America’s Christian community recently suffered a major loss to its prestige. Jerry Falwell Jr, a prominent Evangelical leader and president of Liberty University, was purported to have been a passive participant in an extra-marital affair involving his wife and another man. The fallout was swift – he resigned from his position at the university and has gone into hiding to avoid media attention. While he isn’t the first “man of God” to find himself embroiled in scandal, he is an example of the false piety of public individuals who espouse moral values while faltering in their own behaviours.
Two weeks ago, Fitzgerald Hinds, the MP for Laventille West, was criticised for an insensitive post on social media in which he described his interaction with a man who asked for $20 to get something to eat. He refused to render assistance because, according to him, he didn’t like the idea of, “…young apparently fit men begging,” and, worse yet, “…when they tell me hummuch dey want!” He concluded—in a vague and condescending way—that the experience caused him to “reflect deeply” on his new portfolio and that he was, “…highly energised to do this critical work.” The post was later deleted.
To be clear, Mr Hinds is not obligated to help people who approach him on the street, especially if it involves unsolicited requests for money. His critics, however, have pointed out that this incident contradicts his role as the Minister of Youth Development. A joint statement issued by the United National Congress’ Youth Arm and the Congress of the People suggested that the minister could have taken the time to enquire about the man’s situation. Regardless of the rationale for his decision, Mr Hinds only has himself to blame for the backlash. It was bad enough that he chose to publicise the incident, but his tone was callous and aloof. His lack of compassion raised the question as to his character and the calibre of minister he’ll turn out to be.
We tend to expect a lot from our politicians and civic leaders. Not only do we want them to be diligent and competent, we also want them to be beyond reproach. We like to think that if they are decent persons in their private life, then they will bring that same decency in their public work. That being said, we must not forget that they are only human… and are not saints simply because of their societal status. But what can be unforgivable is the hypocrisy of “do as I say and not as I do.” Case in point is Mr Falwell’s fall from grace. He publically preached the Christian virtues of monogamy and the sanctity of marriage while privately indulging in his own sordid sexual appetites. Naughty, naughty.
Here in Trinidad and Tobago, the hypocrisy of our politicians tends to take the form of talking out of both sides of their mouths. Sure they love to pontificate about morals and principles, but they are usually doing so while standing knee-deep in mud. Just look at how nasty things got during the last election. Both campaigns seemed to focus more on race-baiting innuendos and ad hominem attacks than on policies. Then, less than a month later, in their Independence Day messages, both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition made calls for national unity. It would seem that good character doesn’t include being civil to one’s political rivals.
However, this hypocrisy is also used as a distraction from actually serving the people. Let’s look again to Mr Hinds. In an interview with the Guardian in July 2019, he said that the Rowley administration had not abandoned the communities along the East-West corridor. Instead, he claimed forthrightly that it was up to the constituents to help themselves. This sounds similar to his dismissive attitude regarding the “young man.” Of course, he isn’t the only politician who thumbs their nose at the people, especially when faced with the truth as to how little the government they represent is working for them. What we get is an air of moral superiority that’s meant to stifle any criticism. But that’s exactly why the public needs to ask the question and demand that it is answered. That question being, and to use Mr Hinds’ own words – what critical work have they done to improve our country?
That should be how we measure the character of our politicians. It’s not their spinning platitudes about service and fighting corruption, and it’s definitely not defaming and denouncing their opponents. We’ve grown too accustomed to their lies and misdirections, the worst of them being that they are selfless, pious individuals. Now, Mr Hinds may not be a self-professed “man of God” like Mr Falwell, but he is a man of the people, one who was elected to serve them. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so hard on him for refusing the give a stranger $20—a lot of us would have probably done the same. But that doesn’t change the fact that, yes, we do expect more from Mr Hinds; he is a public servant after all. To that end, we don’t just want to hear him talk about his “critical work”… we want to see him doing it as well.