THE biggest lesson of this pandemic, which has been the biggest threat to humanity in this generation, is that the nation-state matters a lot, and its leadership as well. These two are the most important things that determine if a human being lives or not and, in a broader sense, whether he lives a satisfying life or a miserable one.
All the blah-blah about globalization, about being a global citizen have proven to be hogwash. The European Union even with its bloated expensive bureaucracy left its members twisting in the wind of the pandemic. It couldn’t even undertake a unified, coordinated campaign to fight the pandemic. The idea of a borderless Europe proved to be a naïve one as each EU nation decided for itself whether to close its borders or not.
Supposedly the most powerful and richest on earth, the US nation-state failed in fighting the pandemic and became the worst infected country: an unbelievable 12 million cases and over 250,000 deaths.
Compare that to that country which the United States has been continuously hectoring how to govern — the Philippines, which has 416,000 cases and 8,000 deaths. Even if one adjusts those figures to reflect the US’ bigger population (274 million as against our 110 million), we are so much better off: the US has 37,500 cases per million of its population as against our 3,784. Deaths from the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) in the US is 789 per million; ours is 73.
What has been disastrous for the US has obviously been its leadership. President Donald Trump was in total denial mode that Covid-19 was a grave threat and therefore not only failed in mobilizing his country’s vast medical and logistics resources, but even worsened it by claiming that masks and social distancing were useless in fighting the pandemic.
However, the US also demonstrated its weak structure as a state: it was indeed a federation of states, each of which responded differently in addressing the pandemic, and even defied the central — aptly called federal — government. New York City for instance imposed a lockdown at one time — only for many of its residents to move to other places, thereby spreading the coronavirus.
The pandemic is caused by one virus, technically the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. But its devastation in each country is so different, from Brazil’s 793 deaths per million, the US’ 789, and Mexico’s 779, to China’s three deaths per million and our 73.
States and their leadership matter.
I have discussed in detail the concept of the Strong Republic in my book Debunked*, which argues that the most important thing in this day and age, which determines the quality of life of a human being, is the nation-state.
It is in the community of that nation-state therefore that we should feel our strongest bonds with, and which we have the responsibility to strengthen and even fight for. This idea of course is not a new one, but the ideology that inspired Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio and all the founders of our Republic, what they fought for and gave their lives for — nationalism.
That is not an emotional, flag-waving notion. The course of the pandemic in the past nine months has proven the correctness — the utility, if you prefer — of this ideology. It is the most nationalist nations, and the strongest — China, Japan and Vietnam — which have practically wiped out the pandemic in their lands. China, the first to be hit by the Covid-19 has only 308 active cases from the 86,414 that occurred; Japan, 15,810 from 127,665; and Vietnam, 129 from 1,306.
For many generations, and even today, it has not been the Philippine nation-state, which Filipinos identify themselves with. During the Spanish colonial period, it was the fictional Kingdom of God, through the Roman Catholic Church, because this was the easiest way for the Spaniards to subdue the nation. It wasn’t attractive enough to have a huge population of soldiers and bureaucrats because the islands didn’t have gold (as Latin American countries had) and had terrible typhoons.
Even today, next to family, it is the Kingdom of God which many Filipinos believe is their most important community, with the Sunday Mass reaffirming the existence of that community. Local churches and sects have flourished as the new communities that are most important to the Filipinos.
The US colonizers on the other hand inculcated that “American” value of family, an extension of “rugged” American individualism. And after that, the communities that Filipinos give their loyalty to are the clan, the corporation, other directly felt communities such as fraternities, clubs, new kinds of religious sects like the Opus Dei and El Shaddai, and even the Communist Party and its organizations. It seems that only for a minority has the nation-state been the most important community.
All these lower-level communities — especially the Church — have been either useless or have had very minimal impact in fighting the pandemic. Only the nation-state is important in fighting the pandemic, or being helpless in its wake.
But we’ve been a weak nation-state, haven’t we? Yes, as the elites have since the nation’s birth controlled much of the state while Filipinos have had a weak loyalty and identification to the nation.
But we are in historical times when a weak state is starting to become strong when it is headed by a strong leader. Many states through history have been jolted into becoming strong when strong leaders take the helm. Napoleon Bonaparte in 18th century France; Abraham Lincoln after five weak presidents in the 19th century; India’s Indira Ghandi; and of course China’s Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.
Didn’t you notice that you no longer hear the Yellows’ blah-blahs that this administration has been incompetent in the handling of the epidemic? Only Jose Maria Sison and his communist ilk are claiming that President Duterte has failed in combating the pandemic. Duterte as a strong leader is ushering in a strong Philippine state.
The silver lining of this dark cloud that is the pandemic is that it has taught us that with a strong Republic we can overcome something which has humbled even a superpower, and that a strong leader can swiftly make a weak state a strong one — even for a moment when it is necessary.