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Trump and Duterte

By David Haldane

Feb. 18, 2021


I felt honored that she asked me.

An old friend, a Filipino journalist named Effe Barker now living in the UK, wanted to interview me for her YouTube podcast called Effe Barker Human Interest. The subject: comparing former U.S. President Donald J. Trump to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

It’s a subject I’ve often considered. Ever since the two got elected—both in 2016—it had struck me how much they had in common. Separated in age by only a year, populist electoral uprisings had swept both into office. Both were “outsiders” promising dramatic departures from the ways of their “elitist” predecessors. Both ran on strong law-and-order platforms, putting them at odds with much of their respective nations’ media. And, perhaps most obviously, both had bombastic styles alienating them from their critics and endearing them to their fans.

There were differences too, most notably that Trump’s approval ratings hovered between 38-47% while Duterte’s have remained steady at about 91%

But Effe’s first question gave me pause. “Are you worried that, at some point, you might get [canceled]?”

The thought, of course, had crossed my mind. In a recent column I’d outlined why: the banning, not only of Trump but of many more moderate conservative voices from such social media outlets as Twitter, Facebook, and yes, even YouTube; widespread calls to fire the spreaders of what progressives deem “disinformation;” and petitions demanding that the work of certain conservative writers remain unpublished. In the column, I described this post-Trump hysteria as a new McCarthyism, this time on steroids.

“At the moment,” I told Effe, “I’m not important enough to get canceled, but who knows how far this will go?”

The irony, of course, is that what could get me canceled in the U.S.—i.e. casting Trump in too-kind a light or repeating what so-called progressives consider his “lies”—is exactly the opposite of what would sink me in the Philippines where, as a permanent resident rather than citizen, I could literally get deported for participating in anti government protests or harshly criticizing Duterte in public.

So why the difference?

Part of it, of course, is that as the Trump era fades, Duterte remains in power. And again, while Duterte is still popular, especially in the provinces, Trump’s popularity is waning.

But there’s also a cultural difference: while Filipinos raise youngsters to respect their elders and authority, the trend in America seems to be moving in a different direction. Which is one reason I prefer living in the Philippines. And why I’d rather educate my children there.

The genuine test, I suppose, will come next year when Duterte’s reign ends. Legally restricted to one six-year term, he will surely step down short of declaring martial law. Will another Duterte take over, perhaps his daughter? Or will voters hand the country over to someone entirely new? And will law-and-order still be the rule of the day, or will other concerns hold higher sway?

Back in America the jury is still out on the future of what has long served as the world’s model for democracy and civil liberty. Can the harsh cultural and political divisions now tearing the country apart heal sufficiently to allow a return to the traditional American values of free speech and civil discourse? Or will the United States go the way of so many other civilizations before it: down the rat hole of never-ending chaos and dark despair?

For all our sakes, I hope it’s the former.

To her credit, my friend Effe gave me a last look at our videotaped interview. Though I still felt nervous regarding the contents, I let it remain. A far more serious concern, though, was how much I waved my hands, said “you know” and, frankly, looked way too old.

Another growing problem that, unfortunately, is less easily remedied.


Effe Barker interview — part 1

Effe Barker Interview — part 2

Effe Barker interview — part 3


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(David Haldane’s latest book, a short story collection called “Jenny on the Street”, is available on Amazon. A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, he is an award-winning American journalist, author and broadcaster who currently divides his time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Surigao City, Philippines.)



Originally Published in Mindanao Gold Star Daily

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