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Letting morality, not the art of the possible, guide your politics in the age of Trump

The writings of activist and author Masha Gessen instantly became must-read material when, following Donald Trump’s win, she penned “Autocracy: Rules for Survival.” Gessen’s insights were driven by her experiences living in Russia under the rule of Vladimir Putin, and the piece enumerated six rules that serve as a gut check for right action amid the political drift of our time. But a second piece she published contemplating how much compromise could be too much compromise in a Trump presidency is also essential reading.

Gessen reflects on political realism v. idealism and how the realist tradition in politics centers on “clear and calculable interests” rather than moral considerations. As people in Washington are prone to say, politics is that art of the possible. The idea isn’t to get perfect outcomes, but rather the best ones possible by making certain tradeoffs along the way. But Gessen warns that anyone who is using this template to make decisions about how to best mitigate Trump’s effects is on a fool’s errand.  

Realism is predicated on predictability: it assumes that parties have clear interests and will act rationally to achieve them. This is rarely true anywhere, and it is patently untrue in the case of Trump. 

As we all know, there’s nothing rational about Trump. His behavior can only be explained when viewed through the lens of someone who has a personality disorder, and I don’t say that lightly or even remotely as a joke. Rational thought cannot be attributed to Trump’s behavior and therefore no useful conclusions can be drawn about what he may or may not do and how one can stymie that effect. Instead, what Gessen prescribes in our current political environment is to let the measure of morality be our guide to the best course of action in the era of Trump.

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