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Snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
July 02, 2024

Months ago I wrote of the United National Congress’ ability to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. I saw this tendency played out in 1976 when the United Labour Front (ULF) was projected to win the election until its inglorious march from Arima to Port of Spain on the Saturday prior to the poll. I stood at the corner of Caura Royal Road and the Eastern Main Road in El Dorado when the march passed through on its way to Port of Spain. “What they didn’t say about Black People is what they didn’t know.” Such a misstep led to its defeat.

I was reminded of that scenario recently as the UNC, another variation of the ULF, unfurled its vengeance against its own which probably resulted in its inglorious defeat in the Lengua/Indian Walk local election. They UNC got the same number of votes as the PNM in the previous election. This time it lost by over 600 votes.

More devastatingly, UNC MP for Cumuto/Manzanilla Dr Rai Ragbir broke rank with his party and voted for the Government’s Whistleblower Protection Bill. It matters not whether he voted out of conscience, revenge or, as he says, because the legislation “aligned his actions with his spiritual and moral values”. (Express, June 26.) It mattered that his vote signified the beginning of a fragmentation within the party even though he insisted that he “remains loyal to the party”.

Such tendencies are how politics is practised in many countries. What I couldn’t understand is why Roy Mitchell, my fellow columnist, thought it necessary to malign the UNC and its leader for such normal political behaviour.

He declared: “The declining fortunes of the United National Congress should come as no surprise to the electorate. Inimical to the nation’s best interests, it is the outcome of inexcusable political insensitivity, immaturity and irresponsibility.”

He continues: “So inextricably imprisoned in their own malicious psyche has their penchant become that they have unwittingly stripped themselves of their God-given acumen; judgment to make the distinction between fact and fiction, truth and propaganda... They manipulate everything, oft-times their own home grown renderings.” (Express, June 27.)

First. There was no need to malign the party and its leader for such a normal occurrence. What could a writer mean when he describes a people as having a “malicious psyche” that has been stripped of its “God-given acumen”?

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychology, described the psyche as consisting of the conscious, the subconscious, and the unconscious mind. It is the repository of one’s entire life experiences. It is neither good nor bad. It simply exists.

Second. Most UNC members are Hindus who do not subscribe to nor speak about a “God-given acumen”. Most black people in T&T subscribe to a Christian God that is located within a Judeo-Christian theological understanding of the world. It follows necessarily that each group sees and understands the world differently. Such differences ought to be ­recognised and respected.

Third. The distinction between fact and fiction, truth and untruth falls within the ambit of logic that is defined generally as “reasoning conducted or assessed according to strict principles of validity”. The first principle of logical reasoning reads: “If A is B, and B is C, then A is C.” I learned this when I studied philosophy at St John’s University in New York.

Faith, on the other hand, has to do with “a strong belief in God or in the doctrines of religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof”. If this is true, it follows that Hindus, having a different belief system, would not be as comfortable with Mitchell’s notion of that “God-given acumen” as he seems to be.

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar recognised that the fracas within her party went out of bounds. She said: “I have no interest in engaging in any bacchanal with anyone... We are all UNC members, and there is room for all. Members and supporters of all slates must move for the greater good of the party, and ultimately our country. Supporters of both slates must now work together. Any anger, any bitterness or hurt should be forgiven.” (Express, June 26.)

T&T is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. It follows therefrom that each group responds to its political, social and philosophical challenges differently. Therefore, to speak of “the callous subversion of the spirit of democracy” seems to be “outta timing”, as the young people say.

The UNC ought to respect itself and its institutions. It should forget its ancient hatreds and realise one does not have to love one’s brothers and sisters to accommodate one another in the same political house. Compromise and tolerance should be among its watchwords. Until it does, it will always snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory.

—Prof Cudjoe's e-mail address is He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.

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