I respect Masha Gessen’s observations on Putin’s Russia, and her biography of Putin (part biography, part sketch of contemporary times) is excellent. See, among her many works, The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin and Autocracy: Rules for Survival.
Gessen has more recent observations on Trump as an authoritarian that are compelling. Her principal observations (published yesterday) seem sound.
On Trump as authoritarian:
“What we’ve learned in the last few weeks is the kind of government Donald Trump is building: it’s a Mafia state,” Gessen continued. “In a Mafia state, the patriarch rules as in a family. He doesn’t need to spell things out — he expects intuitive obedience, and there are penalties for not intuiting his wishes. He’s going to choose people based solely on loyalty and family membership. If they get their positions through merit, they wouldn’t owe everything to him. It’s not his ultimate goal to destroy freedom and democracy, but you have to, if you want to steal as much as possible, especially if you have such a thin skin.”
On Trump as confidence man:
Many commentators have focused on Trump’s unpredictability, but to Gessen’s mind, “He already has a long and consistent public record as a real estate magnate. We already know he has a history of institutional racism, that he is a bad-faith partner. Contractors are stiffed by Trump, workers go unpaid. He’s entered into a contract with American voters and he’s going to stiff them too, because he always stiffs people.”
On the challenge from authoritarian rule:
“I’m not aware of any aborted autocracies in modern history. Democracy is an aspiration, and it is defenseless against people who use it in bad faith. America’s advantage is that it has an incredibly rich cultural environment, a vibrant public spirit. Can we learn from other countries’ mistakes? The only thing to do is the exact opposite of what Germans, Poles and Hungarians did, which is to wait and see. We must panic and protest, presumptively assume the worst.”
I’d not use her word panic, to be sure, but would substitute something like relentless opposition. Still, I take her point: we can expect a long, painful conflict against a disordered authoritarian, unsuited for leadership of a free society, and likely unwilling to relinquish power once he assumes it.