I AM doing research for a tentative article on the phenomenon of the backlash, political or social, because of my personal belief that we are going to see very soon, in international and national life, a powerful reaction or backlash against so many things that are going berserk at home and abroad.
I got the idea after reading an article in the Atlantic by Conor Friedersdorf (“A dialogue with a 22-year-old Donald Trump supporter,” Atlantic, May 27, 2016), wherein he essayed the theory that Trump’s victory in the US presidential elections is the product of a backlash against political correctness in the US.
I decipher also a backlash against a backlash in the sensational case of award-winning film producer Harvey Weinstein, who is accused of sexually harassing and assaulting so many women while he was a leading film executive in Hollywood, New York and London, and has triggered outrage so furious that other Hollywood executives and entertainers are being battered by similar allegations Here in the Philippines, my attention is directed right now not on local harassment cases, but on public and government reaction to the recent show of force and muscle by the communist New People’s Army (NPA) and leftwing militant groups, through 1) attacks against police and military forces, and 2) rowdy street demonstrations against the country’s hosting of two regional summit meetings of top heads of state and government in the Asia Pacific region, from November 10 to 14.
From all the years that I have spent in journalism and policy studies, I know enough to sense that these developments, along with other developments are so disruptive that they are bound to trigger fierce reaction or opposition. Things are not going to be placid while the issues are being worked out.
Towards a definition of backlash
The Oxford dictionary defines backlash as 1) noun, singular, a strong negative, reaction by a large number of people especially to a social or political development; or 2) mass noun, recoil arising between parts of a mechanism.
When many people react against something in the same way, you can call it a backlash. A backlash against government policies can result in mass protests.
When people get angry enough about something — or just tired of hearing about it — the result can be a backlash. An influx of refugees to a city can cause a backlash against immigration, and the popularity of a particular style of music might eventually cause a backlash against it. A true backlash involves many people acting together.
The original 1815 meaning of backlash was “recoil between parts of a machine.” It wasn’t until the 1950s that the figurative meaning came into use.
A backlash is always a strong, negative reaction to something. Political executives are always alert and sensitive to political backlash against their policies and acts in office.
Backlash against political correctness
In his Atlantic article, Friedersdorf reported that during interviews with 30 Trump supporters explaining their support, he found a backlash against “political correctness” looming large in their conversations.
One interview subject expounded his views in illuminating ways:
“The election is a war over how dialogue in America will be shaped. If Hillary wins, we’re going to see a further tightening of PC (political correctness) culture. But if Trump wins? If Trump wins, we will have a president that overwhelmingly rejects PC rhetoric. Even better, we will show that more than half the country rejects this insane PC regime. If Trump wins, I will personally feel a major burden relieved, and I will feel much more comfortable stating my more right-wing views without fearing total ostracism and shame. Because of this, no matter what Trump says or does, I will keep supporting him.”
To the question: Why do you think Trump being elected would have a salutary effect on political correctness? The interviewee answered: “Having Trump in the White House would both give me more confidence to speak my own opinion and more of a shield from instantly being dismissed as a racist/xenophobe/Nazi (all three things I have been called personally).”
“Under President Obama, our national dialogue has steadily moved towards political correctness (despite his denunciations), but with President Trump, I think our national dialogue will likely move away from being blanketly PC.”
Friedersdorf did not delve into the reasons for Trump’s electoral triumph. But he sounds content with the conclusion that the revolt against political correctness took him to the White House. It was not that simple of course but he was on to something.
Backlash against a backlash
The explosion of anger and outrage against Weinstein’s personal behavior was a backlash against the long unreported sexual abuses in the Hollywood and the US film industry. Women who had long kept their silence about their being abused started to come out and denounce their tormentors. They disclosed their experience in a series of explosive reports in the New York Times and in even greater detail in a powerful series of articles in the New Yorker.
The eruption of the Weinstein scandal was so explosive, it dragged in its wake other celebrities and executives. Kevin Spacey, a multi-awarded actor, was exposed as a sexual predator, even as he outed himself as a gay man. His long-running TV political drama, “House of Cards,” was cancelled. Others were similarly punished for their sins.
Where will this outrage end? Not in a contrite Harvey Weinstein, it seems. He is adamant in denying all accusations against him.
Slowly, it has started to appear that there may be a backlash against the backlash. Critics of the trend worry about a new puritanism in Hollywood.
The most intriguing response is coming out of France. The Associated Press reported that France, the country of both Brigitte Bardot and Simone de Beauvoir, is in a bind over where seduction ends and sexual harassment begins.
Since the allegations of rape and sexual harassment emerged against Weinstein, the country synonymous with love has been torn between the image of both female icons in addressing the issue of sexual harassment and violence against women.
Many have wondered if France can address men’s behavior toward women without throwing out its Don Juan national identity.
Many women in France reject this viewpoint, favoring instead the writings of French feminist de Beauvoir on the oppression of women.
French feminists laud the US outpouring against harassment and accuse France of having normalized sexism.
Backlash against communist militancy
With respect to communist militancy in the Philippines and the 48-year-old communist insurgency, most Filipinos are ashamed that they are now the only country in the world whose government is still fighting communist insurgents. They want government to deal with the problem once and for all. And they believe that they have in President Duterte a leader who can do just that.
The communists did two things in recent weeks that may have tipped the scales. The NPA, with their continuing predatory actions in the countryside, overdid themselves when they killed government troops and attacked police stations and military outposts.
The front groups in Metro Manila staged their ritualistic demonstrations against a visiting US president, and then turned their fury on the country’s hosting of the Asean and East Asia summits, for which the government budgeted no less than P15.5 billion. The protest rallies were the fiercest the left has staged in years.
In the aftermath, the protest leaders were charged by the police.
Duterte will have the last word. He has officially declared that the New People’s Army and the Communist Party of the Philippines are terrorist organizations. There will absolutely be no more peace negotiations with the communists. The military has seconded the declaration of their commander in chief.