“When Gessen speaks about autocracy, you listen.” —The New York Times
“A reckoning with what has been lost in the past few years and a map forward with our beliefs intact.” —Interview
As seen on MSNBC’s Morning Joe and heard on NPR’s All Things Considered: the bestselling, National Book Award–winning journalist offers an essential guide to understanding, resisting, and recovering from the ravages of our tumultuous times.
This incisive book provides an essential guide to understanding and recovering from the calamitous corrosion of American democracy over the past few years. Thanks to the special perspective that is the legacy of a Soviet childhood and two decades covering the resurgence of totalitarianism in Russia, Masha Gessen has a sixth sense for the manifestations of autocracy—and the unique cross-cultural fluency to delineate their emergence to Americans. Gessen not only anatomizes the corrosion of the institutions and cultural norms we hoped would save us but also tells us the story of how a short few years changed us from a people who saw ourselves as a nation of immigrants to a populace haggling over a border wall, heirs to a degraded sense of truth, meaning, and possibility. Surviving Autocracy is an inventory of ravages and a call to account but also a beacon to recovery—and to the hope of what comes next.
National Book Award winner Gessen (The Future Is History) delivers a scathing indictment of the Trump administration's impact on "the American system of government." Drawing on Hungarian sociologist B lint Magyar's concept of "autocratic transformation," Gessen links Trump's dominance over the Republican Party; "disdain for excellence," particularly in the workings of government; manipulation of state institutions for personal gain; and packing of the federal courts with ultra-conservative judges to developments in "post-Communist countries" following the collapse of the Soviet Union. She also dissects Trump's anti-immigration rhetoric and castigates the U.S. media for normalizing the behavior of education secretary Betsy DeVos and other Trump appointees by "privileg neutrality above all else, including substance" and "plac artificial limits on a journalist's ability to observe reality." Gessen ends her brisk, trenchant account with a call for "political figures of powerful moral authority" (she nominates the four freshman congresswomen known as "the Squad") to combat Trumpism with a more inclusive and dignified vision of "America as it could be." Gessen's meticulous research and familiarity with the political and cultural history of post-Soviet Russia lend her arguments an authority lacking in other takedowns of Trump. Liberals looking to make sense of what they're up against in the 2020 elections should consider this a must-read.
Prescience or fear-mongering?
It was interesting to read this very cogent book after the November election. It was clear to almost everyone that Trump would not, or more accurately, could not, change his political personality, or his strategies. This book predicted that result. But the value of the book is not that it is a very inclusive anti-Trump polemic, but rather that Trump’s authoritarian world view has a historical perspective that many of us have missed. The author’s views on the place and function of the media have both truth and special pleading combined. The function of journalism as an objective report of events has been an issue throughout Trump’s tenure, and the discussion of that tenet of First Amendment thought was most interesting. I recommend this book, although the immediacy originally there is now somewhat lessened.