January 24, 2017 at 12:30


Alex Magno – FIRST PERSON (The Philippine Star) – January 24, 2017 – 12:00am

President Donald J. Trump claims he wrote his inaugural speech himself. That is easy to believe. The speech was short and sophomoric.

In one attempt to be poetic, the new American president compared the dead factories to tombstones. That was a tinge too dark. Poetry thrives on what is bright.

The rhetoric contained in that speech was indeed vintage Trump. It was rhetoric imported from the campaign where it proved useful winning votes. In matters of statecraft, however, what wins votes does not necessarily win the future.

A single theme runs through that speech: “America First!” That signals isolationism in foreign policy and protectionism in the economy.

At certain points, it seems Trump wants to return the US to the fifties as he calls for the coal miners to be returned to work and the obsolete factories made to produce again. America’s future does not lie in creating jobs for coal miners and reopening factories in the rust belt.

There is a reason why coal miners are unemployed and factories in the Rust Belt are shuttered. It is called technological change.

Coal miners are dinosaurs in the age of electric cars. For every job lost in the Rust Belt, a thousand new ones are created in Silicon Valley and Seattle. The worst Trump can do is to save coal jobs by killing off renewable energy or revive obsolete factories by prohibiting trade. That is not the way the world works.

Trump often sounds like our jeepney drivers who threaten to strike whenever mass transport facilities are planned to be built. They want to protect old jobs even if that means stifling new opportunities in our economy.

There is a reason Trump is repeating bizarre economic reasoning. He is pandering to the beleaguered white working class – his core voter base. That class thrived during the 20th century and faces extinction in the 21st.

There is a reason Trump has taken to coercing American industries planning to shift production abroad. He wants them to defy economic logic, produce where it is most expensive to do so and eventually sell products that are costlier. In the end, while saving a few hundred jobs he may crow about, he will penalize millions of American consumers.

Moments after Trump’s Electoral College victory (he lost the popular vote by 3 million) became clear, one CNN commentator called the results a “whitelash.” That is so apt. Trump is the candidate who tapped the strong undercurrent of white nationalism brought forth by economic distress. Now he must bend economic rules to please his white working class base.

If whites become unemployed blame the immigrants. That might sound stupid. But is has a potent constituency.


Trump is a nationalist in the 19th century sense. He might be a far-right politician, but his worldview closely resembles that of our old Left.

That nationalism leads Trump to distrust trade and care very little for alliances. He thinks that best remedy for his nation’s malaise is for Americans to produce for Americans, protected by literal or figurative walls that prohibit trade across borders.

It is nearly surreal that while Trump was taking Washington DC by storm, pitching his “America First” policy, Chinese President Xi Jinping was in the Davos meeting of the World Economic Forum preaching the virtues of globalization and free trade.

While Trump was busy tarring the NATO as an obsolete alliance, Putin was busy extending his influence in the Middle East through Syria’s Assad. Trump’s view of the world was imploding while Putin’s was expanding.

If Trump succeeds in pulling the rest of Washington to his inward-looking view, this will only encourage both Russia and China to take the opportunity and grow their influence. If the US cannot be relied upon, then (as President Duterte appears to have concluded) it is better to invest in closer ties with Beijing and Moscow.

Pulling back in both trade and diplomacy, Trump threatens to remove the US from the mainstream of global events. The superpower will not longer be a force shaping the future.


More remarkable than the inauguration itself is the wave of protest marches that happened exactly a day after. The marches were organized in over 600 sites across the US and around the world. In the US, it is estimated that over a million people participated in the marches.

Initially envisioned as a march of women, the protest activities became more inclusive by the day. When they finally happened, the marches involved feminists, multiculturalists, environmentalists, internationalists, liberals and more. In a word, it was a rebellion of modern America against the cultural retrogrades Trump represented.

Trump loves describing his electoral triumph as a “movement” even if there is little evidence of self-empowerment at the grassroots to merit that. He was simply the rallying point of anger, fear, hatred and bigotry.

Confronting him now, from the streets, is a real movement determined to weave grassroots networks to resist the redneck policies Trump threatens to pursue. The movement’s framework is not simply electoral. Its leaders are not politicians. It is guided by values, not by a demagogue.

Trump chose to wage war against the modern sensibility. That sensibility is now fighting back. Saturday’s marches are the first maneuvers of the looming battle for America’s soul. America’s intelligentsia is not about to melt into the shadows.

This battle pits science against ignorance, gender equality against misogyny, tolerance against bigotry, rights against tyrannical policies. Over the next four years, America will be consumed by a culture war. Trump will find himself on the wrong side of history.


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