Opinion |

The Deep State of the Union: Dictocracy. How Trump, Putin and Netanyahu Run Your Life

They live as royals. They rule as royals. They are above the law. They alone know best. They exalt and exploit religion, but do not practice it. Democracy - the same. They are beholden to oligarchs. Some Russian. Some named Koch. Some named Adelson

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
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U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, May 23, 2017
U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, May 23, 2017Credit: Sebastian Scheiner (AP)
Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

No one really wants to live in the 21st Century.

Millennials are inheriting a world in which ice melt threatens to flood great cities, no one anywhere is truly safe from terrorism and random mass murder, the maldistribution of wealth favors a slice of the pie so thin as to be invisible, affordable housing is, in fact, invisible, youth is becoming synonymous with anxiety, life expectancy may actually be going down, male fertility is definitely heading there, and while that's happening, AI 'bots threaten to decide elections, end careers, and, perhaps, at some point, find a way to pull the plug on humanity.

Would any person want a world like this?

Offhand, I can think of three. Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and Benjamin Netanyahu.

Whether you are reading this in the United States, Russia, Israel, or a host of other countries, they are divvying up your life. And the closer you live to them, the more acutely you can feel each of them instituting a very 21st Century system as a substitute for long-established principles of freedom, human rights, and equality.

Their system has all the trappings of democracy. And it is losing all of democracy's substance to a svelte, very 21st Century form of dictatorship.

Let's call it, for the sake of brevity, Dictocracy.

For the United States, Russia, and Israel, Dictocracy has become the real State of the Union. In a sense, considering how offstage and all-encompassing the apparatus involved, perhaps it's more accurate to call it the Deep State of the Union.

Each in his own way, Trump, Putin and Netanyahu are the very model of the modern major autocrat. And wherever you are reading this, you can understand that what's bad for the world may actually work to their advantage.

Why? Because the source of their power is all but bulletproof, and actually thrives on a world gone mad, on an atmosphere of continual threat, on the opioid of modern fundamentalist religion, on a so-far inexhaustible reservoir of resentment, of rage, and of a return to a society which may never have really existed, except in the images and slogans in the speeches of the Indispensible Leader.

Welcome, that is, to the Dictocracy of the Base.

We've learned that to stay in high office, the concept of Majority Rules is outmoded and irrelevant. In 2016, out of an estimated 245 million U.S. citizens of voting age, just 137 million, or less than 56 percent, actually voted. Of those, Hillary Clinton received 65.85 million votes or 48.2 percent, nearly three million more than Trump, at 62.98 million and 46.1 percent.

In 2015, longtime incumbent Netanyahu needed a much smaller minority percentage in order to stay in office – just 23.4 percent of the votes cast. He got it by taking to social media and whipping up racist sentiment against Arab citizens who, he said, were being bused "in droves" for what sounded for the entire world like the subversive purpose of voting.

Meanwhile, perennial winner Putin, who cut his political teeth as the onetime director of Russia's security service, has found other ways to win. One of them is to take your most feared opponent, ban him from running, and jail him.

Since announcing his candidacy in late 2016 for Russia's March, 2018 presidential election, Russian opposition figure and anti-corruption leader Alexei Navalny has twice been physically assaulted, causing him partial blindness. His campaign workers have been literally sealed into their apartments and had their cars vandalized. Election officials have barred Navalny from running over what the Financial Times called "a trumped-up fraud conviction," and he has been arrested repeatedly, most recently on Sunday, while he urged a boycott of the election.

"Low turnout, which could tarnish Mr. Putin's victory and the stage-managed election process, is what the leadership most worries about," the Financial Times remarked in a Monday opinion piece.

What, then, are the Pillars of Dictocracy?

As embodied by Trump, Putin, and Netanyahu – and for that matter, in many other countries these days – you can tell Dictocracies by how their leaders live:

- They live as royals.

- They rule as royals.

- They are above the law.

- They alone know best.

- They exalt and exploit religion, but do not practice it.

- Democracy, the same.

- They are beholden to oligarchs. Some Russian. Some named Koch. Some named Adelson.

This is the true Deep State. This is what runs your life. This is what ruins your life, Forces which may be killing the country, figuratively or literally, such as the settlement movement or the National Rifle Association. Forces which may be molding and manipulating public opinion, such as Fox News Channel, owned by Trump's close associate Rupert Murdoch, and Israel Hayom newspaper, owned by Sheldon Adelson, powerful supporter of both Trump and Netanyahu. In Russia, along with the impact of state-owned television and news agencies, there is widespread self-censorship engendered by the Law on Mass Media.

The true Deep State is a one-party state, headed by the Irreplaceable Leader. Separation of powers is increasingly cosmetic in nature.

The true Deep State may whip up and take advantage of distrust of and distaste for government officials and the bureaucracy – even of honest and untainted law enforcement officials - even as it circumvents them by placing real power offstage in the hands of family members, financial backers, and other close personal associates of the Dictocrat.

And there's something else. The leaders of Dictocracies have learned to rely on one another. Netanyahu this week proved his mettle as the only reliable liaison between the Russian and American presidents, whose communications have been compromised by allegations of collusion and of improper favors and promises.

To be successful, however, the Dictocracy must never sleep. It must tweet, youtube, post and print its message relentlessly, every hour of every day. The Dictocracy's essential tools, hatred and fear, must be driven home with what appears to be freshness and brand-new heat.

And the enemy du jour must be signaled. Fortunately, the cheerleaders pumping the base will have a wide variety to choose from. In Israel, for example, the Dictocracy effectively exploits anti-Semitism by rebranding it as hatred of the treacherous Semites called Palestinians, and of the treacherous Semites called leftist Jews, here and abroad.

Sadly, for Russia and Israel, where Putin and Netanyahu have been working their Dictocratic magic since the '90s, it may already be too late. For them, Dictocracy may already be all but permanent.

Trump's American Dictocracy, however, is still young and in part unformed. Much will depend on the midterm election on November 6. So much so, that on Monday Republican mega-donors the Koch Brothers let it be known that they will spend some $400 million to back Republicans.

"Let's be frank right up front. These elections are going to be brutally tough,” Emily Seidel, CEO of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch's funding channel, told reporters on Monday.

“We’ve never faced a challenge like this one. Making the environment even more challenging this year are the high unfavorable ratings plaguing both President Trump and the Republican-led Congress."

For the sake of the state of the union, let's hope so.

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