Post-modern dictator

Dictators evolve and tyrants adapt to the post-modern era. They have changed to meet the challenges of the present era to preserve their power. This is the main thesis of William J. Dobson in his book “The Dictator’s Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy.”

Dobson argued that totalitarianism is a twentieth-century thing and dictators like Ferdinand Marcos, Idi Amin and their kinds are passé. In-your face despot belong to the past. The desire for democracy is so widespread and powerful that leaders who behave and act like brutal autocrats are universally derided, condemned, and reviled. Dictators of the old mode like Kim Jong-un of North Korea and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad are scorned and despised by the global community. 

Keenly aware of the dangers of becoming an international pariah, tyrants of the 21st century are repackaging themselves Dobson claims. Twenty-first century autocrats recognized that old-school dictatorship no longer works today. The temper of the times calls for a new brand of despot. The world is now witnessing the emergence of a new brand of autocrat, the post-modern dictator according to Dobson

The post-modern dictator is still a dyed-in-the wool tyrant but with a new clothing. He is now sporting a democratic look. In word, deed and act, he is a dictator but with a face of a democrat. A dictator today carries democratic credentials and is pious in observing the rituals of democracy. In the twentieth century, dictators raze down the edifice of democracy, twenty-first dictators on the other hand are taking shelter in it.

A post-modern dictator comes to power and stays in power through elections (rigged) and not through a coup or by overturning democracy. Under his rule, the institutions of democracy are intact and are maintained. The opposition is tolerated and a certain degree of dissent is allowed. But all of these are just a façade for power is concentrated in the hands of the dictator. What is being foisted is “managed democracy.”

Russian president Vladimir Putin is the embodiment of a post-modern dictator. He came to power through elections and has stayed in power through re-election. When he reached the limit prescribed by the constitution, he stepped down instead of amending the constitution. But after a term, Dmitry Medvedev handed back the presidency to Putin who was then the prime minister. He is now serving his fourth term as president after winning the 2018 election with a token opponent. Putin announced after his victory he will step down in 2024 in compliance with the constitution. But it will be a repeat of the 2008 Putin-Medvedev charade. 

Democratic trappings are alive in Russia but democratic institutions are gelatinous and weak entities. Putin defanged and castrated institutions that could check his actions. He is a democrat only in name but a dictator in every sense of the word.    

Dictators hijacked democracy today and are using its processes and institutions to perpetuate themselves in power. Democratic institutions – court, legislature, bureaucracy, are weaponized against the opponents and critics of the dictator and used as tools to serve the dictator’s agenda.

Has the curse of post-modern dictatorship reached the Philippine shore? In the last three years, it appears a post-modern dictator is rising in the country. The rule of Du30 had all the markings of a post-modern dictatorship.

The country just had an election, a key component of democracy. The constitution remains operational and Congress and the judiciary are still functioning. It seems democracy is working in the country and it is far from a dictatorship.

But a closer examination of the situation reveals that of a “managed democracy.” Congress is firmly under the thumb of Du30. The Supreme Court is pliant and its subservience to Du30 rendered it inutile and servile. The bureaucracy has become a big stick and is being used to hound, harass, and silence the antagonists of the regime. Du30 utilized democratic institutions to force people to “bend the knee.” After all, he never hid his school boy admiration of Putin and even proposed he and Putin (together with Xi Jinping) form an alliance against the world. 

Results of the just concluded election where Du30 and allies swept the Senate seats, a question is raised if the fall of the Philippines to the hands of a post-modern dictator is now inevitable. With a super majority, Du30 using democratic process can overturn the current democratic set-up and replace it with the structure that suits his dictatorial design.

After the dust settles and post-election normality returns, it will be interesting to see how the Senate will behave. Will the senators abolish themselves or agree to an arrangement that allows them to stay in their position within the illiberal order presided by Du30? Will the Senate become the Lower House, a mere appendage of the Executive? Can Du30’s executive assistant in the Senate weld the senators together and make them sing to the tune of the administration? 

The most important question is, is the transformation of the Philippines into a post-modern dictatorship now complete? Will the senators become the midwives of a post-modern dictator and assist him deliver a new baby – managed democracy? Are there enough decent senators with good sense to hold the democratic line against the charlatans, clowns, con artists, comedians, boxers, and plain idiots?

Should a post-modern dictator succeed in imposing post-modern dictatorship in the country, how will Filipinos take the move? Can Filipinos live with a “managed democracy,” which is in reality a tyranny? 

Answers to all these questions will be interesting.