Language, Trump, Duterte

The Swedes wondered what Trump was talking about at his bloviating rally in Florida (a rally to help out his ego after being slaughtered by citizens, intelligence community, and media for the savage executive orders and patent incompetence of his opening weeks in office)—when Trump said, “You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this?” And Sweden started head-scratching about what the hell was happening last night in Sweden—a wooden moose got the attention of a lovesick bull??

The articles on his speech were funny—but too familiar for Filipinos.

Trump is too much like Filipino president Duterte: people scratch their heads over his dumb dangerous comments, then the man backtracks and says he was referring not to a terror attack but to blablabla (in this case an equally foolish exchange on Sweden in Fox News)—he is an incoherent mess, where when he talks about “last night” he means a goddamned news show he watched, not an actual night in Sweden. The horrific narcissism in that slip of the tongue just boggles the mind.

Then his White House will say righteous things about bad media who hate him and the malevolent hearers who distort him—just as in the Philippines after every Duterte press con, his Palace people have to come out and be sycophant translators of the man’s fentanyl dementia.

This Trump presidency mirrors Duterte because for both leaders their speech shows constant psychopathological slips of the tongue. Their speech shows their frequent lapses into insanity, but in banal and kind of comic ways—parapraxes that are seemingly trivial. They actually sound funny. But deranged words are serious business, even if you’re not the leader of your world.

Trump and Duterte’s language shows they are unable to process information in a reality-based way. But the problem is their countries’ citizens (and in this case poor Swedes too) make an attempt to process their speech: we become entwined in the scary contortions of their deep neurosis, laid bare by their weird words.

If reports on Duterte as mastermind of death squads is true, a man who actually handed out money for kills, then his lapses in speech have a much more ominous pall: they cover up/reveal a much more disturbing figure than someone who insults and swears at popes or foreign presidents. His violent Tourettesian invective begins, in hindsight, to rise like semaphores of a deep-seated loathing in Duterte—but in a Catholic country where in some ways confessing your sins soothes you, what sin were we actually being asked to attend to whenever he said fuck-you to obvious figures of authority in his juvenile mind, like the Pope or the United Nations? Duterte is always telling us how fucked up he is, reveling in his fucked-upness—when the truth comes out about Davao’s Death Squads (I will admit, I believe that truth will be grave and horrifying), his fucking words have already told us, putang ina, all we needed to know: that Duterte believes in his heart he is a mess and he’s telling us his mother should not have borne him, putang ina (which makes him sad, actually, though not tragic—nor, for me, would it rouse any sympathy for him).

Whether Trump’s bigoted speech during his campaign was merely calculating was up for grabs for some people (not me) but we see now a psychotic view of race that his policies betray: the violent focus on vulnerable brown and foreign bodies in his executive orders—immigrants, refugees, including their children—is one with Trump’s (psychotically) racist comments and beliefs on criminal blacks and, of course, his horror of the sheer being of Barack Obama, original birther that Trump is.

Of course Trump is also one with the psychotically racist people who voted for him—at the heart of America is its unresolved issue of race, which makes America a weirdly high-functioning schizophrenic place. And of course the political calculus of keeping immigrants out helps the GOP in its historically perverse, Southern-anti-Reconstruction delusion that a political lynching of brown bodies will mean fewer anti-GOP voters.

But as we know we can view this in overdetermined ways: just because an action might be politically rational does not mean it may not also be deeply disturbed.

The psychopathologies of these men’s tongues might seem comic and even trivial on one hand. But lapses in language are always the most puzzling but most powerful signs of a self’s division. We are dealing with damaged people here. They will keep sounding funny but of course we know they are profoundly not.

And what then is the end, what then is the point of recognizing the madness of leaders?

Quite simply: we must protect the vulnerable that their insanity kills.

We must protect and fight for the adult former-children of DACA, the immigrants rounded up unconstitutionally by ICE, the refugees who will have no home despite all their extreme vetting and extreme suffering, the poor who will lose their health care, the women whose bodies will not be free to choose under this Trump/Pence idiot regime.

We must work for the victims of the anti-drug war slaughter in the Philippines—who are almost, to the individual, poor and outrageously hopeless in a society that degrades them. Civil society groups are helping out—IDefend, FLAG, and so on. We must help those groups. I am hoping we in Filipino America can band together in the future to help those victims: an idea for that, coming up soon.

9 thoughts on “Language, Trump, Duterte

  1. Powerful piece. I’m guessing you have read the two James Fenton pieces in NYRB on Duterte, and Miguel Syjuco has published a couple of excellent pieces in Griffith Repvuew (Australian journal), and a very good Australian non-fiction writer-journalist-academic at Melbourne University, Australia, has written two moving pieces about Manila, hikdren, drugs, crime in The Monthly. She is Head of Melbourne University’s Centre fir Investigative Journalism.

      1. If you go to Noel King on Facebook and choose the one that has no picture because I don’t know how to put one there, you should fund the Fenton pieces. I’ll try to put up the Margaret Simons pieces, one from 2015 about children and sexual trafficking and one from 2017 on Duterte’s war on drugs.

  2. “They are slaughtering us like animals”. NYT Dec 2016. How is it that 80 percent of Filipinos support the man causing this agony? You state the voters for Trump are “psychotic racists”. What words describe the voters for Dutuerte? I cried when I saw the children at the casket of their father in the NYT article. The country you have chosen to reside has racism and a bad president. You know though, from living here, of our decency. You must be able to imagine that quality even within the soul of a Trump voter. You know the meaning of Obama’s words about the U.S.: ” a country where every life has value”. The PI is showing it belongs to those places that make the US exceptional and Obama’s pride well placed. Our faults and Trump’s faults are many but they do not falsify Obama’s statement. I am perplexed at your venom toward our (your) politics/country.

    1. If you can imagine decency in the Trump voter but not decency in the Filipino voter, you need to think again, as your implication is quite racist. If you will be defensive when I bring up the deeply racist society in which you (and I) live in America—which by the way will keep the US on its spiral downward, no matter what you think of its decency (and yes, Americans have decency, just as Filipinos do)—then you are in trouble. You will not be able to help change the United States. The American problem is racism: we need to accept that, confront it, deal with it, and fight it. To be setting up false equivalencies with whatever is going on elsewhere, in the Philippines or anywhere else, is to be defensive and elides the deeply troubling racist world that is America: this defensiveness is a problem for any thinking American. I hope you understand where I am coming from: it is not from a place of spite. It is from a place of honest and imperative healing. All my best.

  3. Everyone knows Filipinos are the world’s lovely people. My wife is from Tarlac. Obama’s words are what we need to consider. Our flaws here are many. Putting those flaws in context of the hope/progress/human rights of the US is what Obama spoke of repeatedly. I feel your blog and the response you just made fail to acknowledge that. It matters that the US has an “arc of justice” when we think of the flaws here. Our last president was basically saying that and of course also not denying injustice here. I believe it is also fair to say to the Filipinos who broadly support a murderer to think harder about universal human rights. The US, as you pointed out, should say that as a member of the world community.

    1. You may think as you wish. You are defensive of your country which, by the way, is currently led by Trump. The arc of justice is quite shortened at the moment. You prefer your version. That is your prerogative. You must give others their own choices as well: my blog is likely not for you. All my best.

      1. I think respectful dissent ( my comments on your blog for example) are wonderful. I might have thought you would treasure dissent. We both have felt the converse: the stifling society of the Marcos regime. Let’s fight for more justice here in our country and in the Philippines. Wonderful things happen when we do that.

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