EARLIER this week, in the midst of the ongoing and entirely self-inflicted scandal presidential frontrunner Rodrigo Duterte found himself in for his reprehensible remarks on the rape and murder of an Australian missionary 27 years ago, a psychiatric report, reputedly conducted in connection with an annulment case back in 2000, surfaced online, characterizing the mayor of Davao as “narcissistic and anti-social,” among other things.
Indeed, Duterte’s remarks – which we will not dignify by repeating here – were shameful. His subsequent reactions to the outrage that reasonable, well-adjusted adults felt at hearing or reading them were an alarming display of arrogance and deep-seated insensitivity. But that is not really the issue at this point.
The issue is how we, all of us who have the power to change the sorry excuse for a political environment that hamstrings this country’s growth and progress, all of us who have spent much of the past six years bemoaning the fiasco that resulted from the last election, have created nothing better. Incredibly, we have instead created an environment in which it is very likely that the result of this election will produce a result that is even worse.
There are a lot of reasons why this is so.
As a people, we demand very little from those who hope to win our vote. There was hope this year that the presidential debates would help to raise the bar of public discourse, but they were of little value, evidently being produced largely for their entertainment dividends. Otherwise, our attentions were devoted to very narrow trivialities – who is using whose aircraft; competing accusations of vote-buying; psychiatric reports that may or not be relevant or even real; popularity surveys of questionable timeliness and validity; and which personalities were aligning with this candidate or that one.
In that context, our candidates have performed admirably, skillfully embodying every embarrassing, third-world stereotype that has ever been pinned on our faulty democracy and political class. But don’t blame the politicians for the mess; they are only answering the shallow demands that we present to them.
We have allowed the public debate to degenerate – thanks to the tools social media provide – into rabid, close-minded fanaticism, becoming more and more divided not through any outside influence, but our unwillingness to listen to other points of view, or even acknowledge them as anything other than threats to our own.
When we consider the end result, our future is frankly discouraging: our next President will either represent the existing political cabal, or a slightly different one, or another slightly different one, or be an autocrat. And because our next President – who won’t offer anything novel or significantly progressive – will, at best, achieve his or her victory with only about 30 percent of the vote, the deep resentment and divisions we have imposed on ourselves in the course of this campaign will not be healed, and may even become worse.
We will not improve as a society until we understand, collectively and individually, that democracy is not a contrived state of mind but an important job, one that each of us must do well for the whole to be successful.
We will not improve as a society until we understand that our disappointing political leaders would not be in a position to be disappointing, if not for our own lack of seriousness and lack of care for our communities and ourselves.
It is distressing to think that it may be another six years until we again get the chance to make up for our mistakes. But if that is our fate, let us hope we can at least learn something in that time.