Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Peter Espeut | New national vision needed

Published:Friday | November 25, 2016 | 11:00 AM

The parallels between the behaviour of the American people in the recent US presidential election and the behaviour of the Jamaican people in the recent general election are instructive. Many of us are scandalised that so many Americans voted in as president a man who uttered such outrageous racist and misogynistic remarks on campaign platforms, and was caught in so many lies. But are we really any better? Do we have any reason to feel superior?

Would you who believe in freedom and democracy vote for a political party that, while in office, used their power to create zones where Jamaicans of other political persuasions are actively excluded? Would you vote for a party that encouraged links with gunmen, drug dealers and extortionists? Would you vote for a party that gave jobs and contracts and tax waivers to their supporters and donors?

That is exactly what the majority of Jamaicans do every time they go to their polling stations!

There is enough evidence linking both the People's National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) with the formation of political garrisons and the distribution of guns to their supporters, and despite many and vociferous calls from civil society for the link between politics and crime to be broken, it hasn't happened. Not one step has been taken to dismantle garrisons, to recover the guns distributed, or to bring political gunmen to justice or repentance. The politically aligned gangs continue to kill at will, and few 'shottas' are ever caught or brought to justice by the state apparatus.

Why should we vote for people who support this kind of system? Are Trump supporters worse? Or better?

Donald Trump has refused to disclose his tax returns publicly. But Jamaican political leaders don't disclose to the public their assets or liabilities either! Who is better?

 

A HISTORY OF SCANDALS

 

The 2016 US presidential campaign saw a long string of stories showing scandals involving Trump, both large and small - from questionable business dealings, to housing discrimination, to allegations of sexual assault. I do not have the space to recite the litany of PNP and JLP scandals over the last 50 years, from the missing schools in the 1960s, to the shady land deals, to Cuban light bulbs, to Outameni; it would far exceed my word limit. Now, honestly, I ask you: Who is worse?

Are we hypocrites, or what? With all the bleating about Trumpism, are we really more concerned about corruption overseas than local corruption? It has always seemed to me that many Jamaicans - high and low - are happy to dip their noses into the political trough, especially around election time.

The real fear Jamaicans have is that Trump will close the door to legal immigration (and make illegal immigration much harder), and that is the real concern - not his alleged dishonesty or misogyny.

Trump supporters (mostly less educated white men and women) voted for him, not because he gave them T-shirts, caps, armbands, curry goat, and money, but because they bought into his vision of a USA better for them.

I want to know what Jamaican voters vote for when they go to the polls. A growing number stays away, largely because of disaffection with both political tribes.

 

A NEW JAMAICA

 

There was a time when the PNP had a vision of a new Jamaica, and it attracted the support of the teachers, nurses and farmers' unions, and the literati and artsy crowd; they still have their nominal support today, more it seems from tradition and by reflex than from any shared vision for Jamaica, which seems to have somewhat faded.

The JLP, it seems to me, never had any grand vision. Quite remarkably, they were able to garner the support both of the lowest level of workers, and the highest level of the private sector - two classes of persons typically at loggerheads. These partisan loyalties now seem to be blurred, and everything is self-interest and opportunism.

As we go to the polls on Monday, neither of the major parties offers us a national vision, even to make Jamaica great (again? Were we ever great?). Neither has published a manifesto, so we will have nothing by which to judge their success (or failure).

Some of us will want to send the PNP a message, and others will want to reinforce the power of the JLP. Some will vote mindlessly, by habit and reflex.

In truth, neither party deserves our vote. Historically, local-government issues have been poorly addressed. And we don't even have a local Trump to vote for, who, despite the inevitable foibles, promises real change, or to fix a broken Kingston.

- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and rural-development scientist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.