Dictatorship

I’ve been intrigued with dictatorship since living in Ethiopia for nine months under Mengistu and reading this bad boy.

Qaddafi, in his rambling February 22nd speech said, “Muammar Qaddafi is history, resistance, liberty, glory, revolution.” Fascinating. In his mind he’s superseded human form, he’s a concept. How can anyone’s sense of self trump that?

In particular, I pay more attention than average to the tragedies of Zimbabwe, where I once spent a memorable week, and North Korea. I had an extensive discussion about North Korea with Fifteen at dinner one night last week and then we streamed this documentary from Netflix. Home-school social studies, love it.

This week I also read about a few dictators in waiting including Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue and Qaddafi’s sons. And then I read Tom Friedman’s editorial on our addiction to oil. I’ve been critical of Friedman, but on this subject he’s usually excellent.

I believe most people are caring and generous. Consequently, I think many more people would commit to serious energy conservation and Friedman’s $1/gallon gas tax proposal if they clearly understood how their automobile purchases and driving habits empower dictators to oppress people. One ugly fact about ourselves that we choose to ignore is that as a result of our automobile and driving decisions our government values unfettered access to inexpensive oil more than it does some people’s human rights.

Back to Qaddafi’s unraveling. There’s at least two ways to watch and listen to him. I suspect the vast majority of people in the U.S. watch him in the same way I watched Grizzly Man, as intimate and transfixing a study of mental illness as I’ve ever seen. They write him off as a genetic aberration. The alternative perspective is that maybe he’s not an extreme outlier after all. This is what I’ve been thinking. It seems naive to me to assume there aren’t people in the U.S. with evil, dictatorial ambitions.

However, there are two all-important, dictatorial-saving impediments in the U.S. Even though our government often seems broken and our press anemic, our constitutional underpinnings remain remarkable—specifically the built-in separation of powers, checks and balances, and rule of law. Additionally, we have a history of open elections and peaceful leadership transitions that have created serious positive, democratic, non-violent momentum.

U.S. citizens aren’t inherently better than Libyans, North Koreans, or Zimbabweans, it’s just that evil, dictatorial impulses have no chance of sprouting in our constitution, history-enriched soil.