Schadenfreude | Inquirer Opinion
Pinoy Kasi


Amid all the grumbling about the state of politics in the Philippines, I thought we should entitle ourselves to a bit of schadenfreude, specifically by looking at how the world’s bulwarks of democracy—the United States and the United Kingdom—are doing.

But let me first explain this schadenfreude. It’s a German word derived from “schaden” (damage, harm) and “freude” (joy), the compound word meaning the pleasure you get from the harm or misfortune of others.


There is no exact English equivalent, the closest being gloating over someone else’s misfortune. It seems there was an old term—morose delectation—that meant deriving enjoyment from evil thoughts, something considered a sin.

But Germans are quick to say schadenfreude doesn’t just happen with anyone’s misfortune. It’s usually the pleasure that comes from seeing the misfortune of someone you don’t like, or someone who is perceived as bad.


There is a whole Wikipedia entry that surveys several languages for equivalents, including a Chinese “xing zai le huo,” meaning to take joy in calamity and delight in disaster happening to someone else.

All these equivalents did make me wonder about the underside, a sinister side, to humans.  I thought, too, that if we have a Filipino equivalent, and derived some schadenfreude, that we’re not too bad.  We do say “Buti nga” (“Good for you,” said sarcastically), a kind of rejoicing when something happens to an enemy… or even to a friend or a child who had disregarded our warning of a possible misfortune or an accident.

Let’s get now to a bit of schadenfreude with politics in the United States and the United Kingdom.

The Donald

The United States has been going through its tortuous election process, the more entertaining aspects of which we have adopted.  We are mild compared with the Americans when it comes to the political circus, and for this particular election campaign, the United States outshines everyone with gutter politics, as well as the insults and lies hurled by candidates even within one party.

For months, too, we have been treated to Donald Trump, who made his way from just another presidential wannabe to becoming, horror of horrors, the presumptive and now the Republican candidate.

Trump has been compared to our own Rodrigo Duterte, and I would protest. Beneath the rough facade and the foul language, Mr. Duterte is far more intelligent, and cunning, than Trump, who has had countless foot-in-mouth moments, with the most incoherent declarations.


David Brooks, a New York Times columnist, writes about how Trump strings together “five- or six-word jabs” rather than using sentences or paragraphs, and how the connections can only be understood through the chaos theory.

Chaotic or not, the strings of words are worrisome, indicating Trump’s total lack of understanding of global politics, as well as domestic problems. His scapegoats are many, from Muslims (yes, all Muslims, and not Islamist terrorists) to Chinese, to Mexicans.  He hasn’t named Filipinos, yet; we’re too distant and insignificant.

Early this week a new controversy sort of exploded.  At this point, nothing Trump does becomes major because people seem to have been sufficiently inured to his nonstop gaffes and lapses.

This time around it was a speech by the possible next first lady of the United States, Melania Trump, who, reports say, practically ripped apart a prepared speech and went on to deliver one which had entire passages lifted from a campaign speech of the then aspiring first lady, Michelle Obama.

The Trump camp denied plagiarism, while one Republican congressman said “only 50 words” had been lifted.  In the end, a Trump team member said she was at fault and offered to quit. But the resignation was not accepted.

Trump, already a noun and a verb used in bridge and similar games to refer to a card that could mean winning the game, has become a minor meaning, with people preferring to draw from “trumped up,” which indicates fraud and fabrication, as in trumped-up criminal charges.  A New York Times article reports that Mexicans are hitting back, too, calling him “El Payaso” (the clown) and—surprise, surprise—coining a new verb, “trumpear,” to mean “to hit” or “to punch” as its main usage but with suggestions in social media to expand its meanings. One academic identified as “Javo” on his Twitter account, and a specialist in constitutional law at the Autonomous University of Mexico, suggests: “the act and effect of proposing stupid things that are impossible to realize.”


Let’s move to the other side of the world, to the United Kingdom, which is still reeling from a referendum where the Brexit camp won, Brexit meaning Britain exiting from the European Union.

Brexit won in large part because of a fear campaign that laid the blame for the United Kingdom’s problems on the European community—i.e., workers coming in from outside, as well as claims that the United Kingdom was spending too much money for Europe instead of social services at home.  Last week the Inquirer had a column interviewing some Filipino women who are now British subjects, and one of them admitted she had supported Brexit because she believed the claims being made by those who advocated withdrawal.

After the referendum the British pound was devalued by almost 10 percent, and Filipinos like that Brexit advocate find that they have to shell out more pounds to be able to support family members back here in the Philippines.

One of the leaders of the Brexit campaign was the former mayor of London, Boris Johnson, still another avatar of Trump with foot-in-mouth disease… and unkempt hair.  After Prime Minister David Cameron resigned, as a response to the Brexit victory, people thought Johnson would enter the race for the prime minister’s post. But no, after creating so many problems, he wasn’t available.

In the end Theresa May was selected prime minister, with predictions that she would be another “Iron Lady” like Margaret Thatcher, who held that post many years ago.

May has made her appointments, including Johnson, the man who so hated the European Union, to the post of foreign secretary.

Go figure. Not surprisingly, officials of European nations have protested.

If it’s any consolation, or schadenfreude, Johnson has insulted Americans as well, saying he wouldn’t go to some parts of New York because of “the real risk of meeting Donald Trump.”

Maybe it’s the moon, maybe it’s the stars, but everywhere people are acting strangely.  So I guess schadenfreude isn’t exactly healthy here. What happens in the United States, or in the United Kingdom, affects the rest of the world, including the Philippines.

No, we shouldn’t say “Buti nga,” but maybe we can use “Buti na lang…” (“It’s good we’re not like…”).  Let’s count our blessings, find joy in our own situation, and just grin or smile when we watch Trump’s or Johnson’s adult versions of Sesame Street.

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TAGS: Brexit, democracy, Donald Trump, politics, Schadenfreude, United Kingdom, United States
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