The prize for sickening image of the week goes to Belarus. It was of goons grabbing women off the street and putting them into unmarked vans and driving them away.
The women had been protesting against the theft of the recent election, and doing so peacefully, but that didn't trouble the goons. They seized even a 78-year-old as a threat to public order. The goons were more than twice her size.
Like bank robbers they were wearing balaclavas, and there could be no more obvious a confession of guilt than wearing a balaclava. But their guilt didn't stop them.
The goons were police and military, employees of the state, their salaries paid by the very citizens they were grabbing. But they weren't doing the bidding of those citizens. They were doing the bidding of the president.
Lukashenko's been president for a quarter of a century and he doesn't intend to relinquish the job. In the recent election he claimed to have got 80 per cent of the vote. It was an obvious lie, but people like Lukashenko don't have to worry that their lies are obvious, any more than his goons have to worry about their consciences. He's got the power.
Lukashenko is a standard-issue authoritarian, or tyrant, or despot, or strong man, all of which are just grown-up terms for playground bully. You knew the type at school.
Playground bullies like power. They don't mind what they do to gain or retain power. The more power they have the more they want. The longer they have it the more reluctant they are to lose it. And playground bullies will always find henchmen, people who enjoy both the cruelty and the rewards.
Playground bullies know that most nice people, people like you and me, don't much want power, that we're reluctant to fight for it and even more reluctant to fight dirty for it. They also know that their greatest weapon is fear. Instil fear and we'll tend to back off and just hope that they'll leave us alone. And that, in sum, is the story of power in most places throughout human history.
Democracy was supposed to counter all this by handing the power to you and me. But it doesn't always work, as illustrated by, well, Belarus. Belarus is ostensibly a democracy and it initially voted Lukashenko into power. But once a bully boy has got his feet under the table and has appointed enough of his cronies into the positions of state that matter, then elections, courts and all the other paraphernalia of fairness hold no threat for him. He can rig the lot.
Moreover there is always a portion of the population that likes a bully boy. He makes things easy. He promises to take care of everything for them, to make decisions, to impose order, to crush troublemakers, and to let people who don't oppose him just get on with their lives. It is for this reason that democracy is vulnerable. However well established it is always fragile. And a case in point is the United States.
Trump was elected by 40 per cent of the electorate (and with a little help from Putin and other bullyboy friends who saw in him a kindred soul). Since then Trump has spent four years telling lies, and failing to govern, and concealing his own corruption, and lining his pocket, and putting cronies into power, and sowing division, and ignoring a pandemic.
Four years, in short, of corruption, theft, falsehood and incompetence. Yet his popularity still stands at 40 per cent.
In the process he has revealed that the Republican party, the party of Lincoln, is unconcerned by his corruption. Every Republican senator but one has stood by him, has ignored his lies, his crimes and his failures, and by doing so has demonstrated that power matters more to them than democracy or justice.
In one way it's been astonishing to watch. But in another it's been simply a reminder that the human animal is the same everywhere.
Trump is now doing all he can to rig the coming election. It's harder for him after only four years than it is for Lukashenko after 26, but he's giving it a go.
He's cast doubt on postal ballots, undermined the postal system, encouraged his followers to intimidate voters, rigged every court he can, projected his own crimes onto his opposition and is ready to declare victory on election night regardless of the vote count.
He may succeed. And if he does he'll have four more years to entrench his corruption of a government, and that will be that for the USA. It will be Belarus.