What We Can Do in the Age of Fascists

As the world watched the meteoric rise of eventual presidents Duterte and Trump, Filipinos could not shake the pair’s family resemblance. Both were seen as clowns who only lacked the ridiculous facial hair to complete the cartoon villain caricature. But, when Duterte cussed and bullied all the way into Malacañang, that should have been a clue to us that Trump would do a lot better than what the polls were saying.

Now that Trump has won despite all the ridicule and naysaying, there has been a lot of finger-pointing and self-flagellation among liberals and Democrats. Chiefly, we shouldn’t have been so smug, painting Trump supporters as racist inbreds.


Frequent users of the SJW epithet were quick to blame progressives for being overly sensitive to the Trump campaign’s overt racism and misogyny. Anti-globalists with particular disdain for the United States pointed to “neoliberalism’s” neglect of the American working class. Political nihilists blamed Hillary’s being a corrupt Washington insider for failing to convince independents to vote against Trump.

It is true to some extent that odious self-righteousness is a turn off and does little to convince fence-sitters. But, just like Ken Bone, people who were on the fence about Trump and about the values he validated weren’t fence-sitters for lack of reasonable arguments for either side. Breaking down the Trump voter demographics, it is clear that his base was not full of people left behind by eight years of Obama.

The median yearly income for Trump voters is $72,000, above the $62,000 median for Clinton’s.  Singling out Trump’s poorer voters, only 14% earned less than $50,000. And, as Trump whipped up anti-immigrant sentiment, a Gallup study showed that his average voter was “no more likely to be unemployed or exposed to competition through trade or immigration.”

This false narrative of revenge-against-the-elites should remind Filipinos of the lie that the Duterte vote was an anti-elite, anti-oligarch vote. As with Trump, the wealthier you were, the more likely you would have been a Duterte voter. Rather than being victims of the Aquino administration’s “neoliberal” economics, Duterte’s supporters flourished more than their countrymen. Add to that, among Filipinos living abroad, Duterte and Marcos polled highest.

Rather than an uprising of the victims of capitalism and globalization, the wave of nativism and fascism sweeping the world: from Duterte to Brexit to Trump, is a backlash from the privileged classes: the male segment, in particular. It used to be that men could comfortably make misogynistic, homophobic, and racist comments without much pushback. Now, progressives can be relied upon to cast light on what used to be socially acceptable but bigoted behavior. In response, there is resistance from the privileged class against “political correctness,” which has now become shorthand for, “I’m not allowed to speak my mind about people outside my group.”

Progressives have been playing identity politics for much of the past ten years, and it has finally blown up in our faces. We forgot that the ruling class can also play identity politics, and play it they did.

We have to realize that though we think we are right to call out oppression, the other side, well-to-do (white) men, are still the ones in charge. And though we feel empowered as the momentum in the politics of language is on the side of progressives, politics itself is still largely out of the hands of the underprivileged, women, and people of color.

To be sure, moralizing has not worked. Even before the elections, Duterte critics unceasingly reminded Filipinos of the carnage he had wreaked on Davao and would wreak on the rest of the Philippines. Every day now, we see photos of people, generally poor, murdered in the streets. Over 4,000 Filipinos have been killed so far and his support has not wavered. And this is on top of Duterte’s misogynistic behavior. In the US, liberals constantly picked apart Trump’s misogyny and his supporters’ racism and racial resentment.

It may seem to many of us that state-sponsored killings, misogyny, and racism are self-evidently wrong, but 2016 should show us that, no, they are not. And, we should have known this from the start.

We were seduced by the religious certainty of moralizing. Yes, you can probably argue from many moral frameworks how homophobia is wrong or how vigilante justice is a net negative on our social institutions, but politics on either side is rarely about reason, but emotions.

Duterte’s key supporters are richer than their neighbors, and so are Trump’s. They are largely isolated from those most affected by murders and racism, respectively. As long as the oppressed remain hypotheticals to them, they will not empathize.

Like Harry Potter’s Dudley Dursley complaining about having 36 presents when he had 37 last year, the privileged classes are lashing out against having fewer words to say and, dare I say it, fewer pussies to grab. It doesn’t matter what you think is fair. If the privileged classes experience the insecurity of their status, they will reliably lash out in the way they have in electing Duterte and Trump.

Schadenfreudists have been satisified in calling liberals smug, and saying that Clinton/Roxas/Poe/etc. offered no alternative, while Trump/Duterte at least offered something new and different. And yet, schadenfreudists have offered no alternatives either.

So, what is left for progressives to do in the face of obvious oppression? If calling bigots bigots and fascists fascists does not work, do we just let Duterte call diplomats white monkeys and faggots (the more appropriate translation of “bakla” when said in contempt)? Do we just let him ogle the Vice President’s legs and cat-call reporters? Do we just let him threaten our right to due process? Do we just let American racists tell non-white citizens to go “home”?

I believe that there is room for multiple approaches. And though we shouldn’t stop pushing back against fascism and call it out when we see it, we must also recognize that it is not a given that our opponents share our values for fairness. This is a lesson we should have learned when we were on its receiving end from religious conservatives. They call contraception murder and secularism immoral. To them, these issues have consequences as heavy as heaven and hell. But, these concerns are incomprehensible to secular progressives.

Some people have called for constant dialogue, though I think that this is not as effective as it makes us feel better about “going high.” What is left to say on the matter of state-sponsored murders? What is left to say on the matter of barring Muslims from the US? I believe that the strongest argument against the fascistic urge, rather than play their winning strategy of populist dishonesty and demagoguery, is quiet perseverance.

We organize. We defend our institutions, our environment. We stop congratulating ourselves over recognizing our faults. We have to fight against the normalized fascism we already see in the Phlippines and will soon see in the United States. And, critically, we have to do better than Hillary Clinton. We have to do better than Mar Roxas or Grace Poe. We have to offer something better than status quo.

Trump’s and Duterte’s voters did not vote against a better future. They believed they were making the best choice available. And, I am sure both administrations will improve on the previous in some, perhaps many ways. Nevertheless, a vote for a fascist is a vote to define who gets to share and who does not in that better future.

Yes, quiet and continued perseverance is not sexy. It’s not noisy. And it’s not going to promise anything big by 2020 or 2022. But, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. In the long view, the world is only getting better. Let’s not forget that over a million people more voted for Clinton than Trump and Duterte won by plurality, not by majority. We just have to make sure the world exists long enough for it to get even better.

Leave a reply

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here