WHILE the new US President Donald Trump is inarguably a demagogic megalomaniac, he demonstrated a streak of genius, or a deep insight into his countrymen’s feelings, that made him win, when he made his campaign battle cries “America First” as well as “We will make America great again.”
While some have pointed out the anti-Semitic, KKK origins of the” America First” slogan, still, these are essentially calls for the revival of nationalism. This vision has been denigrated, even here, by those who delude themselves into thinking that the nation has ceased to be the most important organization in this era for anyone to be a member of.
It is not fuzzy entities like “The Globe” or “World Markets” that determine whether a human being will live his life in misery or in comfort. Rather, it is the nation where he is a member of or where he lives, and how its members from the past to the present have built in a particular territory a community (with a unique name), with the institutions to ensure the prosperity of its members, and to prevent one tiny group from getting richer by exploiting the majority.
Indeed, nationalism in the past decade has been resurgent almost everywhere in the globe—except in the Philippines—because of the rise of China and Russia, Great Britain’s decision to leave that global organization, the EU, and the emergence of nationalist parties all over the world. Narendra Modi, the leader of the second most populous country in the world, India, won by a landslide because of his nationalist rhetoric.
A prescient 2014 article in the prestigious globalist magazine The Economist, said: “In recent years, any writer who predicted that nationalism was the wave of the future would have been regarded as eccentric—at best. All the most powerful forces in business, technology and finance seemed to be pushing towards deeper international integration… In 2015, however, it will become increasingly clear that nationalism is back. From Europe to Asia to America, politicians who base their appeal on the idea that they are standing up for their own countries will grow in power and influence.”
Nationalism is the belief and practice that the nation and nothing else, not the clan, not the company, not the Church nor a fantasy Kumbaya world-where-we-are-all-brothers-and-sisters” is the primary organization that determines a human being’s welfare, so that one must have loyalty to it and devote some part of one’s life to strengthening.
We are one of the few nations in the world, and definitely the only country in Asia, that is the least nationalist, and this is really our core problem.
There are two major factors why our Asian neighbors are fiercely nationalist. One is their monarchic feudal histories, in which kings strove by every means to develop a strong sense of community among their subjects, since this was essential for their rule. This is the case of China, Japan, Thailand and Indonesia.
The other factor was the very serious threat of their communities’ survival, as happened with South Korea (nearly conquered by the China-backed North Korea), Vietnam, Taiwan, and even Singapore, after the tiny island state separated from the Federation of Malaya.
The Philippine community has never experienced these two factors.
Pre-colonial “Philippines” was a collection of tiny weak kingdoms, and the kind of community the Spanish imposed was an ecclesiastical one, that is, we were a community because all of us, conqueror and conquered, were members of the Kingdom of God. That in fact is still the biggest delusion of Filipinos, that they are primarily members of their clan and the Kingdom of God, rather than of the nation.
The US never of course bothered to create a nation out of us, as we were merely something like Hawaii and Guam to be exploited for its unique agricultural products (coconut and sugarcane) and as a base to conquer China.
Being under the wing of the US, there never was a threat to our existence as a community, except during the Japanese occupation of course, which only weakened our nationalism, as it was General McArthur and his troops that saved us.
Threats to survival
Threats to the survival of nations historically have been one of the most important factors for their prosperity for a simple reason.
With the existence of their communities threatened, their elites commit to making their communities prosper, or else these would be taken over by an external force, which would likely also exterminate them. Because of this, the elites even sacrifice their profit rates and shirk from horrendous levels of exploitation of the working class of that community, lest they rebel and weaken the nation.
In Asia, this is obvious in the case of Taiwan, whose ruling class was the Kuomintang that fled China after their defeat in the civil war with the communists, and their island refuge has continuously been under threat of invasion by China. This was obviously also the case with Japan that could have been obliterated by the US with their nukes. This was obviously the case with South Korea, threatened by the communist North.
Another major factor that has weakened our nationalism has been the massive migration of our people to the US and their prosperity there, which has the effect of probably half our population pining to be American citizens, and despising their homeland. The ruling class routinely send their children to schools abroad, whose world views become American, who see their country as, yes, a sorry, smelly place, but one where they have to get their incomes from.
It is the State which plays a crucial role in developing and strengthening nationalism, not even brilliant individual heroes like Rizal, simply because only government has the massive resources to change people’s minds.
We are again so unfortunate that the last President to raise the flag of nationalism was the strongman Ferdinand Marcos. Remember his slogan “We will make this nation great again!” which preceded Trump’s by five decades? His attempt to junk the name of our colonizer’s King as the country’s nomen and instead have it called Maharlika, which means noble? His building of edifices like the PICC and the Folk Arts Theater to foster pride in the nation? His project for a multi-volume history of the Philippines titled Tadhana, to project the idea that our nation has a great destiny?
How unlucky we are, really. Marcos’ rule ended in an economic crisis, not entirely his fault, and the takeover of an elite group that is totally lacking in any sense of nationalism. Marcos was demonized by the victors, along with everything he espoused, including nationalism.
Corazon Aquino’s devotion was to her clan and the Yellow Cult she founded, not to the nation, and her worldview was that we were destined to forever live under America’s wing. Her symbol was a yellow ribbon derived from an American song, which she made the constant reminder to the nation of her husband Ninoy Aquino’s assassination.
Her successor, Fidel Ramos, not only was imbued with the American way of thinking, perhaps brainwashed into him during his West Point days. He embraced the neoliberal ideology of a globalism in which free markets were more important than nationalism. After all, the globalist Thatcher and Reagan were the gurus of his era. (It was Thatcherism and Reaganomics’ failure to lift the welfare of the working classes that led eventually to the resurgence of nationalism.)
Ramos’ mantra-vision for the nation was “deregulation, liberalization, and privatization.” As a result, we have the lowest tariff rates in Asia, and even in the world, that even Thai fish sauce (patis) and foreign-owned brand of bread (Gardenia, owned by an Indonesian conglomerate) have dominated the local markets, and even soap and toothpaste manufacturers have left the country.
Ramos threw a local elite family, the Antonio Cojuangcos, out of PLDT, which right after he left office was acquired by an Indonesian tycoon. The telecom monopoly was dismantled, but a duopoly emerged, controlled by foreigners. The state-owned MWSS providing water services was sold to firms, one of which was controlled, again, by the Indonesian tycoon. The Ramos government got P50 billion from the sale of a vast military camp that is now a business district worth a trillion pesos. The modernization of the military, the motive for the sale, was never achieved.
The drunkard and corrupt president after Ramos, Joseph Estrada, despite his nationalist pretensions, helped the Indonesian tycoon Anthoni Salim take over PLDT in a very shady operation. Sadly, the regime of President Arroyo, a nationalist, for various reasons not her fault, became too stormy for any resurgence of nationalism. Her successor, Noynoy Aquino, never once wore on his chest the flag, the symbol of nationalism. Instead of the nation’s progress, Aquino’s over-arching ambition was for the Yellow Cult to remaining power forever.
Such is a very abbreviated history of how nationalism has all but broken down in our time, that no President could have thought of, or dared to have a slogan like “Philippines First”.
When will we ever hear the cry “Philippines First”? Maybe President Duterte is already espousing it, in his own way. But he should shout it louder and clearer. We desperately need it.