How a Political Animal beats Two Lawyers like a Drum

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By Capt. Ebou Jallo    11 December, 2021

Aristotle once wrote that “man is by nature a political animal” and hence the German philosopher Hannah Arendt would later add that the identity/meaning-constructing realm of the public sphere fulfills a deep human need.  Indeed, President Barrow was not prattling when he called himself a political animal. Elections happen within a moral matrix of a society where emotions and sentiments carry more weight in our judgments than reason.  This is one law in campaign politics that some “educated” Gambians can never understand because the idea is so simple and yet elusive to the inattentive and the egotistical.

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I have read some post-elections diagnostics of what happened on 4 December but none really understands the depth of the issue which can be reduced to these four propositions:

(a)   Political judgments are intuitional and not logical.  They can either bind or divide a society.

(b)  Passions or emotions always subordinate reason or rationality.

(c)   If you want to persuade others to vote for your party, then you must appeal to their deep-rooted sentiments.

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(d)  Politics is all about learning from people who disagree with you; and not listening to your own echo chambers.

Let us put this “theory” to a test with a simple thought experiment:  If you ask any UDP party militant two questions: “Is it wrong to have sex with a white horse?” and “is it wrong to vote for Barrow?” Almost all UDP supporters shall unfailingly answer with a vigorous “yes”, but none can possibly explain why.  They may most likely give a conditioned “reason” why they think such actions are wrong betraying in the process the ironclad limitations of their prejudices with arguments that support their conclusions.  This only shows that reason or rationality is a tool that is neither impartial nor objective.  Rationality is just like a briefcase lawyer or a government spokesman… No wonder lawyers make very lousy politicians- their lack of wisdom, political judgment; and especially the lack of capacity for empathetic understanding of others, sensitivity to the socio-political environment and immediate reality.  If you want to change people’s mind to vote for you then you must appeal to their hearts, the seat of emotions.

People elect candidates in elections the same way they acquire food preferences. This is not mere speculation but a well-researched study by world renowned scientists. My favorite example is the work of the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt who wrote the book “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion”.  People choose parties and candidates like they chose their favorite cuisines and if Henry’s “Dahin Sipa Sipa” smells more appealing than anything plain yellow then they will stick with Henry.

Haidt argues we do have universal moral “taste receptors” like our palate which can sense political flavors. This bridges our biology to our politics once again reflecting Aristotle’s political animal.  Most of the opposition ‘flavors’ or brand revolves around either personalities or their so-called manifestos.  None of their personalities except Barrow’s appealed to the voters.  UDP had a 5- point promises or agenda, Essa Faal had a Soobeya Blueprint that looks like a pitchbook straight out of an investment bank; and PDOIS has a manifesto more obfuscated that Karl Marx’s dialectical materialism—none of which appealed to most people who voted last Saturday.  Barrow had one simple and elegant agenda: victory at all costs.  This resonated more with the innate moral foundations of authority, sanctity, and liberty with a powerful subliminal appeal that voters cannot resist.  Political elections are evolutionary fitness tests in the public realm.  We all carry a selfish gene with a deep desire to always win and flourish.  Incumbency gave him the authority/sanctity appeal; and his personality is simply non-overbearing. President Barrow tapped deep into this human genetic interest with a stroke of unanalyzable genius and skill; and he won!

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The UDP in the other hand made subliminal appeals to identity politics (Aji Yam Secka in Niani and Lawyer Darboe in Basse) which were nothing but empty parochial altruism- feigning an inclination to care more about a particular tribe at the expense of the state.  This has been the UDP’s fatal flaw throughout the campaign.  Caring for any socially integrated group of Gambians must be more than just symbolic.  A politician must demonstrate care for the people by communicating with candor, sincerity, and making universal appeals to all Gambians in all regions of the country.  The UDP is so convinced of their own self-righteousness agenda to a point of blind sighting themselves at their own peril.  It takes real courage to challenge/question one’s belief system and demons.  Moral courage allows for the interaction of heart and mind in a healthy mental framework and in politics.  Hopefully, their earth-shattering defeat in the polls shall teach them a lesson to be civil in their politics and learn from their opponents by empathizing with dissent.

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