We just don't get it

TO THE QUICK - Jerry Tundag () - January 23, 2009 - 12:00am

Whether Filipinos admit it or not, they still get misty-eyed when they look at America and see it flex its muscles with almost effortless grace. The inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States was a case in point.

Before millions upon millions of people glued to their tv sets around the world, a good and hefty slice of that right here in the Philippines, the Americans showcased their strength without so much as breaking into sweat (figuratively, as it was cold as hell in Washington).

The Americans did it by simply transfering power without animosity and rancor. It was yet another display of a peaceful turnover, the culmination of a process that started when John McCain quickly conceded to Obama shortly after election day last November.

For the real strength of America lies not in the mighty firepower of its military nor in the buying power of the American dollar. It lies in the ability of its people to elect their leaders freely and to see power change hands with grace and dignity.

Free elections and a peaceful handover of power assure Americans that their system works. And when a system works, it conveys the notion that it is right. And there is no other more reassuring source of strength than the feeling that one is right.

That is why America is often misunderstood outside its borders. Because other people think Americans are assertive, to the point of being aggressive and oppressive. But among themselves, Americans simply believe they are right. And they find nothing wrong in that.

Filipinos have had the opportunity to approximate the Americans. The relationship between the two countries go back a very long way. And while the relationship sometimes gets contentious, as all relationships do, it is one that is more open than it is duplicitous.

The American drive to preserve and protect its own interests can sometimes be unnerving. But there is no stopping anyone from playing the same game, in accordance with the same rules.

Both emerging powers, such as China, or pesky pipsqueaks like North Korea, have long learned the American way. Having learned how to play the games Americans play, neither country bellyaches in the same way, and as often, as the Philippines does.

America only seems like a bully if you allow it to be, if you do not know how to play the game it plays. But look at the Chinese and the North Koreans, or the Iranians. Or, for that matter, even the Saudis.

All know how to play America. If at all, it is even America that is squirming. It is American that sometimes gets painted into a corner from where it cannot extricate itself without some disadvantageous form of quid pro quo.

 So how come we are the only kid in the block that keeps on complaining, that keeps on fumbling the game? We stay up all night to watch Barack Obama sworn in but we are mesmerized only by the spectacle, but not the substance.

For God's sake, we have just been treated to an ostentatious display of mature and stable democracy at work, and all that ever caught our fancy was the number of people who turned out (wow, ang dami no?) or how Obama fumbled the oath (ha ha ha, nagkamali din pala).

And so, while George W. Bush and Obama had coffee prior to the inaugural, and Obama saw Bush off toward his retirement in Texas, Filipino politicians (a.k.a. leaders) continue plotting against one another for the chance to stab one another in the back.

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