Like many of you, I posted about the U.S. election. And, like many of you, I became party to an interesting exchange with a Trump-supporting Facebook friend. Trump, he said, would not sell out to China. “You already have Duterte,” he continued. “...who’s already selling out to China. Your country will be even more sold out if Biden is elected.”
Geopolitics is never that simple, but admittedly, my response was driven by a simple yes or no question: Is there any U.S. election result that can actually get our President to start standing up to China? The answer in my head was a resounding “no,” which means this election result might be all meaningless in terms of the territorial dispute and the ongoing economic imperialism.
The United States of America will not suddenly turn into the world police and bomb China’s artificial islands. Even if they elect a hawkish President, they will not “liberate” China and pour their freedom juice down Xi Jinping’s throat. When Russia annexed Crimea, the Obama administration instituted a trade ban on Russia and offered “nonlethal” assistance to Ukraine. The Trump administration, on the other hand, offered “lethal” assistance, including javelins and anti-tank missiles. Realistically, a more aggressive U.S. might simply try and negotiate a renewed military presence in the Philippines, or offer to sell us vessels, weapons, and whatever else will compose a “minimum credible defense posture.” But will any of that help? No. Not without major reforms in how we do things right here.
A tough question, emblematic of the problem of relying on foreign governments: What will we do with equipment if we don’t have people? There are four security guards in the Philippines for every member of the AFP—and recruitment is hamstrung by a pension system that is prone to budgetary bloat. Our population has doubled since 1986, but the number of those in the uniformed services has remained the same. And even if we do want American bases here, who’s to say that Donald Trump won’t charge us an arm and a leg for it, considering he threatened to do the same to South Korea?
Someone might say: “Trump started a trade war with China!” But how did that work out? It made life painful for American farmers without even meeting its primary objective of reviving U.S. manufacturing. Not to mention it also damaged the world economy. Can you really imagine the United States telling China: “Hey, stop bullying the Philippines, or we’ll hurt you even more?”
Admittedly, there are a bunch of important issues that could be impacted by the U.S. election. They might influence regulations on Facebook and Twitter and Tiktok. They might charge more in taxes to the companies that hire BPOs here. We are trade partners, and we have what diplomats like to call “strong people to people relations.” But historically, perhaps the most dangerous thing the U.S. has done, apart from buying us from the Spanish and colonizing us, has been to embolden fascists. Ronald Reagan was a known close friend of the Marcoses. Donald Trump congratulated Duterte during a call “because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem,” according to a transcript acquired by the Washington Post.
If I had to view the U.S. election based on a single issue, this would be it. Joe Biden would not stroke our President’s ego in such a sensual manner, at least not outwardly. That already counts for so much. Of course, there are philosophical and emotional reasons for supporting a Biden victory. A rejection of Trump would be a rejection of his leadership, which has served as the most visible global manifestation of xenophobia and authoritarianism. A rejection of Trump would be a victory for the truth, especially given his baseless claims about his opponents trying to “steal” the election. A rejection of Trump will give the world an unforgettable visual of a “strongman” whining until the end of his rotten, meaningless life, knowing that he will go down as the worst President in American history.
Strongmen with cult followings can be beaten. Working toward a more compassionate and rational government can bear fruit, if we do it right. But when work gets so hard, sometimes we need proof that this is all headed somewhere. If anyone was wondering why this election matters so much to people who aren’t American, it might be that. We need the energy and the hope to keep going. We will keep going regardless. But it never hurts to see that leaders like Trump can fall—that they can be eventually brought to justice; that the truth can sometimes win over the lies.
As for the fate of the Philippines, that should be up to the Philippines. Biden vs. Trump—or U.S. vs. China—are only secondary questions, important as they may be. We need to stop asking which of these foreign Presidents will take better care of us. There is no problem with finding inspiration elsewhere—whether it’s the fall of a foreign cult leader or the Pope supporting same-sex civil unions—but the important question is: What’s the inspiration for? What do we do with all this motivation? Our answers will ultimately dictate whether or not we can take care of our damn selves, or whether we’ll keep debating about which superpower we should kowtow to.
[Gian Lao was a speechwriter of President Benigno S. Aquino III from 2010-2016. While there, he wrote about issues such as energy, business, economics, and foreign affairs.]