Thursday, December 1, 2016

Trump and Bannon – the partnership meant to accomplish a mission?

As the dust begins to settle – despite the recount in a couple of states – what could be emerging is that the Trump-Bannon team is “on a mission.” And it may not be crystal clear if we’re a logical, linear thinker? Which most people are. [Disclosure: the writer doesn’t exercise his right to vote but would not have voted for Trump if he did.]

Trump is an entrepreneur. Not everyone is endowed to be one, much less to have such a lofty mission as to be the leader of the free world.

There is a Philippine version of entrepreneurship where roughly 99% of registered enterprises are MSMEs; and it makes us proud and so we want more. But let’s remind ourselves of Italy – the home of great innovations. Yet because many are small family-owned enterprises, Italy isn’t truly competitive in this day and age. The post-industrialization world where technology-driven undertakings don't equate to greater employment.

Peter Drucker, the 20th century management guru, saw it as the shift from the manual worker to the knowledge worker. The challenge: how can industry move from the Detroit-model of yesterday and keep employment healthy – and at auto company-level wages that once defined middle-class America?

But let's get back to the Philippines. Remember the 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration? We don’t fail to point to the countless efforts under our belt but not the 1% that we can’t seem to figure out – and why we remain the regional laggard?

The 1987 Philippine Constitution is exhibit no. 1: A Constitution that is “anything but Marcos.” Logical and linear does not necessarily mean forward-looking. Which is what “tactics” are even when they are meant to overcome operational hurdles. Yes, they are meant to address or solve a problem but they’re not by definition outcome oriented. It is about doing something, like act. Say, pursue the war on drugs.

But beyond tactics is a much greater strategic outcome that must be the North Star. To put Marcos behind us, for example, is not the North Star. It is to be a First-World nation. And we have yet to stumble upon a leadership that can bring that about.

To mothball the Bataan nuclear plant and not follow through with infrastructure development in general, for instance, is shortsighted – when our neighbors are busy accelerating their march into the 21st century? And that narrow view is still with us and not surprisingly we continue to pay a heavy price?

Which explains why certain quarters still pine for Marcos, including Du30 and his cohort. If Cory and PNoy were not change agents, Du30 is. A change agent is what we need.

There lies the misconception – a disaster waiting to happen. Tyranny is a false choice. Which Rizal pointed out over a century ago. Desperate people submit to tyranny forgetting cause and effect. There is manna from heaven yet to be impoverished – or more precisely the failure to grow and develop as in a failed state – is not God-given. It is man-made.

Let's start with FDI. Even the British Ambassador who earlier said UK investment is coming cautioned Du30 against embracing Putin. Putin is about the old order where tyranny rules – as in Czarist Russia and then the Soviet Empire. And of more recent vintage, think Georgia and Ukraine.

We cannot be working at cross purposes. If FDI, for example, is key to pump-prime the economy beyond infrastructure development, who should we attract? Do we want to embrace Russia or China or Cuba? We can be friends with anyone but what do they represent? What is it that we aspire to be? Or are we flirting with communism? Beyond tyranny, the dearth of motivation against the tolerance of mediocrity is palpable in Eastern Europe decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, for example.

Have we given up on a loftier set of yardsticks aka the Asian tigers? Or are we showing our true colors, puerile in freedom and democracy? Whatever happened to our proud faith? That man is made in the image and likeness of his Creator? How can tyranny have a rightful place if we’re who we claim we are? Did we teach “People Power” to the South Koreans and yet we’re the ones busy resurrecting Marcos? Is it character-building (e.g., self-reliance, courage) that we sorely need – for bastardizing “compassion” aka populism?

Do we suffer from “victimhood”? The US if not the West in general took advantage of us when we expected paternalism? What if our neighbors are indeed smarter than we are? Do we have the maturity to accept such a reality? Or are we preoccupied justifying our being the regional laggard?

We can’t acknowledge that Lee, Mahathir and Deng begged for Western money and technology? And the outcome? Globalization that lifted millions from poverty particularly in our part of the world! Yet, because ours is a tyrannical enterprise, our “bossing culture” must have primacy else we throw a temper tantrum? How much childishness are we up to?

EJK is barbarism! And when supposedly smart Filipinos are cheering Du30 because he is a change agent, are we magnifying the misconception? Barbarism is moving us back to the Stone Age. Progress is what pump primes an economy.

What about Trump? Trump is a wheeler-dealer. But he is beyond deals per se. He has grandiose dreams. That for him to want to be leader of the free world is not surprising. That beyond being an entrepreneur – and beyond tactics – his grandiose desires make him very flexible and adaptable. Which Bannon mirrors. In other words, Trump has his North Star – which is beyond the gambling business and why he abandoned it despite the embarrassment of a bankruptcy.

But how does a billionaire relate to the average Joe more than a life-long public servant like Hillary? Did his involvement in reality TV give him a peek into the world of average Joe? In other words, he could still be a bully yet feel for working-class Americans. To wheel and deal demands one to be a bully – aka brinkmanship.

And to get to one’s goal requires the ability to gauge which battles to fight and which ones to abandon. But always, the best defense is offense. Which explains the incessant tweets: In your face – get to the face of the opposition rightly or wrongly, with or without evidence.

Which brings Bill Clinton to mind: there is a difference between campaigning and governing. Clinton had to be reminded by his advisers. A natural charismatic leadership persona could put him in a bubble yet he would understand the real world – given his humble beginnings. And so he would find his place in the sun – governing from the center, not as a populist which people assumed.

Of course payback time came – in Trump versus Hillary. NAFTA was bad, welfare reform a disaster, the war on crime punished the black community disproportionately. Which brings us to the present: The Trump-Bannon team.

Will they learn from the Bill Clinton lesson and sacrifice the center and be a populist administration? And also from Obama’s abandonment of American exceptionalism – because Dubya overreached in Iraq?

Are we going to witness a populist, “exceptional” (i.e., American exceptionalism) Trump government? That is focused on its North Star? [Exceptionalism with a caveat, e.g., “we will support NATO so long as member countries pay their fair share.”]

Yet nothing is absolute especially to an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs want to stay ahead, are inquisitive and seek different even conflicting perspectives. They believe they can make the right decision because they’re smart. The reality is they don’t want to be left out opportunity-wise. Will it be Romney or Giuliani for State or even Petraeus or Corker?

Irrespective, their North Star will always be the North Star – grandiose. From property development from the ground up to property development driven by brand building – i.e., the Trump brand. And the flirting with gambling and bankruptcy is now water under the bridge. As is the flirting with Trump University aka a scam is now water under the bridge.

Entrepreneurs will go for it – to the hilt. Including leader of the free world in the case of Trump. At the end of the day, they learn from their mistakes. The Trump-Bannon team will make mistakes – and learn from them? To get to their North Star – beyond campaigning into governing – they will have to. They must learn from their mistakes!

But let’s get back to the Philippines. Can we Filipinos learn from our mistakes? First of all, even at 7% GDP growth year-on-year, it will take us a generation to see the end of the tunnel. And how do we in fact make that a reality?

“Philippines good at frustrating foreign investors – MAP,” Richmond Mercurio, The Philippine Star, 28th Nov 2016. “The Philippines is still much ‘talk’ and less ‘walk’ when it comes to addressing the country’s attractiveness as an investment destination.

“It is for this reason that the Philippines continues to trail other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in foreign direct investment . . . We are so good at enticing foreign investors. We are so good at inviting them into our country and say please come to the Philippines because it is fun in the Philippines, it is so good in the Philippines. But the moment the foreign investor comes here, we’re so good at frustrating them . . .

“Even though the country beams with a lot of opportunities for foreign businesses to thrive . . . existing restrictions and persistent corruption kept many of these investors from coming in.”

“Why independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow? And that they will be such is not to be doubted, for he who submits to tyranny loves it.” [We are ruled by Rizal’s ‘tyrants of tomorrow,’ Editorial, The Manila Times, 29th Dec 2015]

“As a major component for the education and reorientation of our people, mainstream media – their reporters, writers, photographers, columnists and editors – have an obligation to this country . . .” [Era of documented irrelevance: Mainstream media, critics and protesters, Homobono A. Adaza, The Manila Times, 25th Nov 2015]

“Development [is informed by a people’s] worldview, cognitive capacity, values, moral development, self-identity, spirituality, and leadership . . .” [Frederic Laloux, Reinventing organizations, Nelson Parker, 2014]

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