It is hardly surprising that demagogues have come to dominate national Americana politics on both sides of the globe. Funny enough, two such popular demagogues happen to be making waves on the East and West both in bastions of American values — in the United States itself where anti-immigrant Republican candidate Donald Trump is ruling the primaries and in the former US colony of the Philippines where anti-crime vigilantist Rodrigo Duterte is ruling the polls.
The two societies, at the same time theses and antitheses of the other, seem to have converged in a common political dilemma.
America is beset by a disgruntled middle class whose jobs are being taken away by technologies developed by a tiny but powerful class of tech-savvy capitalists who, instead of sharing the productivity gains of their innovations with their fellow Americans, rake it all in and channel it all to their investments in Chinese factories on the other side of the planet. The once-powerful industry of America is being hollowed out from within by its own technology and voters in the American heartland are suffering as a result.
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The Philippines, for its part, is populated by a crime- and terrorism-weary voter base who utterly distrust their own police force, lack confidence in the ability of their government to reform their snail-paced and corrupt criminal justice system, and are dazzled by the Singaporesque charms of the oasis of peace and order Duterte had created in his feudal domain in Davao City.
These are the same conditions that saw the rise of other warlike tyrants in human history — poverty, widespread public contempt for an entrenched ruling elite, and a public’s increasingly justifiable fear of different-looking foreigners and fearsome alien cultures flourishing in their midst. Demagogues, it has long been observed after all, are products of their own societies. Indeed, what we may be seeing is a growing backlash against a wave of gentrification in these societies spurred by agents of that “One Percent” that has been made a bogeyman by groups that now clamour for radical, borderline anarchic change, through which resonate the ideas of people like Trump and Duterte.
At stake are the futures of cherished ideologies that have come to define the aspirational characters of Western society and its colonies.
People in America’s coastal cities have been so gentrified that a strong belief system that vastly-different cultures could co-exist under the secular, rationalist, individualistic order created by Western civilisation has come to dominate social discourse. Whist this may be true to some extent, there seems to be a fear amongst the hipster classes there to explore the hypothetical limits of that idea. Perhaps those limits are staring us in the face today. This is at least worth thinking about rationally instead of quickly dismissed as the rants of “right wing xenophobia mongers”.
In the Philippines, voters have been led to believe for 30 years that political wisdom emanates from the popular sentiment. Like America’s growing disillusionment with fundamentalist multiculturalism, this “yellow” idea has since degenerated from a well-entrenched euphoric sentiment in the aftermath of the 1986 “people power revolution” into the merely-quaint hipster myth that it is today. Many now see the looming end of the American-style democratic experiment that Filipinos have been subject to over the last three decades. Successive presidencies since 1986 (punctuated by the current one) have all but failed to realise truly inclusive progress for Filipinos — a consistent spiral that has created the now fertile ground for the ideas of a man like Duterte to take root.
Perhaps all this is just a response to natural, social, economic, and political forces that have presented really big problems that ultra-representative democracy and delusional political correctness are now ill-equipped to take by the horns. Indeed, the failure of capitalism and democratic ideals to contain the rise of Islamic terrorism and the onslaught of climate change’s impacts on Western lifestyles stand in stark contrast with the more decisive, concrete, and resolute steps forward towards addressing these being made by more traditionally-governed societies like Russia and China.
Perhaps then, the rise of people like Trump and Duterte represent a long-overdue boiling over of public anger and disillusionment long-suppressed by the pressure to be “politically-correct” that has all but become a new religion in “the free world”. Interesting times ahead, indeed.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.