Ignorance is bliss. Just ask Rodrigo Duterte and Donald Trump. The tonnage of philistinism that both men have been disposed at all times to display is reflective of how the first came to power and how the second is attempting to. What is reflective of both men as national politicians is that their loyal hordes of supporters are of the collective mindset that critical thinking and contemplation are to be done away with and replaced with easy, simplistic, and immediate answers and resolutions. For them, the time for collaborative thinking has run its course even if it means not getting the facts straight.
A palpable depth of understanding multifaceted issues is a given prerequisite for being a chief executive in our day and age. As history marches on, the world becomes a more complicated place. Facing its challenges now and in the future will require open-minded, responsible, and compassionate leaders who put their constituents well ahead of their self-interests and any attendant power trips that complement their sense of absolute certainty.
But in the expansive wasteland that is Donald Trump’s madhouse intuition and in Rodrigo Duterte’s transgressive language and logic they are both devoid of those aforementioned qualities, qualities that provide stability and sustenance for any true democracy. In the perpetual struggle that every civilization must go through in the name of progress, Duterte and Trump prefer to display dispassionate cruelty rather than sharp discernment. It was as if truth and knowledge were contagious diseases to be avoided at all costs.
The masses---the “masses” in the broadest sense---in the United States and the Philippines express a direction of thought that can be at times bewilderingly distinct from whatever facts are available. Chalk this up to poverty, poor education, bad upbringing or whatever else you prefer, but truth of the matter is that narcissistic, polarizing, and irreverent leaders like Trump and Duterte want and need ignorance to be the lay of the land. In the 2016 election cycles in both the US and the Philippines, their wish has sadly come true. It follows then that representative democracy in both nations is rendered vulnerable.
It is agony to listen to the armor piercing rhetoric of Trump and Duterte and watch as literally millions hang on their every word without question, without doubt, without thought. A true democracy doesn’t work that way. People in a democracy are supposed to make informed decisions about who their representatives in government are going to be and not make cursory choices out of naïveté, laziness, or a feeling of helplessness.
But with the predominance of social media and information technology along with rapacious hypercapitalism and insatiable consumer appetites, information comes at blinding speed and with a deafening cadence, thus depriving citizens of the ability to think carefully and conscientiously. Compounding this is the shattered moral and ethical boundaries of an increasingly unresponsive and unrepresentative political class in the US and in the Philippines.
As a result, principled democracy in both countries starts to lose its social, even emotional appeal. Accordingly, more severe notions of law and order are emphasized and disseminated throughout society as an insecure and frightened populace begins to search for alternatives which are anything but democratic. Hence, a line is drawn to the combustible intertwining of an authoritarian ego, an equally authoritarian politics, and a boastful claim to total knowledge.
This all has to do with what you could call the coping mechanism that Trump and Duterte offer their followers in the helter-skelter world they play up: give up your freedoms and in return you get normality, symmetry, stability. It is a time-honored compact: post facto loss of freedom for the nebulous promise of security. For Filipinos, it is the Marcos dictatorship all over again. For Americans, it's neo-fascism waiting in the wings.
I know it’s hard for Filipinos and Americans---both of which belong to contemporary societies steeped in democratic traditions---to believe that a crisis of democracy exists in the US and in the Philippines. But let’s face it: far too many Filipinos and Americans alike have taken democracy and all the salutary rights it affords for granted. Not enough Filipinos and Americans realize that all the breaks and pauses littered throughout the recent history of their respective countries’ democratic processes are threatening to develop into ruptures between the vital needs of the people and the dictates of the economic and political elite.
Rodrigo Duterte and Donald Trump have found their way into the darkest hearts of their voters. In their angst and despair, disillusioned Filipinos and Americans are putting their trust in these two unpalatable and disingenuous figures without shame or remorse or deliberation. Which is to say that ignorance may in the end, win the day in both electorates. One way or another, a Duterte presidency in the Philippines and a Trump administration in America are somber portents for an uncertain future.