From dictatorships to democracies, this animated guide to how power really works is depressingly informative.
It's an election year, so everyone from the talking heads on TV to the chatty person next to you on the bus thinks they're a political philosopher, but instead of the rigged media or Trump's trolls, let's talk about how power really works. CGP Grey is one of the best informational channels out there, but being the king of Smart YouTube doesn't require control over the military, the treasury, and the police. Being a dictator or a democratic ruler does.
It's all about keeping the support of the people who control those three parts of the government. You can be the greatest military thinker in history, but fail to pay your troops and they won't heed your brilliant orders. In a democracy, control over institutions is spread out, so would-be rulers have to appeal with words and policies to millions at once. On the opposite end of the scale, you might literally just need three people—the head of your army, the head of your civil government, and the chief of police. But those three people will have their own underlings to pay off and keep happy.
Democracies are better, basically, not because of their moral superiority, but because it's in rulers' (and yes, that includes legislators—in theory, Congress rules America) self-interest to make the whole population richer and more educated. That means you can tax them at lower rates while making more money, lowering the risk of revolution while simultaneously having more than enough to keep the power players happy.
So before you charge off to the polls with a head full of idealism and ideology, stop and check in with your inner pragmatic dictator. You may want your candidate to be really tough on [insert thing you hate here, like the media or the pharmaceutical industry], but once they turn on those institutions, a new ruler will come in and get their support by promising to return them to power. What we all really want, then, is a ruler who can convince the rich and powerful it's in their interest to support major investments in the not-so-rich-and-powerful. That's not a left or right issue, and it's up to you to make that call.