FOR Filipinos monitoring the United States elections, it has been more like watching an entertaining telenovela, in fact one in which reality trumps fiction.
After all it would have been an award-winning flight of imagination for a fiction writer to have the US president, in the middle of the campaign, infected with the coronavirus — said to be deadly to seniors like Donald Trump — and brought to hospital.
And just when the likes of CNN and the New York Times had probably asked some writer to draft his page-one obituary, Trump alights from the Marine One chopper, arrives at the White House, dramatically rips off his mask, and gazes at the small crowd of well-wishers at the Rose Garden in a pose as arrogant as Benito Mussolini.
The next few days, he becomes the virus-spreader-in-chief in rallies as if there were no pandemic, entertaining his redneck base with the old slogans he used in the 2016 elections such as “Lock ‘em up”.
But there are very serious lessons from what’s been going on in the US in this election period in the time of the pandemic. It is the unraveling of the myth of US democracy, the stripping of the illusions over it, and a warning to us — since it would be unrealistic to adopt as our form of government its antithesis, dictatorship — that this kind of political system has very serious flaws, which we have to be conscious about and correct.
The most obvious lesson is that democracy’s twin brother is mob rule and we can never really be sure until it’s too late, which of the two put this candidate in power.
Trump won not almost entirely because of the fictional persona he created as the tough corporate chief executive officer in the series “The Apprentice,” which ran, believe it or not, for 13 years. With Americans getting tired of politicians, they thought they’d be putting to power a CEO who would run the country efficiently. Of course, they never were informed that Trump had amassed debt of $400 million, which he wouldn’t have if he had been such a good CEO.
We Filipinos certainly proved to be more mature when we rejected a similar celebrity, the late action-movie star Fernando Poe Jr. in the 2004 elections.
The Greek philosopher Plato, a pillar of Western civilization, in fact 2,000 years ago abhorred democracy, and his words in his Republic are so applicable to the Trump phenomenon:
“Mob rule is a rough sea for the ship of state to ride; every wind of oratory stirs up the waters and deflects the course. The upshot of such a democracy is tyranny or autocracy; the crowd so loves flattery, it is so hungry for honey, that at last the wiliest and most unscrupulous flatterer, calling himself the ‘protector of the people’ rises to supreme power.”
Trump continues to appeal to the basest instincts of mobs in his campaign, calling his rival a “criminal” and so frightened of the virus as to have been “hiding in his basement” and wearing a “huge mask.” Appealing to Americans’ racism he always calls the coronavirus the “China virus.”
America’s unsullied democracy. It’s been nearly eight months since the pandemic started and nearly all countries have followed scientists’ view that one effective and cheap way to stop its spread is to wear face masks. Yet Trump’s followers — which I would think make up half the US population — are saying that they are free to use masks or not, and nobody, no authority, can require them to do so.
Can you believe this — Joe Biden has recently adopted practically as his campaign promise, that he will make the use of masks mandatory? But that could cost him the elections. If Trump wins, America will become the land of the free, and home of the brave — hundreds of thousands of them killed by the pandemic.
America is the republic of checks and balances. Red — Republican-ruled states — refuse restrictions to control the pandemic such as the use of masks and travel bans. So, their residents simply spread the virus to Blue — Democratic-ruled — states. Many states even competed against each other earlier in the year to corner the supply of masks and ventilators.
This is the land of a media admired by the Yellows so much, not just because they have always worshiped America, but because they had been very successful in getting it to believe their fabrications such as, that tens of thousands have been killed in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war against illegal drugs, and that an incompetent CEO of a website, Maria Ressa, had been a victim of state suppression. Yet watch CNN and then Fox News, read the New York Times and New York Post and they seem to be covering different countries.
For all his faults and absurdities, though, Trump won’t be like Biden who, like most Democratic presidents, think America is the torch-bearer of what is best in humanity, that they would interfere with the sovereignty of nations, hastily judging some as committing human rights abuses.
A writer in this paper, who described himself in his column as “an internationally recognized development economist” claimed: “A Trump victory will pose problems for the country, as the Philippines will be under increasing pressure to take sides in the rivalry between the two giants (China and the US). The country might not be able to navigate the neutral path based on the best interests of the country, which allows it to tap the opportunities that both sides offer.”
This is so uninformed. It was a Democratic Party president, Barack Obama, who undertook the so-called American “Pivot to Asia,” which was a euphemism to contain China. It was the State Department, led by Trump’s rival in the 2016 elections, Hillary Clinton, which maneuvered the Aquino administration into adopting a hostile stance against China and to file that arbitration suit against Beijing that benefited only the US, not us. Trump’s zeitgeist is for an America focusing on itself, and leave the world alone — thus his tirades against the World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization, and even the United Nations convention on climate change.
Trump’s anti-China rants are all for show, appealing to many Americans’ racism. At heart, he is a businessman, and he is probably dreaming already that after his stint as president, many Trump Towers will rise in Beijing and Shanghai. After all that that country has been creating thousands of millionaires hungry for luxury apartments and golf courses.
Trump will leave us alone, that’s why I hope he wins. And after all the US deserves him: it’s had its run as the world’s hegemon, and Trump will likely hasten its decline — just as a series of insane emperors did in the case of the declining Roman Empire.
But then what do I know about the US politics and the American psyche? What do I care?