cover image Surviving Autocracy

Surviving Autocracy

Masha Gessen. Riverhead, $26 (240p) ISBN 978-0-593-18893-4

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 Bálint 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. They also dissect 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[ing] neutrality above all else, including substance” and “plac[ing] artificial limits on a journalist’s ability to observe reality.” Gessen ends their brisk, trenchant account with a call for “political figures of powerful moral authority” (they nominate 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 their 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. Agent: Elyse Cheney, the Cheney Agency. (June) Correction: an earlier version of this review used the wrong pronouns to refer to the author.