We have examined the implications and genetic link between tribal politics and the Jamaican society, but the influence of rhetoric from the platform and in the media is another tool we cannot ignore. Over the years, many politicians have tried to inculcate the minds of their grassroots that “the other party is the enemy”, using any public platform possible to sell a narrative of animosity, fear or tribal behaviour and response. The advent and popularity of social media have proven a worthwhile avenue for that intent on positive messaging and “PR”, but also for the mischief-makers and peddlers of propaganda and mudslinging.
The easiest exercise for a politician is to pander to the vibrant and even rabid crowd at a rally, knowing that sound bytes and strong accusations will become regurgitated language throughout the length and breadth of social media. This allows denigration and blatant disrespect aimed at individuals of the other party and even wholesale statements directed at the entire party. It is useful to note that most times a sense of “ginnalship” is inserted, as most speakers on the public platform know how thin a line exists between what is disrespectful and defamatory. As a result, it is easy to say “something isn’t right about this missing money and the minister must know about it” compared to “the minister stole the money and must tell us about it”.
The intent is to lead and encourage the masses to be up in arms and agree with the negativity while being mindful of not crossing the line into legal hot water on a personal level. You can invite people to riot without telling them directly and then easily say “I never told my supporters to burn down the building”. The scourge of tribal politics has motivated politicians to script and direct scenarios guaranteeing a mindset, motive and subsequent action from their support base. It is not by accident that a leader up north has always used the political platform to encourage racism, classism, gender discrimination and even opposition and hatred for certain media houses. What happens whenever certain things are said from the platform? Murder, mayhem, beatings and clear blatant displays of racism from the state to the citizenry. What is said when he is asked to justify his words versus the responses of his supporters? The explanation of why he said it, justification for the result, but distancing himself for the use of his own words.
In Jamaica, we have seen the vitriol spewed on social media when a politician calls supporters of the other party “john crow”, “nasty”, “dutty”, “corrupt” and the endless list of slurs go on. Within a few hours there is a war brewing on behalf of the speakers and those offended. The grassroots base doesn’t need to wage this war via social media and instead stockpiles the hatred and dislike for the “opponent”. The moment known as “election time” or its lead up becomes silly season and ranges from a war of words to even death. The same politicians who preened themselves on the platform will hurriedly seek more public attention by chastising the perpetrators of the acts saying “I would never support any of my followers engaging in this behaviour”, yet they created the spark and ignited the problem. They are well aware that the hungry and angry mob is only too eager to hear another menu filled with animosity and tribal utterances for them to serve as waiters.
Some politicians use the cover of parliamentary privilege to taint the reputations of others in the public eye and stop at every little to disparage their characters and soil a public image and perception. The result is that the public sentiment is like a sponge, sucking up the lascivious liquid and taking it as gospel to the social media pages. In essence what happens is a man/woman of good reputation and standing in their profession and personal life can be forever stained as “shady”, “corrupt”, “of questionable judgement” with very little recourse. After all, if it is said under parliamentary authority and privilege, what route is there to seek redress when the irresponsible and irreparable damage has been done? It is all part of the tribal politics and many reputations have been ruined by innuendo or intentionally.
Do you know what the true irony in all this is? The same politicians who pilot this behaviour from the political platform against their seeming opponents are all sitting together as one over tea and crumpets, while the average John Citizen is busy creating a firestorm. They applaud each other for having “one up on me” and simply warn of the rebuttal to come while laughing and chewing on croissants. It is time we emancipate ourselves from political slavery and intellectual dishonesty by realising and recognizing the political trick for exactly what it is…tribal. It is time for us to recall our history and see how the effects have followed our grandparents into our generation and how much we have in perpetuity carried it into the next. We have and will continue to be victims of our own design and that of politicians determined to keep us as rabid tribes perpetually at war against each other. Let’s face it.