The Rise of Tough Leaders and Their Populist Agenda

The world was stunned when Brexit campaigners pulled a stunning victory, forcing the UK out of the EU. The right wingers painted immigrants as the main reason behind UK’s woes and eliminating them in the picture via Brexit could lead to a positive change. This victory was replicated in an even more stunning upset by another tough leader, Donald Trump, whom no one thought would come an inch closer to the White House. He also made immigration a focal point of his campaign. He has also painted a chaotic picture of the country and made himself the only one who could salvage the situation.

Since these victories, we have seen the rise of more right wing ideologies in many other countries. Italy’s Matteo Renzi was also forced out of office after Italians failed to support him in the economic reform referendum he has proposed. Marine Le Pen is also quickly rising in France as a replacement to President Francois Hollande.

Whether it’s Trump of the US, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson of the UK or Le Pen of France, they all push for almost the same policies – anti-immigration and crackdown on criminals. They also share the same sharp tongues who speak without holding anything back.

The man who won before

Before we saw the rise of these leaders in the West, one man has already taken that spot earlier in 2016 – a our very own President Rodrigo Duterte. Unlike those Western leaders though, his victory was pretty much sealed right from the start. Even if he has detractors especially from the major institutions of the country, he has the backing of the majority of the Filipino people.

Despite the fact that he has cursed popular figures like the Pope and former US President Barrack Obama, he remains popular. He even tried cozying up to China and Russia, which is a 360 degree turn on the policies proposed by the previous administration. The anti-China sentiment in the Philippines remains strong, but if this is what Duterte wants, his followers will give a willing nod.

Creating an enemy and being the savior

Aside from their policies and strength as leaders, these right wing ideologists also have the same strategies. They start by painting someone else as the enemy. In the case of Duterte, he has made drug offenders as public enemy number one. Anyone who is sympathetic to these people (whether they have been proven guilty or not) are painted with the same brush and are deemed as the enemy.

Another strategy is to be more dramatic about the current situation of the country. He has drawn the line that anyone involved in drugs, regardless of the reason or gravity of the crime, deserves punishment. Whether it is beyond what is permitted by the law, it doesn’t matter. In the case of Western leaders like Trump, they paint all Muslim immigrants as terrorists. This is how he justifies his executive order to ban citizens from 7 Muslim-majority countries to travel to the US.

By succeeding in their crusade, they have won the hearts of their followers even more. Since Duterte took office, he has cracked down hundreds upon thousands of drug addicts. Although most of them are not major drug offenders and others have already left the trade, their death or capture was claimed as a victory for the government.

Taking decency out of public discourse

Before the world has seen female leaders, it was pretty much a patriarchal society. Almost anywhere in the world, only men were given major political powers. Women were left home to take care of the kids. Men were deemed tough enough to lead a society or fight battles while women are too weak.

Until now, a lot of people think the same way. Men who look tough and act tough are better leaders. This is why Trump’s outspokenness won the hearts of many. The same thing is true with Duterte. He can’t help himself and curse in public, or even make insensitive jokes. His followers think of his strategy as an act of bravery rather than a sign of indecency.

This is how he keeps winning in the eyes of his supporters. For them, name calling his opponents and pinning them down with words make him a successful leader. To begin with, they are enemies and they deserve to be shut down.

A moment of reflection

You might be familiar of superhero films like Superman where the recurring plot is that the superhero wants to do everything to finish the villain off. In the process, he killed a lot of people, destroyed properties, and betrayed friends. In the middle of the road, these superheroes take time to pause and ask themselves if they are still doing the right thing.

We have come to a point where we have to take a step back and see where we are now. Perhaps, for most people who believe in these strong leaders, achieving the goal whatever the strategy is the way to go. There is nothing wrong in pointing out the problems and trying to solve them. As long as we remain in the realms of reality and decency, we can all rally behind these efforts.

However, if with these agenda, we are turning our backs against each other and make us divided more than ever, perhaps something has to change.

In the end though, whether you believe in right or left wing ideologies, we belong in one nation. We must all unite in achieving the same goals for the country. Yes, we have to be supportive in the efforts made by our elected leaders. If these actions though are tearing us apart, we have to resist.