Friday, November 11, 2016

Rules For Surviving Autocracy

Masha Gessen was born in Russia and moved with her family to the US when she was 15.  Later she went back and worked in Moscow.  She has dual US and Russian passports.  

 I first found out about a her when a friend lent me her book The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin.  She's knows how things work.  When she writes, we should pay attention.

I found out about this article by Gessen, Autocracy:  Rules for Survival  from the same friend. (Thank you.)  

The world has plenty of examples of countries sliding out of democracy.  I choose to take these rules very seriously.  Starting late Tuesday night, we stepped into an alternative universe.  We have some time of apparent normalcy, but it's going to be obvious soon that things are seriously wrong.  

Below is a greatly abbreviated version of her six rules.  
Rule #1: 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. .  .
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. The capture of institutions in Turkey has been carried out even faster, by a man once celebrated as the democrat to lead Turkey into the EU. Poland has in less than a year undone half of a quarter century’s accomplishments in building a constitutional democracy. . .
Rule #4: Be outraged. If you follow Rule #1 and believe what the autocrat-elect is saying, you will not be surprised. But in the face of the impulse to normalize, it is essential to maintain one’s capacity for shock. This will lead people to call you unreasonable and hysterical, and to accuse you of overreacting. It is no fun to be the only hysterical person in the room. Prepare yourself. . .
Rule #5: Don’t make compromises. Like Ted Cruz, who made the journey from calling Trump “utterly amoral” and a “pathological liar” to endorsing him in late September to praising his win as an “amazing victory for the American worker,” Republican politicians have fallen into line. Conservative pundits who broke ranks during the campaign will return to the fold. Democrats in Congress will begin to make the case for cooperation, for the sake of getting anything done—or at least, they will say, minimizing the damage. . . .
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. Failure to imagine the future may have lost the Democrats this election. They offered no vision of the future to counterbalance Trump’s all-too-familiar white-populist vision of an imaginary past. . .
In a previous post I said I was going to try to include in each political post, something useable, something for people to do, so they gain some power in the fight we have looming ahead.  Today it is these rules.  They're tools for not letting yourself be misguided into ignoring all the signs.

I've read Rule 4 carefully.  I tend to remain calm and outrage isn't my style.  But all the rules Americans have come to assume were simply part of nature, no longer can be certain.  Without strong and vigorous opposition - overt and covert - the America we know is toast.

Gessen criticizes Obama and Clinton for being so gracious to Trump.  She rightfully tells us that he simply isn't going to be gracious back.  Being a total jerk (is there a word for jerk that suggests something more menacing?) won him the election.  Why would he stop now?  Even if he could.


  1. :) Thanks for the heads up phone call!

  2. You hit the nail on the head. We have to keep our leaders accountable for this system to work. Don't sell yourself short! You may not be vigorously protesting on the streets for a cause or ideals you believe in, but you are posting and blogging about it all.


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