The statements of our political leaders are supposed to be such that we as citizens are able to order our lives and make choices from the trivial and mundane to the deeply personal and consequential. As a result, credibility should be the mantra of any politician who aspires to hold power for any significant period of time or make any real positive impact on the lives of people.
Credibility is quite a hefty concept and thus requires some conceptual parametres. Perhaps the business guru, Stephen Denny, puts it best when he says “trust is built on credibility, and credibility comes from acting in others’ interests before your own”. For a politician, credibility means doing what he promised and being competent at carrying out that which he promised, while responding to the multiple events that define our modern political environment.
Politicians suffer from a negative perception generally as a result of a deviation from the above. These common deviations and compromises to credibility have presented themselves as broken promises, lies or “alternative facts.” The existence of weapons of mass destruction which led to the invasion of Iraq by United States troops is often cited as one of the more consequential lies of modern political history. Given the death toll in that case, lies of that magnitude and consequence are rare.
More common are broken promises. The current Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration has developed a record of broken promises, so much so that they do not have to be repeated here for each citizen, whether civil servant, university student or average consumer, has been impacted.
So that last week when the Prime Minister gave the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the people of Barbados the assurance that there was no pending devaluation or International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreement in light of speculation about such on the island, it was difficult for the average Barbadian to take his word as anything more than a transitory utterance by which they would be wise not to be too comforted for we are no clearer on the way forward. In both a rich irony and another compromise to credibility, one of the only promises the Government is keeping is one to reinstate a 10 per cent salary cut that parliamentarians took earlier on in the period of fiscal austerity.
For an example of alternative fact, we do not have to go too far back either, for the term was coined by Trump aide Kellyanne Conway two weeks ago in defense of the hot and sweaty debut of Sean Spicer, the new White House press secretary, perpetuating the false claim that their boss’ inauguration was the biggest ever. A local example came last week with the celebration of economic recovery within certain camps after the Governor of the Central bank reported a 1.6 per cent growth in the economy for 2016.
Of course, sometimes, politicians tell us exactly what they are going to do and we refuse to take them at their word. Moderate Republicans tried to convince the undecided American voter that Trump was not going to be as bad as Trump himself said he was going to be. With two weeks down, I think it is clear that those who expected any reasonableness from the new president took a bet on the wrong guy.
Perhaps the Barbadian voter who is watching the oddities from up north, would be wise not to perceive too much light between Trump and our own leader. The comparisons may not seem obvious but the results are strikingly similar. One, a brash loud mouth who ended up in politics because he saw a base narrative to exploit; the other, a man who has paid his political dues, but both of them in their leadership using the tactics of raw politics to get to and stay where they are.
I cannot recall a moment when truth and credibility have meant so little. Perhaps nothing more perfectly crystallizes this point than the fact that last week, the US based National Public Radio was forced to define the word ‘lie’ as they defended their decision not to use it in relation to some of Trump’s early statements as President. In last week’s reporting on some of Trump’s claims, they used phrases like “provably false” and “falsely inflated” , stating that the definition of lie centralizes intent which it is difficult for them to know.
Additionally, NPR’s Senior Vice President for News, Michael Oreskes, says NPR has decided not to use the word “lie”. “Our job as journalists is to report, to find facts, and establish their authenticity and share them with everybody,” says Oreskes. “It’s really important that people understand that these aren’t our opinions. …and I think the minute you start branding things with a word like ‘lie,’ you push people away from you.” Other outlets, namely the New York Times, made a different choice using “lie” in a headline describing Trump’s repeated claim that millions of people in the US illegally voted in the last election.
I agree that the local media should ask tougher questions, dig deeper and more accurately reflect issues and conversations happening across the island in the interest of their own credibility . However, as a result of our laws on defamation, they would be best served staying away from the word “lie”.
The reality is that regardless of political tactic, the buck stops with us as citizens. If we want a country that progresses, keeps its promises to its citizens, takes care of the least among us, tells them the truth; if we want to continue to live in a country and world with any modicum of credibility, we need to show politicians that our country means more to us than anything else and their factual manipulation just will not do.
To put it subtly, this current political moment makes it a moral imperative that we keep our eyes open, raise and leverage our voices, and labour for better because the next few years will be interesting to say the least.
(Andwele Boyce is a young communicator who is passionate about politics and popular culture. He holds a Master’s in international trade policy and is currently pursuing a law degree.)