“Silencing critics” is the beating heart of today’s “winning.” This is largely because your critics are not, in fact, competing with you; they have no formal power over you, are rarely seeking any and tend to do little more than express the opinion that you’ve done something wrong. They offer you a game you cannot lose. You don’t even need to be a public figure to benefit from this line of thinking: As soon as you decide your chief adversaries are the people who disapprove of your behavior (neighbors, doctors, elites, “the media,” climate scientists, other people on Facebook and Twitter), then simply continuing to do whatever you were already doing, no matter how ill advised or self-defeating, takes on the dimensions of a triumph.
But this is a very strange measure of victory. This kind of winning doesn’t set goals and then judge success by how much progress is made toward achieving them. Its focus is entirely on reputation and status and the superficial image of power. Sometimes it picks goals based on ease. Sometimes it achieves things at random and then claims they were goals. If all else fails, it just declares victory and sits back looking satisfied — as when Trump recently announced that “with few exceptions” there has never in history been a president who has “done more things.” After all, if you really do hold the almost feudal belief that there are two kinds of people — those ordained by nature to dominate and the losers upon whom they exercise their prerogatives — what do the details matter, as long as you’ve claimed a seat among the winners?
Nitsuh Abebe, “Power Games”, The New York Times Magazine (25 June 2017), 13.