How to live under autocratic rule

A must-read from Masha Gessen on how to live under autocratic rule

For a decade now, Masha has consistently been one of my favorite reporters and thinkers. From the time of her return to Russia from the US after the wall fell, she fearlessly reported on what her birth country was turning into under Vladimir Putin, even as free media outlets were being shut down. She continued, even as other reporters were being murdered and “disappeared”, until she became so worried about the situation for LGBTQ Russians that she consulted a lawyer about how to ensure that her own teenage son wouldn’t be taken away from her simply for her being lesbian, and his answer was, “you have American citizenship; your answer is at the airport”. She left.

She’s just an extremely cool person with principles and intelligence, and I’m an unabashed Masha fanboy. (She also writes the dialog for the Russian actors in The Americans, which is awesome.)

She now sees what’s happening in this country, which is also her country, and her insight and experience is something we all need to pay attention to.

Today, President-elect Trump, in his first day of official transition business, did at least four things that were unprecedented for a president-elect:

1. He did not allow a press corps to follow and report on him (all footage we’ve seen today of him came from reporters invited by the White House, Speaker Ryan, or the Congressional press corps).

2. His spokespeople lied to the press pool about where he’d be spending the night and he gave them the slip for several hours until he showed up at Trump Tower—causing for the first time in 40 years a situation where the American people did not know where their president and president-elect was (even if “the American people” was notionally represented only by a small “tight pool” sworn to secrecy for national security reasons).

3. He tweeted. He has his phone back, ironically on the very day that he gained unlimited security clearance and was politely asked by the Director of National Intelligence to cease using an unsecured phone as Bush and Obama had done at this point in the transition—a request he refused. (I suppose that’s two unprecedented things, but I meant the refusing to follow security protocols, not tweeting.)

4. That tweet was to complain that spontaneous protests around the country were actually “professional protesters incited by the media”. (And that’s actually such a ball of unprecedented things that I can’t untangle them all and will pretend like it’s just one.) If you’ve never visited the alt-right corners of the web, you may be unaware of the concept of “crisis actors”, but he’s claiming that they’ve been mobilized against him. (Oddly, “crisis actors” up till now have always been in the Obama administration’s payroll, but I guess “the media” has decided to take them over as part of the peaceful transition of power?)

This is happening, folks. If you’d hoped he was going to make that presidential pivot; if you thought that last week, when his phone was stolen from him by his own advisors and he was convinced to just sit back and let the Comey letter do its job—”easy, Donald, play it smooth”—and everyone applauded him for managing to get through eight whole days without a scandal (so presidential!), if you thought that was a preview of his presidency, today put the lie to that.

Prepare yourself. Masha’s advice will help.


One Reply to “How to live under autocratic rule”

  1. Oh cheer up Kent, what could possibly go wrong when the normalisation of the irrational mind-set has already begun in earnest? And it’s interesting that this essay mentions Neville Chamberlain particularly at this time when appeasement seems to be the American political establishment’s reaction to the grotesque. Chamberlain, he of the, “Peace for our time,” pact with Hitler just months before all Europe was plunged into flames of conflagration. And so now Mrs Clinton reckons that America owes Mr Trump, who’s now presumptive occupant for the Oval despite having lost the popular vote, she reckons that America owes Mr Trump an open mind, this Mr Trump whose mind is so open that the hole in the ozone is much narrower by comparison, so much so that Mr Trump favours a climate change denier to head the EPA, that’s the open-minded Trump who’s owed a fair hearing by his fellow open-minded Americans. And Mr Obama, in full professorial mode no less, well he reckons that all Americans should presume good faith in the actions of their fellow Americans, and this presumption of good faith must be extended even to citizen number one Donald, and this in spite of the fact that all signs point to the fact that citizen Donald might and will in very short order possibly be using the judiciary to carry out his personal vendettas, could very well soon begin to strangulate and to emasculate any disagreeable media, will not repudiate any of his more colourful campaign rhetoric and might in fact soon begin shopping around to find anyone who’s unhinged enough to craft such reckless rhetoric into official American government policy. It was the free press, way back during Hitler’s lifetime who assured those who lived through those trying times that Herr Hitler’s anti-semitic rhetoric was nothing more than mere posturing, history proved otherwise. So what’s to fear indeed, what’s to fear when a man with the vindictive temperament of a sore wasp is now the iconic representation of Christendom and the presumptive ruler of the free world, what’s to fear? This should end well.

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