AT the turn of the 19th century, America and the Philippines (Filipinas) were fatefully joined together by their national obsessions: America by the obsession to fulfill their manifest destiny to become a global power; the Philippines by the Filipino obsession to stand as an independent republic in the world.
Two words, freedom and destiny, brought America and the Philippines together in 1898.
Today, in the 21st century, two words — “wall” and “kill” — are metaphorically linking our nations again.
US President Donald Trump today is obsessed with building a “wall” across the 2,000-mile border between the United States and Mexico.
Similarly, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is obsessed with “killing” or eliminating the scourge of drugs, corruption and poverty from the Philippines, so the nation can become a modern, developed and democratic nation in the 21st century.
The fate of the Trump presidency will likely hang on whether Trump gets to build his wall, with or without the support of the US Congress.
The fate of the Duterte presidency will hang on whether Duterte succeeds in eliminating the primordial obstacles to effective government in the country.
Both leaders seek to employ the powers of presidential government to effect reform in national life. Both are bucking great odds and opposition to achieve victory.
In their respective ways, both have made a strong case for their cause.
Trump’s case for the wall
Pat Buchanan, former presidential candidate and author, has written perhaps the most compelling brief in support of Trump’s wall. He forces Americans and the world to pay attention, even while others persist in portraying Trump as wacky.
I quote Buchanan’s brief at length:
“In the long run, history will validate Donald Trump’s stand on a border wall to defend the sovereignty and security of the United States.
“Why? Because mass migration from the global South, not climate change, is the real existential crisis of the West.
“The American people know this, and even the elites sense it.
“The Washington Post and the New York Times each had two front-page stories about the president’s battle with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer on funding the border wall.
“Consider. In 1992, this writer’s presidential campaign had to fight to have inserted in the GOP platform a call for “structures” on the border.
“Now, the whole Western world is worried about its borders as issues of immigration and identity convulse almost every country.
“Looking ahead, does anyone think Americans in 2030 are going to be more concerned about the border between North Korea and South Korea, or Turkey and Syria, or Kuwait and Iraq, or Russia and Ukraine, than about the 2,000-mile border between the US and Mexico?
“Does anyone think Pelosi’s position that a wall is immoral will not be regarded as absurd?
“America’s southern border is eventually going to be militarized and defended, or the United States, as we have known it, is going to cease to exist.
“What should Trump do now? Act. He cannot lose this battle with Pelosi without demoralizing his people and imperiling his presidency.
“Since FDR, we have had presidential government. And when US presidents have been decisive activists, history has rewarded their actions.
“Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. On taking office, FDR declared a bank holiday. When Britain was barely hanging on in World War 2, he swapped 50 destroyers for British bases. He ordered US ships to chase down German submarines and lied about it. Truman fired Gen. MacArthur…
“Trump should declare a national emergency, shift funds out of the Pentagon, build his wall, open the government and charge Democrats with finding excuses not to secure our border because they have a demographic and ideological interest in changing the face of the nation….
“The decisive issues on which Trump was elected…were securing the borders, extricating America from foolish wars, eliminating trade deficits with NAFTA nations, the EU and China, making allies pay their fair share of the common defense, resurrecting our manufacturing base and getting along with Russia.
“‘America First!’ is still a winning hand.”
Why DU30 talks ‘kill’
I have been asked by many why President Duterte incessantly talks about “kill” or “killing” as if he were deranged. Why does he lift the four-letter word from out of the blue and insert it in the middle of his speaking engagements, especially when he is talking out in the countryside.
“Kill’ is not a word for the elite, particularly the Catholic and Christian faithful, because the commandments say “Thou shalt not kill.”
In just one week of the New Year, when Filipinos harken to the sense of possibility in their lives, DU30 has used the lethal words more times than we can count.
Duterte has talked about killing government auditors, Catholic bishops, usurers, in addition to drug traders, corrupt officials and criminals.
Many are bewildered by DU 30’s vocabulary because, according to presidential spokesman Salvador Panel, he is always joking when he lets them fly.
I have seen enough presidencies during my time as a journalist to believe that Duterte really means what he says.
DU 30 sees his presidency as engaged in a war against the scourge of drugs, corruption and poverty, which all together have combined to keep the country poor, undeveloped and backward. He really wants to wipe out these obstacles during his time as president, or die trying.
Duterte is remarkable in using the word “kill” without nuance or shading. He lays out the word out bare in order perhaps to shock and awe, but most on of all so his message will be remembered. No one comes out of a Duterte meeting feeling goodwill toward his fellowman.
During his time, President Ferdinand Marcos preferred to use the term “extirpate” instead of kill, when he talked about the corrupt, the criminal, and the “notoriously undesirable” in society.
“Extirpate” means to remove or destroy completely, to root out.
This is fundamentally what Duterte means when he talks of killing in his war on drugs, corruption, and mass poverty in the country.
The man is deadly serious.
Bottom line is effective governance
Do Presidents Trump and Duterte not worry that their obsessions with wall-building and killing betray their duty to be moral paragons in their countries? Do they not worry about image, or their place in history?
James P. Pfiffner, in his book, The Character Factors, How We Judge America’s Presidents (Texas A&M University Press, 2004), describes the issue this way:
“As admirable as personal likeability and moral leadership are, the bottom line of the presidency is effective governance. Presidents must ensure that the machinery of government in the executive branch functions as effectively as possible and that relations among the three branches do not break down…Effective executive leadership is the sine qua non of a successful presidency. In order of priority, effective governance ranks first, moral leadership second, and personal appeal third.
“When presidents do not excel at all three roles, we should keep in mind that not all roles are equally important.”