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Hullabaloo


Monday, November 28, 2016

 
Moral Choices 

by tristero

Once again, Masha Gessen understands:

Following Trump’s first on-the-record meeting with journalists after the election, The New York Times editorial board was most struck by “how thinly thought through many of the president-elect’s stances actually are.” Times columnist Thomas Friedman suggested that this lack of expertise creates an opportunity for good people with knowledge to influence Trump: “They need to dive in now and try to pull him toward the center.” Fellow columnist Frank Bruni went so far as to suggest a radical sort of cooperation based on Trump’s apparently bottomless need for adoration: “Is our best hope for the best Trump to be so fantastically adulatory when he’s reasonable that he’s motivated to stay on that course, lest the adulation wane?”
Friedman I wrote off years ago but I honestly cannot believe that anyone could write what Frank Bruni did. He is actually suggesting that maybe if we just constantly debase ourselves, that if we praise Donald Trump effusively and continuously, then we just might have a chance. Call it the Fellatio Principle of strategic influence.

Gessen knows better:
We cannot know what political strategy, if any, can be effective in containing, rather than abetting, the threat that a Trump administration now poses to some of our most fundamental democratic principles. But we can know what is right [emphasis added]. What separates Americans in 2016 from Europeans in the 1940s and 1950s is a little bit of historical time but a whole lot of historical knowledge. We know what my great-grandfather did not know: that the people who wanted to keep the people fed ended up compiling lists of their neighbors to be killed. That they had a rationale for doing so. And also, that one of the greatest thinkers of their age judged their actions as harshly as they could be judged. 
Armed with that knowledge, or burdened with that legacy, we have a slight chance of making better choices. As Trump torpedoes into the presidency, we need to shift from realist to moral reasoning. That would mean, at minimum, thinking about the right thing to do, now and in the imaginable future. It is also a good idea to have a trusted friend capable of reminding you when you are about to lose your sense of right and wrong.
In short, you can try to appease an authoritarian, and it might work (but it might not). Or you can act morally, and that might not work (but it might). Gessen is saying that there is no way of knowing what will be more effective, but that it is quite clear which is the more moral choice. Go with that.

Read the whole thing. And then read Gessen's earlier essay on how to survive an autocracy.