Why Trump is like Duterte, and why he’s not

  • Reading time:10 mins read

Global superpower America and our poor, pathetic Philippines are obviously so different in economic status, political maturity and culture. Yet how uncanny that in the same year, basically the same political phenomenon has enabled two persons of vastly diverse social and economic standings — Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte — to win the most powerful post in their respective nations, shocking both countries’ elites.

This phenomenon, which some say has become global in scale, is a product of the masses’ outrage against the elites and the political establishment, which they decided to express not through endless street demonstrations but by their votes. The communist dogma that the ruling class has and will always control “bourgeois” elections had been shattered to smithereens.

The electoral system is “finally responding to the rise of inequality and the economic stagnation experienced by most of the population.”

Those words aren’t mine, although they perfectly describe how the Dirty Harry-type foul-mouthed mayor from the South buried in the May elections Manuel Roxas 2nd, the quintessence of the Philippine ruling class both past and present; Grace Poe, the exemplar of celebrity-politics as exploited by Chinese-Filipino magnates; and Jejomar Binay, the embodiment of the rise of the Philippine professional political class.

Those words are those of the brilliant political scientist Francis Fukuyama in an August 2016 Foreign Policy article (yes, before the elections) referring to Donald Trump’s trumping of the Republican Party elite’s wish to make Jeb Bush its presidential candidate, and the unknown Bernie Sanders’ strong showing versus Hillary Clinton, who was the choice of the two-termer President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party elite.

Despite the disdain against him by almost the entire American political elite (including most Republican leaders and the mainstream media), Trump handily won the US presidency because the biggest chunk of the American “masses,” the white working class, saw HIS RIVAL Clinton as another sweet-talking representative of the American ruling class. They saw her Democratic Party no longer as the old party of the American common man but of the elite that merely exploits minority groups such as the blacks, immigrants, especially from Mexico (the biggest such émigré bloc there, with Filipinos being the fourth) and the LGBT community, to serve their political goals.

It was, indeed, ironic that it was a wheeler dealer property magnate born with a silver spoon in his mouth who championed the plight of the American working class, and articulated the view that “globalization” and the technological revolution – espoused by US Presidents since the 1980s, Republican or Democratic – emptied their towns of the factories that had enabled them for decades to live the “American dream.”

A product of a netizen with too much time on his hands
A product of a netizen with too much time on his hands

10Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” sounded idiotic to America’s coastal, cosmopolitan citizens living in states like Washington and California, where tech giants Apple and Microsoft are based, or New York, where the world’s largest banks have their headquarters.

However, that slogan struck a chord among American white workers, who read it as Trump’s vision to restore the era of America’s great industrial backbone with the factory towns that they ran and which made them in the 1950s and 1960s the middle class that the rest of the world envied.

These had been dismantled by globalization, with Trump in the first presidential debate pointing out how the American Carrier firm fired 1,400 workers who lived in its Indianapolis site and moved to Mexico. How could those workers back Hillary, whose husband Bill, and her supporter President Obama, were the biggest proponents of globalization? Why, Obama was even pushing for a new track for globalization called The Trans-Pacific Partnership, which they thought would encourage American factories to move eastward across the ocean to 12 Pacific Rim countries! Would a 55 year-old welder in an American factory be calmed by the promise of being retrained to learn how to make software programs?

Noam Chomsky
It is also ironic that Trump, A wheeler-dealer capitalist who banned Blacks from his property projects to ensure their market value, would partly get his view — or his rhetoric — of America from a Marxist, Noam Chomsky. This was the man, who six years ago told about the death of the American dream, and because of that, warned of the success of a “charismatic figure” who would run for office promising to cure society’s ills: Trump.

We didn’t have a Chomksy in our case, a testament to the total control of Filipino minds by the ruling elite. Our communists have been fossilized in the 1950s and can mouth only the ancient Leninist mantra of the “eventual collapse of capitalism.” Our professional economists all sing about the virtues of globalization that they have even closed their eyes to the blatant violation of the Constitution by an Indonesian magnate who built a conglomerate on telecom and other public utilities — sectors our Charter categorically prohibited foreigners from dominating.

Many Filipinos even believe that President Fidel Ramos (who supervised the military and police accused, wrongly or rightly, of massive human rights violations during Martial Law) was a great President, when it was he who dragged the country into believing globalization would uplift the country’s masses from poverty.

Instead, the past 18 years under globalization policies saw the lowering of our tariffs, so much that the US manufacturers of shampoo and powdered milk that had been here since the 1950s had moved their factories to Indonesia and Vietnam. Such globalization process also saw the rise of foreign monopolists such as the Indonesian Anthoni Salim and Singapore’s Singtel to total dominance of our public utilities, and big business abandoning their manufacturing enterprises such as chip-assembly to go into the lucrative malls and condominiums business. Last May, the Filipino masses revolted to elect somebody whom they saw as having the least link to the economic elite and the political establishment.

The masses felt that Duterte’s distance from the establishment was more important than his vulgar language, his ribald sex jokes, and his disdain for human life. Similarly, the US white working class felt that Trump’s condemnation of globalization to the point of promising to build a wall to keep out Mexicans, was more important than his fondness for groping vaginas, his penchant for lying, his bullying of his rivals, even of his Republican colleagues, his racism and misogyny.

Who can blame the Filipino and American masses? The ruling class, with all their culture and etiquette, have been screwing the masses.

There is one important dimension, though, in which Trump and Duterte differ.

Trump’s rhetoric resonated with the American white working class’ economic aspirations, and provided a way out of it — stop globalization and undertake measures to force American industries to return to the homeland to restore the jobs they had lost.

On the other hand, Duterte got the masses’ support by his promise to kill the vermin of our poor communities – drug lords and pushers, whose shabu our poor has been so vulnerable in getting addicted to because of their need to forget their misery, even for just an hour.

So far, Duterte hasn’t given us an idea how he thinks he can solve poverty in the Philippines. What he and his officials have said is merely the thinking of the past five administrations — reducing corruption and opening up the country to foreign investments will bring us to the Promised Land.

The barrenness of the thinking of his economic planning secretary Ernesto Pernia was demonstrated recently when he claimed that it would be good for the country to open media to foreign investments. Will that solve poverty, or even increase employment? Isn’t he aware at all that the media, in almost all countries in the world, limit foreign investments in that sector as this risks giving foreigners control of the very soul of a nation?

Duterte should learn from Trump, who seems to believe that there is something deeply wrong in his nation’s economic policies — in his view, globalization — that needs to be changed. If Trump’s thinking was like Duterte, he would have also claimed that ending the US drug epidemic is the key to growth.

Loida Nicolas defanged?
If there’s one thing going for Duterte with Trump’s victory, he can be sure Filipino-American magnate Loida Nicolas, the shadowy specter he thinks has been conspiring to depose him, won’t be in any position in the American halls of power to lobby against him.

Nicolas is known to have been a long-time supporter, not only of the Democratic Party, but a personal friend of the Clintons, especially Hillary. I remember that during President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s trip to the US in 2001, Nicolas hosted a cocktail party at her New York mansion, in which the guest of honor was Hillary.

What’s going for the country is that Trump and Duterte would hit it off, not just because they both like ‘green’ jokes and, as Trump describes it, “locker-room talk.” They would recognize each other as birds of the same feather, outsiders who hate the establishment and maestros in appealing to the masses’ basest instincts. Both also have expressed admiration for the Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. Trump wouldn’t care at all about Duterte’s pivot away from the US —he himself wants the US to pivot away from the world.

Trump also wouldn’t care at all about the State Department’s bleeding-heart concerns over allegations of human rights violations by the Duterte regime. He himself has said he has no qualms having US intelligence torture suspected terrorists if that would save American lives.

There is also the property magnate, Jose Antonio, who has been paying a Trump company $2 million a year for the use of his name in his $150 million, 57-story condominium project. Antonio would of course be, using our Filipino term, the effective “tulay” (bridge) between the two presidents. Antonio, even before his Trump Towers had been hobnobbing with Trump given that he has had property projects in Manhattan undertaken and managed by his son, Robbie Antonio.

It seemed prescient for Duterte to have appointed Antonio as his “special envoy for trade and investment” (read: special envoy to Trump) to the US a few days before the elections. However, Duterte, or Antonio, or both were just smart. Antonio actually had also been close to Hillary, introduced to him years ago by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who had been the tycoon’s and his wife’s closest friend even before she entered politics. If Hillary had won, he would be the “special envoy” not to Trump but to Clinton.

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