Autocracy: Rules for Survival

Several reliable, well-informed sources confirmed the idea that Hitler's anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded, and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as a bait to catch masses of followers and keep them aroused, enthusiastic, and in line for the time when his organization is perfected and sufficiently powerful to be employed effectively for political purposes."
Autocracy: Rules for Survival

However well-intentioned, this talk assumes that Trump is prepared to find common ground with his many opponents, respect the institutions of government, and repudiate almost everything he has stood for during the campaign. In short, it is treating him as a "normal" politician. [...]

But Trump is anything but a regular politician and this has been anything but a regular election. [...] He is probably the first candidate in history to win the presidency despite having been shown repeatedly by the national media to be a chronic liar, sexual predator, serial tax-avoider, and race-baiter who has attracted the likes of the Ku Klux Klan. Most important, Trump is the first candidate in memory who ran not for president but for autocrat -- and won.

I have lived in autocracies most of my life, and have spent much of my career writing about Vladimir Putin's Russia. I have learned a few rules for surviving in an autocracy and salvaging your sanity and self-respect. It might be worth considering them now:

  • 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. [...] Confronted with political volatility, the markets become suckers for calming rhetoric from authority figures. So do people. Panic can be neutralized by falsely reassuring words [...]

  • 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. [...]

Previously.

Tags: , ,

2 Responses:

  1. Not that Jamie says:

    I think in general, the root problem is just a horrible bug in human psychology. Hunker down behind the ragewad asshole may be a winning strategy in small groups, but turns into pure evil in nation states.

    Humanity doesn't scale well.

  2. Not a laser says:

    I only spent a small portion of my life in an autocratic regime and I was too young to remember much, but I lived with its broken shells all around me for a long time, and with the small-scale autocrats that it bred in all minor positions of power, from local administration to the private sector. This is good advice, and pay special attention to #1 and #2. Especially #2.