In his play, Richard III, William Shakespeare coined the phrase “winter of our discontent,” drawing an analogy between the dark and dreary winter season and the misfortunes and challenges that confronted his characters.
As I write this, I feel that we are experiencing a “winter of confusion” — with so many alarming events swirling about us, in the Philippines, in the US, and around the world, that threaten our very existence or that could change the trajectory of our lives.
The world is reeling from the threat of the coronavirus, leap-frogging from China to the rest of the world. In America, people are confused as President Donald Trump accuses the media and the Democrats of spreading “fake news” about the seriousness of the plague while every sensible expert warns of worse times ahead. As Americans hopelessly look to Trump to lead the country through the crisis, the stock market takes a steep dive, losing trillions in value, and small investors see their savings inexorably dissipate before their eyes.
Unbelievably, Trump has prevented health authorities from speaking candidly about the coronavirus, thus leaving the populace wondering how severe the problem is. Some quarters claim that the coronavirus is not as deadly as the flu (pointing out that the flu has also claimed thousands of lives, without setting off panic buttons), while others warn that the virus is so malignant, it can infect anyone who has contact with fellow human beings, thus it is best to stay indoors and avoid socializing.
Because people have no idea how to properly assess the coronavirus threat, they simply assume the worst and recede into their shells.
The effect on the economy has been devastating. When families stop socializing or going to the theaters or sports events or shopping centers, and when they stop making purchases and spending their money, the result is a business slowdown and a domino effect on manufacturing, imports, exports, marketing and, overall economic activities, worldwide.
It has been said that when the US economy has a cold, the rest of the world comes down with pneumonia. What could then be worse than seeing the United States and China, the biggest economic engines in the world, sputtering? Inevitably, the rest of the world sputters too. The economic impact is immediately felt, like a body being deprived of oxygen.
Trump’s incoherence and deviousness have simply made matters worse. But worse yet, Trump could win a second term as the contenders for the Democratic Party presidential nomination bash each other in a desperate effort to win at all costs. Thus the dire prospect of four more years of bad leadership has been coupled with the uncertainty posed by the coronavirus, coupled with the prospect of a worldwide economic recession, exacerbated by lack of reliable information on the multifarious problems.
In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has been sending conflicting signals concerning the fate of ABS-CBN Network, while his surrogates crucify those in Congress who are conducting hearings on the renewal of the network’s franchise. Duterte himself claims he has nothing to do with the mess that he actually began.
ABS-CBN has not been lacking in enemies and media rivals. The network’s enemies see an opportunity to get even, while the network’s media rivals have chosen to stay out of the fray despite the threat to press freedom which could also affect them. These media rivals may see a short-term advantage in the demise of a giant competitor, but down the road, they may find the same fate befalling them.
Anti-Duterte activists in the Philippines and the US have used the ABS-CBN issue as leverage to demand Duterte’s ouster in support of press freedom. But they surely know that Duterte will want to stay in power over their dead bodies. The activists are, perhaps, hoping the White House and Capitol Hill will dispatch someone to tell Duterte to “cut and cut clean,” the way they told Marcos. But, at present, Washington has other concerns and may not be inclined to upset Duterte while he plays the Chinese card.
Meanwhile, Chinese incursions in the Philippines have begun to trigger alarm buttons. Senator Richard Gordon (said to be an “Amboy”) has warned about trillions in funds from China being laundered in the Philippines, while thousands of Chinese “workers” — who could actually be members of the Chinese military — pour into the country in what some suspect as positioning for a takeover should the US decide to depose Duterte.
This happened in Cuba when President Fulgencio Batista was deposed and Russian-backed Fidel Castro wrested power. This was right at America’s virtual backyard.
Who says it can’t happen in the Philippines?
What if President Xi offers Duterte a presidency-for-life? Do we think Bong Go and Dennis Uy will object?
As these events are sensationalized in media, supporters and detractors of those involved are making an already confused situation even more confusing. Social media has become the propaganda battleground of choice because anyone can add to the cauldron of disinformation and misinformation for free and with no corresponding sanctions. Social media has become today’s Tower of Babel.
As a media practitioner with access to inside information, I must confess to being, at times, overwhelmed by the tsunami of events and the conflicting opinions being given by both well-meaning observers and DDT (Department of Dirty Tricks) specialists. One can imagine how much more confused the average citizen is who must depend on media and on balitang barbero (barbershop gossip) to keep abreast of developments.
If even reasonably intelligent individuals can be confused and misled, how can we blame the ordinary man on the street for being reactive and defensive?
Indeed, we are facing a winter of confusion. As worrisome as a winter of discontent.
One can only hope that a clear-headed and selfless leader will emerge to lead us out of the mists of misinformation, and to reassure and remind us that the world has been through worse times but has survived.
Europe went through the Dark Ages but eventually saw the light. Great Britain had Winston Churchill to keep the people’s spirits alive during the worst period of Nazi attacks. The British survived.
The United States had Roosevelt during the Great Depression to remind Americans that the only thing they had to fear was fear itself. The US survived.
America will survive Trump. But there will always be Republicans and Democrats who will promise heaven, albeit with stop-overs in hell.
The Philippines survived Marcos. No doubt, the country will survive Duterte. But then, there will always be other politicians who will take over. Who knows if they will be better or worse?
The lines of Percy Bysshe Shelley in his “Ode to the West Wind” are the logical denouement of Shakespeare’s “winter of discontent,” as well as our own winter of confusion:
“Oh wind, when winter comes, can spring be far behind?”
Yes, spring will come. Of course, after spring, winter will come again. C’est la vie!
Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.