Tail wags the dog

FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras - The Freeman

“Wag the dog” is a 1997 Hollywood movie starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert de Niro. It is about an American politician fabricating a war in an eastern European country to distract the voters from a presidential sex scandal before the coming election, and the president agreeing and going along with it. In a broader sense, it means that the followers are calling the shots and influencing the leader, rather than the leader initiating, so it’s the tail that’s wagging the dog. This happens in many organizations, but is prevalent in political parties because of termination of terms of office or defeats in elections, and the consequent changing of the guards and the loss of privileges of the supporters. There are strong motivations by the supporters to prod the leaders to make decisions beneficial to them, but not to the leader.

History, the Bible, and Greek mythology are full of stories of machinations by followers to the detriment of the leaders. A more illustrative example of this condition is the current political events happenings in the Philippines, ahead of the 2022 elections. President Duterte has stated many times that he is tired and wants to retire, and that the presidency is a thankless job, that he is discouraging his daughter to run for president. He said that “his life was so much better before he became president” and that he was happier when he was Davao City mayor. Majority of the people believe he really meant these words, said in his most unguarded/candid moments. He even repeated many times, that the military didn’t have to mount a coup if they want to remove him, as he will leave peacefully if the military wants him replaced.

But, look at what happened these last few weeks. The president’s supporters are urging him to run as vice president and to choose his running mate for president. Then they are urging the daughter to run for president so there will be continuity of the present dispensation and these subalterns can stay or remain in their positions. These initiatives are full of risks and consequential damage to Duterte and his family, but of lesser risk to his followers. These followers will move on to the next political leaders they will support, or quietly retire with minimal adverse effects.

A decision tree analysis of running will show the consequences of winning or losing. Winning will mean continuing to confront the pandemic with the public health and economic disastrous effects which you can’t blame on a predecessor. A disgruntled citizenry beset by social problems of poverty, corruption, and a slowing economy. A tattered global reputation as the unsafest country and an irrefutable historical judgment of his political tenure. On the other hand, running and losing the election will be a reputational damage for the years that he has been in power, a loss of status and privileges, financial setback, and possible legal cases depending on who will be president.

Another analysis has to be done on the risk and reward of running or not running. In this analysis it will mostly be the consequences to Duterte and his family that will matter most, with the effects on his followers minimal. This is where the candid comments of President Duterte will be paramount, as every person longs for happiness and contentment. Time and again it has been shown and proven that persons in power always make decision damaging to them, and in all cases their followers egged and cheered them on until they fell. Very few leaders follow the adage “to always go down the stage while there are still some of the audience clapping.”

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