It’s stunning to look back and realize it now, but this was written just two days after the 2016 election. Along with Adam Serwer’s piece in the Atlantic, bluntly titled ”The Cruelty is the Point,” and Timothy Snyder’s tract, “On Tyranny,” Masha Gessen’s brief essay in the New York Review of Books, “Autocracy: Rules for Survival,” warning us of the threat Donald Trump posed to our nation’s continued existence as a functioning republic, has proved itself over and over as a frighteningly prescient and disturbingly accurate prediction of how this would all play out, down almost to its very last word.
Gessen, a Russian-American writer and National Book Award winner, has lived in autocracies most of her life. As an outspoken critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin, she was one of the first to point out that Trump would, based on all evidence at the time, essentially govern in Putin’s shadow, slowly and inexorably transforming the American Republic by imposing a corrupt, autocratic system on so-called American “institutions.” As it turned out, Gessen’s assessment of the looming danger posed by Trump and his collaborators in the Republican Party, and her pithy but sound advice on what to expect from a regime that considered itself unbound by such institutions, resounds even more prophetically today as we watch another supposedly hallowed institution, the United States Senate, crumble into dust and irrelevancy, right before our eyes.
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