An apocryphal story circulated in the Philippines in the early 1980s of a dinner party conversation between President Ferdinand Marcos and Catholic Bishop Jaime Sin.
Marcos reportedly said, “I really admire those Americans. They know the results of their presidential elections the day of the election.”
In response, Sin reportedly said, “Well how about us Filipinos? We know the results of our elections before they even take place!”
Fiction can turn into reality. In 1986, Marcos, after 20 years as dictator of the Philippines, declared he had defeated Corazon Aquino, winning yet another presidential election. Sin and many other Filipinos didn’t believe this was the case.
What then ensued became known as the People Power Revolution. Millions of Filipinos took to the streets and Marcos responded by sending his well-equipped military to quell the protests.
I recall watching the events unfold on my television, fearing a bloodbath.
Sin and the other religious leaders called on the population to pray. People marched on the streets, even offering flowers to overwhelmed soldiers. Within days, Marcos and his family were on a plane to Hawaii, where he spent the rest of his life in quiet exile.
It’s ironic how the United States could now face a situation so similar to what happened in its former colony.
President Donald Trump is already casting doubt on the results of next month’s election. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many will choose to vote by mail, and though mail-in voting is historically one of the most accurate ways to hold an election, Trump insists the results will not be valid.
Trump has also called for reductions in the postal service. As well, many voting centres won’t be used in this election, forcing people to travel significant distances if they want to vote in person. Most of the closed centres are in areas where people would be less likely to vote for Trump.
Given the situation, Americans won’t know the results of the election that day, as they have for decades. It could take weeks to get an accurate count. This will likely add tension to an already polarized situation.
Trump has hinted publicly that he won’t accept the results of the election unless he wins. Knowing that he no longer has the unquestioning support of the entire military or other law-enforcement agencies, he has hinted encouragement toward white-extremist militias, who are among his most enthusiastic advocates.
While it’s possible that Trump will be re-elected as president, it’s very unlikely. He didn’t win the popular vote in 2016, and millions who voted for him then haven’t been satisfied with his leadership, especially in recent months.
It’s also quite probable that many who didn’t vote in 2016 will participate in this year’s election and vote against Trump.
It’s beginning to become clear that the only way for Trump to remain in power is either to invalidate the votes of vast numbers of Americans or to simply refuse to leave office.
There’s a legitimate fear that the 2020 American presidential election will result in violence.
Being aware, however, allows one to prepare. Sin and the Filipino people have shown the world that peaceful transitions can take place despite looming threats of violence. The model they used, of course, is not unique to the Philippines. It’s the same principle used by Mohandas Gandhi and the people of the Indian subcontinent to defeat the British Empire.
We not only know the danger, we know how to effectively respond to it. Passive resistance isn’t easy and it’s not without risk to protesters, but it’s the most effective way to bring about enduring political and social change.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.
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