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EDITORIAL: The future of truth
Two versions of truth: American cultural critic Brian Phillips wrote: “An America where we are all entitled to our own facts is a country where the only difference between cruelty and justice is branding.” The same rings true in our country, when Mamasapano and “tokhang for ransom” divide our country’s attention.
Illustration by PATRICK DALE CARRILLO

EDITORIAL: The future of truth

BUSINESS AFTER BUSINESS - Alex Almario (The Philippine Star) - January 27, 2017 - 7:49pm

Donald J. Trump is now the President of the United States. This is an actual thing that is happening. And based on the cries reverberating all across social media, many Americans are having a hard time processing this reality. This is not normal, they keep reminding themselves and each other. What did our new president say or do this time? Is every day going to be this bad or worse from now on? Is democracy over? Is this country over?

This is all fascinating to watch from a country that already went through the same reality-questioning ordeal and is now at that point in its dystopian novel where things look far bleaker. Wait, that’s a false synecdoche: “the country,” based on surveys that show the casual chillness of the general populace, isn’t really perturbed by apparent facism. I guess I was just referring to myself and the handful of other Filipinos concerned about liberal democracy and more basic things like people not getting killed. My bad.

Maybe it’s an easy error to make when your anger and frustration share the same space with that of an indignant majority. In the echo chamber of my Twitter timeline, the America that predominantly voted for Hillary Clinton exists side by side with whatever’s left of liberal Philippines (not to be confused with the much-despised “Liberal Party” that has long ceased to be truly liberal or an actual party). Anti-Trump and anti-Duterte sentiments look and sound so alike that one can easily create a challenging “Guess Who?” game on Twitter. But the difference otherwise has been stark. The difference is as big as that between the anti-Marcos protests of two months ago and the nearly-global Women’s March last week. Between a drizzle and a deluge. Between a whimper and a scream.

Not Hopeless

Take it from a bleeding heart liberal Filipino, America: your current predicament is not that hopeless. As comedian Aziz Ansari famously said on Saturday Night Live on the day millions of Americans took to the streets to protest Trump’s misogyny and general existence: “Change doesn’t come from presidents; change comes from large groups of angry people. And if Day 1 is any indication, you are part of the largest group of angry people that I’ve ever seen.” You are still a country where neo-Nazis can get punched in the streets, where journalists can call out administration spin doctors for being patently ridiculous, and where a majority of the citizens are not okay with their fascist, misogynistic, lying boor of a president. How we envy you.

Last week’s Women’s March was just the start, many have said. And it had to be women because the stench of sexism from last year’s elections is still so fresh. Other sectors and issues would need to get in line (there is already talk of another mass demonstration on April 15, Tax Day, to protest Trump’s unwillingness to release his tax returns), but for now, the anger over a p*ssy-grabbing blowhard bullying an infinitely more qualified woman out of a job has to be dealt with on a massive scale.

There are many issues to navigate in the path to Trump resistance — among them: healthcare, empowerment of neo-Nazis, anti-immigration, climate change denial, widespread government incompetence — but the unifying theme is an assault on truth. The way Americans deal with this would be instructive, not only because there are so many chilling similarities between White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer describing Trump’s inauguration crowd as “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period” and his Filipino counterpart chiding the press for accurately reporting Duterte’s willingness to declare martial law. We should also watch America because its democracy is older and more mature and it’s always wise to look to our elders for guidance.

‘Alternative Facts’

So what has America done so far in reaction to “alternative facts,” that non-phrase fabricated by noted Trump explainer Kellyanne Conway that was so dumb, human evolution took several steps back this week? The New York Times finally used the word “lies” in referring to flat-out false statements made by Trump. CNN refused to air Spicer’s presser live, knowing fully well that the BS it would inevitably deliver required supporting context. American journalists have already decided that reporting on this president is going to be different. As Jessica Huseman of independent news organization ProPublica said: “Journalists aren’t going to get answers from Spicer. We are going to get answers by digging. By getting our hands dirty. So let’s all do that.” It has taken the American press literally days to do what its Philippine counterpart — for reasons I’m not exactly privy to — has struggled to do in the last six months.

But this war on “alternative facts” is a complex one because it is also waged on ground that is beyond traditional media’s control. Social media continues to be a hotbed of propaganda and pure lies, which shouldn’t be a huge problem, especially in this country where a vast majority of the population doesn’t even have Internet access. On the surface, it shouldn’t be influential, but it sure looks like it is. I suspect that it’s really not and what is actually happening is that the Internet, and the ways in which the truth is overpowered by catchiness and virality, has become an accurate miniature of fascist propaganda, something that is now prevalent in both America and the Philippines. The climate online mirrors the climate offline, beyond the bubbles of Facebook and Twitter: a populist regime convincing the masses to ignore the messengers and focus instead on the sexiness of the message.

One of my favorite American cultural critics, Brian Phillips, summed up this problem perfectly when he wrote: “An America where we are all entitled to our own facts is a country where the only difference between cruelty and justice is branding.” I was reminded of this quote this week after our own country once again fell prey to the illusion of branding. It was surreal watching the government observe the anniversary of the Mamasapano clash and rightfully lay blame on the Aquino administration for the tragedy while contorting in various directions to evade responsibility for the recent string of “tokhang for ransom” cases. Barely anyone saw the irony, let alone reacted to it. The Duterte administration is doing things straight from the Aquino administration playbook that we all abhorred: consistently resorting to mind-bending “destabilization” conspiracy theories any time they shoot themselves in the foot. The only difference is branding. Aquino is an out-of-touch elitist brat while Duterte (mysteriously) remains a cool cult hero.

Branding is Bulls**T

But the thing about branding in this media-saturated century is that pretty much everyone’s aware that it’s bulls**t. All of us intuitively know that soft drinks and burger chains are not the life-affirming dream objects that commercials portray them to be. What we actually admire are the commercials and the cleverness and intent behind them.

But what is left when you take away all the ads and the packaging is the truth of the product. Truth is unavoidable. It does not care that you do not believe in gravity; you will fall and you will feel it. These are the thoughts that get me through the day: truth, history, and how inevitable they all are. You know, like death.

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Tweet the author @colonialmental.

DONALD J. TRUMP
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