"President Duterte is no Trump."
Trust, defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “a firm belief in the reliability, truth or ability of someone or something,” is increasingly getting eroded these days especially between governments and the governed. This is true not only in the Philippines but globally. The almost-total global lockdown over the past three months resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak highlighted and in fact exacerbated such distrust.
Such distrust is most apparent in America where President Trump has been having a running word war with critics on his handling of the pandemic. With the world’s highest number of infections and deaths and with no end in sight, Trump’s lead has been variously described as irrational, insensitive, ill informed, highly partisan, egoistic and, yes, untrustworthy. Some sectors have even suggested that Trump’s whining complete with his usual lies and incendiary language was all meant to cover up for his inability to get his “wishes come true.” Indeed, the rumble over Trump’s COVID-19 responses is instructive.
Early on, he boldly proclaimed that the outbreak was not as deadly as some quarters have insisted. Trump said it was just a case of the seasonal flu and will get away sooner as summer set in. That did not happen at all. Infections spiked, COVID-19 spread like wildfire and deaths stalked the land. Then, he came out with a number of possible cures to the disease. He touted hydroxychloroquine as one such drug and even suggested that he was already taking it himself. Then, he came out with other solutions including the use of disinfectants – only to backtrack after.
Unable to convince the critics and an increasing number of the population of his unorthodox solutions to the outbreak enveloping the land, he turned his ire at the World Health Organization (WHO) and then ending up with China as the ultimate culprit, the “end all and be all” of the ills which visited America and its citizens. It doe not help that his critics pounce at every miscue and misstep which merely exacerbates the acrimony hounding the government’s COVID- 19 response. It is no wonder America continues to be the epicenter of the outbreak as distrust polluted the air.
Thus, even as Trump’s statements are true and aligned with what he believed was in the best interest of the American people, his critics considered the same as hogwash and unbelievable. To them, he remains untrustworthy. Period. Their inability to trust was truly deep seated. Not to be outdone, Trump has returned the compliment with a vengeance. To him, his critics simply could not bear the fact that he won the 2016 elections at all. Thus, from Day One, distrust twinned with his winning and will hound him until the end of his term. It was tit-for-tat from then on and the country be damned.
The subsequent ruckus over the killing of black Americans in the hands of white policemen that reignited the “Black Lives Matter” movement are simply part of that journey of distrust which will likely convulse all the way to the November elections. Whether it will recede or just fade away like the battles of 2016 remains to be seen. What is clear is that distrust has enveloped not just public discourse but the very core values for which America has prided itself since independence that it is fraying its entire fabric as a “nation under God” and threatens its standing as the beacon of liberty, freedom and individual liberty in the world.
Sadly, America’s fraying fate is now inching towards the Philippines almost exactly as is happening in that country. Not surprisingly, we are witnessing the methods, the language, the related arrangements and, of course, the timing meant to bring the country to a level of distrust and toxicity which, if we don’t watch out, will only bring our people more misery than we can imagine. The administration’s COVID-19 response, for example, has been derided by the critics as anti-poor, ineffective and even inconsequential.
Without offering an alternative plan the critics have also gone to town trying hard to decouple lives and livelihood, as if attending to both cannot go hand-in-hand. As if one can exist without the other. As if the response has to be sequential and in a straight line. These guys are echoing the same line as Trump’s critics. But to no avail.
President Duterte is no Trump even as he is being derided similarly as uncouth, misogynist, rambling and incoherent. In fine, unpresidential. Well, he has consistently overwhelmed the critics. Unlike Trump, Duterte’s approval and trust ratings have been on the up and up four years into his term. He has become his critics’ worst nightmare.
So, as the country’s development gets weighed down by this pandemic and our people bombarded with all kinds of propaganda about the administration’s faults, the country remains intact, adapting patiently to the ever-changing impositions of this outbreak. Even the contrived brouhaha over the newly passed Anti-Terror bill. the country is slowly but surely moving on. Not even this other drama over the cyber libel suit filed by a certain Wilfredo Keng finding Maria Ressa and her cohorts guilty has found traction. It was off before it could get any kind of sympathy at all. Apparently, our people have come to live with these kinds of “shows” and have factored these protestations of distrust in their everyday life.
But no matter. I have no doubt that efforts to inject distrust in the public discourse, to sow political intrigue and gnaw at every turn the still solid bond between the Duterte administration and our people will continue. It will probably even get sillier and more outrageous as the country moves out of its COVID-19 anxieties and prepares for the 2022 presidential polls. Sadly, the inability to trust has seemingly taken roots in our politics even as we decry its negative effects on our consciousness as a country and people. Grabe.