Lessons from America

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - November 12, 2020 - 12:00am

Americans partied last Sunday as if there was no tomorrow, or more appropriately, it’s because there is, indeed a tomorrow to look forward to.

Hundreds danced on the streets, blew their horns, popped champagne bottles, hugged one another – celebrating in wild abandon. My cousin from New York sent me vignettes of the jubilation – videos of people dancing to Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA.”

The single is back on the charts as it reverberated in the US – from the East Coast to the West Coast, from quarantined homes to al fresco pubs.

Americans, of course, were cheering the end of four years of Donald Trump’s chaotic presidency and the victory of Joe Biden.


Many Filipinos cheered as well, finding a glimmer of hope in the fact that Americans finally decided to put an end to the Trump regime — four years that brought uncertainty to democratic institutions, not to mention his jaw-dropping plans and policies such as the “Big, Beautiful Wall” between the US and Mexico.

The Wall was meant to stop the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs, Trump once said, but it soon became a symbol of his closed door policy and mean-spirited mindset that undermined the American tradition of welcoming people from all over the world.

Indeed, the arrival of Trump in 2017 jolted the world and made all of us rethink the ideas of freedom and liberty long espoused by America, which once upon a time, called itself the Land of the Free.

Perhaps, no other president in recent American political history challenged the US’ strong ideals of democracy more than Trump.

And here lies the lesson for the rest of the world, our nation included – democracies can backslide into systems with authoritarian tendencies – as what happened in America – if we do not work on improving the system that we have.

For sure, democracy is far from perfect, and Philippine democracy which is perennially struggling to mature, is no exception.

But despite democracy’s follies and shortcomings, we must not allow our system to break down and give way to authoritarianism.

Let us be wary of political actors who exploit citizen disaffection and use demagogy to advance their own interests.

As we’ve seen in many authoritarian regimes, tyrants tend to dismantle longstanding institutions our forefathers worked hard for, instill fear among their enemies, weaponize the law to their advantage and, silence their critics, all to be able to stay in power.

They start with the promise of greatness, appealing to emotional needs of the masses – a promise of hope, a few jokes and good laughs here and there, loud, macho rhetorics and most of all, populist promises.

Sadly, we are easily entertained by these characters and before we realize it, we find ourselves sliding back into dictatorship.

The truth is, we need to work toward a more egalitarian system that truly strives for a more inclusive society where average citizens feel represented.

This will take a lot of work and patience from all players of society, but once it succeeds, it can really fulfill the promise of democracy.

The Filipino voter

We must choose better leaders and be wary of putting demagogues in power. Americans showed us in the recent elections that citizens, indeed, have the power to choose.

Here at home, let’s take this lesson to heart. We need to make our voices count in the 2022 presidential elections. The first thing we need to do is to register with the Commission on Elections. We have until September 2021 to do so.

Voter education is important. Those who can help educate voters, such as civic groups and business organizations, must do so.

It takes so little to gladden the hearts of the masses, lured every campaign season by politicos who promise the moon and the stars, together with a few cans of sardines and a few kilos of rice.

As Niccolò Machiavelli said in The Prince, “men remain so simple and governed so absolutely by their present needs, that he who wishes to deceive will never fail in finding willing dupes.”

Educating voters to choose better leaders can change this sad reality.

Those who can afford to donate millions for politicals campaigns must also choose well. Don’t be forced to support candidates for your own self preservation. Know that in the end, you, your family, your business, your employees and the whole country will share in the consequences of your decision.

I believe that a country governed by competent and sincere statesmen will help bring this nation to greatness, and that will surely benefit us all.

The biggest lesson from the US elections is that Americans didn’t forget who Trump is and what he did to America. Majority decided they no longer wanted any of that.

As we decide on our future in the 2022 presidential elections, let’s not forget the swagger, the empty rhetorics and incompetence of our present day leaders. We simply have to look back and remember everything that happened this year.

It would be frightening to forget the lessons of 2020 and if that happens, it could be one of our biggest embarrassments as a country.



Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com

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