American political circus
HONOLULU—The well-known Philippine professor of anthropologist and author, Mary H. Racelis, once wrote that politics is the Filipino national pastime.
In the United States, politics is in high gear and the 2016 presidential campaign is unlike any other we have seen in the past. Politics is beginning to look like the American national entertainment.
But neither Hillary Clinton of the Democratic Party nor Jeb Bush of the Republican Party is the focus of attention in this frenzied political campaign. Instead, it’s someone who’s been called an inveterate buffoon by many people. His name is Donald Trump (aka The Donald) and he has never been elected to or served in public office. This is what many people find quite strange, if not a bad joke.
Most people are not amused; indeed, they’re utterly disgusted. But ironically, some people seem to like Trump. He has yelled back in his combative and peculiar way, as only someone like him can do. And despite all the diatribes hurled at him, including the kitchen sink, he is, believe it or not, leading in the polls.
How can something as puzzling as this happen in a country supposedly considered the most powerful and democratic in the world?
Who knows? But this should be no surprise to Filipinos. Nobody ever thought Joseph “Erap” Estrada could pull it off, but he did. Bizarre things happen in politics everywhere. And the United States is no exception. Trump argues that both Clinton and Bush are historical products of “dynasties” which have been on the public scene for long periods of time, starting several centuries ago with the Adams dynasty. He says the American people are tired of the same old, same old pattern of dynastic politics. He says he’s not a political candidate in the usual way and is offering a far better alternative—likable, articulate and dynamic.
The United States cannot ask for more, Trump claims. He makes promises, like creating jobs and imposing no taxes on certain groups of people, if he is elected. When asked how he as president can do this, he is vague in his responses and hedges on this or that issue. He leaves people in a state of disbelief, if nothing else.
But what is it about Trump that certain people find him a likable and attractive candidate for a position for which he hardly qualifies? His usual answer is that he is a good businessman whose ventures in real estate, construction, movie production, etc. have generated employment for America. He has aggressively repeated that argument, so much so that some people have seen in it a semblance of truth.
Trump seems unfazed by all the virulent criticisms thrown at him. He is not shy about bragging that he would make an exceedingly good president of this most powerful nation in the world. He seems convinced that in saying this again and again, he can win over much of the electorate.
The circus goes on without letup. Some ambitious aspirants, like Carly Fiorina, a Republican from California, is hanging on although she does not have a ghost of a chance against the frontrunners. Fiorina is actually an unknown, but is hopeful and determined. She’s also smart enough to realize that she gains no traction by attacking Hillary Clinton, the only other female candidate in the US presidential derby. Perhaps she has realized that attacking Hillary would be terribly unproductive.
But the United States has never elected a woman as president, which is highly puzzling because just about every country of major importance in the world has produced a woman president or prime minister. There is a chance for this to change in the 2016 presidential election.
Yes, the 2016 polls will be quite a show, both in the United States and in the Philippines. Understandably, Filipinos in America are more interested in Philippine politics. They are regularly tuned in to every development, whether on Filipino radio or TV, which just about every Filipino home in the United States watches.
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Hawaii, as most everyone knows, has the highest percentage of Filipinos among all the American states. There seems to be a love-hate relationship between the Philippines and the United States. On one hand, we enjoy it and are entertained by it. On the other, we denigrate it, finding it corny, silly and vulgar, but we are preoccupied by it even if we have better things to to do with our time.
As interested as we are, however, there is a dearth of resources in Philippine embassies and consulates abroad with which to conduct outreach work in the large community of Hawaii, which includes oversight of the other territories and islands or countries in the Pacific, like Samoa, Fiji, Marshall Islands, and others in Micronesia. Among Filipinos in these territories, there is practically no interest in certain matters such as absentee voting and dual citizenship.
This is the downside in Filipino communities abroad. I’m sure the Philippine embassies and consulates are doing their utmost, but they can only so much. It’s not possible to do outreach work even in communities with large Filipino populations.
Eventually, it’s everyone’s hope that these barriers can be overcome with reasonable results in the near future.
Dr. Belinda A. Aquino is professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where she was professor of political science and Asian studies and founding director of the Center for Philippine Studies before retiring.
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