Strongmen come in many flavors, writes editor Prashad (Red Star over the Third World, 2017, etc.), but they share a commonality: They “are nothing other than cowardly when it comes to social reality.”
The fascist dictators in modern clothing, writes Prashad in his introduction to this edited volume, “do not advertise themselves as fascists,” but they speak the same language: Protect the homeland from outsiders, obey, and worship your leader. “Older, decadent language can be heard,” writes Prashad, “the language of death and disorder.” So it is that Rodrigo Duterte came into power in the Philippines on a platform, Filipina novelist and journalist Ninotchka Rosca recounts, in which he compared himself to Hitler and said that he “was prepared to kill three million Filipinos” in order to crush the drug trade. In this, Rosca notes, Duterte shocked not only the West, but also Filipinos, whose culture honors “bedrock values of kapwa, ‘togetherness’ and ‘empathy.’ ” One of Duterte’s staunchest admirers is American would-be strongman Donald Trump, whom Eve Ensler depicts as an “orange round slime” that, thanks to a virus, “had become a kind of octopus (not to insult octopi as they are highly evolved creatures)” that busied itself groping women as envious men beheld and envied. Ensler’s fable is a touch heavy-handed, but then so is her subject. More straightforward is novelist Lara Vapnyar’s bitter portrait of Vladimir Putin, another object of Trumpian fondness and emulation, whose faux populism she expertly captures: What matters isn’t what the opposition or the Western press thinks; it’s what ordinary Russians think, “and the population loved it,” it in this case being Putin’s campaign to be reckoned not as orange slime but as sex symbol plenipotentiary. A tawdry sameness emerges: Modi is Erdogan is Duterte is Putin is Trump, objects less to be admired or cowed by than scorned.
Nothing news-breaking, but readers seeking a literate crash course in bottom-of-the-barrel geopolitics will quickly devour this book.