Away from speeches crammed with cuss­words and the ques­tion­able soapbox of so­cial me­dia, we an­a­lyze the fac­tors that fu­eled the win­ning votes in this year of po­lit­i­cal self-sab­o­tage


De­con­struct­ing the messy po­lit­i­cal land­scape of 2016

There’s an old game in grade school in which we’d ask each other if we’d rather be dropped down a deep well of cock­roaches or swim across a pool with urine, car­ry­ing a midget on our backs. Ask­ing if Amer­ica is bet­ter off with Don­ald Trump than we are with Ro­drigo Duterte is a bit like that game, ex­cept per­haps with a monkey in­stead of a midget.

Both men rose to power rid­ing on waves of a pop­ulist vote, de­fy­ing poll­sters and sur­veys in the same way: not play­ing by the rules of pol­i­tics. What had changed in 2016 that the world sud­denly seemed so in­tent on self-sab­o­tage? Here, split­ting the vote among too many con­tenders al­lowed an ob­scure pro­vin­cial politi­cian with no vis­i­ble ma­chin­ery to win against two very able but very tra­di­tional con­tenders. In Amer­ica, it was the in­sane elec­toral col­lege sys­tem and the low voter turnout.

There are three main fac­tors in­volved: glob­al­iza­tion, cap­i­tal­ism, and the in­ter­net. Glob­al­iza­tion in­volves ideas such as free trade, the free move­ment of peo­ple, and a free flow of ideas. Glob­al­iza­tion is not, as its crit­ics claim, in­im­i­cal to na­tion­al­ism. But as the US and the UK had dis­cov­ered, a Pol­ish or a Pak­istani mi­grant would be will­ing to do the same job for half the pay and work twice as hard, the same way a less qual­i­fied Brit might be hired to do the same job in a Philip­pine-based com­pany at thrice the pay and with ex­pa­tri­ate ben­e­fits, only be­cause he is per­ceived to be more com­pe­tent. Open­ing up the mar­ket brings racial and eth­nic prej­u­dices and re­sent­ments to the sur­face.

At the mo­ment, China is reap­ing the con­se­quences of its one-child pol­icy and heady eco­nomic growth: the sweat­shop of the world is run­ning short of cheap la­bor. Coun­tries like Viet­nam are get­ting the jobs while the Philip­pines, un­for­tu­nately, is ex­port­ing more fruit. How­ever, our la­bor is prized for do­mes­tic tasks abroad, so it is our low-skilled mi­grants who are most in-de­mand as maids and nan­nies and cashiers, but to be fair, cer­tain re­spected métiers are also our do­main: sea­men, nurses, and en­ter­tain­ers. Cap­i­tal­ism is what al­lows the rich to pay P20,000 for a steak while the poor lit­er­ally eat garbage. This isn’t new. What changed is that due to fac­tors rang­ing from a fail­ing ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem to the lack of faith in gov­ern­ment in the post-Mar­cos era, the mid­dle class and the prom­ise of so­cial mo­bil­ity are shrink­ing. Peo­ple with hon­est jobs re­main stag­nant on the so­cial scale. What gets you ahead are go­ing abroad, mar­ry­ing up­wards, and break­ing the law. Our coun­try’s mix­ture of Wild West cap­i­tal­ism, cor­rup­tion and crony­ism, and in­ter­ac­tion with the global mar­ket­place make for a volatile com­bi­na­tion. There’s no venue more suited to vent­ing this frus­tra­tion at the “sys­tem”— there’s ac­tu­ally no sys­tem, but a sta­tus quo—than the in­ter­net, where memes are cheap and anonymity is guar­an­teed. Trump won be­cause of the in­ter­net; Duterte won be­cause of free Face­book. Its very de­sign has the free flow of in­for­ma­tion as one of its ba­sic prin­ci­ples, and that power—like cap­i­tal­ism’s power to change lives for the bet­ter—was per­verted and abused dur­ing the elec­tions. Take the Mar­cos dic­ta­tor­ship, for ex­am­ple. Things that we be­lieved to be fixed as his­tory, are now sud­denly up for de­bate. This is how pow­er­ful false in­for­ma­tion is. This leaves us in a quandary. As lib­er­als, peo­ple like me con­tinue to be­lieve that mi­gra­tion and be­ing part of the global economy are bet­ter than iso­la­tion­ism; that cap­i­tal­ism can be bru­tal and cruel but its al­ter­na­tives are worse; and that the in­ter­net should not be sub­ject to cen­sor­ship. Few would ar­gue that democ­racy is a bad thing, but how many of our demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions have been turned into in­stru­ments of sub­ju­ga­tion? The eco­nomic progress of China and the pros­per­ity of Sin­ga­pore have given the world a bad idea: that there might be such a thing as “benev­o­lent dic­ta­tor­ship,” or that there’s such a thing as “too much” democ­racy. Democ­racy has joined other lofty ideals as an idea that needs to be re-ex­am­ined. The po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic reper­cus­sions of 2016 will last for years to come, but its im­pli­ca­tions for what we be­lieve in will haunt us on an in­di­vid­ual and human level.

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