Opinion: Trump of the East or Lee Kuan Yew II?
(Following is Kevin Moya’s final exam essay in AP Government & Politics.)
In sweltering ninety-seven degree Fahrenheit heat, the shirtless young boy with one flip-flop (sandal) distributed water and gums with one dirt-stained hand while collecting peso coins with the other to the throng of voters stretching down and around the block. People patiently shifted their feet back-and-forth as they inched their way toward the electronic voting station in the local school. One woman holding an umbrella for protection against the mid-day sun announced aloud that the Philippines had finally joined the rest of the world with tamper-proof voting and the decline of vote-buying. An elderly man retorted that he had looked forward to the 100 pesos to buy cigarettes, while a young IT professional whispered to his colleague, “Ay naku, pare. Digital votes can still be changed.”
By the end of May 9, 2016, all of the television and radio stations were declaring Rodrigo Duterte, seven-term mayor of Davao City (fourth most populated city in the Philippines), as 16th president-elect of the Republic of the Philippines. The Washington Post described Duterte as “The Donald Trump of the East.”
Widely-considered as a tough-speaking, no-nonsense politician, Duterte rose to the pinnacle of Philippine politics using inflammatory remarks throughout his campaign. Regarding women and his fondness for Viagra: “I have a wife who is sick. Then I have a second wife, who is from Bulacan.” Also, “I have two girlfriends. One is working as a cashier and the other works for a cosmetics store at a mall. The one working at the cosmetics store is younger. The other one is older but more beautiful.”
A slightly more eloquent speaker, the probable Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has gained international notoriety for his diatribes against Mexicans and Muslims: “When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."
And, there was this one on Muslims: “Tens of thousands of people" were entering America with "cell phones with ISIS flags on them...I don't think so…They're not coming to this country if I'm president. And if Obama has brought some to this country they are leaving, they're going, they're gone."
Remarkably, Trump has managed to seemingly alienate half the voters in America with his chauvinistic comments on women. Referencing the staunch anti-Trump detractor and founder of The Huffington Post, Trump blurted this ditty: “Ariana Huffington is unattractive, both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man – he made a good decision.”
And, this one: “You know, it really doesn’t matter what the media write as long as you’ve got a young, and beautiful, piece of ass.”
Nevertheless, people still flock to support Trump and Duterte.
In the southern city of Davao citizens have nothing but praise for the former lawyer-turned-crime fighter.
“When I was a little girl, the drug dealers use to hang out along the streets openly selling their poison to the young people without any fear of the police,” said Rosa, a 50-year old sari-sari (small grocery) store owner. “Today, there are no more drug dealers around. They’re all dead!”
Nicknamed “Dirty Harry’ and “The Punisher,” Duterte transformed Davao City from “murder capital of the Philippines” in the 1970s and 1980s, into one of the most beautiful and safest cities in the country through ruthless, extrajudicial killings of criminals and drug dealers by armed vigilante groups. In referring to criminals and drug dealers in the nation’s capital, the president-elect declared: “I'll dump all of you into Manila Bay, and fatten all the fish there.”
Across the world the poor economy and inequality of wealth has given rise to nationalists and opportunists to fill the vacuum vacated by established politicians.
Several years ago ultra-right wing politician Jörg Haider swept to power in parliamentary elections in Austria, only to die mysteriously shortly thereafter in a car crash.
Italy, whose economy has been ravaged over the years, had buffoonish Silvio Berlusconi as prime minister — three times!
Marine Le Pen maintains a strong anti-immigrant following in France as her nation battles Islamic terrorist attacks and waves of refugees escaping the conflict in Syria.
In Thailand, Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former senior Royal Thai Army officer sits as prime minister after leading a military coup in 2014.
Even in Indonesia, Joko Widodo, an ex-furniture store owner and former mayor, rose to become president as the impoverished saw hope in him.
But, for Duterte, his inspiration more likely came from 1,500 miles to the west.
After World War II, Singapore was a poor and devastated cesspool with garbage strewn up and down the Singapore and Kallang rivers and slums in many parts of the city. Yet, once taking national leadership as prime minister in 1959, Lee Kuan Yew made the city-nation over a three-decade rule into the jewel of Asia and arguably one of the cleanest and securest cities in the world. Today, the Lion City is a global leader in commerce, finance, and shipping, where the average citizen takes home USD 82,763 each year.
To be sure, Lee led with an iron fist, acting as much as a dictator as a freely elected official, controlling the media and the press and stifling any expression of critical voice with an all-encompassing Sedition Act.
When Lee passed away in 2015 a vociferous teenager celebrated his death on YouTube that culminated in the young transgressor’s arrest. Singapore’s authoritarian ways remain intact.
While western leaders look fondly on the life and command of Lee Kuan Yew, surely he was the exception to the rule that dictatorships and authoritative governments end badly.
Looking into the mirror, the Federalists under the presidency of John Adams passed the Alien and Seditions Act that smothered any criticism of the state, regarded by many historians as unconstitutional.
In the midst of the Civil War, President Lincoln suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, thereby enabling imprisonment without due process in front of a judge.
And, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, arguably, took unilateral steps that he felt necessary to drag the U.S. out of the Great Depression, including Executive Order 6102 that essentially led to the confiscation of private gold and behind-the-scene scheming with Churchill before the U.S. entered WWII.
More recently, Lyndon B. Johnson’s term during the tumultuous 1960s is known as the “Imperial Presidency.”
As Rodrigo Duterte prepares to take office of the President of the Philippines on June 30, Asia ponders what type of national leader the provincial Visayan mayor will turn out to be. With a weakening global economy and territorial disputes in the South China Sea with an increasingly assertive China, Duterte will have a short honeymoon in Malacañang Palace. For much of the media, Donald Trump jumps to mind as the progeny of Rodrigo Duterte, but a more thoughtful evaluation points at Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew. Despite a robust economy that continues to outperform most of Asia and other developing economies, the inequality gap remains wide in the Philippines. For Filipino street children and families striving to drag themselves out of poverty, a re-incarnated Lee Kuan Yew would be a godsend.