The “uncivil war” President Joseph Biden wants to end has a counterpart in the Philippines. But while the barbaric war in the latter has been going on for five years with no end in sight, that in the US has entered a second, though equally troubling phase.
The US uncivil war is currently being driven by the crisis that is due not only to the over 27 million COVID-19 cases in that country, or to the US economy’s plunging into recession in 2020 and contracting by a record 33%, with recovery possible only in the third quarter of this year.
The crisis isn’t just the consequence of the Jan. 6 attack on Congress by Donald Trump’s thugs that has been described as an insurrection and even as an attempted coup d’etat. Neither did it happen only because the Republican Party continues to support the former President who fomented the insurrection and falsely claimed that he would have won a second term had he not been cheated by the Democrats.
And it isn’t just because the biggest threat against the Biden administration and the remnants of US democracy is the home-grown terrorism that Trump’s four years in office and hate-ridden rhetoric of violence fed and encouraged.
It is all of the above and more that comprise the US crisis, among them the likelihood that Trump will escape conviction in his impeachment trial that began on Feb. 9. If that happens, it will validate to his followers their belief in Trump’s lies, his conspiracy theories, and his self-aggrandizing, narcissistic leadership that fed the crisis in the first place. It will allow him or his surrogate to run again, and perhaps win, in 2024.
The reality is that US democracy, as besieged as it already is, is facing the gravest threat since World War II and the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the homeland. What makes it worse is that it is American citizens rather than foreign powers and terrorists who are responsible for it.
Speaking through one of the characters in his novel War and Remembrance, the American author Herman Wouk dismissed the possibility that the fascist ideology of any right-wing extremist group like the Ku Klux Klan, which was founded in the formerly slave-owning Southern states to keep African Americans from exercising their rights with the use of violence, would ever find its way into the political mainstream. Wouk’s character was responding to the claim that the equivalent of the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi hooligans in Germany could also happen in the United States.
Wouk’s optimism was understandable. War and Remembrance was published in 1978, when such groups as the anti-evolution Christian fundamentalists; the modern day successors of the white supremacist Know Nothing Party of the 1850s; the Ku Klux Klan; the gun crazies who had armed themselves to protect their families from foreigners and to prepare for a nuclear apocalypse; the all-white, anti-immigrant groups that accuse people of color of taking their jobs and others were politically marginalized elements usually described as constituting the lunatic fringe of US society and politics.
Unfortunately, the members and sympathizers of the clones and successors of those racist and outrightly fascist groups turned out to be enough in numbers to elect Trump to the US Presidency in 2016. They bought into Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-media, anti-Muslim, white-supremacist ideology because it mirrored their own. They thought his lies to be Bible truth, and believed his outrageous claim that he knew better than anyone else about COVID-19, which he said in early 2020 was “no worse than the flu” and would soon “go away.” They put the lunatic fringe in the political mainstream by electing Trump President and his accomplices senators and congressmen and women.
The consequences were devastating. Trump made the longstanding class and racial divides across the United States worse. He encouraged the use by the police of lethal force against protesters, and endangered journalists by labeling them “enemies of the people.” His incompetence and criminal indifference to the health and welfare of the populace led to the surge in infections and deaths from COVID-19.
Without a national plan on how to deal with the pandemic and its impact on the economy — he ignored the advice of his country’s best epidemiologists and economists — his administration left behind a crisis of monumental proportions.
Despite the urgent need for solutions to the vast panoply of problems confronting the US, Trump’s Republicans are hardly cooperating with the new administration for obvious political reasons. President Biden has nevertheless asked for bipartisan support for his anti-COVID-19 and other programs, and has urged the Trumpists to put an end to the “uncivil war” of which the Jan. 6 insurrection, say US intelligence agencies, could have been just a dress rehearsal for even more organized and widespread violence.
But Trumpism will survive to make the Biden administration’s platform of government difficult to implement. It will continue to threaten the US for years to come and will hasten its decline rather than make it “great again” as Trump had promised. But the war against immigrants, people of color, the media, science, and reason that Trump and his followers have been waging has ended, at least officially.
In the country of our sorrows, the savage and undeclared war against the poor; the independent press; regime critics; truth tellers; human rights defenders and lawyers; reformist officials; indigenous people; worker, farmer and student leaders; schools, colleges and universities; the Constitution and the rule of law; as well as against civility, reason, and truth has not only been unceasing despite the COVID-19 pandemic, but has even escalated.
The prospects for an end to that very uncivil war, about which only a very few care or are even aware, are not encouraging. Driven by the same ignorance and antipathy to truth and reason that make Trumpists so sure of the accuracy of their fact-challenged version of US reality, the partisans of the creeping insurrection — the ongoing putsch — against the Philippine Constitutional order are continuing their campaign for despotic rule through amending and even scuttling the 1987 Charter, supporting the deliberately deceptive call for a “revolutionary” government, enshrining violence and death as first principles in governance, and generally demonizing the exercise of Constitutional rights and democratic political engagement as crimes against their Medieval concept of the State as no more than an instrument of coercion.
Come 2022, the mass of the information-challenged, gullible, easily bought and terrorized electorate is not likely to do as US voters did last November. They would most probably keep in power the same dynasts and oligarchs whose incompetent, corrupt and despotic rule has made this country the basket case of Southeast Asia.
Only a sustained information program can help prevent that likely occurrence and put an end to the Philippine equivalent of the uncivil war in the US. But it will take the combined efforts of the independent press and media, the schools, colleges and universities, the sectoral organizations, the professions, the business community, the Church, civil society and anyone else truly concerned with the future of this country to make a difference.
The bad news is that no sense of urgency seems to animate these mostly democratic forces or the rest of the apathetic populace into proactive involvement in the admittedly difficult and increasingly dangerous enterprise of replacing lies with facts, and disinformation, cluelessness and ignorance with reason and truth.
Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro).