What Trump can learn from the military dictatorship

11 11 2016

In a recent post at New Mandala, a supposedly populist Donald Trump – now U.S. president-elect – was compared with another said to be a populist, Thailand’s  Thaksin Shinawatra. The comparison was a little silly, with the differences seemingly to far outweigh the similarities.Udomdej

Such comparisons might include bad hair and the wide public acceptance of comb-overs. Trump has heinous hair, but so too do many leaders in Thailand. Think of the failed and corrupt General  Udomdej Sitabutr.

Trump can learn that one should never allow that comb-over to get out of control. One must maintain the orderliness of one’s appearance, for appearance can be considered to overcome a dark heart, ignorance or boorishness.trump1

This kind of comparison is no less silly than the one mentioned above. However, we can take this further and consider the characteristics of quite different political leaders.

General Udomdej’s carefully sculpted comb-over and his inability to allow any greying to appear has a lot to do with conceit and arrogance, and the forever orange-tanned and “blonde” Trump certainly displays such characteristics by the truckload.

In a list of characteristics of Thailand’s military regime, and of The Dictator himself, one that ranks high is arrogance.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha has demonstrated remarkable arrogance, dominating the media, as all dictators do, and establishing his “values” as those for the nation. He even “pens” songs that Thais are forced to hear, again and again. The Dictator demands that Thailand be more like him. Narrow, loyalist and conservative.

Trump can learn a bit more about narrow nationalism and enforcing conservatism from the draconian actions of the military dictatorship. Of course, Trump is well known for his arrogance and remarkable hubris. This derives from privilege, wealth and the loyalty of jellyback servants in a hierarchical and dictatorial business organization. For the military dictatorship, loyalty and subservience also rank high. However, The Dictator’s arrogance derives not so much from wealth as from a surplus of power at the head of a murderous and hierarchical organization. The Dictator has shown how to enforce that jellyback subservience by weeding out “opponents” in the state’s organizations. Trump may seek to do similar things in the U.S.Prayuth angry

Related, as we emphasize through our labeling of General Prayuth as The Dictator,  narcissism and egoism drive him. These characteristics are most certainly defining of Trump. Some argued that he has shown the symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Yet narcissism is not just a “disorder.” It is a political style that emphasizes authoritarianism and a personality cult.

One characteristic that The Dictator has taken to a remarkable level is disingenuousness. Just lie. Whenever anything mildly disturbing to The Dictator personally or is considered “threatening” to the regime, just lie. We are sure that Trump will have no difficulty following this example. Making stuff up is the essence of an authoritarian regime.

The Dictator and his regime also show the way on double standards. Under this military dictatorship, there are no standards that are not double standards. Again, we have no trouble believing that Trump can quickly adapt this when he becomes president.

Authoritarianism defines the military dictatorship. Liberal values and liberal patience for dissent are expunged. They are expunged from law, practice in the bureaucracy, in the media and educational institutions. In Thailand, this was made easy by the “tradition” of military authoritarianism and interventionist feudalism in the form of the monarchy. In the U.S., Trump will surely build on an illiberalism that has been built in civil society, much of it fostered by religious fundamentalism and conservative nationalism or “patriotism.” We can see him moving against institutions identified with U.S. liberalism. trump2

Anti-liberalism and authoritarianism in Thailand has long been associated with a deeply conservative emphasis on orderliness. This fetish has been fostered by the hierarchy of military and monarchy. Trump is unlikely to rely on the military, although many in the military will be ideologically drawn to him. He may seek to make his family more monarchical, just as The Dictator has adopted characteristics of the dead king.

Misogyny and boorishness have been defining elements of The Dictator’s personality and regime. As we know, Trump has little to learn from The Dictator on these scores. Yet we might understand that these characteristics are a part of a conservatism that allocates privilege to selected groups in society.

Ignorance is another central characteristic of the military dictatorship. The Dictator and his closest colleagues have little knowledge of the world.This group gained its leadership position based on royal posterior polishing and adherence to hierarchy. They have no experience of a real world, even in the military. Trump, for all of his investments, is essentially a New York property developer. He can learn from the military dictatorship that such narrowness simply doesn’t matter when your constituency is boorish and narrow too.

The final characteristic is an inability to “fail” or “lose.” The military dictatorship is never wrong and never gets anything wrong. The problem is “others” who are undermining the regime, opponents of the regime or duped by nasty politicians. Trump can learn from this. He certainly knows that even defeats must be reworked as “wins.” However, the targeting of opponents will likely become his excuse for all kinds of nastiness.

Thailand has demonstrated that authoritarianism is a slippery slope. The country is now at the bottom of the slope. The U.S. is no liberal heaven but Trump can easily knock away some of the remaining checks and balances and the slope gets steeper and the slide down it accelerates.

The threat from universities

16 06 2014

The Bangkok Post headlines a “visit” by the armed minions of Thailand’s military dictatorship to universities a “PR drive.” Let’s be clear, this is not PR, it is propaganda and repression. The idea that troops can stroll onto a campus that has a long history of opposing the military putsch is a travesty but is meant to threaten and coerce.

The military dictatorship insists that “university lecturers and students must be better informed about why the coup was declared.” They mean that university lecturers and students must accept the coup. Nothing else is permitted.

Colonel Naruedol Taowrit, the Commander of the 1st Artillery Regiment (King’s Guard), “said after a talk last week on the necessity of the coup at Thammasat University, officers received positive responses from scholars and students.” We imagine that he was talking to a carefully selected group, probably with the conclusion of the university’s administration, which has been staunchly royalist and anti-democratic.

This university administration is not unlike the military. Whereas the soldiers trample over democracy and laws, the university administration tramples across the bodies and spirits of students who stood up against military fascism in the past.

The report makes an extraordinary claim, apparently reflective of the confused thinking of the Dictator: “The university was no longer being used for political activities since the NCPO put a stop to political events there, particularly at the Lan Pho grounds during the coup’s initial stages.” Those protesters were “calling for freedom of speech to be restored.” In fact, the military’s presence on campus and its suppression of students and others is one of the grossest of political acts. The politicized military does nothing other than engage in politics, repressing those it considers enemies, murdering protesters and engaging in other acts of political violence and political corruption with legal and political impunity.

The Dictator is reported to have “placed great emphasis on the need to educate scholars and students at Thammasat University on NCPO [they mean the junta] objectives as the campus is an important venue for anti-coup protesters and Nitirat Group members.” Nitirat must be a huge threat to the junta through its capacity to engage in liberal politics, for liberal ideas challenge the fascism of dictators, perhaps more than other doctrines.

The repression of politics on university campuses is said to have extended beyond Thammasat.


Elite stategy 2

20 04 2011

In an addendum to PPT’s earlier post, we just saw Jon Ungpakorn’s most recent op-ed in the Bangkok Post, and we think some of his points deserve emphasis:

It is very clear that both the constitution and ”the system” are stacked against Puea Thai’s chances of winning the election and Thaksin Shinawatra’s opportunity to make a comeback. Even in the unlikely event of Puea Thai winning the election and being able to form a government, I’m pretty sure that either judicial or extra-judicial means would soon be exerted to remove that government.

Even before the elections have begun, the army has made it clear to the public how they would like them to vote, by publicly denouncing key red shirt leaders linked to Puea Thai and filing lese majeste complaints against them. This is a blatant interference in the election process and has already doomed any chances of the elections being judged as ”free and fair”.

At the same time, the choice of the new batch of appointed senators by the selection panel representing the judiciary and independent state organisations (including the Election Commission) has made sure that Puea Thai will by default have many opponents in Parliament.

The message is clear. The establishment (please make your own list of its principal components) is not going to allow Puea Thai to govern the country!

Jon points to the need for a political compromise, f=seemingly fully aware that the elite and especially the military’s bosses are totally opposed. He says the constitution must be reworked, the judiciary depoliticized, an end to appointed senate seats, the need for the supposedly independent institutions to be truly independent and not the lackeys of the regime, as they are now. Significantly, echoing calls made in 1932, he argues for a truly constitutional monarchy.

A few years ago this list would have seemed like liberal reformism; now it seems downright revolutionary.

Bowornsak Uwanno on lesè majesté

7 04 2009

PPT readers will surely be interested in the Bangkok Post’s printing of Bowornsak’s defence of the lesè majesté law (7 April 2009: “The law of inviolability in Thailand”).

Bowornsak is a royalist legal scholar who has made himself available to a number of governments over the years. Most recently he was appointed by  the military junta to the National Legislative Assembly. That appointment came under critical comment because he had also worked for Thaksin Shinawatra’s government and was a late defector.

In a story in the Nation, it was reported that: “NLA member Bowornsak Uwanno said he also had forgiven all critics who opposed his appointment. “I have been appointed to the job by royal command and am determined to work and abide by the teachings of revered monk Buddhadassa Bhikku,” he said. Bowornsak was reacting to criticism of his legal services for the Thaksin Shinawatra government.”

Now Bowornsak argues that the lesè majesté law is an integral element of Thailand’s democracy. PPT finds it hard to fathom the logic of this argument, but consider it a reflection of the “liberal royalism” that Australian scholar Michael Connors thinks is important for Thailand’s democratic development. If this is royal liberalism, then it is a remarkably conservative “royal liberalism.”

Bowornsak’s main claim is for “ethical relativism”, which involves this: “On the other hand, if we believe that no country is right or wrong but that each is democratic in its own way based on its own social, cultural and ethical norms, thereby creating diversity, then we will better and more easily appreciate others without passing judgement on them based on our own standards.”

Such a position will allow for a remarkable variety of illiberal “democratic” variations, and would be an underpinning of “Thai-style democracy” that royalists and PAD have promoted that is no democracy at all. When pressured, Thailand’s “royal liberals” seem to lose their liberalism in favour of royalism.

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