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Democracy’s bogey

While we do have some major issues with our democracy, there is now then the danger that what happened at the US Capitol may lead us to paths unknown.

Nick V. Quijano Jr.



Whoever he is, “walis tambo man” of the US Capitol assault fame is a graphic illustration of our uncut umbilical cord to all things American.

But whether the Americans clearly understood or not the symbolic meaning of the costumed man brandishing the ever-present broom of Filipino homes in the rotunda of the Capitol building in Washington DC remains a mystery.

At any rate, many Americans themselves may half-understand the hallucinating grotesque characters who stormed the symbol of American democracy.

Cosplaying characters, which one observer saw as one “big biker gang dressed as circus performers and war-surplus barbarians,” were caught casually picking their noses, rifling files, carting away rostrums and shooting endless selfies.

As for our similarly grotesque “walis tambo man,” he did raise not a few eyebrows and hackles in faraway Philippines.

Many joked the cosplaying man, whose identity still remains unknown, would have a hard time reconciling his brown skin with his fellow insurrectionists, largely racist Neo-Nazi white supremacists.

Sarcasm apart, “walis tambo man,” however, resonates on a more pertinent theme — the reputation of democracy and democratic processes.

One underlying theme from international observers is that the shameful, embarrassing assault had all but tarnished the American democratic image abroad.

As journalist Anne Applebaum puts it, “there is no way to overstate the significance of this moment, no way to ignore the power of the message that… the images from Washington that are going out around the world are far more damaging to America’s reputation as a stable democracy.”

Applebaum rightly observes that “by far the most important weapon that the United States of America has ever wielded — in defense of democracy, in defense of political liberty, in defense of universal rights, in defense of the rule of law — was the power of example.”

But, “The events at the Capitol yesterday did not represent a policy dispute, a disagreement about a foreign war or the behavior of police. They were part of an argument over the validity of democracy itself: A violent mob declared that it should decide who becomes the next president, and Trump encouraged its members. So did his allies in Congress, and so did the far-right propagandists who support him. For a few hours, they prevailed.”

It is no wonder the enemies of democracy were gleefully poking fun at the Americans.

Thanks largely to our American colonial history and scores of relatives and friends who immigrated to the US, we can readily see what this means, this danger to the American democracy project.

Many of us strongly believe, as the Americans, that the path to the peaceful resolution of conflict, the way to resolve our own disputes, is the use of elections and debate instead of violence.

While we do have some major issues with our democracy, there is now then the danger that what happened at the US Capitol may lead us to paths unknown.

As Applebaum warns, “The power of America’s example will be dimmer than it once was; American arguments will be harder to hear. American calls for democracy can be thrown back with scorn: You don’t believe in it anymore, so why should we?’’

The US Capitol assault clearly shows imperfections of the American model. But at the same time, these imperfections also mirror our very own troubled imperfections.

Striking parallels, for instance, can be made on how the Capitol assault came to be and where we are now finding ourselves at.

Many American social and political theorists are already making the case that dangerous social media echo chambers pervading American political conversations are largely accountable for the assault.

Just like the Americans, we Filipinos have become heavy consumers of hyper-partisan views spewed by very powerful social media systems.

And, these unprecedented times are creating a self-fulfilling cycle where deluded partisans often feel justified in menacing and threatening those who don’t agree with their views, to the extent fascistic uncivil behavior is as typical as the “walis tambo.”

We plainly cannot go on with such fascistic incivilities formed by mass delusion. Continuing to do so will endanger our own democratic brand just as the Americans have found out to their disgust of theirs.

Still, even if we do not subscribe to all things American, the enduring lesson of what is happening to them is that we, too, have a lot of hard work ahead of us to achieve our own democratic ideals.

It is still up to each one of us to make our own democracy work.

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