I was talking with Filipino poet Larry Ypil recently, who was agonising over a recent move in his country by president Rodrigo Duterte. Duterte wants to give a hero’s burial to the remains of former, brutal dictator Ferdinand Marcos. It’s not hard to see why my friend was distressed – Marcos’s corrupt government killed thousands, and tortured countless more. Moving his body from its state of open unburial in a glass case in Ilocos Norte to the Heroes’ Cemetery in Manila achieves two things simultaneously: it recasts or at least softens his legacy of turmoil, and, in the act of burial itself, encourages forgetfulness. Neither should be tolerated, but, in the wake of Trump’s presidential win, we especially need to understand that last as dangerous.
I half-joked at the time that the Philippines had already elected its own version of Trump, and that he was every bit as unpredictable and damaging and violent as people fear a Trump presidency would be. The analogy holds up well. Duterte is a maverick candidate with a strong-man approach to foreign policy, who has said horrifying things about women and promised not just to crack down on crime, but to outright murder criminals. He has remarked of an Australian woman who was gang-raped and killed in Davao in 1989 that he, as Davao’s mayor at the time, should have been first to rape her. In the ensuing controversy, when his own daughter revealed she was a rape victim but would still vote for him, he dismissed her claim, saying she was a “drama queen”. He has actively vowed to kill tens of thousands of supposed criminals without trial, and then give himself a presidential pardon afterward. He won in a landslide.
Trump’s comments and actions toward women, including, allegedly, multiple incidents of sexual assault and rape, have been well documented. His racism, his contempt not just for Mexicans and Muslims—epitomised by the plan to build a wall for the former, and to ban the latter—but for foreign countries as a whole, is also well-documented. Endorsed by the KKK and championed by white supremacists everywhere, his election is a direct rejection of non-white citizens, and all non-white, non-straight bodies in America are in direct danger as a result. I will state the obvious in saying that this rejection of non-white citizens existed before he was elected, and that it will now get worse.
People of colour have never been more vocal, with the Black Lives Matter movement reverberating around the world and black artists brilliantly exploring racism in literature, in film, on TV, and in music – and white people have never felt more irrelevant. White supremacy, in all its various forms, inert and overt, is and has been under attack. It follows that this entrenched monstrosity in Western society will not die without a fight, and would in fact respond by throwing its very worst at Americans. White supremacy has similarly fought back here in Australia giving us the election of extreme racists within One Nation and the Coalition, and in the U.K. with the Brexit vote. No matter what these wealthy white politicians tell you after their election, this is in fact business as usual – only now the disguises are gone. With Islamophobia at fever pitch, and xenophobia and misinformation at saturation level, they feel safe in trumpeting their white nationalism today as they once used to in decades past.
There are some who will say that Trump won’t follow through on his various extreme plans to displace and reject coloured bodies, and there are some who are, like Duterte is doing to Marcos’s legacy in the Philippines, already moving to recast or bury his history of awfulness. Who knows how far this revisionism will go? As a queer Muslim man looking at an American Vice President with a history of levelling systemic violence against LGBTQIA people, and a President who wants to ban Muslims and/or put them in camps, I can tell you without hesitation that this revisionism, or extreme normalising of concepts once held as abhorrent, is far and away the biggest danger to us all. It is important to note that, if the parallels to Duterte remain consistent, he will follow through on his promises. Duterte’s killing spree has been well reported, and, what’s more, he remains wildly popular. Which is to say: don’t expect the first act of mass violence to shock you out of your stupor. If you weren’t shocked into acting before now, chances are you never will be.
Violence against Others, who are typically painted as criminals and thugs anyway, is the mandate that America has given to Trump. Don’t expect anything less than bloody consequences as a result. As to why this is happening, I’ll tell you what I told my friend: the strong-man con is as old as time, and still effective. Australia, too, loves brutality and equates cold cruelties with strength. Be afraid, be afraid, be afraid, they say, look at all these refugees/immigrants. We must keep them in cages, in distant prisons, shrouded by secrecy. Behind walls. We must hurt them. This ‘strength’ comes across as reassuring in a ‘time of uncertainty’ – as if any time has ever been anything but uncertain, as if certainty isn’t a lie. But people tolerate this brutality because it is not their bodies being crushed to create comfort, not their histories distorted by lies or outright suppressed, and knowing this is also comforting. To see it happening to others is to think, Well, it can’t happen to me. Look, the grinder is full of meat, and it will be full so long as we keep feeding it other people.
I won’t tell you how to respond to this event, as I barely know how myself. However, Ypil said this, while talking about a candlelit protest of Duterte’s decision: “In dark times, the least I hope for is that it gathers the best into one place, so that people can begin to sing.” So I’ll say this to my queer, black, indigenous, culturally and linguistically diverse family, at home and abroad: I hope to see you in this gathering place, online and in life. I hope, no matter the forces arrayed against us, to hear you sing as we have been singing all this time.