I AM not by nature a pessimist, but it is getting harder not to think the worst is yet to come. The newly elected “leader of the free world” is an unabashed sexist bigot, billionaire tax evader, climate change denier, endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan. Women, immigrants and ethnic minorities, Muslims, Jews, refugees, gay people, cosmopolitans, the world economy, even the planet itself, have now good reason to fear. Donald Trump will be moving into the White House. What might America become and what will be the global consequences?
We are seeing a terrifying, seemingly unstoppable surge of populism. Following in its wake is heightened intolerance, hatefulness, xenophobic nationalism, anti-intellectualism, economic and gender inequality, and callous misogyny.
Although they are taking different national forms and emerging in diverse places, authoritarian figures are finding footholds at roughly the same time. From Vladimir Putin in Russia, RecepTayyipErdoğan in Turkey, and of course, our own Rodrigo Duterte, to the far-right demagogues surfacing all over Europe–Marine Le Pen in France, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, Brexit Britain’s Nigel Farage, Norbert Hofer in Austria, Viktor Orbān in Hungary, and Beppe Grillo in Italy–these are leaders who are having their day or are moving up. They do not value human rights and disrespect liberal democracy’s checks and balances, the rule of law and due process. They take pride in debasing political discourse with divisive rhetoric, vitriol and vulgarity, ignorance and lies. Seen from a global perspective, Trump’s shocking victory seems to be less an aberration than an alarming trend.
These leaders are capitalizing on, as much as exploiting, the legitimate grievances and anger of citizens who have been sold down the river by globalization’s promises of connectedness and shared success and wealth. To people whose social mobility has calcified, whose wages are stagnant, whose pensions have evaporated, whose communities are fractured and destroyed, globalization looks awfully like an elaborate hoax. People have found themselves condescended to and ignored by an out-of-touch neoliberal elite with pro-corporate interests, operating from positions of bureaucratic remoteness. Washington, the European Union, and so-called “Imperial Manila” seem to present strange parallels.
The geographically distant citizenries of Europe, the US, and the Philippines share some fundamental commonalities-–pain borne from life-sapping indebtedness, powerlessness and, increasingly, scarily precarious futures. In all these places, maintaining a decent standard of living is becoming more difficult, jobs are being lost, safety nets are torn asunder, and a sense of insecurity and distrust prevails. Most frustratingly, peoples’ grievances are falling on deaf ears. Or worse, they are dismissed as being politically incorrect by high-minded, self-righteous liberals sealed off in their echo chambersand their safe bubbles of like-minded Facebook communities. Liberals who label those who voted for Trump, for Duterte, for Brexitas immigrant-hating, sexist, racist, ignorant plebs with extremist views, do massive injustice to and insult those who cast their vote in the desperate hope for real change.
Populist ideology privileges “the people” and “the people’s will” above all other sources of authority. But when populist leaders claim to be the voice of all ordinary, decent, real and hardworking people, they are not thinking of the intractable “Others” who don’t share the same cultural origins, political views, skin color, sexual orientation, and religion as they. The neo-fascism fomented by such leaders, and vigorously fueled by a hard-core minority of vicious social media trolls, patently denies a place at the table for the swathes of humanity perceived to be a poor fit for the new world order envisioned by nationalist populism.
The last few weeks have been appallingly bad for democratic institutions. In Britain, high court judges received death threats and were lampooned by the country’s tabloid press for ruling that parliamentary approval must first be obtained before the UK’s Conservative government could trigger Brexit.
Closer to home, how is anyone to feel safe when the police act with flagrant impunity? How will faith in the system, already fragile and tenuous at best in our country, ever be strengthened when a dozen police officers are able to assassinate a public official while he sits in a jail cell? Despite surrendering himself to the law some months ago, and being assured of his personal safety by Philippine National Police chief Roland ‘Bato’ de la Rosa, Albuera, Leyte MayorRolando Espinosa, was murdered in cold blood inside a prison by law enforcement officers. President Duterte has sided with the police and has so far resisted calls for an investigation.
The election of Trump has, unquestionably, energized the extreme right, pushed forward the tide of nativist populism and the shift toward illiberal democracy everywhere. If we don’t find ways to combat fear and hatred, restore trust in democratic political systems, constructively engage with people of different views, backgrounds and life experiences, and build progressive coalitions, things are bound to get a whole lot worse.