of the WTO and ignorance about it in order to create a climate of instability surrounding our accession to this global body that is purportedly months away.
The nobility of politics will only be reaffirmed when political participants refuse to prey on the fears and ignorance of others by speaking truth to power and by seeking to allay the fears and educate those whom they serve.
The nobility of politics will ultimately be appreciated when political participants foster the common good by providing unimpeachable facts and build the progressive society this nation needs in order to create a secure and strong future for its citizens and the generations to come.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to [email protected].