GIVEN the extremely intense emotions during the last two and a half weeks of the election campaign, I will not add to the cacophony on specific candidates, especially since I do not consider myself a political analyst or in possession of knowledge or additional knowledge about the candidates. Still, it would be odd to be oblivious to what’s going on for campaigns, so I’ll make some general observations instead.
A savvy senior Evercore banker told me back in 2016, when we were talking about the US election, the favorite doesn’t always win, but that’s the way to bet. Well, the favorite didn’t win that year even given the best predictions starting with Nate Silver. He predicted a narrow victory for Hillary, but it was within the margin of error and gave Trump a 1 in 3 chance of winning. Considering the set of polls we read in the Philippines to be sound, their consistency and margin imply something with a high degree of reliability. I said something similar on ANC and was surprised someone in the live chat asked me if I favored a certain candidate. Are some so enraged and blindsided that if they hear a fact-based observation and analysis that doesn’t go their way, they automatically assume the speaker is on the opposite side? If this is a prevailing opinion, I mourn our nation. If we can’t tell the difference between what we hope for and what happens, we have far bigger problems that this election will not solve and will only expose.
Just to be clear, as some may not have read my previous posts, I am not enthusiastic about all campaigns and do not support any candidate. I am not looking for any government position and, more importantly, no potential president is looking for me. So don’t worry. I am not a “stealthy” or “Manchurian” journalist, or a banker secretly activated in anyone’s campaign or hoping for a position in the next administration and “auditioning” via columns and articles. Consider my perspective as that of someone very worried about the country and the long-term direction in which I think we are headed.
In my relative old age, I have grown increasingly frustrated with the tone and underground level political campaigns that are taking on a global scale in these times of division and social media. The Philippines is no exception. As Macbeth says, “It’s a story told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, meaning nothing.” Unfortunately, this is further amplified on social media by the spread of misinformation. It is pathetic to see the desperate grab a few often fanciful subatomic particles of good news and try to present them as nuclear bombs that will wipe out the other side. When I read the Filipino newspapers these days, thanks to the decline of Covid, what I read first are the overnight NBA results updates. (I hope the Brooklyn Nets are doing well but I’m not optimistic even though they have two transcendent franchise players in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.)
What’s wrong with Shakespeare’s quote is not its accuracy. It’s that even though it’s full of sound and fury with little value, it still has an effect because it means something very important. It is the absence of a mandate for anything substantial for the winner. It will just result in a warrant for guess what? A person. Nothing but an adherence to a personal narrative that had a loose connection to reality at best was endorsed in addition to platitudes like no corruption, unity, and other BOMFOG. It means the brotherhood of man under the fellowship of God. In other words, nothing. I must know this expression from the scholar Judge Azcuna, who used it when he was my professor of “international law” when I was at the Ateneo Law School in the early 1980s. For the record, I am a lapsed lawyer who quit to become an investment banker, but that’s a story no one else is interested in.
The mandate given will be for an image or personality of someone who wins, not to promulgate this program or this philosophy of governance. Please let me know if I’m missing anything outside of BOMFOG in a campaign. This has consequences because there will be no consensus on a political or economic point of view or program when this type of vision and direction is absolutely necessary. No specific reforms or changes to how we run our government and such. Quite simply personality and the rise or fall of the yellow or red political machine. Maybe the rise or rebirth and decline but probably not the fall of some submachines or some regionals.
It’s almost as if large parts of the country still behave like the “rotten boroughs” of 18th century England. Prior to the Reform Act of 1832, this meant a small borough or parliamentary constituency which is under the control of an individual or group so that that person has disproportionate influence due to his absolute control of the seat or seats . They formed a very powerful bloc and often held the balance of power. We have no rotten extremes or as they were also called pocket boroughs among our districts. Well, maybe a few exceptions given that some low population areas have a seat. Yet we seem to have the same effect with local bosses having ironclad control over various constituencies.
Another theme is, do spin-docs and their bosses get the most spin? On April 10 in New York magazine, Jonathan Chait had a great article titled “Trump, Putin, and the Propaganda Paradox.” Please read it if you can. His main point is captured in the subtitle – “When you set out to brainwash others, you end up brainwashing yourself.” So true and sadly obvious. This also goes for their supporters. Based on the limited social media I am exposed to, this is also not limited to one economy class of the country. As Jon Stewart so aptly noted, “You have to remember one thing about the will of the people: not so long ago we were swept away by the ‘Macarena’.”