[Editorial] #AnimatED: The thought of a Trump downfall

The Philippines will watch this American saga with bated breath. Here's why.


Published: 1:0 AM August 27, 2018

Updated: 1:0 AM August 27, 2018

For the first time since he blustered his way to the American presidency in 2016, Donald Trump faces possible impeachment. This scenario does not play at all in Trump’s alternate universe, for in his head that would be the end of the world. But Americans can smell it, feel it, know it.

Last week’s back-to-back conviction of Trump’s campaign head and the guilty plea by his former personal lawyer do not only bolster the Mueller probe, which is under pressure to finish the “witch hunt” – as Trump describes it – but also pave the road for Democrats in the midterm elections, which are happening this coming November.

For the first time, a Democratic majority in both the Senate and the House under a Republican presidency looms large. All 435 seats in the House and 35 of the 100 Senate seats will be up for grabs at a time when evidence on Russian involvement in Trump’s victory piles up, secret buyout contracts with witnesses are exposed, and the US President’s approval ratings reach the almost lowest point for any American president since World War II.

The Philippines will watch all this unfold with bated breath.

After all, Trump and President Rodrigo Duterte came to power in similar circumstances. Both outliers, they ran on an anti-establishment campaign, banked on voters’ deep frustrations with the status quo, promised an alternate world, and targeted the people's raw, unfiltered and “algorithmitized” emotions on social media.

Basking in their come-from-behind victories in 2016, they represented the new illiberal world order from two poles across the globe.

Duterte and Trump use the same tactics to rip apart the institutions that serve to check the powers of the presidency – the media, the justice department, the courts, international institutions, among others. 

Duterte and Trump use the same foul language to intimidate critics, demonize journalists, and strengthen their die-hard base.

The midterm elections are happening in November in the US; ours will not be too far behind – in May 2019.

But while Trump is on a free fall in approval ratings, our very own president continues to maintain very good survey numbers.

Facetious as it may seem, a large part of this has something to do with the fact that America has Robert Mueller and the office he represents: the independent office of the Special Counsel, which has been disciplined in its work and has refused any temptation to milk this for publicity.

That the Mueller team is able to do what it has done so far proves not its uniqueness but the existence of processes and norms in a country that still has a fighting chance to keep its democratic ideals alive. These serve as means to check presidential power and at the same time put it under institutional scrutiny – beyond empty noise and propaganda.

Which cannot be said of the Philippines, which is drowning in noise and nothing much else that could hold to account its errant public leaders. 

As an example, it has taken an international body – the International Criminal Court – to pursue a no-nonsense inquiry into the spate of extrajudicial killings here, something that the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights should be doing aggressively and independently, had it been operating in a different land.

A supposedly independent judiciary has for the most part been hijacked by the President. Character assassination has replaced rigorous, methodical probing as an effective investigative tool. Regulatory agencies act on the bidding of politicians. And absolute presidential power is becoming the name of the game.

The Trump saga is thus as close to dreamland as we could get.

We shall watch it to remind us of the things we have, and don't have.

Who knows, we might draw applicable lessons from it too. – Rappler.com