If there’s a part of you that still holds out hope that, for all his autocratic tendencies, Donald Trump will revert to a sort of political normality as president, you need to read Masha Gessen’s chilling but essential article “Autocracy: Rules for Survival” in The New York Review of Books.
Gessen, a journalist who has devoted much of her career to making sense of Russia under Vladimir Putin, offers a number of hard-won lessons for surviving in the autocracy that we may soon find ourselves living in here in the US.
The first and in some ways most important lesson for those still holding out hope for a more-or-less normal presidency:
Believe the autocrat. He means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization. This will happen often: humans seem to have evolved to practice denial when confronted publicly with the unacceptable. Back in the 1930s, The New York Times assured its readers that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was all posture.
I think we’re going to have to suspend Godwin’s Law for the length of Trump’s presidency; the comparisons are simply too apt.
He has received the support he needed to win, and the adulation he craves, precisely because of his outrageous threats. Trump rally crowds have chanted “Lock her up!” They, and he, meant every word. … Trump has made his plans clear, and he has made a compact with his voters to carry them out. These plans include not only dismantling legislation such as Obamacare but also doing away with judicial restraint—and, yes, punishing opponents.
Gessen’s other rules:
Rule #2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality. Consider the financial markets this week, which, having tanked overnight, rebounded following the Clinton and Obama speeches. Confronted with political volatility, the markets become suckers for calming rhetoric from authority figures. So do people. …
Rule #3: Institutions will not save you. It took Putin a year to take over the Russian media and four years to dismantle its electoral system; the judiciary collapsed unnoticed. …
Rule #4: Be outraged. … [I]n the face of the impulse to normalize, it is essential to maintain one’s capacity for shock. …
Rule #5: Don’t make compromises.
The final rule offers up a little bit of hope:
Rule #6: Remember the future. Nothing lasts forever. Donald Trump certainly will not, and Trumpism, to the extent that it is centered on Trump’s persona, will not either.
Gessen ends her piece with a call for “resistance—stubborn, uncompromising, outraged.” Thousands of Americans are already taking to the streets in cities across the country to let the world know that Trump — who after all lost the popular vote — is not their president. He’s not mine either. We need to join those in the streets — literally, figuratively, or both — to make clear we don’t want, and won’t stand for, Putinism in the United States.