WE LIVE in a democratic society. Or at least we think we do. And by this, we come to accept the implicit assumption that the voice of the majority, whenever it is spoken, always prevails.
For instance, our political institutions are supposed to be designed to hear this voice loud and clear. Elections, whenever they are held, choose candidates that the majority of electorates favor the most. And for many democratic societies, this has worked well, for the most part. Including our own.
The problem is, even the best of intentions can have unintended, negative consequences. Sometimes, it is not clear what the “majority” really wants.
In recent times, the problem became apparent during the electoral contest between former US president George W. Bush, and former vice-president Al Gore. In an election that went down the wire, Bush won the electoral college votes, but Al Gore garnered the most popular votes. Simply put, more people wanted Gore, but more states wanted Bush.
This was not supposed to happen. To paraphrase a popular quote, it was supposed to be “vox populi, vox states.” But somehow, the mechanism that was supposed to ensure that the voice of individual states was heard, had resulted in the voice of the majority of the population being drowned out. The minority had spoken, as a consequence.
However, even as the Bush-Gore issue was vexing, it did not seem to be all that problematic. The Bush presidency, though marked by instances of less-than-great governance, was not disastrous, by any means. The same, however, cannot be said of the Trump administration.
Like Bush, Trump came to power on the vagaries of the electoral college system. Fewer people voted for him, and yet he won more electoral college votes, and thus became the duly elected president of the United States. Forget the fact that he does not admit to losing the popular vote (on his assertion that there was massive “fraud” perpetrated by illegal voters, which has never been proven), the established fact is that fewer Americans like him than favor him. And this is where the difficulties now begin.
The result of the Trump presidency is a society torn unto itself. The Trump supporters, feeling empowered as the “majority,” feel themselves entitled to the consequences of his victory. On the other hand, the real majority of Americans feel “robbed” of their rights, and quite rightly believe that they are being ruled by a tyrannical minority mob, who are not interested in advancing the greater good.
Same thing goes for the Philippines.
Before Martial Law blighted our land, we had a perfectly stable two-party system, which almost made certain that whoever was elected into office really was the choice of the majority, that portion of the voting population that makes up more than half of the total.
The problem was, to advance his own agenda, former president Ferdinan Marcos did away with the two-party system, giving rise to “plurality politics,” for which the country is now paying the price.
As a case in point, the current president only has 39 percent of the country’s voters behind him. And given his very divisive style of governance, he has driven a very deep wedge in Philippine society that will take many years to heal, even long after he is gone.
This is an existential flaw of many democratic societies that need fixing, and fast.
Otherwise, Abraham Lincoln’s popular exhortation of democracy may in the future metamorphose into “a government of some people, for some people, and by some people.”
Published in the SunStar Cebu newspaper on September 25, 2017.
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