I’ve been deep diving into the Marcos social media machinery. This rabbit hole is not for the fainthearted. On the surface, it’s a return to the Golden Age of “nutri-buns” and mythical treasure, but there’s also powerful psychology at work. I found myself smiling and even enjoying the stuff despite knowing it was all fake.
I then realized my mistake. I assumed that Marcos Jr. offered certainty. He isn’t. He is selling a dream. Yes, the “Golden Age” is a lie. But fantasies become viable when reality isn’t any better. The Marcos machine exploits us by showing how even “good presidents” failed to help the middle class and the poor. A rider I met says, “Kahit sino naman presidente, sila-sila lang din uma-asenso.” (Lila Shahani maps this out in this piece.)
His cynicism has basis. A candidate recently voiced how the problems farmers share are the same problems they’ve been fighting for 20 years. The poor are wooed to vote but are excluded after the “chosen one” wins. And now, they’ve had enough.
Marcos Jr. presents the frustrated electorate a chance to upend the setup – the same fuel Trump used for “MAGA.” Never mind that Trump was a billionaire (like Marcos Jr.) claiming to lead a “revolt” against the elites. As a Trump voter stated in the Guardian, “We have voted with our principle and our conscience for all these years, and where has it gotten us? It’s time to vote to shake things up.”
Marcos Jr.’s offer of a Golden Age is thus both “revolutionary” and escapist. It’s packaged as a vision, not a platform, because “dreams” are galvanizing. Martin Luther King used his to convince people to march across the United States. Rizal talked about his to inspire resistance against a vastly superior army. Yes, Marcos Jr. relies on his father’s cult of personality and a disinformation machine, but his product is also a proven historical formula. He has pilfered the noble themes of change, revolution, and relief before our very eyes.
Strategy of silence
This ruse can still be Marcos Jr.’s undoing. His vision lacks substance, and he knows it. He also lacks Trump’s glibness, hence his “strategy of silence” (avoiding mainstream media and ambush interviews). His reliance on his father’s mythology exposes another potential pain point, that old myths fade against newer, greater stories.
To wean people away from the Marcos’ illusion, there must be an equally vivid yet more compelling offer. We are fighting a religion. Lectures and “truth bombs” don’t work. True, we need to demolish Marcos Jr’s illusion, but it is folly to not offer a ready replacement. For decades, “good” clans and businesses let others do the fighting, saying “we have too much to lose.” Well, now the Marcos resurgence is here. And those who have nothing are saying, “What’s there to fight for?”
We need to give them one. The Marcos “Golden Age” might be exploitative but a competing vision/dream need not have to be. In Trumpism, Marcos Jr. had the right strategy but used a bad example. With the ravages of COVID-19 as a backdrop, a sounder historical reference exists: the Great Depression.
By 1932, more than 12 million Americans were jobless. People were starving, and small businesses had collapsed. Then-US President Hoover (like Duterte) resorted to denialism such as, “No one is actually starving”. Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) was the Democratic candidate who faced an uphill battle. The last time a Democrat won a handy majority was in 1852 (80 years before). Worse, the public was disenchanted with the entire American experiment, much like our people today are tired of our “elite democracy”. FDR knew he couldn’t offer a mere return to normalcy. So he shared a vision of a new future. A dream people could rally behind. He called it a “New Deal.”
FDR’s vision was much more than a platform of government. It has been described as “equal parts spiritual revival, political campaign, and wartime mobilization.” It was a dream that inspired not through big words but, by giving people tangible relief. He also offered to fight for them. Arguably his greatest speech during that campaign (the Baltimore Address) goes: “I am waging a war in this campaign…a frontal attack against the Four Horsemen of…Destruction.Delay.Deceit.Despair.” FDR didn’t attack Hoover as much as he attacked the prevailing system of “democratic paralysis.”
Win back people’s trust
Like the Great Depression, the destruction of the pandemic affords an opportunity to inspire a disillusioned public and give them something to fight for. In her Nobel lecture, Maria Ressa observed that “[w]e are standing on the rubble of the world that was”. In this new world, a jaded electorate will not march just to preserve the status quo. Not when Marcos Jr/Trump’s offer is to flip the table. One of my students lives and volunteers in Tondo. She said her neighbors would ask, “Will they listen to us when they win?” While our staff tells me, “’Yung mga backer nila, sila din magdidikta,” and adds this challenge, “Sir, bumoboto naman kami ng tama pero may nagbabago ba?”
COVID-19 presents an opening to win back the people’s trust. Pope Francis signals this in his 2020 Encyclical where he denounced “trickle-down economics” and “the destructive effects of the empire of money.” Movements like those of Greta Thunberg and AOC also reflect where the inheritors of the planet stand. The irony is, as one presidential candidate observes, the platforms for 2022 are essentially the same. Except for Marcos Jr.’s. Incredulously, it’s his Golden Age that appears to heed the Pope’s calls for “equitable redistribution to help the poorest” – by burning the house down.
The counteroffer to the Marcos illusion must be one that faces what the Pope calls “outdated criteria which continue to rule the world.” Radical love powerfully binds existing supporters. But winning back the disillusioned will require radical changes – not unlike those that FDR used to rally his people. Today, we take for granted conventions like the minimum wage, social security, old age pensions, natural resources regulation and even the very concept of an SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission). But, at the time FDR unveiled them as part of his New Deal they were literally ground-breaking. Incidentally, FDR didn’t just win by a landslide, he also created a platform for the Democratic party’s dominance well into the 1960s.
Will a “new deal” bother big ticket sponsors? Perhaps. (It certainly gave Republicans apoplexy when FDR revealed his version). Systemic reforms have never been popular with entrenched interests. But if that’s what’s holding us back, then the Marcosian narrative really has truth in it then. And their disinformation machine relishes timid, middle-of-the-road competition. If “good” business fears socio-economic reforms that a Pope favors, they should consider that at this point the alternative would be those decreed by the heir of a dictator.
A New Deal for 2022 demands a credible champion. It is resistant to fraud. (Which is probably why the Marcos machine models Trump instead). It requires one whose story and life’s work is the anti-thesis of what Marcos Jr. is. The Marcoses may have purloined a narrative of revolution but, that wavers against a person who spent a life fighting an oppressive system in all its forms.
With inherent clarity of word and voice, we can imagine that champion intoning FDR’s words in Baltimore to transform the national mood:
“Destruction has done its worst. But there still remains a country of vast resources, filled with people of spirit and strength. Delay has made destruction ten times the worse. But it is not too late to build a policy of reconstruction. They have sought to deceive. They have sought to confuse. But the [American] people have learned how to know deceit because they met it… We, the people of this country, have lived too long and suffered too deeply to be frightened, to be intimidated by selfish [and unAmerican] employers, and other mongers of fear. We [Americans] will rise from destruction; we [Americans] will conquer despair; we [Americans] are facing new things. With confidence we accept the promise of a ‘New Deal’.”
That champion exists. And we all know who it is. What remains is to offer the great people of this nation what they’ve been denied of for so long. Give them a new deal. Give them something to fight for. – Rappler.com
John Molo is a commercial law litigator who enjoys reading and learning about the Constitution and its intersection with politics. He teaches Constitutional Law at UP Law-BGC, where he also chairs the Political Law Cluster of the Faculty. He led the team that sued the Aquino administration and invalidated the Priority Development Assistance Fund.