As America twists and turns in an upheaval brought on by the Republicans’ championing of their great orange hope, a parallel can be drawn here in Malaysia. Trump is the ultimate provocateur, the stereotype of White Male Privilege rolled into a xenophobic, nativist populist demagogue who embraces sexism as an acceptable facet of dealing with him and his money.
Many have tried to find find someone in Malaysia who is analogous to Trump, and it has become clear that that person is none other than the flavour of the week, Jamal Yunos.
Jamal plays a role similar to Trump’s. He is associated with Malaysia’s own Grand Old Party, one that is increasingly unappealing to young and minority voters, and certainly to women voters. Trump has his Tea Party and Jamal his Red Shirts, factions which share a nativist, conservative and fundamentalist view of the world and harbour a deep suspicion of the Other.
The Tea Party steadfastly refuses to believe that Barack Obama, the first black President of the United States, was even born in America despite his release of his long form birth certificate, and the Red Shirts gather around the notion that Malay sovereignty or right to rule is being challenged, especially by the Chinese-majority DAP.
Perhaps we must be thankful that Jamal is not running for the highest office in the land. However, his actions and the actions of his followers have riled up moderates and conservatives alike and is scorned universally by Malay, Chinese, Indian, Sarawakian, and Sabahan, making him perhaps the most unpopular politician in Malaysia. Even now, the Barisan Nasional parties are scrambling to distance themselves from him in light of a posting on a Facebook page in his name that threatened a repeat of the national shame called May 13. He has denied that the page is his, but we’ll see.
Just as the Republicans are now fleeing for higher ground in the wake of a leaked tape showing Trump discussing sexually assaulting women with his celebrity status, BN leaders are rushing to distance themselves from Jamal.
His crass behaviour is unacceptable to the spirit of humility and respect that is prized in Malay culture, and his claims of being a champion of race and religion are met with derision. The longer Umno is associated with him and the more the Deputy Prime Minister defend hims, the deeper the belief among members of the general public that Jamal is given carte blanche by the Umno leadership to throw the country into chaos.
We might add that the familiar “I have Chinese/Indian friends” excuse is false equivalence, reminiscent of the way Trump supporters like to say they have “black friends” to excuse the worst of their racist and nativist tendencies and to diffuse the notion that they are, deep in their hearts, indeed cruel little men.
This issue is no longer just Bersih versus the Red Shirts. It is now a battle to assert the true nature of the Malaysian character and it is fought between the vast majority of rakyat and the ilk of Jamal. It is a struggle for the face of Malaysia.
It now looks like the 14th general election will be a referendum on the increasingly xenophobic nativism of some quarters in Umno, the state of the economy, and the common Malaysian’s wallet. Bread and circuses may be the name of the game, but the game is quickly going out of hand. One shudders to imagine the natural resolution of Jamal’s current terrorising of the public. If no action is taken by the authorities, it seems violence is inevitable, even if Bersih agrees to stand docile at its rally, with the participants never chanting slogans or displaying placards, never raising a hand. But perhaps that is for the best. After all, the world took notice of Gandhi only when his peaceful protest contrasted with the barbaric behaviour of those who hounded him.