Have you ever read this poem? I hadn’t, until recently. But now it makes sense. Take a moment…
You have no enemies, you say?
Alas! my friend, the boast is poor;
He who has mingled in the fray
Of duty, that the brave endure,
Must have made foes! If you have none,
Small is the work that you have done.
You’ve hit no traitor on the hip,
You’ve dashed no cup from perjured lip,
You’ve never turned the wrong to right,
You’ve been a coward in the fight.
As Wikipedia tells us, Charles Mackay (27 March 1814 – 24 December 1889) was a Scottish poet, journalist, author, anthologist, novelist, and songwriter, remembered mainly for his 1841 book, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, a copy of which I have buried somewhere on my bookshelves. His other works are pretty much forgotten today.
You might have also have heard his poem spoken while watching the Netflix series, The Crown, season four. In it, Gillian Anderson, playing “the Iron Lady,” Margaret Thatcher, responds to the Queen’s question about creating political enemies by reciting the poem from memory. Thatcher says, in effect, “bring them on; I’ve earned them.”
I was thinking of that poem and what it meant to have political enemies as I read in the local media* the petty, insulting, Trump-like spume from our own council around the recent Judicial Inquiry report coupled with the fumbling attempts to justifiy the egregious cost.
Enemies, as Mackay tells us, are what to expect when you work hard, do good, and stand up for your beliefs. And, it seems, my former council sure has its enemies at the table today. I doubt the current council has any because they’d have to stand for something or actually do something first.
From their comments in local media, I doubt any of those quoted actually read the report fully, let alone bothered to question any of what was, in my opinion, a flawed process and pre-determined outcome in which guilt would be assigned to those “enemies.” Our council, it strikes me, used the interview not to discuss moving forward or anything constructive, but merely to vent and bloviate (while clearly mis-informed about some salient facts, too**). How very Trump-like they have become. Since when did every councillor get to speak for the municipality? Are their personal opinions now official statements, no matter how ill-informed?
But then, I wondered, how many at the table are even capable of reading anything even a fraction as long as the contentious report, let alone comprehend or analyse it? Few if any, I suspect.
Of course, they must feel the need to staunchly defend spending more than $8 million of the public’s money on a digital report of dubious benefit to the community, and offers a host of generic or irrelevant recommendations that could have just as easily have been submitted in an afternoon’s panel discussion by the so-called “experts, for considerably less money.
They stand by it even though most must be aware that requesting it was a tawdry election prop, meant to punish those who refused to grant a $35 million handout to the YMCA eight years ago. It helped get some people elected (or re-elected). But I suppose we should take heart that several lawyers are a lot richer today because of the Inquiry. Imagine how our society would suffer if lawyers couldn’t afford another yacht.
Their leader expects it of them. Having said it was justified, thus so say we all, even though the public seems appalled at the profligate waste when our streets are decaying, our sidewalks are in desperate need of repairs, our waterfront neglected, and this council keeps raising our taxes and hiring new staff, without fixing anything.
And given the deceptive, secretive processes used to sell our electricity utility and airport last term, privatizing public assets without even the pretense of public consultation, these people calling anything after that a betrayal of trust is deeply hypocritical. And so very Trump-like.
I understand, too, a council that has accomplished nothing itself feels defensive and even paranoid about a previous council that achieved much in its term (see here and here for some lists of past accomplishments). Like Trump felt about the successful, intelligent, and witty Obama. And like Trump’s cult-like followers, councillors feel duty-bound to prop up their leader, however petty and vindictive he may sound. You dance to the tune of the person who pulls your strings, even if it means making a fool of yourself in the process. I expect at least some other residents felt their angry, puerile responses to the media were embarrassing for both our community and the province.
It’s not that I really expected them to be more erudite or well-spoken. I never believed any of them were elected for their intellectual or rhetorical prowess, but rather for their unbending loyalty to their leader and his ideology. Yet I had hoped, if not fully expected, that they would have learned by now to be somewhat more mature and not succumb to tossing out clichéd insults and risible conspiracy claptrap. And perhaps be a little more informed about what they comment on; maybe even aware of the background narrative (aka the vendetta) that spun the whole inquiry into play.
But, apparently, I was wrong. Perhaps such maturity in office takes longer for some people to achieve. Perhaps some never achieve it.
Collingwood deserves better.
* Why not ask our councillors, “What laws were broken?” since, clearly, none were. Or ask them why a digital report about events 8-10 years ago is better for the community than, say, repairing our sidewalks or fixing the many potholes on our streets. What happened to reporters asking tough questions of our politicians instead of merely giving them a platform to self-aggrandize?
I wonder why those insulted weren’t asked to respond or defend themselves. Wouldn’t that have been a responsible, fair approach? Isn’t a one-sided article simply an expression of bias, just an opinion rather than actual news?
** One of the common conspiracy myths bandied about refers to the additional $3 million Ontario Hydro offered in its bid over PowerStream’s offer. None of those repeating this line seem to understand the OEB-mandated re-capitalization that Collus had to undertake (i.e. to go into debt). Under PowerStream’s bid, the town received the full $4.7 million from that re-capitalization. Under other bids the amount received would be split between the buyer and the town, so to fully appreciate the amounts offered, you must deducting approx. $2.35 million from any extra bid. Thus, the difference in actual money that could be received by the town was considerably lower. I realize that some folks may be challenged doing the complex chore of subtraction, but try it yourself.
PLUS, even though it was mentioned over and over in public meetings, in media reports, and in Inquiry testimony, our current council seems oblivious to the simple fact that the process weighted the money at 30% and the corporate culture at 70%. And for those dozen or so people who participated in the selection, the choice was unanimous: corporate culture mattered more than mere money. But since money is the shallowest thing to focus on, I understand why our council would choose to highlight it, however inaccurately they do so.