COMMENT: Singapore doesn't need a Donald Trump

P N Balji
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses supporters during a campaign rally at the Greater Columbus Convention Center on November 23, 2015 in Columbus, Ohio

P N Balji is a veteran Singaporean journalist who is the former chief editor of TODAY newspaper, and a media consultant. The views expressed are his own.

It was the week that was worth shouting about. The Court of Appeal quashed the Home Minister’s decision to detain soccer bookie Dan Tan without trial  and here is the rub – because he was not a
threat to public safety, peace and good order in Singapore. The very words that were used to keep him in prison.

Thank you, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon. You have shown that there are Singaporeans who dare to scrutinise and even reject a Minister’s detention order under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act when it goes against the law.

At about the same time came the Malaysian decision to kick Singapore out of the Malaysian League. Thanks, Malaysia. If we needed one good reason to make all of us unite under our very own soccer
League, this is it.

And our National Gallery, home to the largest repository of South-east Asian art, opened its doors adding another nail on popular talk that this country is a cultural desert.

Thank you, Lee Boon Yang. It was you as minister of Communication, Information and the Arts who pushed against the views of some naysayers to make this another pride of Singapore.

To spoil the party, out came the bulldozer without brakes Calvin Cheng. He went on his Facebook page advocating that children of terrorists should be annihilated to stop them from taking revenge.

I have known the former NMP for many years now. The last time I met him was when we were on a panel to discuss this year’s General Election.

The moderator goaded Cheng into wading into controversial territory, but he didn’t take the bait. Instead, he made his points well with no overt expression of rancour.

It is hard to believe that it is the same Cheng who went on a “kill the children” tirade.

My brief meetings with him revealed a bright, young man with strong views against those whose Singapore narrative differed from the official version.

But each time I offered him a different way of looking at things, he would grudgingly nod his head.

But when he goes into the lonely online world, with no one to check him, he becomes a very different personality.

And that is what happened when he went on a verbal rampage with words like “traitorous” hurled at his opponents.

To try and get a better measure of the man, I spoke to his former secondary school principal.

Harphal Singh said: “Even in school Calvin was opinionated and contentious. I remember once incident very well. We were on a bus getting ready to go on an excursion. Calvin refused to give up his seat for one of the teachers, even when asked to. He felt there was no good reason for him to do so.

“That is Calvin. He always wants to know why. ”

Singh felt Cheng had clearly crossed the line with his comments on the children of terrorists.

“I am sure there are others who have the same view but to articulate them so publicly and in uncivil language, especially when he is a member of an organisation whose duty it is to advocate proper conduct in the online space should not be condoned.”

Cheng said he was deliberately provocative. But he is also the kind of personality who when provoked can become nasty.

The best way to deal with such people is to ignore them. Deprive them of the oxygen of publicity, a phrase famously crafted by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at a time when the world was
witnessing a series of bloody hijackings of planes.

That is what modern-day parents do when their children use unsavoury language. They turn the other way. One parent said she has seen great results with her son.

In many ways, Cheng is like this modern-day child who wants to see how far he can push the borders of decency.

We don’t need a Donald Trump in our country. All of us will do well to pretend that this upstart called Calvin Cheng doesn’t exist.