Manila Bulletin

Ad­just­ing to Duterte and Trump



PRES­I­DENT Duterte and US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump are prime ex­am­ples of a new crop of lead­ers who have barged into power and are im­pos­ing their ideas and will on their re­spec­tive publics.

Mr. Duterte is like a feu­dal war­lord who likes to bark at peo­ple. He re­serves spe­cial venom for those who crit­i­cize him, how­ever muted and mild the crit­i­cism.

For ex­am­ple, af­ter Duterte’s “war” on drugs got un­der­way and many drug sus­pects got killed, then US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama coun­seled him, as an ally, to “do it the right way.”

That short piece of ad­vice earned Obama a bar­rage of curses from Duterte. The lat­est to re­ceive a Duterte bou­quet of swear words is Colom­bian ex-Pres­i­dent Ce­sar Gaviria for warn­ing our pres­i­dent of the per­ils of wag­ing a “war” on drugs. Duterte called Gaviria an “id­iot.”

Mr. Duterte promised to “meta­mor­phose” af­ter his in­au­gu­ra­tion but ev­i­dently he’s un­able to change or re­form him­self. God, he says, cre­ated him that way and if we have any prob­lems with that, we should blame God.

Duterte is a tough cookie and he wants us to ac­cept him as such. He’s not go­ing to change for us; we will have to change for him. He wants more than 100 mil­lion peo­ple to change for one per­son in­stead of one per­son to change for 100 mil­lion peo­ple.

Pres­i­dent Trump isn’t much dif­fer­ent. He wants the Amer­i­can peo­ple to like him as he is. He’s also tough-talk­ing and in many ways has child-like traits, like al­ways want­ing to have his way, trad­ing in­sult for in­sult, and us­ing Twit­ter as a teenager would. Can you imag­ine, the pres­i­dent of the most pow­er­ful na­tion post­ing Twit­ter mes­sages like a petu­lant young­ster?

The child­ish be­hav­ior of both men may be ex­cus­able. Even Duterte’s swear­ing might be for­given, as his aides re­quest the pub­lic.

But the bul­ly­ing habits of both men ought to be con­demned. They be­have like party-crash­ers ter­ror­iz­ing and trau­ma­tiz­ing the party-go­ers with undis­guised glee. There’s noth­ing ac­ci­den­tal about their be­hav­ior, it’s all in­ten­tional. They mean to bully and ter­ror­ize.

Mr. Duterte’s curs­ing is meant to scare peo­ple. He in­tends to brow­beat and sub­due ev­ery­one in his pres­ence and path. Trump doesn’t curse but he comes on strong as well, giv­ing the dis­tinct im­pres­sion that he wants to win all his bat­tles and peo­ple had bet­ter get out of his way.

Both pres­i­dents act like spoiled brats. Duterte throws tem­per tantrums at the slight­est, even un­in­tended, provo­ca­tion. Trump barged onto the scene with a cer­tain reck­less­ness, lack­ing or dis­dain­ing rudi­men­tary diplo­macy. Both are like the prover­bial bull in a china shop, at risk of smash­ing ev­ery­thing in their way.

What sig­ni­fies this new kind of ap­proach to gov­ern­ment? Ideally, pres­i­dents are ex­pected to act with dig­nity, com­po­sure, states­man­ship, and deco­rum. Nei­ther Duterte nor Trump has so far dis­played any of these traits.

Their main weapon of per­sua­sion is a bul­ly­ing bent that doesn’t rely on rea­son but rather on in­tim­i­da­tion. They would rather crash and burn than per­suade and unify. And they’re not the least apolo­getic for their be­hav­ior and tac­tics. They rarely, if ever, take back what­ever de­plorable things they’ve said or done.

These lead­ers have brought with them to of­fice a par­a­digm that dates back to an­cient times when mus­cle and might were all that mat­tered. Rea­son doesn’t count to them. They don’t give oth­ers a chance to rea­son with them. It’s all push, push, push. It’s very feu­dal and they in­tend to make it work for them.

Will the Filipinos and the Amer­i­cans learn to ad­just to the bul­ly­ing or will they rebel against it?

*** Tantrum Ergo. When GMA-7 news an­chors end their evening broad­casts they tell the au­di­ence their news con­tains no bias or lies. Does that im­ply that the other chan­nel(s) are bi­ased or that they lie?

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