Anne Applebaum: ‘Trump and other demagogues stifle debate through art of distraction’

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Anne Applebaum: ‘Trump and other demagogues stifle debate through art of distraction’


Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands traveling from Central America en route to the United States, walk along the highway to Matias Romero from Juchitan, Mexico. Photo: REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands traveling from Central America en route to the United States, walk along the highway to Matias Romero from Juchitan, Mexico. Photo: REUTERS/Hannah McKay

In Manila, the traffic is so bad that it isn’t worth driving anywhere during the day, because a couple of kilometres will take a couple of hours. In other parts of the Philippines, only a third of children ever finish primary school. Nevertheless, the loudest political debate in the Philippines, over the past two years, was not about public transport or public education.

Ever since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power in 2016, the loudest, and angriest, debates are about drugs and drug users. “I would kill all of you who make the lives of Filipinos miserable,” he declared during his election campaign. Since winning, he has indeed presided over the murder of up to 12,000 men, women and children, according to some rights groups; these are, by his own admission, extrajudicial killings, carried out with no evidence and no trial.

This policy has polarised the Philippines. Duterte has successfully divided the country into supporters (“people who want us to be safe”) and opponents (“people who want us to be unsafe”). In time that could have been spent on a discussion about fixing roads and schools, Filipinos had emotional arguments about violence, safety – and the president.

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