“The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Casual Observer
As a young child who used to read fables, getting to the end of the fairytale to find out the “moral of the story” was just as exciting a the tale itself. Needless to say that for a young child reading “The Emperor’s New Clothes” for the first time, I felt hugely let down as I certainly didn’t need Hans Christian Anderson admonishing against walking down Cedar Avenue during the 24th of May parade stark naked! I mean, what kind of fool leaves the house NAKED, thinking that he has clothes on!?
It is only in my adult life, and more specifically perhaps when set against the current backdrop of Bermuda’s social and political climate that the moral of the story is now glaringly obvious. And, it is perhaps this classic fable, warning against banal extravagance, opulence and grandstanding, arrogance and a collective refusal by the people to accept what is clearly in front of us that speaks most directly to Bermuda’s current reality.
For those who are unaware of the story, a brief synopsis: An emperor, obsessed with his own ambition of wanting to be the best dressed ruler one day fell victim to two swindlers posing as weavers who promised to make the finest clothes made from the finest thread – the kicker being that the clothes would be invisible to anybody who was unfit for his office or incredibly stupid. The swindlers got right to work having been given large sums of money, gold and the finest silk clothes. They appeared to be hard at work all through the night, weaving for the king what would surely be the finest clothes to grace any ruler. Ministers and courtiers were regularly sent to oversee the weaving of the cloth and were all surprised to find that they couldn’t see anything, as there was in fact nothing to see. Unwilling to publicly concede that they were perhaps unfit for their office, or incredibly stupid, they exclaimed that the cloth was beautiful, each imagining that they other could in fact see the brilliant work that was underway. Word of the beautiful cloth spread throughout the town and all of the townspeople proclaimed it’s magnificence.
The emperor himself when brought to view the work was dismayed that he in fact could see nothing and questioned privately his suitability as ruler but was bolstered by the approval of his Ministers and the weavers, declared the gowns the finest he had ever seen and was talked into donning the ‘gowns’ for an upcoming procession. Finally, the weavers declared that the gown was ready and with much pomp and circumstance proceeded to ‘dress’ the Emperor for the upcoming procession. The courtiers and weavers gushed over how well the gowns fit and how magnificently the attire was. The Emperor preened in the mirror as the courtiers admired his beautiful garments. Servants pretended to hold the train, inwardly troubled that they could not in fact see what everybody else could see. Unwilling to admit their “stupidity” they followed behind the procession, train in hand as the king marched proudly before his subjects who lined the streets loudly proclaiming how wonderful the Emperor’s new clothes were – none wanting to let the others know that he or she was too stupid or unfit for his office, to point out the obvious. It was not until a little child at last proclaimed “But he has nothing on at all” that the word spread through the crowd that the Emperor was in fact naked. The Emperor, realizing that he had been duped, carried on the charade until the end of the procession.
I suppose I could leave it at that and leave it up to the reader to ‘pick the bones out of that one’ but I’ve never really been known for leaving things alone.
Our Premier, like the Emperor, likes nice things. And I have no problem with that. He has worked hard, is an accomplished physician and can spend HIS money on whatever he pleases. I do have a problem however, with is a leader who spends the people’s money on whatsoever he pleases. The recent revelation of traveling expenses – including almost $8,000 on ground transport during a trip to Washington beggars belief. How one manages to spend what the average Bermudian makes in about two months on ground transportation alone for four days is absolutely staggering and worthy further explanation beyond trasportation providers having to wait sometimes. Just when you thought that couldn’t be topped a further $3,862 per night allegedly spent for London and Copenhagen trips, is at face value totally unacceptable in a time when government ministries are being issued memos on tightening the purse strings and non-essential travel.
Allegations of corruption, cronyism and unfair awarding of contracts have been present all throughout the Premier’s term. But then there was the Music Festival. A procession of world class musicians. And I, like most other Bermudians in attendance danced and sang along to Beyonce and Alicia Keys unaware that the party came with a $5m price tag. That revelation stung a year later when news leaked out of the Education Ministry threatening to close schools potentially putting teachers out of jobs and increasing class sizes at existing schools because it didn’t make economic sense to have half-empty schools. Where was ‘economic sense’ when Andre Curtis was given a $400,000 contract(the annual salary of about five or six teachers) to bring 100 tourists to Bermuda (at a cost of about $4,000 each, again, more than the average monthly salary of a Bermudian).
Our Ministers, like the Minister in the fable have for the most part continued to tow the part line – the most recent example by our own Finance Minister, whom some peg to be the next Premier, who downplayed her role by referring to herself simply as a ‘cog’. A cog. Just another mechanism in the political machinery that the current leadership has devolved into. A cog that has authorized millions of dollars in Government overspending. A cog under whose watch the national deficit has ballooned to a whopping nearly $1,000,000,000 dollars. That’s about $15,384.61 of debt put on the Government Credit Card for each Bermudian man, woman and child. That amounts to about a year and a half’s worth of rent for a Bermudian family, or approximately 1300 affordable homes at $750,000 a pop. And what do we have to show for it? Oh. To add insult to injury there is talk about giving the ‘cog’ a pay raise. Last I checked one’s salary did not double for merely being a ‘cog’. If so, I’ve clearly been doing it all wrong.
The Ministers were perhaps at the height of their ‘coggish-ness’, admittedly a term I just coined, during the Uighur debacle when the Emperor… err, Premier grossly over-stepped the authority conveyed to him under the Bermuda Constitution by secretly negotiating a deal with the US Government that saw four Guantanamo Bay detainees, read, former terror suspects, sent to our shores in celebration of our 400 year friendship with the US. The Ministers nodded and declared that the clothes were magnificent… all, save one, unwilling to proclaim that the Premier had in fact over-stepped his boundaries, placing Bermuda in a very precarious position. The procession was allowed to go on, all undaunted by the obvious. Ironically, it was against this backdrop that a number of people tried to point out to the rest of the village that the Emperor was in fact naked, only to be accused of being a lynch mob. Regardless of how some might try and dub this a humanitarian act, the reality is that the Premier was acting unilaterally without the knowledge of his own Cabinet.
And finally, there is the crowd. We have stood watching the procession of the naked Emperor whispering amongst ourselves that the Emperor’s new clothes is nothing more than an illusion (a roughly 20% approval rating is evidence of such), but unwilling to be the ones to say it aloud for fear of distinguishing ourselves from the crowd by proclaiming the obvious, which would have others label us “confused Negros”, “Uncle Toms”, or worse, members of the UBP. We opt instead for collective denial and willful ignorance, unwilling to challenge what we have come to believe ourselves. We have allowed ourselves to be conditioned on the premise that questioning a black man is somehow being disloyal to our race – the way we were taught to feel, to believe. To vote. We have been conditioned to demand less and make excuses for poor performance and unethical behaviour, choosing to focus on the positive to the exclusion of the negative. A 20% approval rating. That means that for every 2 people who think that the Premier is doing a good job, there are 8 who feel otherwise. But we go along with the charade, unwilling to step out of line.
As a people we have a lot of growing up to do. We need to learn that offering up criticism is not the same as character assassination. Some of us simply need to learn that it is okay to disagree. If you find yourself head nodding and agreeing with everything that somebody does, then that is probably unhealthy. We need to learn that white Bermudians are just as entitled to their voice and representation as black Bermudians. We cannot, as people who were once marginalized, make it a point to marginalize others. We need those people who are willing to speak out of turn, question the powers that be just as our current Premier and others did in the 60’s. Others need to recognize that they are servants of the people, answerable to the people. All the people. The ones who voted for them as well as the ones who didn’t.
There are a number of people, like the child in the fable crying out that the Emperor is wearing no clothes. Whether or not we have enough courage to say it aloud or continue in our collective denial remains to be seen.