I looked forward with uncommon interest to Tuesday evening’s State of the Union report, and not only because it would be Barack Obama’s eighth and last as President of the United States. The omniscient talking heads had for most of the day focused on reports that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard had taken ten American sailors prisoner—from the erudite perspective of leading Fox News analysts, an unforgivable insult close to a declaration of war. I could hardly wait to hear what the man who had taken out Osama bin Laden might have to say about his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani.
As it turned out he offered not a word on the day’s hottest topic. But what he did say more than made up for the omission. First there was his acknowledgement that this being “an election season expectations for what we will achieve this year are low.” Nevertheless he hoped “we can work together on bipartisan policies like criminal justice reform, and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse.”
How could I stay focused after the above-quoted words had been spoken? How could I have resisted comparing the President’s election-time appeal with our own prime minister’s announcement that this coming election will be “between the Saint Lucia Labour Party and the Chastanets?” Perchance some may wish to remind me that the recalled statement was directed at a particular son and father, permit me to underscore another irreducible truth: the prime minister’s war declaration automatically targeted thousands more than just one ostensibly supportive father and his politically ambitious son. It was undeniably a warning to their relatives, close and distant, wherever they might be.
The prime minister’s conceivably calculated cri de guerre also represented an ominous mindset: all were fair game who march—or are suspected marchers—to the UWP drum, including citizens who insist on marching to their own beat. What the prime minister said about Allen and Michael Chastanet suggested that in the mind of our nation’s premier law maker the Constitution of Saint Lucia that guarantees us the right freely to associate is not worth the paper it’s written on.
But back to Obama’s final State of the Union address. Said the President of the world’s richest and most powerful country, as if pointedly addressing mini-minded monarchs of failed tiny states: “We need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion . . . The future we want: security for our families; a rising standard of living and a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids. But this will only happen if we work together. It will only happen if we can have national, constructive debates. It will only happen if we can fix our politics.”
Additionally: “A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens. It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are motivated by malice or that our political opponents are unpatriotic. Democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged . . . We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics. We’ve got to make voting easier, not harder, and modernize it for the way we live now.” The President rang my bell when he said: “I can’t do these things on my own. Changes in our political process will only happen when the American people demand it. Whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, our collective future depends on your willingness to uphold your obligations as a citizen.”
Then there was his reference to “those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness . . . voices that Dr. King believed would have the final word—voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love.” At least four times this week, as I pored over the text of Obama’s inspiring final State of the Union address, I contemplated our own situation. I thought about our prime minister’s demonstrated contempt for the very attributes that make America, with all its obvious carbuncles, the greatest country in the world.
While the US President had lauded “the protester determined to prove justice matters,” our own leader of government seems altogether unbothered that Bordelais is busting at the seams, mainly on account of too many presumed innocent citizens for years denied their day in court—another kick to the gonads of our Constitution. Meanwhile, our pathetic justice minister on his way to yet another predictable senate talk shop, fires off verbal blanks at jeering dissenters in Constitution park.
Even as I write (Thursday morning) dominating my thoughts is an unprecedented lunchtime conference arranged by the EU delegation based in Barbados. Their diplomatically stated purpose is to inform the press about what had transpired at their earlier discussion with the prime minister about “gross violations of human rights” allegedly by members of the Royal St. Lucia Police Force over four years ago. Although he has made several controversial pronouncements on the issue, the prime minister has always been careful to do so with only his camera crew present. Despite several appeals, he has refused to make himself available to the press—not even after the director of public prosecutions publicly declared the IMPACS report submitted to her by the prime minister absolutely devoid of evidence supportive of its allegations.
Then there’s the Juffali affair. One week ago, in the wake of a request from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth office, the government announced that a Saint Lucia delegation had gone to the UK “to discuss the Juffali case.” Since then, not a word, not a word, not a word. At his party’s most recent convention the prime minister promised there would soon be news connected with the Grynberg scandal—albeit disappointing to some, he said. Again, since then not a word, not a word, not a word.
It’s almost as if the prime minister were goading protesters against his government’s counterproductive policies, not to say his palpable contempt for the Saint Lucia Constitution, to take the law in their own hands—in which case I suggest he heed the words of St. Teresa of Avila: Be very careful about your interior thoughts, especially if they have to do with precedence! Yes, indeed, it serves to be careful what we pray for!