Liberal democracy’s answer
Every three years, we say “this is the most important election in a long time.” So I won’t say that about Monday. History will decide that.
What we can say is what we say every time: Vote.
You may be tempted not to, because there are so many things wrong and imperfect about every democracy. You may be tempted not to, because your candidates are having a tough time. But nothing is perfect. And your candidates showed up for 90 days. You just need to show up once.
If indeed your candidates lose, don’t give up on them or the cause. Things may look bleak, but it is always up to you whether you let a setback sap you or make you smarter for the next time; whether you let loss lead you to surrender or, as loss often does, realize the value of what you lost and what you’ll give to get it back.
If your candidates win, don’t let go of them either. Help them use power with wisdom and compassion.
We all know about the populist, sometimes authoritarian wave that has swept the world in the last few years. Many attribute it to the failure of liberal democracy and the economic powers-that-be to address physical and economic insecurities and hardships. Or address them fast enough. Especially as income gaps widened, fueling resentment.
In the United States, it was the relative poverty in Middle America, cynically coupled with the fear that nonwhites would take away jobs, that led to Trump. In the United Kingdom, it was lies that European Union membership was costly and fears about its immigration rules that led to Brexit. In the Philippines, it was, in my opinion, a belief that successive administrations didn’t make much difference to daily lives that made a campaign of mostly unspecified change successful.
Two years in, where is this administration perceived to be delivering? The Social Weather Stations says the government’s helping-the-poor rating is 81 percent (March 2019). Pulse Asia says the government’s fighting-criminality rating is 83 percent (September 2018). These correspond with President Duterte’s overall satisfaction rating, which means respondents cared little for the other issues. By contrast, President Aquino’s last ratings on these were 43 percent (April 2016) and 25 percent (December 2015). For the business sector, President Duterte has signed many long-pursued bills into law.
For many Filipinos, these are worth the war on drugs, the intimidation of the press, the questions about China.
Back in March, in an op-ed titled “The strongmen strike back,” historian Robert Kagan said liberal democracy may be “losing” in part because liberal democrats mistakenly thought communism was the competition and, once it was vanquished, liberal democracy would spread and deepen—nationalist and jihadist wars aside—because all men wanted more freedom.
But, said Kagan, instead of short-lived communism, the real competition is authoritarianism, which stretches back through most of human history, whether via warlords, kings, even popes. And there’s good reason why authoritarianism prevailed for so long, and enjoys periods of resurgence:
“Humans do not yearn only for freedom. They also seek security. Often, people welcome a strong, charismatic leader who can provide that kind of protection. Liberalism has no particular answer to these needs. Liberalism’s main purpose was never to provide the kind of security that people find in tribe or family. It has been concerned with the security of the individual and with treating all individuals equally.”
The op-ed’s subtitle said “we have no idea how to confront” the authoritarian challenge. But, in fact, liberal democrats do. It is to work equally on policy and governance, as on direct “gut” issues and programs, as on talking with the people about these. It is to work on these even if they are out of power, even with the people in power.
Liberal democrats even have an ally in the economy, which continues to grow strongly, reducing poverty. Because as more and more people feel physically and economically secure, they will want their liberal democracy back.
Coco Alcuaz is executive director of the Makati Business Club.
Business Matters is a project of the Makati Business Club ([email protected]).
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