Op-Ed

The arrogance of power

“Power corrupts [and] absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.” — Lord Acton

On January 6, in complete shock and utter surprise, the world watched as a mob invaded the United States Capitol building in real time, live. What followed that evening, after the Capitol invasion and well into the early hours of January 7, was a futile exercise by Congressional Republicans to overturn the recent election of President Joseph Biden.

The insurrection by the invading throng and the dereliction of duty by the vast majority of Congressional Republicans represented a power grab and an unparalleled arrogance of power for a country that millions around the world had previously viewed as the bastion of democracy.

The Capitol incursion was a blatant example and the ultimate demonstration of the arrogance of power of a deranged and delusional President Trump. He could not accept that he was a loser and was hopelessly attempting to retain political power at any cost.  

Reinforced by his repeated and constant false claims about winning the election, Trump’s antics included repeated attempts to deliberately corrupt the United States’ democratic process. The attempted coup was a personification of Lord Acton’s observation about the corrupting and intoxicating influence of power’s arrogance.

Considering the United States’ developments last month, we would like to consider this — are there similar examples of politicians in The Bahamas who have demonstrated the arrogance of power?

Understanding power

Understanding the anatomy of power is critical to comprehending how it affects our lives. In its most basic terms, power is the ability to act or influence others or the course of events. In social science and politics, power refers to possessing control, authority, or influence over others. This aspect of power drives the level and scope of division, partisanship, and tribalism that frequently accompany political power.

The tug of war between partisan groupings is heightened or minimized by the amount of control, authority, and influence that one party exercises over the opposing political groups. If a minimal majority exists between opposing parties, it is more likely that the competing factions will seek consensus in formulating public policy and be more likely to cooperate and compromise.

That was not the case in the 2017 general election, where the Free National Movement (FNM) won by a decisive landslide. By the election results in which the now-governing party won 35 of 39 seats in the House of Assembly, the Bahamian electorate told the incumbent Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) in the clearest possible terms that it had worn out its welcome to the leadership of the country. The people fired the PLP.

Accordingly, the new FNM rode into government with a sense of euphoria and untouchability regarding its mandate. The FNM’s arrogance of power rapidly surfaced, primarily because it did not appreciate that its landslide victory was not as much an overwhelming endorsement of that party as it was a total landslide repudiation of the PLP.

This miscalculation of the political landscape led to the FNM’s false sense of security that they could do anything and get away with it. Remember Donald Trump’s claim that “I can stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any votes, Ok!” That is a classic example of the arrogance of power. And while the FNM government did not publicly utter that Trumpian expression, its actions certainly manifested a similar ethos.

The arrogance of power
in The Bahamas

On several occasions in this column, we noted that the political prosecutions of former Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) politicians almost immediately after the FNM came to office was behavior that is typically characteristic of autocratic regimes. Never in Bahamian history had we experienced such arrogance by a newly elected government.

The first two cases of the three politicians charged ended in their acquittal in our courts. The third matter is yet to be heard, and most people do not believe that its resolution will be different from the first two. We shall see.

Bahamians have also repeatedly observed the unbridled arrogance of power by the speaker of the House of Assembly regarding his attitude and behavior toward members of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.

The arrogance of power has manifested itself in other ways that may seem benign but are malignant. How many constituents criticize not being able to connect with their representatives after being elected? What about the many unreturned telephone calls to their representatives that constituents often complain about?

There are countless instances where the electorate feels forgotten, shunned, and dismissed by persons who they send to Parliament to represent them. And how many parliamentarians ever consult with their constituents to canvas their views on draft legislation or policy issues that affect them?

Last week, we witnessed a classic example of the arrogance of power when the government announced that it will increase the cost of water on all consumers. Those who will feel it most are people who can least afford it.

Never mind that water is essential for everything we do; truly the universal necessity required for our most basic needs, including cooking, drinking, and cleaning. Never mind that we are still in the middle of a pandemic where the most fundamental admonition by global health professionals is for everyone to wash their hands regularly for at least 20 seconds each time. Hard to do that when you cannot afford the water to do it with.

Another blatant example of the arrogance of power was recently witnessed when the FNM government unilaterally locked down islands with low incidents of positive COVID-19 cases. The smaller islands were treated exactly like the larger ones, further contributing to the view that our policymakers are excessively Nassau-centric.

That policy made no sense whatsoever, but the persons in charge were too arrogant and high-handed to admit that they made a mistake. And worse: they did not rectify that mistake once it was brought to their attention.

There is a pervasive perception that many people have regarding the general attitude of those in power: that they do the things they do because they can, not because their actions are right — and the public can take it or leave it, like it or lump it.

Another example of the arrogance of power is the sense of entitlement that so many members of Parliament rapidly develop after being elected. “Do you know who I am?” becomes the most frequent question that some MPs ask aloud or silently express by the quizzical look on their faces when others try to subject them to the same requirements as the average citizen.

The question should be: do they know who WE are, that same average citizen who is forced to live with the burdens of their poor decisions and badly thought out policies?

Then there is the arrogance of power that frequents politicians’ engagement with the press. There are some politicians whose arrogance of power elevates to a complete dismissal of anyone in the media who does not agree with them or who dares to criticize them. Public officials believe that they are immune from criticism by the press.

When they are accused of some blunder in behavior or error in judgment, often with warranted justification, the offended party deliberately avoids engaging the media because the public official believes that “they are not our friends”. News alert: the press has a responsibility to uncover the misfeasance, malfeasance, and stupidity of public officials – and expose them.

Because of the plethora of episodes regarding the arrogance of power, is it any wonder that the electorate becomes so fed up with the party in power?

This enraged exasperation with a government blinded by their arrogance of power to the needs and opinions of the people has, for the past 20 years, resulted in not giving any political party a second consecutive term in office.

Conclusion

As we approach the next general election in The Bahamas, it would be instructive to reflect on the frequency and scope of the arrogance of power displayed by the candidates seeking your support.

For those who have served in the last term or in previous administrations, it should be easier to measure their arrogance quotient.

For those seeking your support, the informed voter should scrutinize the candidates’ behaviors and past performances, carefully assessing whether those candidates are representative of individuals who will display a level of humility once elected, or will their heads and egos swell exponentially beyond their present capacity?

Also, if any candidates previously held office and displayed a degree of arrogance, and a sense of entitlement, they should be summarily rejected by the electorate, regardless of the political colors they wear.

These candidates will become even more arrogant, more distant, more disconnected from those they are supposed to represent, resulting in the vicious cycle of being turned out of office after a single term continuing.

The time has come for the political parties and their leaderships to offer candidates worthy of serving in Parliament and the Cabinet.

These men and women should be primarily guided by their dedication to public service, not power, and a willingness to advance the common good and provide good governance for all people.

The electorate, in order to have their needs remain foremost in the minds of those in government, should reject those who are most at risk of falling prey to the intoxicating and seductive arrogance of power because they will be the first to forget the people who put them there.

• Philip C. Galanis is the man- aging partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Account- ants, Forensic & Litigation Sup- port Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to pgalanis@gmail.com.

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