With only a little exaggeration did some analysts call it an insurrection — an attempt to overthrow the US government.
Incited by Donald Trump to prevent the official declaration of Joseph Biden as the 46th President of the United States, several hundreds of his supporters stormed and occupied the US Congress on Washington DC’s Capitol Hill on Jan. 6 (Jan. 7 in the Philippines). Five people died in the process.
Trump, said White House insiders, was “delighted.” But the rioters failed to stop the counting of the Electoral College votes during the Nov. 3, 2020 presidential elections. After several hours’ delay, the US Congress declared Biden the duly elected President of the United States and his running mate Kamala Harris Vice-President.
Trump may not have won a second four-year term. But as the number of the participants and their willingness to risk life and limb in the Jan. 6 riot showed, he has succeeded in making racism and fascism part of mainstream US politics.
The indicators of Trump’s bigotry and authoritarian impulses were many and varied. His anti-immigrant policies separated families and consigned hundreds of children to cages in concentration camps. To stop protests against the killing of unarmed African Americans by the police, he deployed federal agents to spy on their leaders. He supported the police’s habitual use of lethal force against people of color, while defending the violence of white supremacist groups against peaceful protesters. But instead of being widely condemned, his racism and fascism gained substantial support from the misinformed millions in American society.
Trump’s followers, who include police and retired military personnel, are likely to be continuing threats to the US and to accelerate its decline. Even if he or any of his accomplices fail to regain control of the Executive branch of the government, his policies during the past four years and his incitement to violence can set off periods of unrest, conflict and even widespread civil disturbances. There are in fact fears that his thugs are planning armed uprisings in Washington DC and in various state capitals to prevent Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
Trump has threatened to run again in 2024, and vowed that his losing the 2020 elections will not stop his MAGA (shorthand for “Make America Great Again”) campaign. Although at the age of 74 he claims to be in perfect health, time could still catch up with him before then. But even if that happens, what some analysts are already referring to as “Trumpism” will quite probably outlive him.
Racism and intolerance were previously thought to be mere aberrations and the remnants of a long-gone past to which only a minuscule segment of the US population still subscribe. But they were the vast reservoirs of hate among the white, non-college graduate workers’ sector from which Trump gained much of his support in 2016. Although that base has shrunk somewhat, he still has several neo-Nazi groups, Christian fundamentalists, and, oddly enough, even people of color (among them, though quite predictably, Americans of Filipino extraction) and women behind him and the demented politics that he stands for.
As a consequence, Biden’s pledge to immediately put in place measures to halt the spread of COVID-19 (which as of this week had infected 22 million Americans and killed over 370,000), and to repair the damage Trump’s four years in the White House did to the US both domestically and internationally will be resisted by the latter’s still substantial political base. Even without Trump, but nevertheless inspired by him, they can usher in a period of political instability that will outlast Biden’s term. The US will neither be the same nor great again.
The closest Philippine counterpart of Trumpism is Marcosismo. Marcosismo is not just about the Marcoses. Marcosismo without Marcos is the lethal contagion resident in the Philippine political elite and, unfortunately, among many Filipinos as well. It has survived two “People Power” mutinies and five post-Marcos regimes. Its current version has enshrined violence and intimidation as the first and last methods of governance. It has also made corruption, self-aggrandizement, and indifference to human lives and the people’s welfare its first priorities.
As in the case of Trumpism, support for Marcosismo is based on the murderous ignorance disinformation generates and the willful indifference to factual evidence, in this instance among millions of Filipinos. In the Philippines as in the US, disinformation is a crucial factor in the persistence and acceptability of fascist rule. In addition, the Trump anomaly has also provided the local equivalent of his followers the argument that if strongman rule, which had hitherto been thought possible only in banana republics and such Third World, pre-Enlightenment countries as the Philippines, is after all good enough for Americans, it should be even better for Filipinos. Thus the argument that democracy, which is yet to be realized in the Philippines, has failed to eradicate or even reduce poverty, and that a dictatorship along the lines of the Ferdinand Marcos kleptocracy would make possible the changes that have eluded Filipinos for over a century. The consequence is widespread support for supposedly strong, but actually no more than despotic and shamelessly incompetent government.
The Trumpist phenomenon has again demonstrated how strong is US cultural and ideological influence on the people of the Philippines. This is evident in the surprise, even among some supposedly well-informed Filipinos such as journalists and media practitioners, over the rioting in Washington DC on Jan. 6. Many described it as uncharacteristic of the “show window of democracy,” and as un-American. Apparently they were assuming that unlike their own country — and as Americans never tire of claiming — the US is the paragon of reasoned, democratic discourse, of fairness, universal justice, and respect for the rights of everyone regardless of race, creed, color or political belief. It is an illusion mostly induced by the movies, television programs, music, books, news reports, and other products of the billion dollar, mostly US-based culture industry to which hundreds of millions of people all over the world are exposed daily.
Most Filipinos are as a consequence completely unaware of how much of a myth is the image of the US, its citizens and its institutions as the embodiments of civic, political, economic, social and human perfection. As the Trump phenomenon has demonstrated, there are huge pockets of bigotry, inequality, gender and racial discrimination, and partiality for violence in American society that are just waiting to be tapped by the next demagogue who wants to advance his or her personal, familial, and class interests over those of the rest of the country.
The same disciples of ignorance, intolerance, and the worship of the use of force lurk as well among the populace of the Philippines. And those sectors are not only threatening to overwhelm the relatively few adherents of reason, democratic choice, and reform. They are also flourishing in the form of the Marcosista ideology of dominance, repression and exploitation that lives on in what passes for the minds not only of the ruling oligarchy but also of its benighted followers.
Every Filipino opposed to the return of tyrannical rule should be alert to the possibility that should the 2022 election results not be to their liking, the Marcosistas and their ilk could replicate in these isles the Trumpist orgy of hate and violence that has plunged the US into one of the worst crises in its 245-year history.
Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro).