Steady gaze at the facts : I would hazard a guess that when Masha Gessen began working on ''Surviving Autocracy,'' the title was meant more figuratively than literally in the November 2016 essay-

Essay that gave rise to this book, Gessen offered a set of numbered rules for ''salvaging your sanity and self-respect'' during a time of political upheaval.

Physical survival didn't look as if it was going to be the hard part. As a country like Viktor Orban's Hungary shows, autocracy can thrive on corruption and soft oppression : Don't speak up; just eat the bread and watch the circuses, and chances are you'll get by.

''Most Americans in the age of Trump are not, like the subject of totalitarian regime, subjected to state terror,''

Gessen writes in the new book. But last few months have shown what can happen when a president's contempt for expert knowledge collides with a dire need for it :

''We could have imagined, but what we could not have predicted, that a pandemic would render his arrogant ignorance lethal.''

In ''Surviving Autocracy,'' Gessen suggests that the United States has been terribly unprepared for a figure like  Donald Trump .

Not because he came out of nowhere; if anything, he took advantage of a political system that was ripe for a demagogue, swollen already by money and the powers concentrated in the executive branch.

But too many Americans have maintained a stubborn hope that their vaunted institutions can save them. Establishment politicians like Barack Obama exhorted Americans to operate from ''a presumption of good faith.''

Gessen quotes at length from a soaring speech that Obama gave the day after the 2016 election; reading it now might make you wince. Even the most seasoned journalists, Gessen says, couldn't bring themselves to assimilate the unthinkable.

''No powerful political actor had set out to destroy the American political system itself - until, that is,  Trump won the Republican nomination,'' Gessen writes. ''He was probably the first major party nominee who ran not for president but for autocrat.

Gessen isn't part of the typical #Resist crowd, fixated on the Mueller report. If anything, Gessen says, ''the excruciatingly slow, tantalizingly complicated, deliciously dirty story of Russian interference in the 2016'' elections served yet another distraction  from the facts at hand.

By the time the special counsel informed the public that the president had ordered a White House lawyer to lie, ''the president had been lying to the public daily for two and a half years,'' Gessen writes.

The words ''lie'' and ''lying'' and ''liar'' appear a lot in this book. So so ''meaning'' and ''meaningless'.'

Gessen's writing style is methodical and direct, relying on pointed observations instead of baroque hyperbole. The loose use of language, Gessen says, has been a problem on both sides of the American political divide - though it would take a fanatical attachment to both-sidesism not to point out that one party is the more flagrant and egregious offender.

Trump's critics may be inordinately fond of words like ''coup'' and ''treason,'' Geesen writes, but none of that compares to the president's mangling of meaning and basic syntax - what Gessen calls his  ''word piles''.

The World Students Society thanks review author Jennifer Szalai.


Post a Comment

Grace A Comment!