by Swinburne Lestrade

The silliness, mischief and shenanigans that characterised the last few weeks, indeed the entire four-year term, of a certain Donald J. Trump have me reflecting on the issue of civility and incivility in politics. There were huge incivilities on display in the USA, as there were in nature Isle of Dominica. Incivility is the most generous term that we can use to describe much of Trump’s behaviour, and that of the supine and obsequious elected Republican representatives of the people. There is much that has been written about this in the media and other journals so that for purposes of this post, only a few reminders are necessary. 

Let us ignore the far larger incivilities in which the man revelled, that were totally in character – the deplorable, the criminal even. Let us recall Trump on the debate stage with Hillary Clinton, hovering and towering menacingly over her, while muttering incivilities, like the devilish macho bully from Hell. This came after he had, by the end of the Republican Primaries, contemptuously dispensed with the likes of Little Marco (Rubio), who in turn called Trump a “con artist”; and Ted Cruz whom he caharacterised as” Lying Ted” and threatened to “spill the beans on (his) wife”.

These “incivilities” – let us go along with the understatement — continued throughout his term of office. Too many to recall, and unworthy of repetition. Except that at the very end of his term, quite apart from the corrupt, criminal, actions he sought assiduously to foster among Republican law makers and officials, he could not resist some “smaller” incivilities. He turned on Mike Spence, his loyal Vice President, in what some described as the “unkindest cut of all”. And guess what: there was a curious breach of protocol in that there was no one “to open the doors for the Bidens when they arrived at the White House. “The doors, which awkwardly stood closed for about 10 long seconds as the Bidens watched, are typically opened by Marine guards.” The guards had apparently been sent home just in time.

Trump’s term ended as it had begun. 

It is fair to note that civility won in the end. McConnell did eventually acknowledge President-elect trump; and Pence did eventually congratulate Vice President-elect Harris. Trump had already departed for Mar el Mago, but Pence carried on manfully performing the duties that Trump had abdicated. There is something so hearteningly civil about the US (and UK) transitions when the convention is adhered to. Amidst the reminder of the traditional civility of the transition, missing were the heartening scenes of the Bush-Obama and Obama-Trump transitions. Suffice it to say that the pictures below speak volumes. 

A look at past meetings between presidents and their successors
What does President Bush think of President Obama? - Quora
Obama's transition letter tells you everything you need to about Trump |  indy100 | indy100

Trump did not join the former Presidents at Biden’s Inauguration. Three former Presidents, one Republican and two Democrats, came together on the occasion of Biden’s inauguration, to wish him well. They spoke of coming together in a “peaceful transition of power”, to say to the incoming President that “Your success is our country’s success”.

See the source image

Left: the then five living USA Presidents, Republican and Democratic. Right: former Presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton. They collaborated in a video to wish Biden well. 

Indeed, these pictures are evidence of the strong tradition of civility in US presidential transitions, a civility that goes beyond the transition period and indeed transcend administrations and the politics itself.  That history will not have the benefit of a pictorial representation of the Trump-Biden transition, in a display of the civility and genteelness that are characteristic of such occasions, is a tribute to Trump’s brutishness and innate incivility. Trump was at one extreme end of the spectrum of decency and civility as these transitions go. He was the outlier, the aberration. 

One takeaway from the weeks leading up to Dominica’s 2019 General Election was the extent of the incivility that characterised much of the campaign. I found myself being struck by that. The USA had nothing on us. In so many aspects there is a remarkable parallel between recent activities in Washington DC and Dominica NI, (Nature Isle). The similarities are many. Hunter has recounted some of these parallels in his calypso and we will leave that there. We might note in passing that some referred to the Capitol Hill insurgents as “patriots”, as did the UWP refer to themselves at one point; and also, the fact that the UWP appears to have no interest in conceding election defeats. We will remind though, of a few gems of “civility” that were on display in our island prior to the last election. We do this in the hope that politicians and others will be more careful, respectful and (if you like) civil as we go about our daily political lives and into the next election campaign, and the next.

One paragraph from Dominica News Online (5th Dec. 2019) will suffice – it is perhaps the grossest example of the kind of incivility that marred the last election campaign:  

“His Lordship Bishop of Roseau, Gabriel Malzaire endured the worst kind of violence in the manner of verbal abuse and assault as UWP supporters in Marigot – the constituency of leader of United Workers Party – got into his face to shout their abuse. The primary abuser of His Lordship the Bishop can be seen clearly on video was Brian Linton, brother of the leader of Opposition, Lennox Linton. As the UWP supporters have blocked the main highway connecting the city to the Douglas-Charles Airport, all the passengers including the Bishop had to personally carry their baggage while walking to pass (sic) burning debris in Marigot.”

This December 5th report from DNO came after a December 4th “Statement” by the Catholic Clergy of the Diocese of Roseau. It is through this Statement that many learned that the incivility meted out to Bishop Malzaire was shared by our revered Cardinal Felix who had been travelling with the Bishop. (I felt for the Cardinal, and not only because I served him as an altar boy during his priesthood at St Alphonsus.) The “Statement” said in part:

“On Monday December 2, 2019, whilst on their way to the airport, His Lordship Bishop Gabriel Malzaire and His Eminence Cardinal Kelvin Felix, were confronted by a group of protesters in Marigot, and subjected to insults and embarrassing questions.  “We … consider it an act of disgrace and disrespect not only to head of the Catholic Church in Dominica but to the clergy and the lay faithful as well.” 

Oh, the incivility, the sheer irreverence, in the name of “electoral reform”. What I am calling incivility the Prime Minister described as “another black eye at the hands of the United Workers Party”. Others used much stronger language – although I do not recall how many “civil society” groups spoke out on these and other incivilities, whether committed in the House of Assembly, in “certain sections of the media” or elsewhere. There was nary a word from “civil society” groups, individual spokespersons, not to mention the enablers. Some of our pastors appeared to have succumbed easily to silence in the face of such incivility, while some others succumbed to incivility itself. Hear this: 

In a radio interview, “(Pastor) Rodney explained that following the call for electoral reform he also admonished Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit to ensure that “we have it now; make sure it is done. This is not about throwing stones, but there is something much harder than stones.” But Rodney made it clear that he cannot be intimidated. “I cannot be intimidated, like what I said to the commissioner, you will just have to take me out.” 

And there was that Dreadful Day, (“D-Day of the People”), 7th February 2017, the UWP meeting on Kennedy Avenue, and the violence and vandalism that ensued.  The purpose of the meeting was, “Skerrit must go” and the Police Chief had urged speakers to “refrain from making inflammatory statements to incite violence”. The Opposition Leader fired back that the Police Chief was “dreaming up incitement”. (The Police Chief and the Opposition Party had agreed on a cut-off point for the said meeting, but of course the meeting finished when it finished.) Long story short, the UWP issued this statement (in part):

“Today we say the United Workers Party (UWP) condemns the acts of violence and vandalism that erupted in the streets of Roseau during the evening of February 7, 2017, causing widespread loss and damage to business enterprises and triggering fears for safety and security in a season of heightened tension in our practice of civility.” (DNO December 8th, 2017.) 

There is no suggestion that anyone is inherently uncivil or worse, certainly not the Leader of the Opposition. After all, Norris Prevost told us back in September 2014 that he was “very proud of Lennox Linton”, a sentiment shared, no doubt, by 16,000-plus voters at the last general election. And Val Cuffy in 2019 endorsed him “as a leader with character … someone of uncompromising integrity, one who speaks truth to power, one who does not lie or cheat, one who lives for God, family and country” (DNO 19th Nov. 2019). 

It may be that the Opposition Leader deserves more of the public’s sympathy. Take the occasion of his swearing-in as Leader of the Opposition back in December 2014. It is not clear how much civility we can detect from the picture of the swearing-in. Some see pain, (maybe because they wish to see pain), on the visage of the Opposition Leader – after all, he, referring to the nomination of Mr. Savarin to the Office of the President, had famously stated, “This will not stand; this will not be allowed to stand in Dominica”. But it stood. 

He certainly deserved sympathy, when, in Beijing in 2017, a prominent member of “the Parliamentary Opposition”, found it necessary to take his Party’s “Skerrit must go” protest to the Chinese capital city. Indeed the Hon. Daniel Lugay was pictured in his “Skerrit must go” regalia. Methinks this must have embarrassed his Leader greatly.  “Civility” can be a convenient and generous understatement. The mindlessness of the MP for Roseau North is unfathomable. How can one forget the mindlessness previously displayed by the same gentleman who, incidentally, was named by his Leader in 2015 as the “Alternative Minister” for Health, Wellness and Sports? (DNO, 9th January 2015.)

However, we presume that Mr. Lugay had nothing to do with the indignity and incivility betrayed by the Leader of the Opposition when he “took the salute” at the National Youth Rally on 1st November 2019, to the predictable delight of his supporters. He later explained why he endorsed students who went against the command of the Ministry of Education and decided to participate in the Rally. According to him “it had nothing to do with politics; instead, he wanted to show support for the students. He also said it was very inspiring for him as a leader looking at young children being independent in mind and spirit”. 

Incivilities, (ranging from mild to severe), coming from politicians, are one thing. Coming from non-politicians, they may be especially regrettable. A particularly glaring example comes from a report in DNO, December 3rd, 2019). It is reported that a senior professional in the Ministry of Health “is supporting the protest, (in Marigot and elsewhere), saying that the time has come for the people to fight for their rights”, (although it is not clear if his support extended to the assault on the Senior Clergy.)

The gentleman is also reported as describing the Prime Minister as a savage — “savage, and as he is going out, he becomes this dangerous animal”. “The senior official said he is also concerned about the mental stability of the prime minister” – a “vicious character”. Ouch. He said what is happening in Marigot is not violence but resistance, (a usual justification for violent protest). “We need people who are willing to lay on the roads and say no bus passing”. 

Oh, the language; the lack of respect; the incivility … to a sitting Prime Minister.

But alas, the gentleman’s venom appeared to have been pent-up for a long time. He is reported as saying that “he was always against the appointment of Skerrit as Prime Minister. “In 2004 I stood up against him being prime minister. I was kicked out of his house when I said you are not going to lead Dominica in any way, shape or form.”

When I mentioned to someone that I was doing a piece on civility in politics I was sent a commentary by an attorney-at-law, published in DNO on September 18th, 2019. This incivility was not directed at a government minister but at one of our country’s pioneering businessmen. I found the article overwhelming in its intensity of language, and otherwise perhaps not fit for my particular purpose. The article’s title telegraphs its content: A response to Gregor the Midget, in support of Hon. Lennox Linton the Ethical Giant, and its first paragraph reads as follows:

“Once again I am moved to the defence of Honourable Mr. Lennox Linton, against a group of self-aggrandising immoral, unethical pseudo-patriotic bullies, who persist in their unjustified attacks upon Mr. Linton in his patriotic quest to restore sanity in the governance of this country. Like horses fixed with blinders, they see and follow only the road to maximized profits. At every instance they unwittingly display their innate rapacious animalistic characteristics and pernicious propensities, which are more befitting of the pesky chiwawa or the mongrel (gattay wass) than of the humbler more majestic Great Dane. Of the former, Sam Raphael is the most prominent darker one.”

I thought I would leave that alone.

Let us observe that no one party or individual has a monopoly on incivility, and there is no suggestion that the Party in Government is not innocent of incivilities. The evidence may be less glaring, less “in your face” perhaps, but let us look briefly at what we have.

We have it from Lennox Linton that Lennox Lawrence “went on a Labour Party platform, he asked the people of Dominica to hunt us down like Obama hunts down al-Queda and deal with us”. Ouch. The same speaker was quoted in DNO as saying: “Roosevelt Skerrit went on a platform, asked people to come in our faces and call us traitors, when they see us in the parking lot, when they see us coming out of church on Sundays, when they see us at the airport go up to us, confront us and call us traitors.” 

And Norris Prevost had chimed in back in 2014. He took objection to the Prime Minister calling UWP supporters “dishonest” and added, “his further deterioration into calling Mr. Lennox Linton and the United Workers Party ‘bastards’, is a clear demonstration that Dominicans deserve a person of better character than Mr. Skerrit, for Prime Minister”, (DNO, September 12th, 2014). 

So that the Prime Minister has also been accused of flinging incivilities around. 

And by way of further illustration, our discussion must needs make mention of the Senior Counsel himself, a certain Tony Astaphan. Suffice it to say of the illustrious S.C. that he has not been a beacon of political civility, a description about which I would expect no complaint from the said gentleman. And I am reminded of the incivilities that were hurled at our first Lady Prime Minister by a few former Labour parliamentarians of the 1970s.   

DNO, (October 11, 2021), reports that in a Facebook post Linton said, “when the campaign to assassinate my character fails, the criminal enterprise will assassinate me. Then, hopefully, the passport money pirates, will be free to enjoy their billion-dollar loot without let or hindrance”. Seriously, let us never get to the stage where such a possibility can even be contemplated. This is not “who we are …” as the Americans love to say.

By the way, a funny thing happened in the US Senate very recently. A lady named Neera Tanden was appearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for confirmation as President Joe Biden’s Budget Director.  It turned out Ms. Tanden had tweeted disparaging (uncivil?) remarks about certain Republican senators. Ranking Republican Senator Rob Portland told her, in committee: 

“I’m concerned that your personal attacks about specific senators will make it more difficult for you to work with them. “Just to mention a few of the thousands of negative public statements, you wrote that (Republican Senator) Susan Collins is the worst, that (Republican Senator) Tom Cotton is a fraud, that vampires have more heart than (Republican Senator) Ted Cruz. “You called leader (Republican Senator) McConnell, Moscow Mitch … and on and on.”

The tweets have “added to the troubling trend of more incivility and division in our public life,” said Portman. 

And so, it appeared that Ms. Tanden’s prospects of confirmation dimmed. At the time of writing, she appeared unlikely to get the job. She appeared likely to be hoisted with her own petard of past incivilities – never mind the flood of incivilities that had emanated from the twitter account of the Republican former President.

So, while in some countries and circumstances we are a long way from civility, and appear to have graduated to incivility, rudeness, defiance of authority, threats of violence, and actual violence, a relatively high level of civility is on display in other countries. Jamaica comes to mind. In the interest of time and space, we shall let the pictures speak for themselves.
Who to believe, Holness or Phillips in relation to private House talk? |  Loop News

(At left, above), Prime Minister Andrew Holness shares a moment with his predecessor Portia Simpson Miller, (whom he had just defeated in a general election), during his swearing-in ceremony. At right, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, (right), and Opposition Leader Dr. Peter Phillips.

Lennox Linton

Taking civility too far?                         We have our moments, do we?

My wife laughed as she read this piece, (up to this point). I laughed with her for a bit, before reminding her that, as a former government minister was very fond of saying: “this is serious business”. 

One is aware of the reality. One is aware of history. Angela Evans reminds us that “now and then we have witnessed video recordings of legislators in other countries engaged in fisticuffs. The same thing happened in the U.S. Senate in 1856, when the pro-slavery Sen. Preston Brooks of South Carolina brutally caned the abolitionist Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. “Civil war in the Senate was an early warning sign of the actual civil war to come.” (The title of her piece is Civility, or civil war?)

Robert Talise suggests that: “… it may be that civility is too demanding, asking too much of passionate human nature. “… a better idea of civility involves not the total absence of hostility or escalation but avoiding those extremes … “. 

He continues: “Civility might be practically impossible today. At the very least, it is more difficult than many people suppose, because of the human tendency to feel contempt, not compassion, for opponents.”

Joe Biden in his inaugural address sought a return to the age of civility:

“We can see each other, not as adversaries, but as neighbours. We can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can join forces, stop the shouting, and lower the temperature. “We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. “Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war.”

We can try to define civility. Some have attempted. One author suggests: “Civility includes courtesy, politeness, mutual respect, fairness, good manners … “.  Writing about Guyana, Ian McDonald argues that “a large part of what is needed in Guyana is to embed in the body politic the habit of civility”. He lists a number of words and phrases that are associated with civility: common courtesy, considerate attention, graciousness, politeness, tactfulness, diplomacy, amiability, obligingness, benevolence, agreeableness, kind words, generosity of spirit, respect, attentiveness, good temper, amity, peacefulness, fair-mindedness.  

We can certainly try to define civility – although I am attracted to the way that Sandra Day O’Connor put it: “Unfortunately civility is hard to codify or legislate, but you know it when you see it.”

Van Jones suggests that “civility is the key to civilization”; and Joshua Lederberg cautions that “All of civility depends on being able to contain the rage of individuals”.

Some have even suggested that civility is dead. Let us hope not. Civility costs nothing. We can certainly do better in Dominica – at least we can be more careful about language. We can show respect. We can at least acknowledge the good while flailing the bad. All of this can be difficult in our inherently adversarial system of politics, but it does not have to be as bad as it is. I was in my early teens when I saw my Dad and E.O. Leblanc in a long, apparently pleasant conversation outside our home on Federation Drive, Leblanc in his little jeep. I ran to my Mom in bewilderment that these political enemies were chatting and laughing. And it happened again. E.O. would stop by every now and again to chat. Oh, for these good old days.

Greater civility in politics will make us a more civilized society. Taking a global and long-term historical perspective, Cullen Hightower urges: “After our ages-long journey from savagery to civility, let’s hope we haven’t bought a round-trip ticket.” In the words of the song, let us “put de brakes on” the incivility, nay, savagery that seems to be creeping into our politics.

About the author:

Swinburne Lestrade is an Economist, a former Director of the Economic Affairs Secretariat of the OECS, a former OECS Director General, and Ambassador to the OAS. He also served as Coordinator of Dominica’s Economic Stabilisation and Recovery Programme. He is the Editor, Continuing the Journey: Dominica’s Development Challenges and Responses Going Forward, 2010, and the Editor,

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