Life feels particularly hard right now. The blows just keep coming. Every day another 1000 Americans die from COVID, the pandemic Trump has mismanaged and continues to call a hoax. Our shattered economy teeters on an edge. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and immediately, Trump and the hypocritical GOP Senators announced they would rush to fill her Supreme Court seat despite their 2016 “principle” of not confirming a new justice in a presidential election year, thereby denying Judge Merrick Garland a hearing. Trump and Attorney General Barr openly make plans on how to stop voting and highjack the post-election period. Trump states he needs a new justice on the court because the Supreme Court might have to decide the election while in the same breath refusing to commit to a peaceful transition of power. Using the word autocracy no longer feels like hyperbole.
Journalists and academics have been sounding this alarm for the last four years. Recently, the sound of that alarm has gotten louder. The sound is deafening emanating from this week’s cover story in The Atlantic, “The Election That Could Break America: If the vote is close, Donald Trump could easily throw the election into chaos and subvert the result. Who will stop him?” Barton Gellman lays out a chilling scenario based on conversations with state GOP leaders where the will of the people is subverted by appointing Trump electors for the Electoral College vote.
In a September 13th article, also in The Atlantic, journalist Anne Applebaum, author of Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism, explored why the fake crises of cities on fire might have more political impact than the real fires that are devastating the western part of the country. She connected the wildfires and COVID and posited that an administration that does not reside in reality has made both more dangerous. She wrote, “The triumph of these fictional narratives would have consequences. Before Americans can fix our very real problems, after all—before we can prevent forest fires, or stop the spread of a deadly virus—we need to agree that they exist. We need to analyze reality before we can come up with proposals for change. We won’t do any of that if, staring at our screens, we are transfixed by the flickering lights of a fantasy world.”
Masha Gessen, the Russian-American journalist who has written extensively about Vladimir Putin, warned us in 2016 that Trump had clear authoritarian tendencies. Her new book, Surviving Autocracy, is a five-alarm warning that dissects how his administration has achieved these goals through contempt for government and abuse of power; demonizing immigrants, the free press and the rule of law; and deploying propaganda.
This is not the depiction of a future dystopian America. This is now. This is today.
When I was interviewing the women of the anti-Trump Resistance for my book, The Resistance and Me, Robin Long spoke eloquently in 2018 about the parallels she saw between Germany in the 1930s and America under Trump. This was her gut feeling though she hoped that her fears might be overblown. Going back and reading her words now, they are prescient. So, I knew the one person I wanted to speak with this week was Robin Long.
Robin is vice chair for three Democratic Party committees: Southampton Town, Suffolk County and New York State. There is no one I have met on this journey who knows more about Democratic politics than Robin. She was honored to be a Biden delegate to the Democratic National Convention this year. She said that while it was very disappointing that they were not able to gather in person, she was still thrilled to have had the experience of seeing her name on the ballot and to have participated in the virtual New York State events.
In a wide-ranging conversation, we discussed RBG, Trump and fascism, the danger the country is in and the impact all of this might have on the election. Below is a lightly edited and condensed transcript of our conversation. If was fitting that we spoke over the Jewish High Holy Days, because for Robin and myself, our history as Jews heightens our fears about a democracy moving towards autocratic rule [more]