Divide and Rule: Beware the methods of autocrats

Jun 28




Helen Whitten

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Divide and Rule: Beware the methods of autocrats

I woke up at 6.30am this morning wondering what is happening to democracy?  Have people got complacent about it or so disenchanted that they are comfortable with leaders like Trump, Putin and Erdogan taking so much power?  Have they forgotten what happens when leaders over reach their power and become monarchs or Tsars?  It’s a long time since Charles I was put in his place and I worry that we are not being alert enough to ensure that there are blocks in place to prevent a leader simply changing the law to remain in power as long as they choose and somehow convincing a gullible population that this is good for them.  The younger generation may not fully appreciate what happened in the build-up to Hitler, or to the Communist state and if they don’t then we need to inform them!  The generations that were close to these events are dying out and getting older.  The young need to know more about how power gets snatched from before their eyes without them realising it.

I am just re-reading Dr Zhivago and it paints a miserable picture of life under a Communist ideology – long queues, people thrown out of their homes, the elite pilloried, doctors regarded as ‘professional elite’ and thrown out of jobs, academics and writers sent to Siberia.  It didn’t happen overnight but it can – President Erdogan has thrown some 160,000 people into prison over the last year and yet what is the rest of the world doing to question this?  President Trump puts people in cages.  Putin gives himself more powers and woe betide those who challenge or stand against him.  And Duterte in the Philippines just kills those he dislikes from what I understand.

Watching the “Fourth Estate”, a BBC documentary about the New York Times’ reporting of Trump’s first 100 days, we were reminded of how Trump has insidiously but blatantly tried to turn his people against the free press, describing them as “the enemies of the people”.  He questions the expertise and knowledge of academics and those who have worked their way up to senior positions through knowledge, questioning facts and speaking downright lies himself.  He sacks anyone who disagrees with him and if one of his staff won’t lie or follow his lead they go.  He is endeavouring to build a powerful group of followers around him, the better to build his own power base.  This is dangerous stuff.

It has bemused me for some time that Turkey can continue to operate at all with so many judges, lawyers, academics and civil servants thrown into prison.  Who is there to ensure that they get a fair trial?  No-one.  And I hear little from the EU or other world leaders to challenge the way Erdogan has just snatched even more power for himself, power to choose judges and ensure the country is run in his own way, the way of a dictator.  The day after this I read that Trump will also choose his senior judge.  As for Putin, we all know about him.

So these are the signs and why aren’t our institutions of government not robust enough to protect peoples against authoritarian rule?  I had imagined that by now we would have learnt enough about narcissists, egotists, sociopaths and downright madmen to ensure that our constitutions were strong enough to stop them grabbing power into their own hands.  I have been shocked to learn that Trump has his own finger on the nuclear button, as does Kim Jong Un.  No blocks seem to have been put in place despite so many years since Hiroshima.

Even in the UK we have to watch these snipes at experts, the challenges of those who have worked hard to know a great deal about their subject and therefore have risen within their own sectors.  We have to watch the green eye of envy that divides and destroys social stability and yet at the same time maintain a decent sense of how to help those less fortunate.  I wonder sometimes at the discontent factor and how it can be manipulated for political ends.  I wonder whether Russian or Chinese hackers aren’t busy stirring up division and discontent in the UK and Europe so as to weaken our governments and our stability.  But at the same time those in our own government and political parties are pretty good at doing this all by themselves, without outside help!

So I feel wary of the world at the moment, wary of these men abusing power.  Read the history of dictatorships and ideologues – Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Chairman Mao, Pol Pot.  Encourage others to read about it and watch for the signs.  Observe how these leaders gradually took power, how they stirred up doubt about government, how they create division between one sector and another.  Divide and rule – you see it in government, you see it in business.  It can work to enable a strong leader to grasp more power because it creates a vacuum.

And it’s now 8.30 and I have just been listening to Madeleine Albright saying almost exactly the same words and she knows far more about all this than I do, so let’s not be divided.  Let’s be alert to any prospective autocrat who could disrupt world peace and harmony.  Fascism can come from left as well as right, from power-hungry leaders, from religion, political correctness and from utopian ideas.

Let’s talk about this and be watchful.


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