Rolls of newsprint have been printed, hours of airtime broadcast, and gigabytes of disk space allocated to reporting the President’s oral histrionics. But it was surely a major factor in his being elected. To many, his language skills (or lack of it) mark him as a man of the people, one of the boys.
Early in his presidency, he vowed that he will tone it down. But of course, he didn’t. Old habits die hard.
Damage was initially confined within the country’s borders when he was merely lambasting his local critics and adversaries. But then he graduated to international notoriety when he started bad mouthing world leaders, including the Pope and the U.S. president. Still, it didn’t prevent him and probably contributed to his being elected chairman of the ASEAN Summit in 2017.
Other former Philippine presidents surely used foul language – but in private. President Quezon was known to curse in Spanish.
U.S. presidents have been caught using unacceptable speech – Bush, Carter, Clinton, Johnson, even Obama, and most notably Nixon – but mostly behind closed doors.
But it’s our very own President who’s elevating the art of profanity to new global heights.
Over fifty years ago, the model of the fearless leader was one who spoke softly but carried a big stick. It characterized U.S. President Roosevelt’s foreign policy. In various movie characters played by Garry Cooper, John Wayne and our very own Fernando Poe Jr., the brave hero had a soft voice but packed deadly fists.
But everything changed with the advent of rap music and social media. Rap music celebrates foul language as a valid form of self-expression. And social media make public what used to be private. Where once you used to swear at your boss in private, you can now swear at him in public.
Thus profanity seems commonplace, and even a requirement, to show sincerity and gravitas.
The President is being advised by friends and foes alike to avoid offensive language when dealing with foreign leaders. He is being urged to master the art of diplomacy.
Or learn the art of doublespeak. Masters of doublespeak have the ability of insulting a person without the latter realizing that he has been insulted.
For example, instead of calling a person old and washed-out, we can call him experienced. Instead of describing a person crazy or abnormal, call him unique. And stop calling them drug addicts! They are victims of substance abuse.
Or learn the art of the Shakespearean insult. This doesn’t only make the “insultee” unaware that he has been insulted. It also makes the “insulter” seem smart and educated.
For example, instead of calling a person a slanderous demagogue, say to him “Thy tongue outvenoms all the worms of Nile.” - from Cymbeline by Shakespeare
Or to call somebody ugly, say instead “Thine face is not worth sunburning.” - from Henry V by Shakespeare
Or to call someone stupid or dull, say “Your brain is as dry as the remainder biscuit after voyage.” - from As You Like It by Shakespeare
But let’s get real. The President did not get elected because of his tact and diplomatic skills. He was elected because the people believed he could get things done.
Therefore, the President should remain a doer, not a talker. Do what needs to be done and not get distracted by every little criticism. If a response is absolutely necessary, let one of his underlings do it.