What Trump teaches Asia
Singapore—Populism is hijacking democracy given Donald Trump, Rodrigo Duterte and Brexit, pundits theorize. We must instead ask difficult questions on how large segments have gone unheard, whether Des Moines evangelicals, Davao City hipsters or Sunderland blue collars.
Anyone who voted Trump was a racist, bigot, misogynist and warmonger. The narrative completely changed even before the sun rose after the election.
Perhaps policy grew defined by an increasingly detached “Davos class.” In “The Myth of Cosmopolitanism,” New York Times columnist Ross Douthat decried a global elite that had more in common with each other than their countrymen.
Perhaps emphasis on political correctness crowded out the airing of economic concerns by those left behind. The debate belatedly focused on noncollege educated white males, then on how many women and Hispanics voted Trump and how few blacks and millennials went to vote.
Racism, sexism and religious intolerance were recognized as symptoms of deeper anger previously dismissed as illegitimate.
Filipinos must see the parallels. Long after the election, Duterte supporters remain stereotyped as “Dutertards” (from retard). Facebook echo chambers reiterated how they could only be stupid, gullible and emotionally manipulated.
Filipinos also condemn the Supreme Court decision allowing deposed President Ferdinand Marcos to be buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Cemetery of Heroes) instead of asking why millions at least tolerate what was once unthinkable, or how Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. ran for vice president and lost by a mere 0.6 percent of the vote.
Blanket condemnation of the Court replaces rule of law with fanaticism. It does not distinguish that the President, not the Court, ordered this burial. It does not criticize any legal reasoning, but insists that any court decision allowing the burial, even one focused solely on the President’s authority, is treachery.
Worse, it crowds out more thoughtful critique, such as how the decision’s last sentence shockingly uses the emotion-laden phrase: “The country must move on.”
The Court is a convenient scapegoat to avoid asking difficult questions on Marcos. Previously, everyone blamed the youth.
Anti-Marcos campaigns became harangues against those born after the 1986 People Power Revolution, who allegedly disbelieve Marcos era torture and human rights abuses.
This persisted even after polls showed it was the much older voters voting for Marcos Jr. No one explained why, beyond citing an abstract misguided nostalgia.
Similarly, blanket condemnation greets younger voices articulating People Power with a measured frustration of what came afterwards or disillusionment with People Power leaders facing corruption charges.
I have found college students relieved when I tell them it is legitimate to honor People Power from a more critical perspective and they have a right to voice it. Yet such students are automatically branded historical revisionists and ignoramuses, targeted by condescending open letters that begin, “To the youth who did not live through martial law…”
In contrast to Philippine grumbling of manhid (insensitive) government, shortly before Singapore’s 2011 elections, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made an unprecedented public apology. Despite Singapore’s undeniable success, he promised to temper growth policies that led to housing growing unaffordable, and an influx of foreigners that has led to overcrowded trains and buses.
This fine leader even promised to soften the blunt communication style of his legendary father, Singapore’s founding father, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.
Lee’s party later received a record 70-percent vote in the 2015 election—after his final campaign speech asked voters to reject populist promises like free taxi rides to see a doctor, and politicians who make promises that leave checks for their children to fund.
Perhaps humility, not sophisticated political theory, insulates Singapore from fringe demagoguery. Perhaps we must simply listen more before bewailing how democracy fails.
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