Duterte is not Trump | Inquirer Opinion

Duterte is not Trump

The liberal world order, inaugurated by Franklin D. Roosevelt in his dying days and ended with the sublime leadership of Barack Obama, has given way to a new era of disorder. No one is responsible, but Vladimir Putin’s gaining full dictatorial powers in Russia in 2012 is an easy starting date. Rightwing dictatorships have spread across East and Central Europe, stopping only at—ironically—the well-ruled Germany of Angela Merkel sticking tightly to democratic governance.

It was in this atmosphere that Rodrigo Duterte came to power, just nine months ago. Then, four months ago, and possibly with the help of Russian hackers, Donald Trump managed a near-landslide in what is clearly now ex-America; there is certainly nothing united about the United States anymore.

Given both men’s penchant for foul language, many commentators saw Trump as part of this trend and Mr. Duterte’s election as presaging Trump’s. Mr. Duterte’s awful start, with his seeming encouragement of the extrajudicial killing of thousands of druggies, and Trump’s appalling language with reference to women, not to mention his disdain for any democratic rule that stands in his way, underlined the comparisons.


True, they are both septuagenarians, but I make the case that the two men have nothing relevant in common, and that whereas the Philippines may emerge a far better ruled country and a more coherent one after Mr. Duterte’s six years, ex-America is heading to disaster.


Let’s start with what they say. Mr. Duterte is coherent; no one doubts he is also very smart. One may not like what he has to say but it is clear. He states an objective, then step by step, he lays the groundwork for carrying it out. If he is to be compared with any leader, it would be the late Singapore leader Lee Kwan Yew, who in a generation of tough leadership made his country the richest city in the world.

Now read any pronouncement by Trump that isn’t scripted, and what do you have? You cannot even parse it. It is composed of ramblings on whatever in the immediate context will bring attention or, better yet, adoration. This is narcissism, in pure form.

It gets worse. If you extract what message, if any, is consistent, it is that he has no interest in democratic values. More basically, he has no values. He has no agenda other than enjoying the attention that the presidency is bringing. He enjoys Republican majorities in the House and Senate, so there are no checks on him from the so-called division of powers. It is a psychosis. Not to put too fine a point on it, Trump is a narcissistic psychotic.

Now if by a fluke he was elected 20 years ago, the liberal world order would have checked him. The United Nations is not as such powerful, but it’s important in consolidating a rules-based system; an American president who wished to knock it down would have drawn amused yawns and curiosity on how he ever got elected.

Compare the Duterte agenda: Basically, it’s to make the Philippines a nation, a coherent and at least slightly disciplined state where citizens think of the national interest before their own personal agenda. I’m highly optimistic that the Duterte presidency will get better and better, that the virtuous reforms will cumulate and compound. He cannot do it in six years, but he can put the Philippines on a road that cannot be altered.

On the other hand, I fear the Trump presidency will just get worse and worse. Trump plays with fire. Many national security experts have laid out their fears that a psycho simply can’t be allowed to have his fingers on the nuclear trigger; he might be a Nero enjoying a burning Rome—because it was all about him.


But as for the Philippines itself, I think six years of tough rule will be a good thing, because Mr. Duterte is disciplined but coherent, and genuinely wants a better country, not his own glorification. That is not a small thing to be grateful for.

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Oliver Geronilla is a language instructor at Han Maum Academy in Parañaque City.

TAGS: Donald Trump, Inquirer Commentary, Inquirer Opinion, Rodrigo Duterte

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