When I arrived at ‘the pub for our weekly peeve session over a couple of pints, Campbell or Camp for as long as I know him, was scribbling away in his Moleskin note book while checking back to his phone, obviously doing some Google-research.
‘What’s up Camp, checking your investments?’ I asked, knowing full well that all his eggs were in one basket, his ‘non-profit’ bookstore.
‘Yeah, I wish. I’ve read a book ‘How Democracies Die’ by two Harvard professors and it’s got me worried.’
‘Worried about what? It probably didn’t teach you anything new,’ I said.
‘But it did. It confirmed to me in great detail that we should be very concerned about the direction many countries are heading in. If you would have told me twenty years ago that we’re heading for isolationist retrenching and nationalism on a worldwide scale I would have laughed but not anymore. I think we should be lucky to still have fallible people like Trudeau at the helm. At least he’s still committed to democracy and the rule of law.’
‘There might be some that differ but cynicism aside you’re probably right.’
‘Anyway, here is a condensed takeaway from the book. These here are the qualifiers for demagogues and autocrats who, under the guise of pseudo democratic procedures, like nominations and elections, become presidents and rulers but aspire to be dictators by eroding piece-meal democratic institutions and basic human rights. They restrict voting rights to certain groups; jail or disallow opposition parties and leaders; wrestle control of the media; appoint loyalist to courts and cabinet positions; lie about their own goals; vilify their opponents and rig election results, change history, falsify information etc.’
‘That’s quite the list,’ I said.
Camp kept right on going. ‘I’ve just made a list of a number of present day demagogues and autocrats who act like dictators and who have all but abandoned the rule of law; the unwritten rules of democracy like trust, respect and discourse and repress common freedoms like free assembly, freedom of speech and unfettered access to social media. Except they have all been ‘elected’, if you can believe that. Here they are.’
Camp showed me his list of culprits and I had to say that it’s a scary line-up of potential and actual dictators.
Vladimir Putin, Russia
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey
Aleksandar Vucic, Serbia
Victor Orban, Hungary
Andrzej Duda, Poland
Bashar, Al-Azad, Syria
Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Egypt
Salman of Saudi Arabia
Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela
Kim Jong-eun, North Korea,
Prayut Chan-o-cha,Jair, Thailand
Rodrigo Duterte, Philippines
Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia
Daniel Ortega. Nicaragua
Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil
Xi Jingping, China
Binjamin Netanyahu, Israel
Donald Trump, USA
‘And then we have some minor populist aspirants for supreme leadership like Doug Ford in Ontario or Italy’s deputy prime minister Mateo Salvini. Right wing populism is definitely trending upwards but I’m not sure if it’s a last ditch entrenchment of old white men or a nascent movement of neo-conservative youth. The latter would be by far the worse,’ Camp said, setting down his list and taking a long draught from his pint. I did likewise.
‘I see you included Trump and Netanjahu in your list,’ I said
‘Fact is that they are both populist demagogues who rail against the free press and the judiciary and have little respect for the rule of law and no real interest in the democratic process. One is a corrupt autocrat and the other an ongoing embarrassment to his nation, his office and the people of his country, unfit for his job, unhinged and unglued, swinging like a bad clown from the ropes in his circus,’ Camp pontificated.
He didn’t get an argument from me. Instead I focused on my drink. ‘In Switzerland there is a growing movement called Operation Libero, which is using fun but hard hitting messages to tackle fear and pessimism in politics,’ I said. ‘They want to change the mood and the narrative and focus on positive outcomes.’
‘That’s all fine and good but that kind of approach requires a well informed and educated population.’
‘Which seems to be the case in Switzerland. Also the members and staff of Libero are mostly in their 20’ies and early 30’ies.’
‘I’m all for youth to show us the way. Let the young ones lead the parade,’ Camp proclaimed enthusiastically.
‘It’s called a demonstration or a protest,’ Rosie said. ‘And before you fix the rest of the world, don’t forget to fix your bar tab,’ she added, with a wink in my direction. ‘Are you two ready for another one?”
‘Maybe we’ll take a rain check,’ Camp harrumphed.
‘It is raining right now,’ Rosie said.
‘I guess we’ll cash in that check then,’ I said.