Donald Trump’s phenomenal win in the US presidential elections, against all pre-election forecasts of a Hillary Clinton victory, has been described in the British press as America’s Brexit–recalling the stunning British vote on June 23, 2016 to leave the European Union despite all pre-referendum surveys predicting a majority decision to “remain.” This was not the first major upset in US presidential history. But it is on the same class as Harry Truman’s election on Nov. 2, 1948 when the widely underrated incumbent president, who had come to office upon the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1945, won by the skin of his teeth after all the opinion polls had predicted his defeat to Republican challenger Gov. Thomas Dewey, and the Chicago Tribune had screamed in its early election-day headline, “Dewey Defeats Truman.”
But what makes this upset even more awesome is the fact that Trump was a complete outsider who defied all the rules of the establishment. And his party carried both Houses of Congress. Not since the 1920s, American political commentators point out, has any party controlled the presidency, the Senate and the House of Representatives at the same time. Trump managed to achieve this despite a highly conflicted campaign marked by women claiming to have been improperly touched in the past by the Republican candidate, his less than startling performance in the debates, Republican rivals and former presidential candidates denouncing him as unfit to be the candidate, and not the least of all, an extremely hostile press.
As early as October 19, 2016, Dr. Sam Wang, PhD, of Princeton Election Consortium, a highly regarded name in present-day polling, was reported to have said: “It’s totally over. If Trump wins more than 240 electoral votes (out of the 270 needed to become President), I will eat a bug.” Weeks before that, on Oct. 1, The New York Times, the world’s most important newspaper, reported that Clinton had a 76 percent chance of winning; on the eve of the election, The Times raised that number to 85 percent. Throughout the campaign, the newspaper and many others ridiculed Trump, belittled his supporters, and wrote off any possibility of his ever getting elected.
Too many hillbillies?
When the results turned out to be the exact opposite of its advocacy, forecast and analysis, some of its pundits turned their venom on the voters. Leading The Times’ shocked commentariat is the Nobel Prize winning economist-turned columnist Paul Krugman, who wrote: “There turn out to be a huge number of people—-white people, living mainly in the rural areas—-who don’t share all our idea about what America is all about. For them, it is about blood and soil, about traditional patriarchy and racial hierarchy.”
Obviously, the pollsters and the pundits did not notice the “rustication” of American politics during the campaign. They did not notice that their great nation was filled with so many “little people” who seemed to matter only during elections. They noticed it only after the stunning results were in. And yet a week before the elections, I myself, a foreigner, watching from Manila, had begun to see signs that the forecasts could go wrong. Unlike the propaganda fraudsters in Manila, whose polling is usually integrated into the cheating operations of the political syndicates, the US independent polls have no means of guaranteeing the accuracy of their forecasts.
That fateful week, my wife and I held an international telephone conference with pro-life and pro-family colleagues in the US, UK, Canada, Poland, Nigeria, Brazil and Ecuador. During that conference, our American panelist, a keen political observer, said that despite the polls claiming increasing support for Hillary, all the data available to him seemed to point to a Trump victory. For his part, our Polish panelist, a demographer, said that from the very beginning he could see no indication of Trump losing to Clinton. Being a distant outsider, with significant American acquaintances on both political camps, I tried not to show any bias for or against either candidate, and tried not to engage the question: who would be good for the Philippines, Trump or Clinton?
Even believers could not believe
Yet those who had allowed their opinions to be molded by the polls were shocked and gobsmacked by the results. Even Trump supporters could not all believe that they had won. They had every reason to say with Trump that the impossible had become possible. It was certainly a bad day for modern polling, and for political punditry in American journalism. Amid so much talk of American decline, Trump has injected a booster shot into American exceptionalism. “This is the country that declared its independence, won two world wars, landed a man on the moon. This is America. We can and we will get it done,” Trump said. “You will soon remember what it’s like to win as an American.”
On the margins of the US 2016 Election Watch at Sofitel Hotel on Wednesday, before the final results were out, I tried to suggest in a couple of live TV interviews that the election of a new US President could help, and should help, turn the page and restart Philippine-US relations, if President Duterte is willing. All DU30 has to do is pick up the telephone or write a short message to congratulate the President-elect, and that would be the start of a new conversation between the two heads of state, which will have nothing to do with the words exchanged between DU30 and the outgoing US president.
A change of heart
DU30’s initial statement from Kuala Lumpur, where he is visiting now, tends to support that view. The only difference is that instead of personally calling Trump to congratulate him, he did so in a public speech or through his Communications Secretary Martin Andanar who announced that DU30 congratulated Trump. This wasn’t wrong at all, but it would have been more meaningful had he made the telephone call.
DU30 sees Trump as a kindred soul, with similarities in behavior and temperament. Both are “gentlemen,” if by “gentleman” we mean “someone who never insults anybody unintentionally.” Like DU30, Trump rained insults on his enemies during the campaign, although unlike DU30, he never used four-letter cuss words on anyone. Both have the same apparent weakness for women. Both are populists, with no small amount of ego and demagoguery. Both are determined to shake up the complacent elite in their respective societies. When they meet, they should hit it off well.
Question: After saying he would “separate” the Philippines militarily and economically from the US, and align it with China and Russia “against the world,” would it not be hard for DU30 to suggest a reset of “special relations”? I don’t see any problem here. He has not done anything specific and concrete to carry out what he had threatened to do with the US military and economic ties. He could still modify his statement to lend it a much broader perspective.
With respect to his aligning with China and Russia “against the world,” neither the one nor the other has reacted officially to it. In fact, some Chinese and Russian friendly sources have referred to the formulation, smilingly, as a political “hyperbole.” One friendly Chinese source wondered whether DU30 was not, in fact, simply trying to increase his political value to Washington by threatening to align with Beijing and Moscow. “Meaning to say, he’s simply using China for his own purpose?” I asked the source. “Why, is that unthinkable?” she answered. Despite their policy differences on various issues, China, Russia and the US have robust relations; they are rivals, competitors, but not enemies, she pointed out.
Question: How could DU30 walk back from his threatened military and economic “separation” from the US without any embarrassment?
Perhaps he could begin by saying that since the American people have just voted down the US policies and practices he had spoken against under the Obama administration, he would be pleased to give his vote of confidence to the incoming Trump administration, which has promised to give back America to the American people. He could perhaps assure Trump that he would be happy to talk to him about the drug killings in the Philippines in a spirit of friendly consultations between two friends and allies, and not as a US inquiry into the affairs of his government.
Reviewing military sales
Then they could perhaps review the status of US military sales to the Philippines, which have been suspended upon the cancellation of the delivery of 26,000 N-4 rifles to the Philippine National Police. In addition to the suspension of the rifles deal, the US appears to have suspended all other Philippine military acquisitions. So have the US military (NATO) allies. In particular, this has affected the purchase of ammunition for the OTO Melara 76 mm cannons on board the Philippine Navy’s four frigates.
The OTO Melara 76mm cannon is a naval artillery piece manufactured by the Italian defense company of the same name, which is used by 60 navies around the world. It was designed for small warships such as corvettes, aviso and patrol boats. Military sources have disclosed that attempts by the Philippine government to purchase ammo from its Italian supplier have been stymied by the refusal of the German banks to accept the Letter of Credit to cover the transaction, because of a new government policy not to have any dealings with the Philippine government on military purchases.
This appears to be the unforeseen effect of DU30’s announced decision to separate militarily from the US. What DU30 obviously failed to see when he made his announcement is that outside of the weapons produced by China, Russia and North Korea, the weapons used by the rest of the world belong to a global chain with the US at the very center of it. Thus, a plane manufactured in one country will most probably need a US-made engine, and so it cannot be sold to an end-user without the express permission of the US State Department.
Replacing the military inventory
Of course, the government could decide to replace its entire military inventory with weapons from China or Russia; but not only will this take a long time and tons of money, it will also render useless all the weapons being used by the military and the police today, as the government rebuilds its defense system from zero. This means throwing away all those monies.
This is one reason DU30 will have to walk back from his proposed military separation from the US. Since he has no personal grievances against Trump, I am sure this could be worked out without much difficulty. He need not worry about China or Russia either, because, as shown earlier, they too would be trying to maintain robust and dynamic relations with the Trump administration.
DU30 has expressed the hope that he and Trump could strengthen relations between their own countries, based on mutual respect, mutual benefit, shared commitment to democratic ideals and the rule of law. It would be an enormous boon if DU30 would recognize that millions of Americans and other nationalities around the world see in Trump’s triumph the beginning of the remaking of America into the great moral power it once was, where religion, according to Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859), was the first political institution, and human life, the family and marriage are the first foundations of society.