Indeed, the soft bigotry of low expectations




The Manila Times


WITH national borders reopening and global tourism steadily on course for a grand comeback, the local tourism sector is back to its yearly ritual denied by the pandemic years — revelling in the global rankings that say we have the best beaches and dive sites in the world. In the mature, wealthy democracies, stories on amazing tourist destinations — including architectural wonders built during the glory days of the Roman Empire — get a play on Page 30, buried near the obituaries of the obscure and near-famous. Here, in a media context where global concerns have been mostly focused on our education mediocrity, human rights issues and laggard status on critical 21st-century concerns, getting recognized as having the best diving sites and beaches, merited a big page 1 splash. And on social media, tens of thousands of clicks and socmed alleluias. Beggars can’t be choosers. With global acclaim of Philippine excellence in a field that matters often in the territory of slim pickings or zero (across the board, rankings have been unsparingly subpar), there is no reason not to revel in getting global attention for our amazing beaches and diving sites. We have to bask in the little global recognition that we get, even of the cosmetic kind like beaches and dive sites. And even if these are natural wonders untouched by human efforts, genius and creativity. What the heck, we can do TikTok on the fabulous dive sites and beaches. And post the surge and ebb of waves on Instagram a thousand and one times. Here is the problem, though. The global recognition of the cosmetic kind lulls us into a dangerous form of revelry. Into the dangerous territory called the soft bigotry of low expectations. Self-satisfaction generated by acclaim over our natural wonders may be obscuring national focus on the most important part, like setting the most urgent, most strategic and viable policies for the nation. With these inevitable results: global acclaim on our economic competitiveness, technology savvy and smarts, the skills and quality of our workforce, the superior educational system, and a world-class innovation culture. And the most critical — good governance. But, of course, getting global acclaim outside of beaches and dive sites requires hard work, which I don’t think is built into the ways of Philippine polity. When we get a national high from our world-class beaches and dive sites and get full contentment from that, what ugly truths are either forgotten or swept under the rug? For one, the depressing truth that we have clowns and jokers in the most important institution for setting policies and writing the laws for these policies, the Senate. The chamber that nurtured the likes of Claro Mayo Recto, Lorenzo Tañada, Jose W. Diokno and Jovito R. Salonga, all towering intellectuals and prodigious authors of laws, is onethird populated by jokers and clowns, senators with neither the intellectual capacity, bent or intent to do serious legislation. The kind with brains so hollowed-out that they can’t be saved by the best staff work. Clowns that are so needy for attention like Donald Trump, always preening for the cameras. And scolding resource persons at the committees, the great brain dead as the great scold. Me. Me. Me. I should be at the center of the circus. The jokers and clowns have been a heavy drag on the quality of legislation, with a dismaying toll on our life and competitiveness as a nation. The best legislation takes place in an environment of wise men and women seriously discussing the weighty issues of the day, with data and statistical inputs, with legislative history on the matter at hand always hovering in the background, with a beneficial impact on the nation’s life as the ever-present guide and North Star. With very little or zero hectoring. I always go back to the Senate I covered, the 8th Congress, because of the collective intelligence and the collective sense of purpose of the first Senate to convene after the dismantling of the Marcos martial law regime. It was the last Congress I saw that made it a point to defy the executive branch on the most critical issues of the moment (i.e., the vote against the retention of the US military bases). The intellectual measure had Victor Ziga at the tail (Erap Estrada, for one reason or another, was excluded from these informal measurements of intellect). And Senator Ziga was the son of two legislative greats, the mother Tecla San Andres Ziga topped the Philippine bar exams (No. 1). Legislation, this is the sad part, does not merely require sincerity and the willingness to do the job. It requires deep law-writing knowledge, mastery of precedents and antecedents related to the issue being legislated, current laws that may be overlapped or unintentionally amended by the proposed legislation, the fiscal provisions if there is a revenue requirement. Fiscal space often defines the parameters and scope of a proposed law. And the most important part, a running estimate on the impact of the law on improving lives, empowerment of certain sectors and shoring up national productivity. A clueless senator cannot cover up his cluelessness with boasts of so many million boats resting on his or her Senate seat. Many have this depressing feeling that the two seemingly unrelated things, the national revelry over the global acclaim for our world-class beaches and diving sites and the once august Senate now hosting clowns and jokers, really go hand in hand in a society afflicted with the soft bigotry of low expectations. The high and revelry we get from the global acclaim on our beaches and dive sites obscures the failings elsewhere, like the failings of the nation’s most important deliberate body and the jokers in its population. Maybe it is time to move on from the beaches and dive sites, which are nature’s gifts in the first place. And reorder, redirect, the source of our national pride, glory and selfesteem from beaches and dive sites — no matter how amazing — into world-class legislation and capable legislators and policy-setters. Policy-setting is the foundational requirement, this is just stating a matter of fact, for national competitiveness, greatness — and global recognition and acclaim on affairs that really matter. Note: Michael Gerson, the compassionate Christian intellectual who served as chief speechwriter to George W. Bush, wrote the lines “the soft bigotry of low expectations” in one of the major speeches he wrote for the 43rd US president. He died a few days ago at 58.