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The bully pulpit

In 1995, Doris Kearns Goodwin won the Pulitzer Prize for history, for her book “No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II.” Ten years later, she won the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction for “The Bully Pulpit,” the story of two US presidents and their use of the Oval Office as a platform to “shape public sentiment and mobilize action.” President Theodore Roosevelt wanted to be the governor general of the Philippines. Instead, by accident, he ascended to the US presidency, becoming one of its greatest. William Howard Taft was governor general of the Philippines and succeeded Theodore Roosevelt as president of the United States but his legacy failed to match that of Roosevelt. The difference was in their use of the “bully pulpit.”

Last week as Americans observed the 50th anniversary of their greatest space achievement, the 1969 moon landing, US President Donald Trump showed how the bully pulpit could also be used in a very negative manner. At a political rally in North Carolina, he called out four Democrats, all members of the House of Representatives, all women, all nonwhite and all belonging to minority groups: Ayanna Pressley, an African American; Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian American; Ilhan Omar, a refugee from Somalia; and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Puerto Rican, who at 29, was the youngest of the group, known as “the Squad.” Lashing out, Trump shouted that if they were unhappy with America, they were free to leave anytime. Specifically targeting the Somali-born Omar, he said, “Go back to the crime-infested place where you came from.”

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We may say that his racist or sexist remarks were uncalled for or unpresidential. But Trump had decided early on that the risk of being called racist or sexist in attacking the Squad, was outweighed by the political benefit of using the occasion to fire up his base ahead of the coming election. That is what he will continuously do until November 2020 in order to maintain his credibility especially among the redneck conservatives in his party.

For Filipino Americans in the United States, it would not be unusual to be on the receiving end of similar attacks by some politicians. After all, we are brown-skinned, better educated than many white Americans and therefore capable of taking away jobs from their rural working class. But for some reason there are no high-profile Fil-Ams in national politics, making loud statements about how things can be improved in the United States. They are quiet people, mostly law-abiding and content with making a good living for themselves and their children. Among Asian Americans, it is the Japanese, the Chinese, the Thais and the Koreans who have made a mark on the US national scene. This calls to mind Sen. Daniel Inouye, a Japanese American who was instrumental in pushing for more compensation for Filipino veterans of World War II.

Today, President Duterte will deliver his fourth State of the Nation Address. It will be another opportunity, halfway through his term, for him to use his bully pulpit to educate the nation on what he has achieved during the last three years and what he aims to do for the remaining period of his presidency.

There are some issues that should be addressed.

First is the continuing war against illegal drugs. So far, anywhere from 5,000 to 20,000 deaths have been reported, depending on the source of the statistics. PNP figures are on the conservative side, human rights activists cite a higher number. In any war, if only foot soldiers are captured or killed, there will be many more to replace them. World War II ended when the source of the evil was destroyed. The important point to keep in mind is that there seems to be no end in sight, no clear solution to the problem. The only certainty is that people, mostly from the poor and marginalized sectors of our society, will continue to be the victims of this conflict.

Second is the status of the longest-running insurgency in the world and the continuing Abu Sayyaf menace in the south, made more complicated by the reported presence of Islamic State elements in Mindanao. Are we satisfied with just containing the NPA and allowing them to continue with their depredations every now and then? Every AFP chief of staff has declared or announced the demise of the Abu Sayyaf during his time in office. But it appears that the Abu Sayyaf has a longer term of office than our chiefs of staff. So far, the deadly bombings have been in Mindanao. But once they take place in Metro Manila, it may be too late for effective action.

Third, the Commander in Chief must clarify our position on the development and utilization of resources in our exclusive economic zones. The people need to know, in clear terms, in what direction this administration is taking us.

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TAGS: 2020 US elections, Apollo 11, Donald Trump, moon landing, racism, Ramon Farolan, Reveille, Rodrigo Duterte, Sexism, SONA 2019, sona2019special
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