A VELVET FIST DICTATORSHIP: Do they not see the irony? The New York Times published an oped over the weekend titled, “The New Dictators Rule by Velvet Fist,” penned by a couple of professors. Their thesis:
[A] new brand of authoritarian government has evolved that is better adapted to an era of global media, economic interdependence and information technology. The “soft” dictators concentrate power, stifling opposition and eliminating checks and balances, while using hardly any violence.
Um, yeah. Sound familiar? Eliminating checks and balances? Anyone? To make matters worse, the authors further elaborate on the characteristics of such “soft” dictatorships:
The new autocrats often get to power through reasonably fair elections. Mr. Chávez, for instance, won in 1998 in what international observers called one of the most transparent votes in Venezuela’s history.
Soaring approval ratings are a more cost-effective path to dominance than terror. Mr. Erdogan exploited his popularity to amend the Constitution by referendum and to pack Turkey’s Constitutional Court.
The new autocrats use propaganda, censorship and other information-based tricks to inflate their ratings and to convince citizens of their superiority over available alternatives. . . .
When their economies do well, such leaders co-opt potential critics with material rewards. In harder times, they use censorship. The new autocrats bribe media owners with advertising contracts, threaten libel suits, and encourage pro-regime investors to purchase critical publications.
They dominate the Internet by blocking access to independent websites, hiring “trolls” to flood comments pages with pro-regime spam, and paying hackers to vandalize opposition online media sites.
I could hardy contain my laughter whilst reading this. Hmmmm… let’s see: propaganda? Check. Censorship? Check. Co-opting potential critics with material rewards? Check. Control over media through various civil or criminal means? Check. As for hiring trolls to flood comments and vandalizing opposition media sites, that can all be accomplished through private groups, without the need for government fingerprints.
But hey, I’m sure that could never happen here.