Who let the dogs out?

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

It’s not good to laugh when there are five people dead. Still, that was a hilarious social media post last week, showing North Korean strongman Kim Jong-un with a broad grin and the declaration: “I no longer craziest leader. Lol.”

Of course the post was fake, but the sentiment was undoubtedly shared by many: the dictator of North Korea has been unseated as the world’s most insane leader by – ta-da! – the leader of the free world and president of the United States.

There goes democracy and efforts to promote (to borrow a phrase from another US administration) enduring freedom.

Fortunately for those who believe in Winston Churchill’s remark that democracy is still the best system among the worst, Donald Trump will be out of power in about 10 days. Or maybe less, if the US Congress decides to impeach and kick him out earlier, ensuring his disgraceful exit from the White House.

A slew of criminal indictments may then hound him as well as some members of his family, thereby preventing him from retiring in peace.

America will have to show the world that it is not in decline, that democracy works, and that the system corrects itself when challenged and threatened by mob rule.

*      *      *

The free world was aghast, but America’s enemies and rivals guffawed at the mob assault on the US Capitol last week. Images of Trump’s supporters, rejoicing near the detritus of their rampage, were splashed across newspapers worldwide.

All that was needed was background music: Baha Men’s “Who Let the Dogs Out? Who, who, who, who, who?”

Some Pinoys were apparently part of the lunacy, with that broom or walis tambo that we believe was made in the Philippines brandished by a Trump supporter.

The world was shocked that this was happening in the US Capitol, where lawmakers were set to affirm the victory of the Democrats’ Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris.

I must admit though that after all the tumult in our exuberant democracy in the past decades, my initial reaction as I watched the chaos in the Capitol was, “so it’s not only in the Philippines.”

*      *      *

Still, such chaos may be common and even expected in weak democracies such as ours, but not in the world’s bastion of democracy.

When US rivals say the riot in Washington clearly showed America in decline, they were also referring to the decline (they hope) of the democratic system, its ideals and way of life.

In Southeast Asia, a region dominated by strongmen, the Philippines used to be publicly cited by autocratic leaders as an example of the perils of too much freedom.

The role model for national development in our region is not the Philippines, with its rambunctious democracy, but Singapore under its founding leader Lee Kuan Yew, who put economic rights ahead of universal human rights as defined by the United Nations. While opening his country to the free market of goods, Lee imposed national discipline and curbs on certain civil rights including freedom of expression.

With the riot at the Capitol, and Trump’s refusal to accept defeat, those who have long been unimpressed with democracy like Kim Jong-un can now say, “I told you so.”

Part of Joe Biden’s task when he assumes the presidency, apart from confronting the worst COVID infection rate and death toll in the world, is to undo this damage.

*      *      *

Why does Trump inspire such zealotry? That riot highlighted the deep divide in America, which I have been trying to understand. I can’t get much out of US mainstream media beyond condemnation of the violence.

I got some insights from an American I met in one of my pre-pandemic trips overseas, who I belatedly learned is a Trump supporter. He’s no unhinged, violent zealot. After the elections when I emailed him about Trump’s refusal to concede and polarization in America, this was his comment:

“Looking at President Trump from other countries through the lens of our progressive media, I can see that one might think it unbelievable that he received a tiny number of votes less than VP Biden… Many voted against Trump because of his outrageous public persona and interesting relationship with the truth, and not his policies or accomplishments.

“It turns out that Trump was elected largely on the promises he made, and that he was able carry out the most important of these, in spite of continuous attempts to overthrow him, using false accusations and a laughable impeachment (one party voted entirely for, the other entirely against).

“He is against abortion and took steps to reduce it, by stopping Gov. funding of fetus experiments and reducing healthcare benefits for abortions. Also, he ended rapacious trade relationships with China, Canada, Mexico (5th largest economy), and Japan, costing U.S. $trillions, and he cut taxes for ordinary people.  He stemmed massive drug and criminal influx from Mexico, reduced unemployment and rich/poor gap, and increased income for blue collar workers, blacks, and Hispanics, for the first time in history, and kept us out of war.

“I think, if our people had been better informed by a more even handed press and confronted with a more honorable opposition, he would have been elected by a landslide.”

Over the weekend I sought his views on what happened in Washington. His reply:

“The hyped reporting of the Capitol riot was disproportionate, for the one life lost and broken glass, to the subdued reporting of the shootings, store pillaging and burning, and killings in any one of the larger BLM riots of the Summer and Fall,” he wrote, referring to the Black Lives Matter. “I guess the fact that the focus of the television coverage of the smaller riot was the outside of the Capitol Building made it more alarming to many. Of course, both are indefensible.”

“Of course the rabid opposition to President Trump is trying to make a far-fetched case that he was somehow at fault for the riot.  They will attempt, yet again, to try to remove him from office with a false charge, with a week to go until the end of his term. We are getting frustrated with the polarization.”

How many Americans share his views?

The question now is whether the riot was just an isolated incident in US democracy, or the symptom of a widespread malaise.

This is not America. Or is it?

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