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Speaking truth to power

/ 12:12 AM February 02, 2017

Women in different cities across the United States and around the world led protest marches to directly challenge Donald Trump’s agenda and his actions. In his first full day in office, he accomplished what few had imagined he could do: unite people of different genders, color and creed, of different backgrounds, beliefs and nationalities, all marching together and unfurling different banners to protest America’s new commander in chief.

This unprecedented moment has the potential of becoming a turning point in the efforts to resist the current trend of politics in many countries: the emergence of populists preaching a trenchant form of nationalism who speak as if words don’t matter, as if truth matters little, and as if facts can be manufactured at will by calling them “alternative facts.” In different countries, the growing phenomenon of demagogues and populists with authoritarian tendencies trading on the fears and insecurities of those bereft of opportunities has shown a marked increase.

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Journalists in the frontline of fire.  Take Trump’s remarks at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, where he opened fire on media people by calling them “among the most dishonest human beings on earth” and commenting that he has “a running war with media,” blaming them for delegitimizing the presidency by “misrepresenting” his views which his subalterns insist are misspeak, or concocted—evidence to the contrary.

This situation is not new.  Regimes that feel besieged or embattled normally turn to the press looking for scapegoats.

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In the frontline of fire is the place of honor, and the people who cover events, write stories, express their opinions, or produce news material with professionalism or courage can find solace in the fact that they have the support of people who care deeply for the truth and “will not be moved.”

Truth tellers, rise!  In a world wired to its fingertips, most everyone who would care to spend some time communicating with others can take to social media and make one’s thoughts, opinions and convictions heard.

Every citizen can become a truth teller! Each citizen can become a bulwark against lies and fake news, trolls and threats, the intolerance and hatred being spewed out by either paid hacks or bedeviled partisans. We all have a right to express our thoughts with respect, “with malice towards none, and with charity for all.” That is the stuff of democracy, and what deepening democratic space is all about.

In the Philippine context, the use of the “bully pulpit” by the President, his surrogates and senior politicians should not discourage people to engage, to talk back with respect, to argue with passion, and, if need be, to fight back bravely.

In my view, what has been unleashed by the antirevisionists and millennials in our midst whom the Inquirer chose as its “Filipinos of the Year” is precisely this quality of courage to come together and to stand up for the truth, to speak truth to power, and not to back down or be cowed by the powers that be.

Moreover, our people need to develop the capacity to listen earnestly and to disagree humbly, and to arrive at imperfect consensus, for such is the possibility in a country so diverse and blessed with different dreams. Nevertheless, no matter how we may differ, there is one thing certain: We have to “make poverty history,” inequality a thing of the past, peace possible, and happiness part of the wonder years of our nation’s children—thus the importance of small acts of kindness, deeds done daily as the first single steps in this marathon journey.

There is no turning back. The task of the hour is to stretch hands and hearts across borders to harness the power of the “global grassroots” while enabling local communities to build the kind of world that responds to the aspirations of people everywhere.

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Prof. Ed Garcia is a framer of the 1987 Constitution He worked at Amnesty International and International Alert in London for over two decades. Previously, he taught at Ateneo and UP. He now serves as consultant on the formation of scholar-athletes at FEU Diliman.

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TAGS: alternative facts, Commentary, Donald Trump, fake news, Media, opinion, Trump, truth
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