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Legacy, profligacy, and the art of articulating political wet dreams

By Joel Pablo Salud Published Jun 29, 2022 5:06 pm Updated Jun 29, 2022 5:39 pm

We are all heirs to what our leaders leave behind – what is presumed to be their legacy – be that a free and progressive society or the crushing weight of P12 trillion in national loans topped by nearly 27,000* murdered victims of a drug war.

The little we get out of these vanity narratives makes us wonder why they are called a legacy in the first place. Shouldn’t a person’s legacy sweep us off our feet? Perhaps even inspire us to reach for the stars?

But then we remember the great poet: “The evil that men do live after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” 

The line above belongs to Marcus Junius Brutus in William Shakespeare’s work, Julius Caesar. He was a good friend of the Roman emperor and a co-conspirator in the latter’s murder. Julius Caesar was knifed by some members of the Roman Senate with Brutus himself, and Gaius Longinus, spearheading the assassination. The brutal act ended Caesar’s title of “Dictator Perpetuo” or dictator for perpetuity. The title formed part of the ancient belief that Caesar was a god and that he will live to rule forever. Well, in Julius’ case, the truth hurts quite literally, didn’t it?

President Rodrigo Duterte addressing an audience at Doha, Qatar, April 15, 2017.

The line also sums up the legacy left by many powerful men and women: they will be remembered for all time for the wrongs they have done. Whatever good had sprung from their leadership, if at all worth mentioning, will be buried with them, to rot together with every other kind of dirt and dung imaginable.

Why do you think this is so? Isn’t it painfully unfair for a “good” leader to be remembered for his mistakes? In the end, aren’t we all human, prone to the most embarrassing errors? 

They will be remembered for all time for the wrongs they have done. Whatever good had sprung from their leadership, if at all worth mentioning, will be buried with them, to rot together with every other kind of dirt and dung imaginable.

Well, human error is one thing, negligence and brutality another.  

The origins of the word “legacy” may have something to do with Shakespeare’s skepticism. The etymology says it came from the Latin word legatus, meaning an ambassador or envoy. In 21st-century parlance, you can think of legacy as the “publicist” who speaks in your favor, achievements designed to spruce up your best side even as you lay bloated and worm-infested six feet below the ground. That much Michael Rucker, PhD. said in his piece, “What is the meaning of Legacy,” loosely translated.

So, in a nutshell, one’s “legacy” can be just bluster and swagger, having little to do with the truth. The word itself should be understood as “androgenous,” neither catering to positive achievements at the expense of the negative. Legally, a legacy can be a rich aunt’s inheritance. At times, though, it can be your rich aunt’s well-kept secret trying to rise from the grave like the undead. Thus, anyone wishing to create his or her legacy should have a wooden stake always within reach.

Take for example Saddam Hussein and his legacy of wars. As dictator, Saddam must’ve been proud of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who died during his reign. But did you know the other half of what he did? That of anonymously publishing a romance novel titled “Zabibah and the King”? Would he have gone out of his way to promote it as part of his legacy?  

Goodreads.com said that the novel became a bestseller overnight in Iraq, even becoming an on-stage musical in Baghdad. Editors said that the novel “would not have been allowed to be published in Iraq unless Saddam was intimately involved in its creation. Many Iraqis firmly believe it was penned by Saddam Hussein.”

Another was Soviet Russia’s Joseph Stalin. Some historians say the death toll during his regime had reached 20 million, with close to a million murdered during the Great Purge and another untold millions during the famine. A stirring legacy of blood and mayhem, enviable to any bemedaled fascist.

Demonstration on red square where members of the Communist party and their supporters gathered to lay flowers at the grave of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Moscow, Russia, December 29, 2019.

But are you aware that that cruel yet handsome butcher had a lip-smacking talent for sketching naked men? Would Stalin have told anyone about it? While most were reproductions of nude artwork forged by 19th-century Russian painters, you’ve got to hand it to Stalin for doing a splendid job at reproducing the paintings – with scribbles to boot.

Compared to Nazi Führer, Adolf Hitler, whose fascist government took the lives of six million Jews, and who was rumored to have enjoyed a grisly infatuation for illustrating Walt Disney fan art – yes, Mickey Mouse, Snow White, and yes again, the seven horny dwarfs (as one x-rated version had shown) – Stalin, I feel, would’ve made a killing more as an artist than as former gulag hardliner. As for Hitler, he would not have made it as a mouseketeer.  

Chairman Mao, of course, was a poet, and was whispered to like his “imperial concubines” young (one, Chen Luwen, was said to had been only 14 while he was 68). Benito Mussolini was a violinist with a taste for writing bad erotic letters to women. Idi Amin once worked as a boxer and was a rumored cannibal; and Kim Jong Il – Kim Jong Un’s dad – a fan of Gone with the Wind. How that influenced his son’s view of democracy, well, can hardly be disputed.

Rodrigo Duterte’s followers, who want to paint the outgoing president as a hard act to follow, often forget that no amount of fictional claims, however glossy, will ever camouflage the tens of thousands murdered in his drug war.

Of course, there’s the former autocrat whose fondness for classical Ilocano songs – Pamulinawen, in particular – brought him right where former US President Bill Clinton became equally infamous years later – that is, if all that is risqué gives one the much-coveted celebrity status.

Streamers at the University of the Philippines opposing the passing of the Anti-Terrorism Bill saying it violates human rights. June 17, 2020.

Rodrigo Duterte’s followers, who want to paint the outgoing president as a hard act to follow, often forget that no amount of fictional claims, however glossy, will ever camouflage the tens of thousands murdered in his drug war. Let’s face it. Without the killings, misogyny, the closure of ABS-CBN, and trillions in loans – and that darn mosquito net – what will Filipinos remember him by? I mean, Ninja Turtles aside.

No legacy is so rich as honesty, Shakespeare also said. Problem is, honesty is as scarce as a legacy that is untainted, either by half-truths or white lies. That’s why creating a legacy for one’s own narcissistic wet dream is, at best, tricky.

A legacy worth remembering is the one carved on human hearts, not the bathroom mirror.

*Human Rights groups estimate that the government’s war against illegal drugs claimed 12,000 to 30,000 lives while the government through PDEA officially acknowledges that 6,248 drug suspects have been killed as of April 30, 2022.