Sound and fury… | The Manila Times

GIVEN the extremely heightened emotions in the final two and a half weeks of the election campaign, I am not going to add to the cacophony on specific candidates, especially given I do not consider myself a political analyst or in possession of extra insight or knowledge on the candidates. Yet it would be odd to be oblivious to what passes for the campaigns so will make some general observations instead.

A wise senior banker at Evercore told me in 2016 when we were discussing the American elections — the favorite does not always win, but it is the way to bet. Well, the favorite did not win that year even given the best predictions starting with Nate Silver. He predicted a close win for Hillary, but it was within the margin of error and gave Trump a 1 in 3 chance to win. If one is to consider aggregate of the polls we read in the Philippines as sane, their consistency and margin imply something with a high degree of reliability. I said something similar on ANC and was surprised someone in the live chat asked if I was pro a certain candidate. Are some so rabid and blinkered that if they hear an observation based on fact and analysis that does not go the way they like, they automatically assume the speaker is on the opposite side? If that is a preponderant view, I mourn for our nation. If we can’t differentiate between what we hope for and what is happening, we have much bigger problems that this election will not solve and merely exposed.

Just to be clear as some may not have read my prior articles, I am unenthused by all the campaigns and am not supporting any candidate. I am not seeking any government position and more important, no prospective president is seeking me. So don’t worry. I am not a “stealth” or “Manchurian” journalist, or banker covertly activated into whoever’s campaign or hoping for a position in the next administration and “auditioning” via columns and articles. Take my views as that of someone very worried for the country and the long-term direction I think we are on.

In my relative old age, I have become increasingly frustrated by the tone and subterranean level political campaigns are taking globally in these divisive and social media-empowered times. The Philippines is no exception. As Macbeth says, “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Sadly, this is further amplified on social media by dissemination of disinformation. It is pathetic to see the desperate grasping for a few and often fanciful subatomic particles of good news and trying to present them as nuclear bombs that will obliterate the other side. When I read the Philippine papers these days, thanks to the waning of Covid, what I read first are the updates of NBA results overnight. (I hope the Brooklyn Nets do well but am not optimistic even if they have two transcendent franchise players in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.)

What is wrong with the Shakespeare quote is not its accuracy. It is that even if it is full of sound and fury with little value, it still does have an effect as it means something very important. It is the absence of a mandate for anything substantial for the winner. It will result in merely a mandate for guess what? A person. Nothing other than a buy-in to a personal narrative that had at best a loose connection with reality was endorsed besides platitudes like no corruption, unity and other BOMFOG. That means brotherhood of man under the fellowship of god. In other words, nothing. I owe knowing that phrase to the erudite Justice Azcuna, who used it when he was my professor in “international law” when I was at Ateneo Law School back in the early 1980s. FYI, I am a lapsed lawyer having given it up to become an investment banker but that is a story of no interest to anyone else.

The mandate given will be for some image or persona of someone who wins, not to enact this program or this governing philosophy. Please educate me if I am missing something outside of BOMFOG from any campaign. There are consequences for this as there will be no consensus for any political or economic point of view or program when this type of vision and guidance is sorely necessary. No specific reforms or changes on how we run our government and the like. All just personality and the ascendance or decline of the yellow or red political machine. Perhaps the rise or revival and the decline but probably not the fall of some sub machines or regional ones as well.

It is almost like large parts of the country still act like the “rotten boroughs” of 18th century England. Before the Reform Act of 1832 it meant a small borough or parliamentary constituency which is under the control of an individual or group so that person would have disproportionate influence due to his ironclad control of the seat or seats. They were a very powerful bloc and often held the balance of power. We don’t have extreme rotten or as they were also called pocket boroughs among our districts. Well, maybe a few exceptions given some areas with low populations have a seat. Yet, we seem to have the same effect with local bosses having ironclad control of various constituencies.

Another theme is, are the spin doctors and their patrons spinning themselves the most? On April 10 in New York magazine, Jonathan Chait had an excellent article entitled “Trump, Putin and the Paradox of Propaganda.” Please read it if you can. His main point is captured in the subtitle — “When you set out to brainwash others, you end up brainwashing yourself.” So true and sadly, self-evident. That goes for their supporters too. Based on the limited social media I am exposed to, it is not limited to any economic class in the country either. As Jon Stewart so aptly noted “You have to remember one thing about the will of the people: it wasn’t that long ago that we were swept away by the ‘Macarena’.”

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