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Even before yesterday’s news about Justice Kennedy, I had been thinking back all week to Masha Gessen’s prophetic and educational essay “Autocracy: Rules For Survival.” It was published shortly after Donald Trump was “elected” in November 2016, in the wake of what felt like America’s biggest national tragedy. The only thing I could tell myself at that time was that because I voted for Hillary Clinton, I didn’t own what happened next. I refused to own it: I had done my part, I had donated to Democratic campaigns, I had volunteered, I had written about Donald Trump’s unhinged racism, his blatant white supremacist urges, his violent misogyny and more. I voted, I did my part and what happened next wasn’t my fault. In fact, all I felt was rage towards those who voted for him, and those who voted for Gary Johnson and Jill Stein.
I’m not a prophet, but it was the most basic kind of prophecy to understand back then that sh-t was going to get bad. Re-reading “Autocracy: Rules for Survival” just reminds me of how much we’ve lost in the past two years. Believe the autocrat: Trump told us exactly what he wanted to do during the campaign, and he’s been doing it. Do not be taken in by any signs of normality: the past two years have been an onslaught of bullsh-t, both from Trump and from the people working to normalize the autocrat. And #3 on Gessen’s list: Institutions will not save you. Back then, in November 2016, I didn’t heed that one as much as I should have. Journalists far and wide have failed us repeatedly, as the Fourth Estate has largely been left neutered by Trump. The American system of “checks and balances” is dead with Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. And the faith we had in the courts to keep Trump in check? That’s over. That’s canceled.