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« Loving America in the Time of Trump | Main | TAX Reform »


Donald Trump, Rodrigo Duterte and Autocratic Tendencies

By Angelo Lopez
December 10, 2016

A few days ago a friend sent me a link to an article describing how President-elect Donald Trump praised Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's prosecution of his drug war and invited Duterte to the White House. Duterte has in turn praised Trump and said that he may not pivot the Philippines away from the United States after all, as he said he would a few weeks ago. I'm not really a fan of either leader. When I read of some of the things that they've said, I feel like I've entered some surreal world where traditional norms of civility and decorum no longer apply.

Duterte is left wing, while Trump is more right wing, but both share a similar leadership style: lashing out at critics; a contentious relationship with the press; and an admiration for autocrat Vladmir Putin. I think Duterte's use of extrajudicial killings is terrible. While some of Duterte's policies are beneficial to the poor and reign in the power of mining companies that have been the source of much human rights abuses in the Mindanao region, it's impossible to look past Duterte's support of extrajudicial killings. If I could vote in the Philippines, I wouldn't have voted for Duterte.

Both Duterte and Trump display autocratic detentencies. I read that the best approach to both men is to focus on their policies and not so much their personalities. Support those issues we agree on and oppose vigorously those issues in which we disagree. And keep a vigilant eye if they try to chip away at the civil liberties of those opposed to them.

From what I've been reading, the Philippines Left is in a similar position with Duterte that conservative Republicans are in the U.S. with Trump. The Philippines Left supports some of Duterte's agrarian reform policies, his efforts to reign in mining companies and corporations, and his peace talks initiatives with communist insurgents in Mindanao. In the same way conservative Republicans hope Trump enacts conservative tax cuts, cut regulations and pick conservative judges in the Supreme Court and federal courts.

The Philippines Left has to avoid the mistake with Duterte that American conservative Republicans seem to be making with Trump. In exchange for getting conservative policies passed by Trump, conservative Republicans seem willing to enable Trump's worst qualities. The Philippines Left has a responsibility to keep Duterte accountable and to loudly criticize Duterte's support of extrajudicial killings in his drug war.

Filipino leftists seem to be doing just that. Teddy Casino wrote an article for Rappler in which he described the Philippine Left's approach to President Duterte. Casino wrote:

Thus there are two tendencies in the Duterte presidency: a mainly reactionary tendency and a small, if not narrowing, progressive tendency....

...Leftists totally support Duterte’s efforts to resume the peace talks with the NDFP, MNLF and MILF in order to address the root causes of the armed conflicts. Negotiations with these revolutionary movements should lead to comprehensive and thoroughgoing agreements on political and socio-economic reforms for the benefit of all Filipinos, especially the marginalized and oppressed.

Leftists support Duterte’s position against the contractualization of labor and for lower income taxes for rank and file employees. They laud his planned policy to impose a moratorium on the conversion of agricultural lands, a policy now being undermined by some members of his cabinet. They appreciate his efforts to improve and widen social services, basic education and support for our overseas workers. They share his campaign against graft and corruption...

...As a matter of principle and practice, the Left objects to Duterte’s endorsement of extrajudicial killings and other shortcuts in the campaign against illegal drugs and criminality. The Communist Party even formally declared its non-support for Duterte’s 'war on drugs.' Various leftist organizations have repeatedly expressed their concern and objection to a brutal campaign that targets the victims, especially the poor. They want greater efforts in cleaning up the Philippine National Police, the Armed Forces and the Judiciary. They want more focus on rehabilitating drug users and educating the public on the dangers of drug use.



In the United States, I hope that Americans of all political persuasions can unite in reigning in Donald Trump's worst tendencies. During the election season, some conservatives spoke out against Trump. Though many of these Republican critics have capitulated to Trump after the election results, I'm hoping that a few of those conservative critics keep their resolve and keep speaking out against Trump's excesses.

I'm also hoping that Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are good political strategists who know when to compromise and when to take a stand against the Trump administration and lead the Democratic opposition inside the system.

Lastly, I'm hoping that activists outside of the system can mobilize people to join in social movements to protect the rights of Muslim Americans, immigrants, Jews, African Americans, women and any groups of Americans who are targeted for legal and social discrimination and prejudice.

E.j. Dionne wrote for the Washington Post:

Barely a week after Donald Trump secured his electoral-college majority, we are confronted with a series of abuses that would be unacceptable from any other president-elect, Republican or Democrat. In the coming months and years, members of both parties who honor our constitutional rights and our shared ethical standards need to band together in what you might call the Alliance for the Republic to defend basic norms and resist their violation.

Trump’s defining down of what we have a right to expect from our leaders is already obvious. Begin with his naming of Stephen K. Bannon as his chief strategist and senior adviser...

...Bannon has proudly fostered the alt-right, a movement that promotes racism and anti-Semitism...

...Trump is signaling that he’s prepared to run roughshod over the benchmarks of decency and (small-r) republican government long endorsed across ideological lines. Left and right will have their differences over policy. But if they don’t come together from the start to thwart Trump’s departures from widely accepted practices and values, our country could face a very grim four years.

Ian Tuttle, a conservative writer for the National Review wrote a good article about the need for liberals and conservatives to fight the Steve Bannon appointment. I generally do not agree with the National Review, but I respect that they have published many anti-Trump conservatives. Tuttle wrote:

...under Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart News’s impishness became something else. When it was not promoting Pravda-esque lies during the campaign season — for example, reporting as '100% vindicated' Trump’s claim that 'thousands' of people in New Jersey celebrated the September 11 attacks — the site built up its viewer base by catering to the alt-right, a small but vocal fringe of white supremacists, anti-Semites, and Internet trolls...

...If ethnic and religious minorities are worried, it’s in part because Donald Trump and his intimates have spent the last several months winking at one of the ugliest political movements in America’s recent history.

Furthermore, as some on the left have been more attuned to than their conservative counterparts, the problem is not whether Bannon himself subscribes to a noxious strain of political nuttery; it’s that his de facto endorsement of it enables it to spread and to claim legitimacy, and that what is now a vicious fringe could, over time, become mainstream...

...To conservative and liberal alike, that he has the ear of the next president of the United States (a man of no particular convictions, and loyal to no particular principles) should be a source of grave concern — and an occasion for common cause in the crucial task of the years to come: vigilance.

Sean Patrick Hughes, a conservative Christian, a writer, veteran and special needs parent, wrote about the need for vigilance among people across all the political spectrum.

Many of my devout conservative friends were remarkably quiet when their candidate trashed their personal values. And they were remarkably quiet when their candidate made inexcusable first hand remarks about minorities, women and disabled Americans. And they were remarkably quiet when the dark forces of white supremacists aligned themselves in support of their candidate. I understand why. You couldn’t live with the alternative. So you rationalized out of fear that speaking up would enable it. Well, that risk is gone now. You avoided the end you couldn’t live with. That excuse is gone. And now it’s fair to say that tolerance of that behavior from here on can only be seen as an endorsement of it. So when there’s a KKK rally in North Carolina to celebrate the election of the candidate you support, you no longer have any excuse not to condemn it with the same uncompromising vigor that you condemned Hillary. Let’s see the memes. Let’s see the Facebook posts. Let’s see the outrage...

...If insistence on decent treatment of all Americans makes me a liberal in the eyes of conservatives, then maybe we should take some time to reflect on who our modern conservatives actually are.

George Packer wrote an article for the New Yorker in which he stated:

Four decades ago, Watergate revealed the potential of the modern Presidency for abuse of power on a vast scale. It also showed that a strong democracy can overcome even the worst illness ravaging its body. When Richard Nixon used the instruments of government to destroy political opponents, hide financial misdoings, and deceive the public about the Vietnam War, he very nearly got away with it. What stopped his crime spree was democratic institutions: the press, which pursued the story from the original break-in all the way to the Oval Office; the courts, which exposed the extent of criminality and later ruled impartially against Nixon’s claims of executive privilege; and Congress, which held revelatory hearings, and whose House Judiciary Committee voted on a bipartisan basis to impeach the President. In crucial agencies of Nixon’s own Administration, including the F.B.I. (whose deputy director, Mark Felt, turned out to be Deep Throat, the Washington Post’s key source), officials fought the infection from inside. None of these institutions could have functioned without the vitalizing power of public opinion....

...In the long run, the Democratic Party faces two choices. It can continue to collapse until it’s transformed into something new, like the nineteenth-century Whigs, forerunners of the Republican Party. Or it can rebuild itself from the ground up. Not every four years but continuously; not with celebrity endorsements but on school boards and town councils; not by creating more virtual echo chambers but by learning again how to talk and listen to other Americans, especially those who elected Trump because they felt ignored and left behind. President Trump is almost certain to betray them. The country will need an opposition capable of pointing that out.



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