Weekend open thread: Preparing for the worst edition

A belated happy Thanksgiving to the Bleeding Heartland community. I didn’t cook this year, but for those who did, here are four ways to make soup from Thanksgiving leftovers; two involve turkey, two are vegetarian. My favorite way to use extra cranberry sauce: mix with a few chopped apples and pour it into a pie crust (I use frozen, but you can make your own crust). Make a simple crumbly topping with a little flour, rolled oats, butter, brown sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle over the top. Bake and you’ve got an extra pie to share.

If your family is anything like mine, you’ve had a lot of conversations this weekend about the impending national nightmare as Donald Trump prepares to become the world’s most powerful person. Can Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg hang on as the fifth vote to preserve Roe v Wade for five more years? Could Trump have chosen a worse candidate for attorney general than Jeff Sessions? What about his National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, a hothead with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin who has compared Islam to a “cancer,” and had technicians break security rules to install an internet connection in his Pentagon office? Then there’s Trump’s pick for secretary of education, Betsy DeVos: she’s never worked in the education field, has long sought to undermine public schools, is a well-known homophobe and hostile to the concept of church/state separation. DeVos has admitted to using her family’s wealth to buy political influence. Mother Jones has taken a couple of deep dives into the DeVos family’s efforts to change American policies and policies: click through to read those pieces by Andy Kroll and Benjy Hansen-Bundy and Andy Kroll.

One of the most disturbing aspects of this election is how the Russian government got away with brazen attempts to get Trump elected. Craig Timberg’s report for the Washington Post is a must-read: independent researchers described how Russia’s “increasingly sophisticated propaganda machinery […] exploited American-made technology platforms to attack U.S. democracy at a particularly vulnerable moment.” Whether Russian subterfuge was decisive can be debated, but we all saw the extensive media coverage of mostly unremarkable e-mails among Clinton campaign staff and strategists. Most of us had fake news pop up on social media feeds. I can’t believe how many journalists and politicians have reacted casually to this development. Eric Chenoweth of the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe is nailed it in his editorial for the Washington Post: “Americans continue to look away from this election’s most alarming story: the successful effort by a hostile foreign power to manipulate public opinion before the vote.”

Two people who aren’t looking away are Yale University history Professor Timothy Snyder and Masha Gessen, who reported from Russia for many years under Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin. I enclose below advice from Snyder on how to adapt to authoritarian government and excerpts from Gessen’s recent commentary, “Autocracy: Rules for Survival.” Like the old Russian saying goes, “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.”

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

UPDATE: My husband Kieran Williams, who has studied democracy in other countries, shared his perspective on how “normalization” happens after a “shocking event”: “people in a position to stop it decide to play along, and find ways to convince themselves that they are doing the right thing, for either the greater good or the narrow good of kith and kin.”

November 15 Facebook post by Yale University history Professor Timothy Snyder (republished with permission):

Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so. Here are twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today.
1. Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.
2. Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.
3. Recall professional ethics. When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.
4. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words. Look out for the expansive use of “terrorism” and “extremism.” Be alive to the fatal notions of “exception” and “emergency.” Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.
5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don’t fall for it.
6. Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don’t use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.) What to read? Perhaps “The Power of the Powerless” by Václav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czesław Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev.
7. Stand out. Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.
8. Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.
9. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Bookmark PropOrNot or other sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.
10. Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.
11. Make eye contact and small talk. This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.
12. Take responsibility for the face of the world. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.
13. Hinder the one-party state. The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can.
14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can. Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.
15. Establish a private life. Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.
16. Learn from others in other countries. Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports.
17. Watch out for the paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.
18. Be reflective if you must be armed. If you carry a weapon in public service, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.)
19. Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.
20. Be a patriot. The incoming president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.
–Timothy Snyder, Housum Professor of History, Yale University,
15 November 2016.

Excerpts from Masha Gessen’s commentary for the New York Review of Books, “Autocracy: Rules for Survival”:

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. […] For all the admiration Trump has expressed for Putin, the two men are very different; if anything, there is even more reason to listen to everything Trump has said. He has no political establishment into which to fold himself following the campaign, and therefore no reason to shed his campaign rhetoric. On the contrary: it is now the establishment that is rushing to accommodate him—from the president, who met with him at the White House on Thursday, to the leaders of the Republican Party, who are discarding their long-held scruples to embrace his radical positions. […]

Rule #2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality. […] It is a fact that the world did not end on November 8 nor at any previous time in history. Yet history has seen many catastrophes, and most of them unfolded over time. That time included periods of relative calm. […]

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. […]

The national press is likely to be among the first institutional victims of Trumpism. There is no law that requires the presidential administration to hold daily briefings, none that guarantees media access to the White House. Many journalists may soon face a dilemma long familiar to those of us who have worked under autocracies: fall in line or forfeit access. There is no good solution (even if there is a right answer), for journalism is difficult and sometimes impossible without access to information. […]

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.

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