Trouble among the Tyrants

S. T. Joshi

All is not well with the autocrats of the world.

I refer not only to the real McCoys but the seemingly innumerable half-tyrants, dictator wannabes, and other such riffraff who, in the past decade or more, have alarmingly populated certain otherwise sane countries around the world. Indeed, there are now so many of these pestiferous gents (they are all men, as one might have predicted) that it is difficult to canvass them even in a cursory survey such as this. So if I inadvertently omit some especially notable autocrat—actual or potential—my humblest apologies to him and his rabid supporters!

Let us consider one of the most notorious of this bunch, the far-right populist Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil. Very soon after he was elected, it was seen that his ability to actually run a government was so weak that his poll numbers immediately tanked. Currently they stand at about where Richard Nixon’s stood at the time of his impeachment; this was before Bolsonaro stood idly by like Nero while the Amazon burned. His prospects do not seem promising.

In the Middle East, the fortunes of two dyed-in-the-wool autocrats, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and Bashar al-Assad of Syria, got an unexpected lift thanks to our own Coward-in-Chief’s dumbass move to withdraw troops from Syria and leave the Kurds to fend for themselves. Thanks, Donald! Indeed, I hereby propose #DumbassDonald as this moron’s official derisive nickname. Spread the word! But Erdoğan and Assad preside over nations that are so economically and (in Syria’s case) physically devastated that they are essentially ruling over ruins. The same could be said of the one leftist autocrat among the bunch, Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro.

And let us not forget Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, who failed to win two elections and, after an excruciating delay that would have taxed the patience of Job, has at last been indicted on several serious charges. The prospect of this irredeemably corrupt liar, racist, and demagogue facing jail time is not only exquisite in itself but is perhaps a harbinger for the similar fate of one of his best friends.

Europe is plagued with numerous tyrants, chief among them Hungary’s Viktor Orban. But even he is facing protests for his rampant corruption and mishandling of the economy. And, incredibly, the dictator to end all dictators, Vladimir Putin, is encountering modest but persistent protests in Russia, whose economy is also in shambles. One individual, a shaman named Alexander Gabyshev, actually believes Putin is possessed by the devil. As a devout atheist, I am prohibited from subscribing to such a belief, but if I were so inclined, I would be happy to nominate Vlad as the first among many to have fallen under the sway of the Prince of Darkness.

In China, Xi Jinping is so fearful of his grip on power, both at home and in that annoyingly independent colony called Hong Kong, that he is enlisting students to spy on professors for potentially treasonous comments in classrooms. In India, we have the despicable Narendra Modi, who recently had the staggering chutzpah to write an op-ed piece praising Gandhi. The name of Gandhi should have caused Modi—the self-proclaimed “Hindu fundamentalist” whose government has conveniently neglected to release details of how many Indians have died as a result of Hindu-motivated violence—to have choked on his own bile. Well, he’ll choke in other ways if he ever sets foot in any of the dozens of polluted cities of India.

Then there is England’s clown prince—to wit, Boris Johnson—who, in his single-minded quest to pull England out of the European Union, has achieved the impressive distinction of having nearly every one of his measures shot down by Parliament and even by the Supreme Court. (How many of us even knew that England had a Supreme Court?) He did appear to win a huge victory in the election of December 12—but if he thinks that his troubles are over, he’d better think again. Brexit may actually happen, in some fashion or other, but it is bound to be messy and (a thought I find strangely comforting) likely to inflict pain and humiliation upon the very people who, swallowing Mr. Johnson’s exuberant lies, were gulled into supporting it. And what’s more, Brexit may ultimately lead to Scotland’s departure from the United Kingdom (and Northern Ireland’s as well, because Johnson’s Brexit plan has basically sold them up the river). All this would bring a new and pungent meaning to the old Tory ideal of “little England.”

I have saved discussion of our own would-be king for last. Mr. Trump’s difficulties are writ large for all to see, ranging from being booed at a World Series game in the nation’s capital to the near certainty of joining Andrew Johnson and his pal Bill Clinton as being the only U.S. presidents to have been impeached. And yet, he retains rock-solid popularity with his “base.” Why might that be, you ask? Is it because he uncannily echoes his own supporters’ bizarre mix of loud-mouthed bluster and whiny resentment? Certain people in this country have become past masters at draping themselves in self-pity.

Let’s not be naive. Not many of these autocrats are likely to ride off into the sunset (or, better yet, expire of their own contemptibility) anytime soon. But if their recent troubles signify anything, it may be that the brainless, resentful masses who put them in power are finding them even more loathsome than the “elites” they claim to despise. What the ultimate outcome will be no one can say, but I for one would not wish to be a dictator at this moment.

S. T. Joshi

S. T. Joshi is the editor of Atheism: A Reader (2000) and other works on atheism, agnosticism, and freethought.


All is not well with the autocrats of the world. I refer not only to the real McCoys but the seemingly innumerable half-tyrants, dictator wannabes, and other such riffraff who, in the past decade or more, have alarmingly populated certain otherwise sane countries around the world. Indeed, there are now so many of these pestiferous …

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