For those in the US, and around the world, reeling at the election and subsequent antics of President Donald Trump, there was one thing to hold on to: At least the former reality show host isn’t as awkward a choice for the job as Robert Duterte. The Philippines president, whose country is a former US colony and long-time strategic partner in Asia, has been drawing closer to Russia. He has other things in common with Trump too — he abused Barack Obama, referring to the latter’s race and using epithets too impolite to print. And while Trump is keen to impose travel bans and has called Hispanic immigrants rapists, Duterte’s war on drugs has invited accusations of human rights abuse, including the death of children.
During a state dinner in Manila on Sunday, however, Duterte revealed that Trump is indeed his guru. “You are the light,” crooned the man who had made an anti-US stance the cornerstone of his politics, at the most xenophobic American commander-in-chief in recent memory. The impromptu duet with local pop star Pilita Corrales, which went on to say that Trump was “half a heart of mine”, was belted out by Duterte at his special friend’s request. “I sang uninvited, upon the orders of the commander-in-chief of the United States,” he told reporters. While it was certainly the crowning glory of the bromance, Duterte has done more than enough to earn his title — “Trump of the East” — during the ASEAN summit. When asked about human rights abuses by a US reporter, he called journalists “spies”, as Trump chuckled at what the world must assume is an inside joke.
Duterte is not the first controversial world leader to seek legitimacy by displaying intimacy and friendship with a US president. What he doesn’t realise, though, is that times have changed. Trump does not possess either the popularity or gravitas of his predecessor. Giving him your heart (or half of it) will only invite ridicule. For his part, the American President should look carefully at those who emulate him. Mimicry isn’t always flattering.