Welcome to the Age of Vulgarity

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Greg B. Macabenta

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File photo combination of US Pres. Donald Trump and Philippine Pres. Rodrigo Duterte. -- AFP

When then presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte called His Holiness Pope Francis, “putang ina ka,” because Duterte got stuck in traffic due to the Pope’s visit, detractors predicted that his candidacy was doomed. But Duterte survived that (although he claimed that he had made the profanity “in jest”) and he went on to become the most foul-mouthed and vulgar president in recent memory.

Well, maybe not “the most,” because US President Donald Trump is well on the way to setting the record for vulgarity and crassness, as well as bluster, among heads of state.

In a recent speech in Alabama before his die-hard voter base, Trump called former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick a “sonnuvabitch.” Trump may have had his reasons, but his language was downright vulgar. Downright petty, too, considering how many other more important issues the President of the United States could have addressed, rather than a football player’s misplaced expression of protest.

Trump also took offense at the concern of Golden State Warriors star, Stephen Curry, over accepting an invitation to the White House because of Trump’s perceived racist policies and statements. In another display of pettiness, Trump twitted that the invitation was being withdrawn. That elicited a sharp retort from LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers:

“U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain’t going! So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up.”


The President of the US being called a “bum” by an American citizen says something about the extent to which the presidency has been demeaned.

Meanwhile, there is an escalating spectacle of vulgarity, crassness, and bluster in the exchanges between Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un. After Trump referred to Kim as “rocket man,” Kim called Trump a “mentally deranged US dotard.” The word comes from “dotage” which means “a state of senile decay marked by decline of mental poise and alertness.” It also means “someone lazy, useless and demented.”

And while these things have been happening on the world stage, President Duterte dominated the Manila headlines after he admitted “lying” about the alleged Singapore bank accounts of his arch critic, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that Duterte has lied. He has consistently lied about the extrajudicial killings committed by the police, insisting that they never happened. And, whenever he has been caught flip-flopping on his mindless statements, he would insist that he was just “joking.”

However, in this respect, Trump beats Duterte hands down for the quantity and regularity of lying and playing loosely with the facts. The New York Times published an inventory of “Trump’s Lies,” updated as of July 21, pointing out that Trump would continue to lie and add to the list — which he has.

The similarity between Trump and Duterte in terms of vulgarity and lies prompted a columnist to comment on social media that the description of Trump as a “dotard” reminded him of “someone else” with an almost similar sounding name.

But the spectacle of heads of state defying all norms of civility and proper manners is not the most remarkable of all. What is remarkable is the popular support that both Trump and Duterte continue to get from their respective supporters — and, mind you, these are not the “working class red-necks” that the liberal US press patronizingly describes as Trump’s base, or the “bakya crowd” that civil society dismissively calls the DDS (Die-hard Duterte Supporters).

According to a Social Weather Station poll, as of June 2017, Duterte’s approval and trust ratings continue to be high and, in fact, increasing among both socioeconomic classes ABC and DE.

In the case of Trump, a July poll conducted by Reuters/Ipsos among those who voted for Trump in the last elections revealed that 88% would still vote for Trump if the elections were held in July. Even more amazing was that this was an improvement over the 82% support that Trump got in the May survey — this, in spite of the failure of Trump and the Republicans to overhaul the health care system (a major campaign promise) and in spite of the congressional and federal investigations into Trump’s suspected ties with Russia.

Sociologists have been scrambling to explain Trump’s sustained appeal that seems inconsistent with the relentless barrage of criticism that he has been getting in media — criticism not necessarily unfounded or “fake” as Trump claims.

One possible reason is that Trump’s vulgarity and crassness coincides with a period which I have chosen to describe as The Age of Vulgarity — a period where the Millennials (also derisively referred to as The Me Generation) have defied and disdained “proper manners,” “good taste” and “civilized behavior,” regarding them as so much hypocrisy and pretense.

In a 2014 scholarly piece by Jean M. Twenge, she commented on the “trend toward vulgar language” and the fact that “American culture has become crude, rude and socially unacceptable.”

Twenge wrote: “Fuck is the most versatile word in the English language — it can be used as a noun, a verb or an adjective.” She observed that in the TV series, Sex and the City, one character used the expression “absofuckinglutely” and that the Google Books database noted that the word “fuck” was used 8 times more frequently in American books in 2008 compared to 1960, with “shit” being used 3 times more frequently and “ass” 4 times more.

A Pinoy sociologist will probably note that Duterte’s “putang ina” has become popular among his supporters, as well as social media habitues who routinely dismiss exhortations of the Catholic church and expressions of disapproval by well-meaning opinion makers as so much pomposity and posturing. They insist that Duterte’s is speaking the “language of the masses,” as opposed to that of the rich — no matter that this attitude is an exercise in self-delusion because many of Duterte’s fanatic supporters happen to be filthy rich.

The apparent acceptance (at least by his rabid base) of Trump’s crassness and vulgarity may have infected some Democrats who are desperate to gain back lost ground among American voters. In a July 2017 article by Jessica Yarvin, she wrote:

“Last month, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., bluntly summed up the Democratic Party’s goals under President Donald Trump.

“‘If we’re not helping people,’ Gillibrand told an audience at a New York University forum, “we should go the f**k home.’

“Earlier this year, newly elected Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez didn’t mince words when assessing the White House budget proposal. It’s a ‘s**tty budget,’ Perez said in a speech in Maine, part of a cross-country tour that included several expletive-laced speeches, a report said.

“In the aftermath of Mr. Trump’s victory in the 2016 election, a growing number of Democrats have begun cursing in public, using language that in the past was reserved for private conversations away from voters and the media.”

One thing significant is that profanity and kabastusan must fit one’s character.

Remember how Mar Roxas, a person to the manor born, tried it once in a speech in Makati City? The words that stumbled out of his mouth were clearly unnatural and out of character. Of course, Roxas subsequently performed better at the Wack Wack Country Club when he virtually castrated a club staffer.

In the case of Duterte and Trump — what can one say? Bagay na bagay.

At any rate, welcome to The Age of Vulgarity. Who knows when or if this trend will ever usher in The Dark Ages, but you can’t say that the Millennials, as well as Trump, Duterte and their rabid voter base, are not working on it.


Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.