BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - April 23, 2016 - 10:00am

Demagogues are politicians who appeal to the worst nature of people in order to gain followers. Instead of using reason, issues and doing the right thing, demagogues use fear and hatred  to stir up hysteria, creating a crisis to intensify popular support for their call for immediate action and increased authority.

Demagogues do not present any concrete plan but simply tell people to trust them. This also creates a cult of personality which says that the demagogue is the strong leader because he will bring about immediate action. The others are considered weak because they believe in democracy or rule of law.

This phenomenon is not limited to Philippine politics but is now worldwide. The most publicized demagogue is Donald Trump who is poised to be the Republican candidate for president. In fact, there is now a definition of Trumpism – applicable to demagoguery: “A belief system that encourages abrasive, pretentious and narcissistic behavior as the way to achieving money, fame and power.”

One observer recently wrote: “I find it ironic that the candidate, the person who gets all the attention is a devout believer in Trumpism: pretentious, narcissist, arrogant, self aggrandizing, self promoting, cocky, brash, bossy.”

History teaches that demagoguery eventually leads to the death of democracy. Ferdinand Marcos was able to play on the fears of the Filipino people and convinced them that there was anarchy and subversion rampant in the streets. Therefore, martial law was justified. The rule of law and democracy was terminated. The cult of personality – Marcos as the strong leader – was cultivated and it took 14 years of hardships and struggle before democracy was regained.

Here we are again listening to politicians telling us that democracy is too slow and we need radical change which can be accomplished only through instant action and strong arm tactics. We are told that there is no need for specific plans because the solution is in electing “strong men” to lead our country.

Umair Haque, a leading thinker and Harvard Business School writer, has written a series of short essays entitled Why Fascism is Rising Again (And What You can Learn From It): We Thought It was gone forever. We were wrong. Here’s why.

Fascism is an extreme right ideology that believes liberal democracy and the rule of law are obsolete. It believes that a strong leader is needed to forge national unity and maintain a stable and orderly society. It rejects the belief that violence is automatically negative in nature and views political violence and war as means that can achieve national rejuvenation. Very few people now describe themselves as fascists because of the bad connotations. But the ideology is again resurfacing even in Europe.

Haque says: “The darkest spectre of global politics, the one that we thought exorcised, has somehow been summoned and reborn: fascism is resurgent...Marine Le Pen (France), the most openly extreme politician in national leadership since Hitler triumphed, winning a third of the vote, in recent French elections. The world stand poised on the precipice of a Dark Age of New Fascism. it is rising, Cerebrus-like, from Scandinavia to Europe to Turkey to Australia.”

There are four stages that begin with demagoguery and end with fascism and self destruction. Here are the four stages, with my own interpretations, which may be oversimplified but are worth remembering:

First Stage is called stagnation. “Fascism is always the product of economic inopportunity. Inopportunity creates a burning sense of injustice.” Different sectors of society begin to fight to whom the different parts of the pie will belong. The worst part is when the poor and the middle class believe that society has become unfair to them and only the very rich are benefiting from economic growth.

Second stage is demagoguery. A demagogue arises who is able to convince the people he knows the source of stagnation. It could be corruption or crime or communists. In other parts of the world it could be immigrants or Muslims. The important thing is that the demagogue has provided a face to the problems that are normally complex. Now society has a simple, visual villain that could be hated and society believes is the cause of the problem.

Third stage is tyranny. So now people believe that these are “the people” who are responsible for all our problems. During Marcos era it was the communists. Then the list was expanded to included communist “sympathizers.” Then those who advocated any form of income distribution were included. Finally, anyone who opposed the Marcos regime became enemies of the government.

Fourth stage is self destruction. At the beginning even a fascist government will have popular support. The streets will be kept clean, the train run on time and vagrants will simply disappear from the streets. Curfew can be imposed until a solution to crime can be found. But temporary solutions to permanent problems will not do any good at all. Even shooting criminals will not make crime disappear. It will not solve the problems of poverty. It will not create jobs.

If the rule of law is abandoned, investments will start disappearing. The crimes of the poor – burglary, drug addiction, robbery – may be temporarily addressed. But the greater crimes of the rich – smuggling, money laundering, tax evasion, corruption – how will that be addressed?

I have always said that the person with the most radical message of change in the world today is Pope Francis. He has said that the biggest “crime” in the world today is” Income Inequality.” The top one percent wealthiest persons in the world, including the Philippines, own more wealth than the 99 percent of the rest of the population. Pope Francis says that the worst vice in the world today is the “idolatry of money.”

The world should listen to Pope Francis and not the demagogues who will lead us again to economic self-destruction.

Summer creative writing classes for kids and teens

Young Writers’ Hangout : April 30, May 21, 28 and June 4 (10:30am-12nn except June 4, 1:30pm-3pm)

Wonder of Words Workshop:  May 2, 4, 6, 10, 11 and 13 (1:30-3:30pm for 7-10 years old and 4-6pm for 11-17 years old) with guest authors, Manix Abrera and Mina Esguerra.

Classes will be held at Fully Booked Bonifacio High Street.  For registration and fee details, 0917-6240196 / writethingsph@gmail.com

Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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