By Kerry Eleveld / Daily Kos
The writings of activist and author Masha Gessen instantly became must-read material when, following Donald Trump’s win, she penned “Autocracy: Rules for Survival.”
Gessen’s insights were driven by her experiences living in Russia under the rule of Vladimir Putin, and the piece enumerated six rules that serve as a gut check for right action amid the political drift of our time. But a second piece she published contemplating how much compromise could be too much compromise in a Trump presidency is also essential reading.
Gessen reflects on political realism v. idealism and how the realist tradition in politics centers on “clear and calculable interests” rather than moral considerations. As people in Washington are prone to say, politics is that art of the possible. The idea isn’t to get perfect outcomes, but rather the best ones possible by making certain tradeoffs along the way.
But Gessen warns that anyone who is using this template to make decisions about how to best mitigate Trump’s effects is on a fool’s errand.
Realism is predicated on predictability: it assumes that parties have clear interests and will act rationally to achieve them. This is rarely true anywhere, and it is patently untrue in the case of Trump.
As we all know, there’s nothing rational about Trump. His behavior can only be explained when viewed through the lens of someone who has a personality disorder, and I don’t say that lightly or even remotely as a joke. Rational thought cannot be attributed to Trump’s behavior and therefore no useful conclusions can be drawn about what he may or may not do and how one can stymie that effect.
Instead, what Gessen prescribes in our current political environment is to let the measure of morality be our guide to the best course of action in the era of Trump.
We cannot know what political strategy, if any, can be effective in containing, rather than abetting, the threat that a Trump administration now poses to some of our most fundamental democratic principles. But we can know what is right. What separates Americans in 2016 from Europeans in the 1940s and 1950s is a little bit of historical time but a whole lot of historical knowledge. We know what my great-grandfather did not know: that the people who wanted to keep the people fed ended up compiling lists of their neighbors to be killed. That they had a rationale for doing so. And also, that one of the greatest thinkers of their age judged their actions as harshly as they could be judged.
Armed with that knowledge, or burdened with that legacy, we have a slight chance of making better choices. As Trump torpedoes into the presidency, we need to shift from realist to moral reasoning. That would mean, at minimum, thinking about the right thing to do, now and in the imaginable future. It is also a good idea to have a trusted friend capable of reminding you when you are about to lose your sense of right and wrong.
The question is no longer one of what will achieve the best possible outcome, even if that outcome sucks? The question now is, what’s morally right? Gessen’s reframe seems to provide a check on falling into the trap of compromising ourselves so much that we become tools of Trump’s autocratic tendencies.