Weekend edition—The strongman playbook, fixing Reddit, we ❤️ seltzer

Good morning, Quartz readers!

It’s turning into quite a month for global strongmen.

Last weekend, Chinese president Xi Jinping upended his country’s two-term limit on power, meaning there’s now little to stop him from ruling for life. Two days later, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan pushed through sweeping changes to the electoral system that give him a strong chance of extending his 15-year reign in the 2019 elections.

And there’s zero doubt that Russia’s Vladimir Putin will be re-elected with a massive majority on Sunday, taking him to a total of 24 years in power by the end of his next six-year term.

Donald Trump responded last week by joking that America should itself give the president-for-life thing “a shot someday.” But the idea could have some actual backing among Trump voters: A 2017 Pew poll showed that 33% of Republicans (paywall) would like a “strong leader” whose power is unchecked by courts or Congress.

All this fits nicely into the narrative of the world turning authoritarian at an unsettling speed.

At times, that strongman model can look tempting. Putin’s centralized rule and disregard for international law allows him to take quick, daring actions that can leave liberal democracies looking impotent and flat-footed. The West’s riposte to Russia’s alleged murder of a British agent on UK soil, for example, has so far been limited to the expulsion of a few diplomats and a grumpy letter from Britain’s friends.

But take a step back, and you start to see all kinds of flaws in the strongman method.

Putin may be able to flex his muscles on some international issues, but the length and autocratic nature of his reign has left Russia far weaker than it should be. The Russian president has shored up power with patronage. To stay popular with the masses, he has had to take massive risks—among them the seizure of Crimea—which have alienated Moscow from all the main global powers. On the world stage, Putin is more of a reactionary counter-puncher than an agenda-setter.

Xi risks following Putin’s lead and sapping the dynamism out of his country’s economy—which became the world’s second-largest under a political system where the leading actors rotate and institutions more or less function. Strongman rule, by its very nature, undermines those institutions. Russia’s constant plunging in and out of recession should serve as a cautionary tale.

For all its frustrations and seeming impotency, the “Western liberal order” bears that name because it is the order.—Max de Haldevang

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“The blackness has really made me drowsy.” Despite a strong box-office debut in China, some moviegoers there are less than impressed with Marvel’s Black Panther, which has become a racial and cultural milestone. Echo Huang used online reviews to delicately highlight the limited exposure many Chinese people have to other races.

You do have it harder than everyone else. Lila MacLellan delves deep into why people often feel their parents were tougher on them than on a sibling—and why both political parties believe the electoral map puts them at a disadvantage. It’s a psychological trap called “headwinds-tailwinds asymmetry.”

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Is there a right to have sex? In the London Review of Books, Amia Srinivasan looks at the disturbing case of Elliot Rodger (paywall), an “incel” (involuntary celibate) who killed six people in 2014. It’s a rampage with some important and uncomfortable lessons for modern feminism, which has long struggled with questions about how desires are formed and politicized.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, Apple Watches, and sparkling water to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day, or download our apps for iPhone and Android. Today’s Weekend Brief was edited by Kabir Chibber.