Heads up! A piece published today by TIME Magazine put Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin amongst others. In “What the ‘Tough Guy’ Era Means for Global Politics“, Ian Bremmer writes what comes across as a lament over what could be the end of the moral ascendancy Western liberal democracy had enjoyed over much of the 20th Century. Unlike most of his colleagues in the news media industry, however, Bremmer is not baffled by these developments as evident in his take on Duterte’s rise to power back in 2016…
In the Philippines, a rising tide of violent street crime helped elect Rodrigo Duterte, a former mayor who talked more like a Mob boss than a President, on his promises to wipe out the drug trade with his own brand of justice.
Bremmer’s barely matter-of-fact tone in the way he wrote this does not conceal the bigger message he presents on behalf of his professional community — that Duterte’s win (or any strongman win in democratic elections, for that matter) is a result of a clever campaign that exploits the baser sentiments and frustrations of the electorate. But, see, that is what elections actually are and that is what election campaigns seek to target. It’s just the nature of the democratic beast that Press Freedom Crybabies are launching outrage fads over today.
What seems to fly over the heads of today’s liberal “activists” is that in much the same way that hierarchical top-down politics of yore was dismantled following the advent of democratic politics which led to, well, a democratisation of power, the Internet and its application in social media had also democratised what was once a top-down hierarchical structure of disseminating information. The shrill cries of an industry claiming to be in “crisis” and on the losing end of an “assault on press freedom” is just an Old Guard resisting the inevitable impact to them of this irreversible change.
This too Bremmer points out in his piece writing how the “communications revolution has also had an impact in wholly democratic countries. On social media and on cable news, success depends on the ability of information providers to maximize engagement…” Indeed, this was something many liberal “thought leaders” actually cheered on in the early days since the advent of social media in the mid-2000s. The ascent to power of former President Barrack Obama in the US and former President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III in the Philippines were, in their own times, hailed as triumphs in the use of social media for “social good” (note the presumption of “goodness” in the regimes of such personalities).
It is interesting, therefore, to see these very same liberal cliques and their allies in Western media now decrying the the outcome of this order they once cheered. Suddenly, to them, social media is no longer being used for “social good”. What they do not acknowledge is the fact that the very same social media management and communication techniques they prescribed to further this “social good” are precisely the same ones used to deliver the outcomes they now demonise.
This is the kind of selective messaging and “activism” that cost the liberals and the traditional journalism and news media industries their credibility. Rather than compete in the new landscape, they have dug their heels in to defend the old structures of their sacred status quo. Those structures are rapidly crumbling as, indeed, Bremmer’s own employer is slowly coming to terms with. There just needs to be a new business model to replace the now obsolete structures that still frame many mainstream news media organisations. Perhaps that new model is yet to be discovered, but it is possible that they may already exist today — right under the mainstream’s and liberals’ noses.