US: Divided nation, damaged culture

YELLOW mouthpieces Etta Rosales and Sheila Coronel astonishingly saw in Donald Trump’s electoral defeat some light in their depths of depression over President Duterte’s successful leadership of our country.

This is because they both see Trump and Duterte as woven of the same authoritarian cloth and, as Rosales put it, the US president’s defeat “serves both as a warning and reminder to Duterte and his minions that all tyrants, regardless of their popularity and power, will fall.”

Coronel, meanwhile, in her Washington Post contributed opinion piece, wrote that she “danced in the streets” as many Americans did in US cities “to mark the end of the Trump era,” and that she “had danced on the streets before” when Marcos fell. Coronel’s piece in fact was intended to “warn Americans” that the recent US election “does not suffice to exorcise the demons of authoritarians” like Marcos and Trump.

These two ladies should do more fact-checking instead of just watching CNN. Contrary to their delusions that Americans toppled a tyrant, 9 million more Americans voted for Trump in this 2020 election than in 2016, although Democratic Party Joe Biden did have 5 million more. Trump held on to most of the Red states that voted for him in 2016, while Biden’s victory in the so-called battleground states (the results of which in the past were unpredictable) were only by slim margins.

That is despite the fact of Trump’s gross mishandling of the pandemic, despite his penchant for spewing lies easily fact-checked, despite mainstream US media’s relentless bashing of him since he assumed the presidency, despite the serious allegations that he is a puppet of Putin, the head of what was once the US Evil Empire all Americans hate.

That doesn’t seem to me an episode of a “tyrant’s fall” but a demonstration of the fundamental flaw of democracy: it’s a numbers game. And it wasn’t being a tyrant that made Trump lose the elections, it was simply Covid-19. More precisely, more Americans believed that more important than anything else was to live, the prospects of which had dimmed as he failed in containing the pandemic that had already killed nearly 300,000 Americans.

Trump’s defeat only highlights two things about America today.

Divided
First, it is such a divided nation, with those led by each of the two major parties living in two practically different universes. And second, to use a term popularized by The Atlantic writer James Fallows after the Philippines’ 1986 People Power revolution, to throw cold water over it, America has a damaged culture.

Trump isn’t an aberration; he embodies a particular dark side of American society: egotistic, individualistic, racist, a we-rule-the-world ethos, and anti-state. Biden represents the other, which has its own dark side. Three of these are the belief that America is the torchbearer of all human values and it has the responsibility to impose on the world its “values,” and that it will always be the world’s superpower.

In fact, Trump’s presidency has resulted in a plethora of books and articles on “Divided America.” The Associated Press even has a series titled as such, which it introduces as follows: “Americans are more divided than ever, gridlocked over social issues, race, gender and the economy… it’s no longer just Republican vs Democrat, or liberal vs conservative. It’s the 1 percent vs the 99 percent, rural vs urban, white men against the world. Climate doubters clash with believers. Bathrooms have become battlefields, borders are battle lines. Sex and race, faith and ethnicity… the melting pot seems to be boiling over.”

Or perhaps, the US Civil War that threatened its division in the late 1800s hadn’t really ended, as the Red states are mostly those that constituted the rebel southern Confederacy?

Damaged
But isn’t that division simply the result of a damaged culture, which America has managed to conceal over a century?

It was an old friend Stephen Golub — an international development expert with experience in 40 countries — whom I thank for this “damaged culture” point he made in his new blog. He remembered Fallows’ stinging rebuke of Philippine culture — its lack of nationalism and national pride — as he was here when that controversial article was published and became to use today’s term, “viral” as it seemed to hurt our pride. (It was Golub who convinced the Asia Foundation where he was a consultant to provide the key seed fund for the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.)

In an article in his blog titled “A Damaged Culture” written the day before the November 3 elections, and obviously a bit fearful that Trump could still win, Golub wrote:

“We are nearly four years into a presidency of an idiot savant who can’t sit through a briefing but has an instinctive knack for fanning flames of hatred and fear. The scandals segue from one into another, beyond our power to count. A horribly mishandled, historic pandemic has cost America over 300,000 lives, tens of millions of jobs and untold additional misery.

“After joking that he could shoot someone and not lose voters, Donald Trump has led supporters to the slaughter by drawing them to deadly rallies and mocking the use of face masks — and not lost any backing over it. To add culture-smashing legal insult to hypothetical injury, his attorneys insist that he is so far above the law that he could not be prosecuted for shooting someone while in office.

Institutions
“He has taken an ax to our institutions, democracy and unity. He has revealed and reinforced the craven core of one of our two major political parties, its leadership motivated by little more than greed, racism or self-preservation. He has personified the definition of a demagogue at every step of the way.

“And he will win well over two out of five voters on Election Day. (So far, on November 12 Trump won 47.5 percent of the popular votes as against Biden’s 50.8 percent – RDT)

“There is something very wrong when someone can wreak so much damage and still do so well.

“Donald Trump has damaged our culture.

“As horrid as he is, however, Trump is not responsible for all of our ills. The Republican Party’s conversion into an extremist, anti-democratic (with a small ‘d’) institution began long before he launched his 2016 presidential run. Nor did Trump invent the use of terms like ‘rugged individualism’ and ‘freedom’ to mask simple selfishness.

“America has fallen far from John F. Kennedy imploring us to ‘Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.’ Ronald Reagan instead declared, ‘The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’ As different as Reagan was from Trump, including a willingness to compromise and an endorsement of immigration, he helped set us on a course to where we are today.

“Part of our culture is indeed damaged, but by no means all of it.”

Compare the US’ sad state with ours: going by the recent Pulse Asia polls, 91 percent of Filipinos support Duterte. There is no Blue Philippines and Yellow Philippines, only a marginal 5 percent opposing Duterte’s rule.

Unquantified is the incontestable fact that Duterte has been repairing our damaged culture, which had lacked nationalism and national pride.


Email: tiglao.manilatimes@gmail.com
Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao
Twitter: @bobitiglao
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