Dangerous men

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    ‘Make no mistake about it; democracy can give rise to one kind of dangerous men, men who, when in power, can twist democracy’s principles and stand them on their head.’

    AS the pressures upon him have continued to mount over the course of the last three years, the disparity between the level of competence required for running a country and his incompetence has widened, revealing the delusions more starkly than ever before.

    “Many, yet by no means all, have been shielded until now from the worst effects of his pathologies by a stable economy and a lack of serious crises. But the out-of-control COVID-19 pandemic, the possibility of an economic depression, deepening social divides along political lines thanks to Donald’s penchant for division, and devastating uncertainty about our country’s future have created a perfect storm of catastrophe that no one is less equipped than my uncle to manage.”

    So writes Mary L. Trump, niece of the President of the United States, in the prologue of her book about him. “Too Much and Never Enough” (whose subtitle is “How my family created the world’s most dangerous man”) is indeed devastating not because it is a tell-all from a disgruntled relation keen on cashing in on the moment; it is devastating because it is written by a holder of a doctorate in clinical psychology with decades of training – and even longer decades of exposure to Donald Trump and the family. As she put it: “No one knows how Donald came to be who he is better than his own family. Unfortunately, almost all of them remain silent out of loyalty or fear.”

    Like many in America and the world over (including, we are told, Donald Trump himself), Mary was not expecting her uncle to win. She writes: “When Rhonda Graff, Donald’s longtime gatekeeper, sent me and my daughter an invitation to attend Donald’s election-night party in New York City, I declined. I wouldn’t be able to contain my euphoria when Clinton’s victory was announced and I didn’t want to be rude.”

    Then she adds: “Within a month of the election, I found myself compulsively watching the news and checking my Twitter feed, anxious and unable to concentrate on anything else.

    Though nothing Donald did surprise me, the speed and volume with which he started inflicting his worst impulses on the country…overwhelmed me….The horror of Donald’s cruelty was magnified by the fact that his acts were now official US policy, affecting millions of people.”

    That an electorate can choose a man whose character was on full display during the campaign – calling opponents names, his vulgarity revealed in news clips and audio tapes, his business record (tax payments excluded) available for all to see, and his list of lies growing by the day – that an electorate can still choose such a man and bestow upon him the highest elected public office in a country is a wake-up call. It lays bare the reality feared by the ancient Greeks who debated and philosophized no end on the wisdom of “democracy” – where the greater majority is given the opportunity, if not the right and power, to determine the course of public policy through their right of suffrage – a simple and singular right but which, when exercised, becomes subjected to the law of averages, including that of experience and intelligence. And so it is averaged down, to the least common denominator, especially in countries where the electorate are taken in by bombast, machismo, and seeing their politicians dancing and singing. Maybe, just maybe, the voter takes some sense of morbid joy in seeing candidates make a fool of themselves, even for just a short while, before the tables are turned and they make a fool of those who vote them into office. Then again maybe — and most probably — the voter just doesn’t know any better – and having been burned once, twice, nay many times in the past, he now couldn’t care less about the character he gives his vote to.

    Even if it means entrusting to an unqualified individual his very future, and that of millions of others.

    It will take years to undo the damage wrought by a disastrous leadership. The history of the world shows that. Our own history makes that clear. But who reads history nowadays, much more learns from it?

    I was thinking of the passages from Dr. Trump’s book last Friday when I happened to drive past the Nonoy Aquino statue at the corner of Ayala Avenue and Paseo de Roxas in Makati.

    I was coming from BGC driving westward and as I reached the corner of Ayala and Makati Ave. I noticed up ahead a bevy of vehicles, including police cars and ambulances. The sparse traffic was slowing as it reached the old Makati Stock Exchange Building and whatever doubts I had in mind as to what was causing the fuss (I had forgotten the significance of the date) were erased when I saw the nearly 200 people in the area.

    Mind you: the 200 were composed of about 20 demonstrators holding up “Tama Na, Sobra Na, Itigil Na” black and gold signs, with the rest of the 180 or so being the policemen and other individuals assigned “to keep the peace” in the area. In fact the police cars were on both sides of Ayala Ave. fronting the monument. The authorities were not taking any chances.

    And it hit me: the handful of demonstrators at the corner of Ayala Ave. were not dangerous men and women. Yes, they were exercising their freedom of expression on a day with historical significance, but it was not from them that danger flowed.

    In fact it was Ninoy Aquino, dead now for 37 years, who has remained a dangerous man to certain types of leadership; his willingness to stand up and risk his very own life in defense of the most basic of principles in a democracy was what made him so.

    Yes, in defense of principles of the same democracy that can lead the “sovereign people” to elect dangerous men into office, and then treat them in a manner that makes them even more dangerous.

    As Mary Trump (again referring to her uncle) points out: “He continues to be protected from his own disasters in the White House where a claque of loyalists applauds his every pronouncement or covers up his possible criminal negligence by normalizing it to the point that we’ve become almost numb to the accumulating transgressions.”

    Make no mistake about it; democracy can give rise to one kind of dangerous men, men who, when in power, can twist democracy’s principles and stand them on their head. But when politics veers from its lofty purpose and is captured by basest interests and the folly of the human character — of which we have a surplus these days — democracy can also give rise to second kind of dangerous men — those who can fight for democracy and help set it aright.

    I hope we have no doubt about which kind we need most.