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Decentering Dr. Williams— Denigrating the PNM

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
September 14, 2021

PART 2

The UNC represents the true spirit of Trinidad and Tobago,… all the poor, humble working people, farmers, small business owners, ordinary men and women, from north to south, east, west, central, the urban, the suburban, the rural, the swampland, the coastal, and floodplains, the hills and the lagoons.

—Kirk Meighoo, The Checklist (2021)

If V. S. Naipaul was Kirk Meighoo's intellectual guru initially, he later turned to Lloyd Best for intellectual guidance and direction. Since a "half-made society" (a term that Naipaul used disparagingly) is a literary conceit it could not bear the sociological weight that Meighoo thrust upon it. Meighoo argued that Politics in a Half-Made Society (hereafter Politics) was "a slight reworking" of his doctoral dissertation. This led Anton L. Allahar, professor emeritus at the University of Western Ontario, to write: "I have never seen a doctoral dissertation in the social sciences that was devoid of a theoretical perspective and a clear statement of methodology." (Caribbean Studies, 2005).

Realizing the futility of his assertion that Trinidad was a "half-made society," Meighoo joined Best in adopting the proposition that there are "13 racial and national groups in Trinidad alone." It is a concept that Best picked up from Daniel Crowley and adapted to his Tapia movement in 1982. Trinidadians, Crowley says, "acculturate themselves very easily to many different groups" which presumably prevents them from voting in an exclusively racial manner.

In Politics, Meighoo argued confusingly that "the influence of (T&T politics is real, but the extent of its significance is questionable." Best/Crowley's "many-nation thesis," allowed Meighoo to argue that what analysts claim as "racialist" politics in T&T "amounts to not much more than competition for office and demands for a share of government patronage in terms of jobs, business contracts, directorships, state funding, and so on….

"[There is an] intellectual emptiness of politics in T&T…. Ethnic groups are politically mobilized, without ethnic demands, partly because there are no creative ideas, movements, or visions forwarded that can inspire or win the confidence of a large cross-section of the country….The main parties live without ideas, as C. L. R. James famously remarked" ("Ethnic Mobilisation").

Meighoo devoured these ideas ravenously. In 2005 he moved to annihilate the PNM and UNC. On October 1 he sent the following memo to his colleagues in the Committee for Transformation and Progress (C4TAP), the non-political formation he used as the forerunner of his party, the Democratic National Alliance (DNA):

"We have been talking to elements within the UNC, I don't see why we can't also talk to elements in the PNM. They are both disgusting. I hate talking to the UNC as much as I hate talking to the PNM….

"The UNC represents everything wrong with our country: insularity, lack of vision, parochialism, ethnocentrism, vaille-que-vaille mode of operating, selective enforcement of rules, deception and dishonesty, corruption, no thought about wider responsibilities, and no national feeling….

"The PNM realizes our value more than the UNC. The UNC are uncultured barbarians. If they did Vision 2020, for example, they would never invite me to be Vice Chair on a group" ("Our Strategy and the PNM").

The DNA was formed in October 2006 after a full year of work as C4TAP to challenge PNM and UNC for whom Meighoo had little respect. Its core principles were "Decency, Nationalism and Accountability." In 2007 he fought for the Chaguanas East seat under the UNC alliance and lost badly, with a mere 0.01 percent of the votes. In 2013 he contested the Chaguanas West bye-election for the UNC. He received 35 votes. His performance demonstrated the lacunae between his political theories and Realpolitik.

In spite of his election defeat, Meighoo still possessed the gumption to make large, declarative statements that he pronounced with an air of analytical certitude. He declared in "Ethnic Mobilisation": "It took 30 years to create a national party (the PNM in 1956), and 30 years to dislodge them from government (in 1986), despite the almost universal rejection of the PNM by 1970. Currently, a large number of citizens are fed up with both political parties, yet no viable new party has yet been firmly established, and the new parties that have offered themselves for election have been unsuccessful."

Given his election performance—even his inability to build a party-- one is led to ask what gives Meighoo so much confidence in his analytical abilities. More important, how are we to take his claims about UNC achievements and his fervor for their excellent work over the past 32 years; and his declaration that UNC is the only "Trinidad-origin party that truly respects the distinctiveness of the island and people of Tobago, working with them as true partners and equals."

Meighoo may be is good at hyperbole and verbosity but he is poor at analysis. This is something that Professor Allahar declared when he reviewed Politics in 2005: "What I understand him [Meighoo] to say in his book is tedious, descriptive, politically nondescript, and intellectually thin." While Meighoo is flamboyant and good at rehashing historical data, he is poor at theorizing what happened in the past and predicting what is likely to occur in the future. This is why Meighoo can make extremely bombastic statements that do not cohere with the reality that ordinary people see around them.

Given the dissonance between Meighoo's words and his political performance, it is difficult to accept his claim of UNC's distinctiveness and its capacity to work with Trinbagonians "as true partners and equals" when his words contradict whatever progressive tendencies exist within the UNC.

Meighoo should think carefully before he utters his disingenuous statements. He only fools himself rather than a discerning public when he does that.

Prof. Cudjoe's email address is scudjoe@wellesley.edu. He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.

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The Slave Master of Trinidad by Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
The Slave Master of Trinidad by Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe