Clear Choice? Trump’s Mugshot, Biden By The Banyan

by Emil Guillermo

It’s been a historic week in America. After a debate featuring eight Republicans who couldn’t get arrested, we now have one Republican above them all who can.  Get arrested, that is. Four times in fact.

He’s the Notorious DJT.

And in our strange, twisted democracy a tremendous number of Republicans still can’t quit him.

They’d rather have an autocratic leader than a kind, fair and inspiring one.

They should ask Filipinos who lived through martial law.

But this is where we are in America now.

Consider that we all have historic images of Washington and Lincoln built in our minds. Washington on the Delaware. Lincoln at Gettysburg. And now we have Trump at the Fulton County Jail. A historical presidential mugshot.

Public enemy No. 1? No, the former 45th president of the United States is just inmate P01135809.

Just like anybody else?

The same guy who we all heard on that tape asked the Georgia secretary of state to find 11,780 votes.

It’s just sad that some people still favor the alleged crook. At least, the one good note about our democracy is that the rule of law is working, and Trump is finally being held to account for trying to steal an election.

It’s not a left-wing conspiracy as Trump likes to say. And it’s not a violation of Trump’s free speech. Georgia is prosecuting Trump for his actions over an alleged criminal enterprise conducted with 18 others in an attempt to subvert democracy.

It’s serious business. But Filipinos know how things can change unexpectedly.

Remembering Aquino
If you’re Filipino, you know the importance of these historic moments.

Forty years ago, on Aug. 21, 1983, Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino, the Philippine political activist in exile in the U.S., went home to win back freedom for Filipinos living under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.

Aquino never made it out of the airport, assassinated on the tarmac, apparently by a single gunman. After an investigation, his murder was pinned to 16 members of the Philippine Army loyal to Marcos.

Within ten days after the assassination, I was in Manila at Santo Domingo Church, reporting for the San Francisco NBC station from the funeral mass, and then observing the procession to the Manila Memorial Park.

More than two million people were in the streets mourning for Ninoy, their exiled leader, but also angered by a lost chance at real democracy.

The demonstration was the precursor to People Power, which would lift Ninoy’s wife Cory and ultimately topple Marcos.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could see that kind of demonstration of people going to the streets for democracy and against the possibility of an autocratic leader?

Not in the Philippines, but here in the U.S.

That’s the spark missing in American politics. Leaders here aren’t beloved and respected for the same values and ideals in democracy.

In the U.S., a personality cult has a stranglehold on politics. A loyal minority has an irrational love for the twice-impeached former president, indicted four times on 91 criminal counts in two states and federal court.

And now, with the fourth arrest, Trump has already begun to sell his mug shot on merch to his adoring fans. It exposes how timid so-called Republican leaders were to speak out against Trump.

Republican candidates are in fear of Donald Trump, pulling their punches if they’re punching at all. And Vivek Ramaswamy, as smart as he is, just wants to be the Brown Trump. You can’t afford to be moral and ethical in politics when you’re running against Trump.

And this is where we are as a democracy in America. The U.S., which colonized the Philippines in 1898 and then showed it how to model and do democracy, has flipped.

How is it that in 2023, our country seems less like the America we know and love and more like the Philippines, where they rejected Marcos nearly forty years ago, only to come back to the family?

That’s the power of the memory of Benigno Aquino. In his time, he was the man who would topple a dictatorship, the hope for all democracies. But could we even see two million people on the streets for a pro-democracy political leader in the U.S. today?

Is it even possible when we have people in this country still in love with a former president with a mug shot?

Maui disaster a test in leadership
President Biden finally went to Maui after announcing $700 per household in cash aid to victims of the Maui wildfires. And then there was another pledge by FEMA of $5.6 million in assistance to nearly 2,000 families in Maui.

But money isn’t everything. This was the time for Uncle Joe to act like ohana (family). Not like Trump, who threw rolls of paper towels into the crowd after Hurricane Maria hit San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2017.

We need to see some compassion. A lot of it.

We didn’t get the kind of candor we needed. We got a bit of it last week when Hawaii Governor Josh Green vowed to not let greedy land speculators exploit the people in the aftermath of the wildfires.

That was the sign that everyone needed a little history lesson about Hawaii.

We need leaders to admit that Hawaii is ground zero for a form of economic imperialism. A reminder of how Hawaii did not come begging for statehood and how it was made a U.S. protectorate via a coup staged against her.

Those are the words of Marianne Williamson in her Substack article, “Hawaii’s Broken Heart.”

“Hawaii is deeply sacred land,” she wrote “And her heart has been wounded by the soulless economic overreach of everyone from Dole to Monsanto.”Specifically, James Drummond Dole, who was known as “The Pineapple King.” Aided by exploited Filipino labor, he colonized the spiky fruit and sent it around the world.

He was inspired by his cousin Sanford Dole, a Republican appointed by the U.S. imperial president William McKinley as territorial governor. That wasn’t enough for Dole, who then led a coup against Queen Lili’uokalani in 1893 and became the first president of Hawaii.

Corruption, connections, and greed. This is how paradise has been co-opted in the past. In the modern day, it falls victim to the fury of climate change.

We’ve got to help Hawaii and make sure we don’t have another wildfire disaster that kills more than 100 people.

It can’t happen again.“If this country cannot ramp down the fossil fuel extraction that is exacerbating these weather catastrophes, then the message is loud and clear that we are on the wrong road,” Williamson said last week.

Williamson is one of those candidates for president you don’t hear much about. She’s not a Kennedy. She’s not an anti-vaxxer. She’s the other Democrat who is running, who speaks from the heart about people and government in a way that seems more honest and caring.

If more politicians talked like that, could we end our divides and work together? Or does the loving language of Williamson only deepen the divide?

It’s surely a moral rhetoric from left of center that exposes the right-wing theocracy and all its hypocrisies.

But few people talk about Marianne Williamson.Maybe because she makes too much sense?

Biden and the banyan tree
Biden wasn’t too bad. He stood by the banyan tree in Lahaina and said the government was going to be there for Hawaii, “for as long as it takes, we’re going to be with you.”

And he didn’t say he’d ward off the capitalists, but he said he’d be respectful of the traditions and “rebuild the way that the people of Maui want to build not the way others want to build.”

In these days, that’s plenty enough hope. And now we’re left with a stark contrast in the race to be president in 2024. Biden in a lei. Or Trump in a mugshot.

EMIL GUILLERMO is a journalist and commentator who has worked as host of “All Things Considered,” in Washington, and was an editorial writer for the Honolulu Advertiser and a columnist for the Star-Bulletin.

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