According to Wikipedia, "Masha Gessen is a Russian and American journalist, author, and activist noted for her opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin. . . . [She] writes primarily in English but also in her native Russian, and . . . has been a prolific contributor to such publications as The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, New Statesman, Granta, Slate, Vanity Fair, Harper's Magazine, and U.S. News & World Report."
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When journalist Masha Gessen's piece, "Autocracy: Rules for Survival," appeared on November 10 in NYR Daily, the online publication of The New York Review of Books, it was both an announcement and a reflection of the fact that neither outrage nor satire was a sufficient response to Donald Trump's election victory --- though it was a victory that fell well short of the landslide he subsequently proclaimed and was a victory only in the Electoral College, an anachronism that no longer seemed like a quaint formality of our republican origins and more like a dangerous holdover from the nation's slaveholding past that now certified a new and frightening turn in our politics and self-governance.
"Rule #1," Gessen wrote, "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 rationalization. This will happen often," she continued, writing from her own experience as a journalist who actually worked under Putin as the editor of an official state publication. "[H]umans seem to have evolved to practice denial when confronted publicly with the unacceptable."
Two weeks later, NYR Daily published Gessen's "Trump: The Choice We Face," an argument for making political choices and decisions based not on realism --- whose flaws she illustrates with the tragic story of her Ashkenazic Jewish grandfather's cooperation with the Nazis in the Polish Bialystock ghetto, in the belief that he was lessening suffering and saving lives, when in fact his agonized choice made no difference to the outcome --- but on the moral principles that underlie our politics and, we hope, our daily lives.
These pieces were circulated widely and were followed by a thematically similar front-page article in The New York Times as well as an interview on "All In," Chris Hayes's weekday evening cable news show on MSNBC. Aside from amplifying her voice and solidifying her reputation, Masha Gessen seems to have been influential in turning the discussion, at least on the left, from why Clinton lost/How Trump won, to What is the current state of the nation under Trump, and where do we go next and on what basis?
To this reader, Gessen's chief contribution to our understanding of these times is her insistence on separating truth from facts. Facts are impotent weapons to use in combatting Trump's unabashed lying, Gessen observes, because the function of Trump's lying has nothing to do with truth. The purpose of the lies --- and Trump's oft-repeated claim that ultimately, the truth is unknowable --- is to establish his own reality and reinforce it with the power of the state, which he now controls.