Like a sizable section of the country, I watched Jack Warner’s nationally televised speech until late in the night after a long work day. Ziya was playing around me, pretending that the bed was a bus she was driving to the grocery and trying to get me to strap in my seatbelt while sharing the imaginary food she had enthusiastically prepared for dinner. She was spoon-feeding me, saying, ‘eat, eat up’, and beaming with pleasure as I did so. After our meal, Zi became obsessed with washing her hands, which, like any toddler, is her strategy for getting to turn on the tap and play with the water, and eventually I had to take her downstairs to the sink and soap to stop her from complaining, falsely, about her hands being dirty.
Ziya is two years old, Jack is seventy, but what they were doing was not so different. Jack was also dealing in the imaginary, trying to convince his constituents and the national community that he is in the driver’s seat and that his destination has certainty. Ziya had some idea of a grocery in her head, a collage of the ones she’s visited incorporated with sites drawn from other memories. Jack was creating a collage of his power and efficacy, narrating the world as he saw it from his leadership in FIFA, CONCACAF, past ministries and his constituency, also mixing in selected memories. Simultaneously, both he and Ziya wanted me to buckle up for the ride, with Jack’s fiction involving admittance to gravely unethical decisions without recognition of wrongs, discomforting contradictions escaping in every direction, open display of patronage’s power to twist politicians and voters into supplicants, and threats to show us all his excellence at revenge and love.
‘Eat, eat up’, they both said, Jack, like Ziya, needing us to agree that the plate we already know is empty is yet the food we really need. Both were spoon-feeding me, beaming with pleasure and invented possibilities. Yet, all was thin air indeed. Action man that Jack is and savior to our nation’s souls long abandoned by non-functioning state institutions, his declarations of party loyalty and Cabinet despair, of personal autonomy and subordination to electoral rules, of international deal-brokering and photocopied paper-trails gleam like gold-spun strategy rather than the straw of ethical accountability. Ziya’s fantasy was charming, but Jack’s left me uneasy. The difference between his and my politics, and UNC politics, came through the TV clearly.
Maybe that’s how it was for others watching, maybe my generation could view his theatre skeptically, maybe we are fed up of truths never intended to reveal, and maybe as a society these moments are how we come to conceptualise the kind of politics in which we can actually trust. Or, maybe not. Maybe Jack leaves us willing to play along though we know not what to believe and are not sure what end he has in sight.
Maybe at the end of the night, when all both Ziya and he is want their hands washed, we will be too weary to insist on differentiating clean from dirty. As she grows up, all I can hope is that Zi learns to distinguish childhood creativity from adult charades that conceal reality.