2016 unraveling

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    ‘Maybe, just maybe, what is happening in America is a signal that the winds of change are blowing the other way.’

    HAPPY birthday, Dr. Jose Rizal. On this, your 160th birthday, may you rejoice in seeing your country being run not by foreigners but by fellow Filipinos. Never mind if sometimes we seem to prove your point about what good is self-governance if the people are not properly educated.

    There is much we have to learn, much also to learn anew, and much as well to unlearn. But let me get to that in a future opinion piece.

    For today I’d like to dwell on how I see the events of 2020 as the unraveling of the events of 2016, which to me personally was Annus horribilis. In May of that year, my candidate for president (Grace Poe) and for vice president (Alan Cayetano) both lost. Four months later, my father passed away. And on election day in November I was in my hotel room in Washington D.C. surrounded by “Hillary for President” shirts, watching dumbfounded as network after network called the US presidential elections for Donald Trump.

    I had to take a walk around the block near the Washington Post offices late that night. It seemed to me that the world as I understood and appreciated it was coming to an end.
    I was disappointed. I was scared. I felt lost.

    As a democrat at heart I knew that the “voice of the people” always prevailed, and if the people chose to take his path to wherever they were promised they were going, so be it. In the case of the Philippines I would, of course, be in for the ride; in the case of the United States I would be just another one of seven or so million non-Americans who would have to watch and see how things turned out and how American global leadership would be like for the next four years.

    From January 2017 onwards it was, to me at least, a journey mostly downhill.

    Admittedly, Donald Trump had a few good moves. By being harsh on his allies, for example, Trump was able to extract from them a greater share of the burden of global leader that the United States has been carrying since 1945, be it in Europe or in Asia. His European allies weren’t too happy when Trump began insisting they pay more for NATO, while Japan and South Korea woke up to the realization that much of their free ride was over.

    He was the same with Canada and Mexico, making a lot of noise about NAFTA and demanding its revocation: the posturing has resulted in new deals between Washington and Ottawa and Mexico City, deals which are (at least in the eyes of the Trump Administration) a big win for the US.

    But in other areas, especially those that meant a lot to me, I saw Trump damage not only his office but also the United States. Playing footsie with autocrats. Junking climate accords and denying climate change. Attacking legacy media as purveyors of “fake news.” Even harming institutions that are at the foundation of American democracy, for his own political agenda.

    Heck, for the first time ever, a sitting president has refused to hold the traditional rite of decking the White House with the official portrait of his predecessor. Obama will have to wait for January 2021 and if Joe Biden takes the oath of office as the 46th president of the United States then for sure the portrait of #44 will find its rightful place somewhere in the White House (as will that of #45).

    As I watch the ongoing coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic as it sweeps America, layered over with the social unrest provoked by a police officer kneeling on the neck of a black man, I see elements of a social-political wave that could lead to Trump being the first one-term president of this century and the dark clouds of 2016 being blown back. With the economy at its worst situation since the stock market crash of the 1920s and with unemployment at record highs, what seemed like an inevitable re-election is more and more looking like a campaign that has to be snatched from the jaws of defeat.

    Maybe, just maybe, what is happening in America is a signal that the winds of change are blowing the other way. While the elections are still five months away – and who knows if there will be an “October surprise” in the campaign of 2020? – it gives me some satisfaction as an outsider looking in to see Donald Trump on the ropes even before the campaign has started.

    Vox Dei we may portray it to be, but Vox Populi sometimes makes mistakes. Let’s see if it can make the proper corrections too!