The Room Laughs

WHAT BOTHERED ME more than Tito Sotto’s uncouth “joke” last week was that the room laughed.

It was the same mindless tittering that meets Duterte’s cussing in any speech, anytime, anywhere.

Alternatively, audiences applaud. No difference. Both the laughter and applause are sycophantic knee-jerk reactions which expose our real problem: many of us no longer know right from wrong.

Screengrab from http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/news/nation/582123/duterte-responds-to-criticism-from-eu-f-you/story/

Screengrab from http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/news/nation/582123/duterte-responds-to-criticism-from-eu-f-you/story/

They wanted change, so they bought the Duterte message along with the Duterte brand, thinking the outcome would be worth it. To them he is the lone maverick who can reverse all woe. They dismiss his vulgarity as refreshing iconoclasm: “That’s him,” they say with affection. “You’ve got to see beneath the roughness, because his heart is in the right place.” So we are told.

Screengrab from http://www.rappler.com/nation/164964-duterte-robredo-marry-me

Screengrab from http://www.rappler.com/nation/164964-duterte-robredo-marry-me

Nevermind that he is offensive. Nevermind that he is misogynistic. Nevermind that he is inconsistent. Nevermind that he fudges the truth. Nevermind that he endorses vigilantism and violence. Nevermind that he is kowtowing to China and alarming our allies. Nevermind that he disses social proprieties as “not his thing” and thereby makes them a bad thing. To all he does, the 16.6m say, “Amen” because he is THE ONE who will demolish the Matrix. They brook no contradiction.

Their unthinking acceptance of Duterte’s convictions disturbs me, but what troubles me more is that they are foisting his ways on the rest of us.

Screengrab from http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/01/18/1663870/duterte-lashes-out-catholic-priests

Screengrab from http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/01/18/1663870/duterte-lashes-out-catholic-priests

For instance: Duterte’s bloggers have made “disente” a pejorative term and declared decency passé. It was in vogue during the “Yellow Regime,” that period of “oligarchic hypocrisy,” therefore it must be rejected. What is trending now is gritty, call-it-as-you-see-it discourse, as in magpakatotoo tayo mga ka-DDS!

They pander to the popular sense of persecution and victimization (tayo’y mga pangkaraniwang tao, di tulad nilang mayayaman), worsening the already wide divide. Instead of empowering and educating their supporters, they exploit existing resentments: poor vs. rich, rural vs. urban, male vs. female, Visayans vs. Tagalogs, secular vs. religious, everyone vs. Manila – whatever works. This keeps folks simmering and prevents them from thinking long and hard about whether Duterte is actually doing his job. The strategy seems to be to keep them angry and so whenever their swashbuckler curses or thrusts that finger, they feel championed; every time he lacerates their “foes,” they laugh.

Screengrab from http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/03/23/1683880/duterte-de-lima-see-you-hell

Screengrab from http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/03/23/1683880/duterte-de-lima-see-you-hell

And there are those who are not poor, not downtrodden, who are educated and making a living but still feel they need a hero. You know them. They usually vote for “the lesser evil,” “keep mum and not rock the boat,” “play ball,” and “play it safe.” They invariably prefer someone else to stand on principle while they watch. Their unctuous laughter and applause are heard in hotel ballrooms, in auditoriums, in rallies held abroad, in the houses of Congress, in the stately Palace halls, and in the enclaves reserved for those who laugh and clap.

Instead of steering Duterte right (which they can do with honest feedback) they supply canned reactions to his kilometric speeches. For example, when Duterte told the young Boy Scouts that he would kill those who harm children, instead of being outraged, their Scout Masters giggled and clapped. When Duterte told the boys to learn how to shoot a gun so they could fight the war on drugs, instead of counseling the kids, their Scout Masters giggled and clapped. Is it any surprise that a small boy scout told his friend as they left the hall, “Pag laki ko babaril ako ng drug pusher!”

I realize that in this political climate, the heat can get intense. Some folks feel the key to survival is to go with the flow. That’s the way of the world. Others actually believe that Duterte is the answer. If he truly is, then I will celebrate with them. But what he has shown thus far is unconvincing. He may improve; he may develop a sense of decorum; he may even learn diplomacy. But it’s not likely these will happen when instead of reasoned criticism, he receives fawning adulation.

People want change but they want someone else to make it happen for them. Real change will come only when they make it happen themselves. Oppose what is wrong and stand for what is right; call out unrighteousness, even when the president does it – especially when the president does it. That’s the way to go. Sadly, right now, most folks would rather giggle and cheer. The hard truth is that we can only get somewhere when the room stops laughing.

Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity. – Romans 12:2

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