Skip to main content

What's a Dictator to Do?

Vladimir Putin has a lot on his plate right now. And just like Trump, he appears to be winging it.

His most recent poll numbers are significantly lower than Trump’s, and that’s saying something. It’s not a big concern to Putin, since he answers only obliquely to his voters, and fair elections are off the table. Which is what Trump envies most about him.

Still, Putin’s rapidly plummeting popular appeal is a sign that the old razzle-dazzle has lost some dazzle. And he finds himself playing whack-a-mole with pop-up crises across seven time zones.

While Russia has been hit hard by Covid, it seems to have weathered the worst, at least for now. Not so much because the outbreak was well-managed, as because it wasn’t actively mis-managed, as in this country. Still, the incompetence was there for all to see, and the virus has made a real dent in Putin’s approval rating.

So he’s gone for the grand gesture and announced a vaccine. There isn’t a reputable epidemiologist in the world who would even consider green-lighting a vaccine this early in the testing process, but Putin is going for it anyway. He’s happy to gamble with the lives of his citizenry, in much the same way Trump went all in on hydroxychloroquine. This is a disaster waiting to happen. And Putin is starting to understand, just as we all are, that the virus is a mole that won’t stay whacked.

Meanwhile, in Belarus, Victor Lukashenko — a Putin puppet known to occasionally bite the hand that feeds him — is now dealing with a hundred thousand pissed-off countrymen who think he’s rigged one election too many. After he ludicrously claimed to have won eighty percent of the vote — when it’s clear he was thoroughly trounced — people took to the streets in massive numbers.

Of course, Lukashenko overreacted, bringing in the police to do the usual arrest-and-torture thing, which in this case backfired in spectacular and highly visible fashion. Between phone videos and social media, it’s getting really hard to brutalize a population in the privacy of your own country. The word gets out. Trump should take note.

So now, with the whole world watching, there’s a general workers’ strike shutting down most of Belarus’s industrial base. And the police are starting to change sides. These are ominous signs for any dictatorship.

Putin has his own issues with Lukashenko, but he can’t just let Belarus off the leash. He knows full well it’ll attach itself to the West in a heartbeat. But how hard should he whack? His instincts are to go for the grand gesture — he can easily shut off the country’s entire oil supply — but he knows how bad that will look. On the other hand, he can’t do nothing or he’ll look weak and he’s not eager to encourage any success stories that might give other people ideas.

Like Khabarovsk, for example — in the Russian far east — another pop-up dumpster fire. Mass demonstrations have been going on in that city for the last six weeks. While the immediate cause was the arrest of its hugely popular mayor on laugh-out-loud phony charges, the underlying rage at Moscow — from decades of economic neglect, corruption, and incompetence — has an intensity Putin isn’t used to seeing. He could still go for the grand gesture — a brutal crackdown, say — but again the optics on that are terrible. So what’s a dictator to do?

Especially given the regional elections next month, all over Russia.

The opposition parties in those elections — those brave souls willing to buck the Putin kleptocracy at considerable risk to life and limb — are looking at Belarus and Khabarovsk as potent examples, not just of successful political tactics, but also of the tactics being used against them. These parties are a diverse and amorphous group — and they can’t really threaten Putin — but they are unanimous in their wish to see him removed. And the one person most of them look to for leadership is Victor Navalny.

The same Victor Navalny now lying comatose in a German hospital, poisoned presumably on Putin’s orders. Not that there will ever be proof, there never is. But there is no one in the world who doubts it, so it doesn’t even matter if it’s true.

Still, as grand gestures go, this one is off the charts. Navalny has been a persistent irritant to Putin for over fifteen years, but Putin never felt the need to kill him. Not that he couldn’t have done so at any time. So why now?

As many, including Rachel Maddow, have said, it’s important to see Russia through the lens of its weaknesses, not its strengths. For all the sophisticated skullduggery and internet mischief, Russia is a huge country — 145 million people — that still can’t produce a single product that’s competitive in international markets. Yes, it turns out world-class cyber-hackers, but it doesn’t make anything you can buy at Home Depot or Best Buy or Amazon. The Russian economy is all about the exploitation of natural resources, especially oil. So when the price of oil tanks, Putin’s poll numbers tank with it. And the natives get restless.

This is the price of kleptocracy. When there’s nothing but corrupt cronies at every level of government, any crisis exposes their incompetence and casts them in a harsh light. At some point, people want their government to, you know, govern.

At the same time, willful incompetence numbs the citizenry, creating a culture of mediocrity. Any sign of initiative is smothered in its infancy, breeding frustration, resentment, and ultimately, anger in the populace — a seething anger that seeks an outlet anywhere it can find one.

If Putin or Lukashenko or Trump could take even a minimal interest in the well-being of their people, they might be able to enjoy the fruits of their corruption. But instead, they have to lie constantly, suppress brutally, and play a dangerous game of whack-a-mole with each new uprising that pops up. Standing up for incompetence and grift is harder than you think.


Berkley MI

Tuesday, 08/25/20

Comments

  1. Wow I like it.Write a blog counting fact checked lies from day one RNC. Bet you cannot count that high! I vote for DJTjr. as the dictator in waitng. Do I have your support?
    oooxx

    I enjoyed the Zoom! Gracias.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes, Nancy you'll always have my support. If not DJTjr, then as backup, I suggest you hang banners throughout Ft. Laud to urge Floridians to vote for Junior's carefully-patched girlfriend or Tiffany: watch for the latter in the days to come.

    ReplyDelete
  3. My thoughts exactly after seeing the little prince speak last night.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Socialism is Just Another Word for Government

  I’m treating myself to a week off — holiday season and all — and so, once again, I’m re-publishing an essay I posted over a year ago, before the November election. The subject is socialism, and as it happens, I just this week used similar themes in a much shorter letter to the New York Times, responding to an article on the same subject. I’ve just been informed that NYT is publishing the letter sometime this week. Meanwhile, the original is, I think, well worth another look.   Call it the S-word, the dirtiest word in American politics. To say that socialism is vastly misunderstood doesn’t begin to state the case. It’s a word that has been cynically manipulated by all manner of right-wing nuts for roughly a century, and it never seems to lose its power to get them worked up. Yet they’ve largely succeeded in villainizing and undermining what is, ironically, a deeply embedded aspect of our society. The usual definitions just confuse the discussion. They tend

Virginia Wakes Up and Smells the AstroTurf

Can we please stipulate that there is no idea quite so absurd as parents dictating the curriculum of public schools? Sure, parents can — and should — participate in the process. They can organize. They can advocate for change. They can get themselves elected to the school board. But when you consider all the whackos out there raising whacko children, the social contract surely demands that we leave public education in the hands of professional educators. This obvious idea — fundamental to an education system that was once the envy of the world — is currently under assault from the right. And it took a direct hit last week in Virginia. Republicans, as usual, invented a cause they could flog — “parental rights” — which they used as a dog whistle for the advancement of science denial and white supremacy. They managed to get a lot of voters riled up, first about vaccine mandates, then about the teaching of critical race theory. And they convinced too many gullible parents that they

Covid Isn’t Just About Dying Anymore

“No twenty-five-year-old thinks they’re going to end up on a ventilator. But tell them they’re going to have erectile dysfunction, their teeth will fall out, and they’ll never go to the gym again? They’ll get vaccinated and they’ll be double-masked.”                            —    Diana Berrent,  of Survivor Corps , a “Long Covid” support group   I’ve recently caught wind of certain semi-educated citizens who consider the prospect of dying of Covid to be some sort of patriotic act. They’ve refused the vaccine for ostensibly political reasons. They’ve been blasé about exposing themselves to the virus. Now they’ve caught it and decided they’ll ride it wherever it takes them, including to the grave. I don’t think they’ve thought this through. Because death, it turns out, could be the least of their problems. They could be looking at chronic disability — a dreary future of lifestyle disruption, family trauma, economic hardship, and long-term relationships with the medical communi