Why are we so divided?
When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you,” argued Winston Churchill, emphasizing the indispensability of national unity and societal cohesion to collective survival. In the darkest hours, the perennially divisive British leader turned into an anchor of reassurance against the onslaught of totalitarian expansionism.
What drove Churchill’s remarkable transformation was his recognition that a truly good leader is one that unites, rather than divides, a beleaguered nation.
Today, our fundamental challenge as a nation is not only the enemy knocking at our doors, dominating the West Philippine Sea with brazen impunity, but also the heart-wrenching vitiation of the very fabric of our society.
Nowadays, it’s hard to talk about a single issue of national importance without triggering emotional outbursts, online harassment and personal insults of the most vicious kind. Ours is a nation in the midst of a virtual civil war: Fathers against sons, teachers against students, officials against civil society groups and so on.
Our divisions today aren’t only cross-partisan and interpersonal, but increasingly even intrapersonal. We are divided not only as a nation, but also as individuals from within our own very being. As truth becomes untethered from verifiable facts, a mélange of disinformation, alternative facts and sensationalist pronouncements has formed the mist that blurs our vision of reality. And as societal consensus over the very nature of reality dissipates, largely driven by the free-for-all toxicity of social media, our ability to form sober, sound and even sane views on politics has become increasingly impossible.
Surveys reveal this inner tension, if not schizophrenic conception of political reality. Think of the war on drugs. Majority of Filipinos support the scorched-earth campaign, which has cost thousands of lives, including reportedly close to a hundred children such as 3-year-old Myca Ulpina (Rizal), 5-year-old Danica May Garcia (Pangasinan) and 4-year-old Skyler Abatayo (Cebu).
For many, the drug war is perhaps a necessary evil that contributes a measure of order in their respective communities. And yet, 9 out of 10 Filipinos (93 percent in the second quarter of 2018) want drug suspects kept alive. Meanwhile, close to 8 out of 10 Filipinos fear being victims of extrajudicial killings themselves.
This begs a basic question: How on earth can people say they feel safer, when majority of Filipinos fear becoming victims of wanton killings, not to mention the spike in murder rates? What we have here is clearly a case of collective confusion. Or maybe the majority only agrees with President Duterte in principle, but opposes his methods.
Or take Mr. Duterte’s approval ratings. Surveys have shown that close to 8 of 10 Filipinos are satisfied with the President. Yet, an even larger number of them are seemingly at odds with his brazenly acquiescent policy in the West Philippine Sea. The President has advocated diffidence by erroneously arguing that resisting China will lead to war, a preposterous claim that falls flat in the face of facts.
In January 2013, President Benigno Aquino III slapped China with an arbitration award, which triggered one of the most hostile relations in Asia. Up until the end of Aquino’s term, however, China didn’t fire a single shot at the Philippines.
From Argentina to Indonesia and South Korea, a whole host of countries have shot at, blown up or confiscated illegal Chinese vessels, yet none of them have suffered war. And the Filipino people know this.
The latest Social Weather Stations survey shows that 93 percent of Filipinos want Mr. Duterte to take back Scarborough Shoal and other Philippine-claimed land features seized by China. More than 8 out of 10 Filipinos want us to assert the arbitration award, which the President has repeatedly dismissed as inutile, while calling for alliances with like-minded partners against China, the President’s “friend.”
A State of the Nation Address should serve as a platform to unify a broken nation around a shared vision of collective redemption. Instead, our societal fault lines are increasingly hardening, rather than being bridged by a visionary leadership that draws on fact-based public policy and rational social discourse.
We are a confused nation, torn by competing inner impulses, divisive politics and diametrically opposed narratives of national development. Arguably, we have never been this excruciatingly divided since the founding of our fragile Republic.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.