This article was first published in the Trinidad Express Newspapers on December 31st 2017.
I do not know if the people of the United States would vote for superior men if they ran for office, but there can be no doubt that such men do not run.”
― Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
That was written in the eighteen hundreds by a political commentator who is quoted up until today for his acute wisdom and sagacity, and his deep objective understanding of the system known as Democracy which seems to be in danger.
I thought about it this weekend as the speculation over who would become our new president hit the press, rum shop limes and family Christmas gatherings, especially when Reggie Dumas, the quite obviously most suitable candidate for his international experience, knowledge, and reputation in Diplomacy announced that he had not been asked and was not interested in the position. And why would any government choose him anyway? He is known for his strength, integrity, self-discipline, independence and incorruptibility. He is not all that easy to get along with I was told by people who used to work with him (all those standards and discipline). Apparently, he can’t be bought and can’t be dominated by political chicanery. What government would want a Head of State like that? Especially when the President is the one, under our Constitution that actually gets to choose the Chief Justice if, for some reason that position falls vacant?
One of the things that we Human Resource professionals are often (rightly, usually) accused of, is choosing candidates for executive positions in their “own image and likeness”. They do it with a subconscious bias that they are usually unaware of and therefore can’t guard against. Suppose Mr. Dumas actually was strong-armed into accepting the position? We all know that it won’t happen, but let’s play “what if?” for a moment. What if someone could convince him to put aside his own wishes for the good of the country? What if he then did, however grouchily, agree to take on the not very salubrious position of president? OK, OK, we know he won’t. He said he wouldn’t and he is reputed to be stubborn, but “What if?” And suppose he then had to select a new C.J. if the existing one resigned to pursue his own interests? Yes, I know. That is not going to happen, either, but we are playing “What If?”
Suppose he then chose someone who was in his own image and likeness? I don’t mean physically, because we all know that people, like fingerprints, snowflakes, and grains of sand are never created the same. But of a similar character and intelligence? What IF? There are one or two people like that around. Even people in the legal profession including the Judiciary, the last public institution that people in this country still believe in and have respect for as an institution. And we need to treasure and maintain that trust and belief.
De Toqueville was not writing about Trinidad and Tobago when he wrote his famous book on Democracy.But he was writing about a system of governance that we profess to believe in. As Churchill said: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”. After all, Mr. Trump was voted in as President of what used to be the most powerful country in the world through a fair and unbiased Democratic system unmanipulated by any foreign power or by alt facts in an unbiased and un-bought press. I know that is true because I heard it on Fox News and they wouldn’t lie, would they?
Notably, De Toquevlle was right. In fact, he was one of those irritating people, like the fabled Mary Poppins, who was always right. In the early eighteen hundreds he famously said “A democratic government is the only one in which those who vote for a tax are the ones who escape the obligation to pay it”. That might have been written last week as President Trump signed into law an act that reduced the taxes corporate giants had to pay by fourteen percent and removed the right to certain vital aspects of free health that affect some of the most vulnerable, particularly poor women, while the Democrats claim that taxes will actually go up for the middle classes, but as our own dear Minister of Finance smilingly pointed out, if the voters have not revolted yet, why worry?