"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Speaking The Unthinkable–Considering Extrajudicial Means Of Governance

Rodrigo Duterte has recently (May 2016) been elected President of the Philippines.  A seasoned politician who was the popular mayor of Davao for over twenty years ran on a platform which combined progressivism (respect for LGBT rights, favorable tax rates for the poor, continuation of cash transfers to alleviate poverty, agrarian reform), moderate economic policies favoring private foreign investment and rebuilding Filipino industry, and uncompromisingly tough measures to stamp out crime and eliminate ethnic violence.

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The Philippines’ murder rate ranks 13th in the world.  Its rape rate ranks 10th.  The methamphetamine epidemic in the country is the worst in Asia and growing in scope and severity. While some areas have reported decreases in crime (such as in Duterte’s city of Davao) other areas have seen notable spikes.

However, independent sources (Numbeo) have reported that the perceived crime threat (violent crime, property crime, assault) for Metro Manila high and increasing that a significant percentage of residents fear going out at night.   Although as in most countries with high crime rates, the perception of crime is often higher than the facts justify.  It is this perception and not the facts which influence political campaigns.

President-elect Duterte ran on his tough stance on crime during his tenure as mayor of Davao:
Popular with the locals due to his successful zero tolerance policies against criminals, he earned the nickname "The Punisher". Vigilante groups tied to Duterte are thought to be responsible for the execution of drug traffickers, criminals, gang members and other lawless elements. Over a period of 20 years, he turned Davao City from the "murder capital of The Philippines" to what tourism organizations now describe as "the most peaceful city in southeast Asia," and what numbeo.com ranks as the world's fourth safest place (Wikipedia)
During the campaign Duterte focused on another problem often cited by Filipinos – corruption.  Transparency International ranks the Philippines near the bottom of its international list, and corruption is felt at every level of society.   Building on his reputation as a hardliner against crime, Duterte promised to apply the same no-holds-barred approach to corruption.

Islamist insurgency in the southern island of Mindanao has resulted in thousands of deaths, and Filipinos are weary of decades of civil strife.  Duterte, who comes from the region and has established lines of communication with rebel groups promises to bring the conflict to an end either through negotiation and reason or through force.

CNN reports on the inbred political system in the Philippines – family dynasties which have controlled power and wealth for years. 
Up to 70% of Filipino legislators hail from political dynasties, and the economic picture reveals a similar tendency. In 2011, for instance, the 40 richest families swallowed up to 76% of newly-created growth in recent years -- the highest rate of growth-concentration in the Asia-Pacific region.
 Voters already favorable to Duterte’s no-nonsense approach to crime, expect him, outside the ring of political legacy, to take a strong and principled stand against illegal concentrations of wealth and abuse of power wherever they occur.
Almost half a century ago, Harvard University professor Samuel Huntington observed a counter-intuitive connection between accelerated economic growth and political polarization.
Throughout the past few years, we have seen examples of this in numerous nations, with a series of tough-talking, single-minded politicians making inroads across rapidly growing but dysfunctional democracies such as Indonesia, India, Peru, and the Philippines
Even established democracies such as the U.S. are falling for the strongman syndrome -- the misguided belief that a single strong leader can save the whole nation -- as most pronounced in the rise of Donald Trump (CNN)
 The move away from liberal democracy to authoritarianism can also be seen in Russia, China, the Middle East, and increasingly in Western Europe.   Citizens in all these regions are increasingly disturbed about levels of civic disorder and the threat of political and social divisions to culture, international status, and economic growth. 

China has long stated that economic growth and rational distribution of wealth takes priority over civil rights.  Giving up certain individual rights for the sake of the commonweal  is the responsibility of every Chinese citizen.   China’s absolute intolerance for rebellious ethnic groups such as the Uighurs and the Tibetans has great support within the majority Han population which sees any disruption of the well-knit national fabric a threat to well-being and prosperity.

There are allegations that China’s policy against rebellious ethnicities is not only an abrogation of civil rights but human rights; but neither the Politburo nor of the people seem to object.

Vladimir Putin has been subject to the same allegations concerning his war against Chechnya and Islamic separatism.  There is no room for civic, ethnic, or religious unrest in a country whose President is trying to reestablish its imperial status and geo-political power.  Putin has approval ratings that any American president would wish.

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France, long exemplary for respecting the principles of the Revolution, guaranteeing equal rights to all within the context of liberty, equality, and fraternity, has abruptly abrogated if not eliminated many such rights in the face of Islamic terrorism.  Germany and Scandinavia are questioning their long-standing policies of social tolerance and are more willing to suspend the rights of refugees in an attempt to stave of civil unrest, violence, and a dilution of national culture.

Talks of returning to military rule have surfaced in Brazil, and its case is most like that of the Philippines.  Crime rates, corruption, internecine political fighting, vast inequalities of wealth and privilege, are similar in both countries; and in both the people have said “Enough”.  Despite the brutality of previous military regimes, many Brazilians look back to the days of autocracy as peaceful and harmonious which they were.  

Haiti was a crime-free, peaceful country, congenial to tourism because of the Duvaliers and the Tonton Macoutes.  Since the fall of the Duvaliers, the country has been riven by crime, political violence, corruption, and perpetual civic unrest.  It is no wonder that many poor Haitians have revisionist thoughts about the reinstatement of authoritarianism.

The Tonton Macoutes were accused of extrajudicial killings, all in the name of preserving the absolute authority of the Duvaliers.   The police of Rio de Janeiro have been similarly accused of similar actions in the favelas.  Crime, they say, is not only endemic but viral in the slums, and there is no way that the slow, ponderous, and often corrupt system of justice can possibly deter let alone eliminate crime.

Donald Trump has spoken in similarly harsh and uncompromising terms about immigration and the Islamist threat.  While few Americans take him at his word about deporting all Muslims and forbidding any to enter the United States, they understand the meaning behind the rhetoric.  He is willing to take drastic means to keep illegal immigrants out of the country.  


Although some measure of due process applies to anyone residing in the United States, many Americans are crying “Enough”.  The shilly-shallying of self-serving politicians and their refusal to confront an issue which – like that in Western Europe – threatens not only jobs but culture, must end.  If the so-called ‘rights’ of those here illegally are abrogated, so be it.

There are few people in any country beset by political divisions, civil unrest, and increasing social and cultural divisions that have not at one time thought “Enough”.  The remarkable rise of Donald Trump is due in large part to these phenomena.  Many Americans have felt ignored, put-upon, marginalized, and disrespected by the enforcement of social agenda with which they do not agree.  

Abortion and same-sex marriage, although still debated within the electorate and far from settled, have been decided by judicial fiat.  Police have been vilified, charged, and dismissed within an environment of racial hysteria.  The White House and Congress appear more and more remote and distant from their citizenry.  In a nation where only Black Lives Matter, police brutality, transgender bathrooms, and cloture of debate on campuses and public forums make the news, ‘Enough’ again is not surprising.

There are many reasons to believe that Western-style liberal democracy is losing ground quickly.  Islamic fundamentalism and Russian imperialism both challenge the idea of the nation-state.  God’s law and historical determinism are more important than artificially-drawn borders.  Allegiance to God will always be more important than to any secular ruler.  Cultural integrity does indeed have value, especially if that culture dates back thousands of years.  France considers itself the eldest daughter of the Catholic Church having once saved Europe from the Saracens.  Imperial Russia is a thousand years old, Hindu dynasties date back to the Aryans, and the first Chinese dynasty reigned for 500 years 5000 years ago.

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What is common to all countries or political movements today is the dismissal of judicial rights.  The ends justify the means more than ever before.  Extrajudicial action is not only acceptable but necessary to achieve a higher end.

In other words, not only is liberal democracy under threat, but its foundational principles of law, justice, and individual rights are being shaken.

The world is not simply in social and political array and the West challenged by strong political and military movements; not only is the overall concept of liberal democracy being challenged; but the very foundation and architecture of the system are weakening.

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