POSTSCRIPT / November 8, 2018 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Trump’s drubbing should jolt Duterte

DEMOCRATS wrested back control Tuesday of the US House of Representatives, even if they failed to break the Republicans’ shaky majority in the Senate, according to early returns in the US midterm election that saw rejection of President Trump’s divisive politics.

The Democrats’ gaining the majority in the 435-member House will open to scrutiny Trump’s policies and business practices and derail his plans to erase or replace major programs on health care and immigration of the previous Obama administration.

As we write this, Democrats had won the 23 Republican-held seats needed to capture a majority of 218, according to Fox News, a TV network generally sympathetic to Republicans. Other media outfits also reported seeing Democratic control of the House looming.

At 11:45 p.m. (ET) Tuesday, President Trump called House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to congratulate her on the Democrats’ reclaiming the majority, according to her deputy chief of staff Drew Hammill.

Democrats may soon be able to open Trump’s closely guarded tax returns, stymie his second major tax-cut package, inquire into alleged conflicts of interest, and challenge his handling of relations with Russia, Saudi Arabia and North Korea.

A House majority could impeach Trump if there is evidence of his having obstructed justice or colluded with Russia in the 2016 election. But, as in the Philippines, he could be removed only after conviction by a two-thirds vote in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The reproof of Trump at the polls reminds strongmen, including President Duterte of the Philippines, that governance propped up by intimidation and divisiveness, and marked by hateful rhetoric and racism, will not last in a free society.

The US election system varies from one state to another. While American politicians also deliver fiery speeches, sometimes laced with lies and libel, there is no poll-related violence as we Filipinos know it.

We were impressed by the massive turnout, indicating that citizens want to take back control of the government. Until the precincts closed late Tuesday, there were long lines of voters with jackets and umbrellas to protect them from the rainy chilly autumn weather.

There were no tambays outside the voting premises, nor election litter in the streets, kids handing out sample ballots, or one’s being invited to a first-stop house where he could sell his vote.

In surveys that accompanied the voting, Americans disclosed the issues that mattered most to them were health care and immigration, frequent subjects of Trump’s tweets. With the economy being robust, there was not much anxiety about jobs and business.

Exit polling by CNN showed that two-thirds of voters made their choices with Trump in mind. Many of them used their vote to express opposition to or disapproval of the President’s policies and hateful speech.

The midterm election turned out to be a referendum on Trump. Negative reaction to the manners and language of the 72-year-old former reality TV star and businessman appeared to have contributed to the Republican debacle in the House.

A similar fate may befall Duterte and his candidates in the May 2019 midterm election if he does not shape up or make proper adjustments early.

 TV networks reject Trump ad on caravan

WILL a Philippine TV network refuse a 30-second spot of a valued advertiser? Three US networks did that on Sunday, rejecting on a difference of opinion a Trump ad on the caravan of asylum-seekers walking to the US-Mexico border.

From the very start, CNN refused to air the ad after finding to be racist Trump’s warning that the motley crowd from Central America, now in Mexico after crossing three countries, was an invasion by trouble-makers mixed with terrorists bent on entering the US illegally.

Initially, NBC ran the political ad over the weekend but later pulled it on the ground that it did not meet its advertising standards. The ad had run on Facebook and was taken out after criticism welled that it was racist and misleading.

Even Fox News, which has been generally kind to Trump and Republicans, refused to run it on Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network.

Trump has exploited immigration as a sensitive campaign issue after it was found that a sizeable sector is afraid of illegal aliens’ taking away jobs or having criminal tendencies or lolling as unproductive wards of the state.

Playing to that worried lot, Trump dramatized his building a 2,000-mile-long wall on the Mexico border, imposing stiff tariff on foreign-made products that used to be or should be made in the US, and threatening to end automatic citizenship for aliens’ children born in the US.

The migrants began walking from Honduras on Oct. 13 in search, they said, of a better life and, in some cases, to escape the brutality of narcotics gangs. Trump magnified their trek as an invasion and on that basis sent combat troops to the border.

The President applied his theory that fear is a forceful motivation as he mixed repetitive disinformation and racist remarks in his tweets and campaign narrative. Voters who believed his representation of the caravan may have been influenced when they voted Tuesday.

But major TV networks NBCCNN and Fox News, plus Facebook, noticed the dubious content and intent of Trump’s campaign ad on the caravan – and promptly dropped it.

As of yesterday, the asylum-seekers were resting in several sites in Mexico still many days away from the US border. The mid-term election is over, but the caravan’s having figured in the debasing campaign has valuable lessons for students of politics and propaganda.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 8, 2018)

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