Why would I post about Trump’s personality flaws in a blog about Southeast Asia? Well, for the simple reason that Pepinksy’s earlier work studying authoritarian regimes in Southeast Asia, namely Malaysia and New Order Indonesia, give him (and therefore us) some clues in understanding the character of various regimes and authoritarian actors now in place across the region.
This post won’t go into exhaustive detail, but does give you the reader a framework to apply these thoughts against your own polity or those of particular interest to you. Pepinksy outlines comparative measures between dictatorships and regimes run by narcissists/bullies through the following points, with my thoughts following in italics.
1/ Dictators not lying openly to the media about things that are easy to check. I don’t think you would see that in Singapore. Thailand yes, not least because the alternative sources of information (with credibility) have been/are being squeezed, particularly by laws prohibiting free speech.
2/ Authoritarian media is about misdirection, not just misinformation. I see that as a more widespread issue across Southeast Asia, and Pepinky’s point that almost anything is allowed “as they can be reported as evidence of rapid material progress that justifies the steady hand of the ruling government” rings true. Touching on Pepinksy’s final point here, negative or damaging news in Singapore may “generate lies or outbursts in response”, unlike Thailand where I would argue that increasingly “it is simply not covered at all”.
3/ Authoritarian media focus on motivations rather than actions. I’d certainly say there is enough evidence of disparaging the motivations of critical voices in Thailand to support this point. The emphasis on criticising dissenting figures’ intentions rather than their actions in other regional countries varies, but it certainly isn’t a rare social/political phenomenon.
4/ Effective, authoritarian media cannot have competition. Consistent with point 1/, I would argue that this point increasingly characterises Thailand. On this measure Thailand would furthermore be towards the top of the list regionally, a hierarchy with Indonesia (by comparison) at the bottom of the list (with a relatively diverse and free media).
A very interesting and fruitful area of study, and I’d welcome links to any similar work out there.
PS I note that Tom Pepinsky also blogs at wordpress.com. Following him, or performing whatever online magic works for you to receive updates on his posts, is highly recommended.