Nothing bonds a group more tightly than a common enemy that is perceived as a mortal threat.
To understand the corruption, chaos, and general insanity that is continuing to engulf the Trump campaign and much of the Republican Party right now, it helps to understand the predicate embraced by many Trump supporters: If Joseph R. Biden Jr. wins the presidency, America dies.
During last week’s Republican National Convention, speaker after speaker insisted that life under a Biden presidency would be dystopian. Charlie Kirk, the young Trump acolyte who opened the proceedings, declared, “I am here tonight to tell you—to warn you—that this election is a decision between preserving America as we know it and eliminating everything that we love.” President Trump, who closed the proceedings, said, “Your vote will decide
- whether we protect law-abiding Americans or whether we give free rein to violent anarchists and agitators and criminals who threaten our citizens. And this election will decide
- whether we will defend the American way of life or allow a radical movement to completely dismantle and destroy it.” And in between Americans were told that
- Democrats want to “disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home, and invite MS-13 to live next door” and that
- they “want to destroy this country and everything that we have fought for and hold dear.”
“They’re not satisfied with spreading the chaos and violence into our communities. They want to abolish the suburbs altogether,” a St. Louis couple who had brandished weapons against demonstrators outside their home, told viewers. “Make no mistake, no matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America.”One does not have to be a champion of the Democratic Party to know this chthonic portrait is absurd. But it is also essential, because it allows Trump and his followers to tolerate and justify pretty much anything in order to win. And “anything” turns out to be quite a lot.
In just the past two weeks, the president has praised supporters of the right-wing conspiracy theory
- QAnon, which contends, as The Guardian recently summarized it, that “a cabal of Satan-worshipping Democrats, Hollywood celebrities and billionaires runs the world while engaging in pedophilia, human trafficking and the harvesting of a supposedly life-extending chemical from the blood of abused children.” Trump touted a conspiracy theory that
- the national death toll from COVID-19 is about 9,000, a fraction of the official figure of nearly 185,000; promoted a program on the One America News Network accusing demonstrators of secretly plotting Trump’s downfall; encouraged his own supporters to commit voter fraud; and claimed Biden is controlled by “people that are in the dark shadows” who are wearing “dark uniforms.”
- Trump believes his own government is conspiring to delay a COVID-19 vaccine until after the election. He retweeted a message from the actor James Woods saying
- New York Governor Andrew Cuomo “should be in jail” and another from an account
- accusing the Portland, Oregon, mayor of “committing war crimes.”
- The president is “inciting violence,” in the words of Maryland’s Republican Governor, Larry Hogan.
- Trump defended 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, a supporter who is charged with first-degree homicide; and stated that
- if he loses the election in November it would be because it was “rigged.” At the same time,
- the second-ranking House Republican, among other of the president’s supporters, has shared several manipulated videos in an effort to damage Biden.
This is just the latest installment in a four-year record of shame, indecency, incompetence, and malfeasance. And yet, for tens of millions of Trump’s supporters, none of it matters. None of it even breaks through. At this point, it appears, Donald Trump really could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose his voters.
This phenomenon has no shortage of explanations, but perhaps the most convincing is the terror the president’s backers feel. Time and again, I’ve had conversations with Trump supporters who believe the president is all that stands between them and cultural revolution. Trump and his advisers know it, which is why the through line of the RNC was portraying Joe Biden as a Jacobin.
Republicans chose that theme despite the fact that during his almost 50 years in politics, Biden hasn’t left any discernible ideological imprint on either the nation or his own party. Indeed, Biden is notable for his success over the course of his political career in forging alliances with many Republicans. I worked at the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the early 1990s when William Bennett was its director and George H. W. Bush was president. Biden was then chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee; he and his staff were supportive of our work, and not in the least ideological. There will be no remaking of the calendar if Joe Biden becomes president.Still, in the minds of Trump’s supporters lingers the belief that a Biden presidency would usher in a reign of terror. Many of them simply have to believe that. Justifying their fealty to a man who is so obviously a moral wreck requires them to turn Joe Biden and the Democratic Party into an existential threat. The narrative is set; the actual identity of the nominee is almost incidental.
A powerful tribal identity bonds the president to his supporters. As Amy Chua, the author of Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations, has argued, the tribal instinct is not just to belong, but also to exclude and to attack. “When groups feel threatened,” Chua writes, “they retreat into tribalism. They close ranks and become more insular, more defensive, more punitive, more us-versus-them.”
That works both ways. Fear strengthens tribalistic instincts, and tribalistic instincts amplify fear. Nothing bonds a group more tightly than a common enemy that is perceived as a mortal threat. In the presence of such an enemy, members of tribal groups look outward rather than inward, at others and never at themselves or their own kind.
The danger of this mindset—in which the means, however unethical, justify the ends of survival—is obvious. And so in this case, Trump supporters will tolerate everything he does, from
- making hush-money payments to porn stars and
- engaging in sexually predatory behavior, to
- inviting America’s adversaries to intervene in our elections, to
- pressuring American allies to dig up dirt on the president’s opponent, to
- cozying up to some of the worst dictators in the world, to
- peddling crazed conspiracy theories, to
- mishandling a pandemic at the cost of untold lives, to
- countless other ethical and governing transgressions.
Trump is given carte blanche by his supporters because they perceive him as their protector, transforming his ruthlessness from a vice into a virtue.
In my experience, if Trump supporters are asked to turn their gaze away from their perceived opponents, and instead to focus and reflect on him and on his failures, they respond in a couple of consistent ways. Many shift the topic immediately back to Democrats, because offering a vigorous moral defense of Donald Trump isn’t an easy task. It’s like asking people to stare directly into the sun; they might do it for an instant, but then they look away. But if you do succeed in keeping the topic on Trump, they often twist themselves into knots in order to defend him, and in some cases they simply deny reality.
“Motivation conditions cognition,” Jonathan Rauch, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a contributing writer at The Atlantic, wisely told me. Very few Trump supporters I know are able to offer an honest appraisal of the man. To do so creates too much cognitive dissonance.That they are defending a person who is fundamentally malicious, even if he makes judicial appointments of which they approve, is too painful for them to admit. They are similarly unable to admit they are defending an ethic that is at odds with what they have long championed. They have accepted, excused, and applauded Trump’s behavior and tactics, allowing his ends to justify his means. In important respects, this is antithetical to a virtue ethic. So once again, it’s easier for them to look away or engage in self-deception; to convince themselves that Donald Trump is not who he so clearly is.
These reactions aren’t confined to Trump supporters; people across the political spectrum struggle with confirmation bias and motivated reasoning, in giving too much benefit of the doubt to those with whom we agree and judging too harshly and unfairly those with whom we disagree. That is part of the human condition. The degree to which Democrats, including feminists, overlooked or accepted Bill Clinton’s sexually predatory behavior—including his campaign’s effort to smear his accusers and its use of a private investigator to destroy Gennifer Flowers’s reputation “beyond all recognition”—is an illustration of this. So Flowers was branded a “bimbo” and a “pathological liar,” even though Clinton later, under oath, admitted to having an affair with her.
“If you drag a $100 bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find,” James Carville said in response to Paula Jones’s claim that Clinton sexually harassed her. In defending President Clinton against the charges of sexual harassment made by Kathleen Willey, who accused Clinton of groping her without her consent, Gloria Steinem wrote, “The truth is that even if the allegations are true, the President is not guilty of sexual harassment. He is accused of having made a gross, dumb and reckless pass at a supporter during a low point in her life. She pushed him away, she said, and it never happened again. In other words, President Clinton took ‘no’ for an answer.” And Nina Burleigh, who covered the White House for Time magazine, said, “I’d be happy to give him a blowjob just to thank him for keeping abortion legal. I think American women should be lining up with their presidential kneepads on to show their gratitude for keeping the theocracy off our backs.” So Democrats should be careful about looking down at others for accommodating themselves to unsavory and even repulsive characters for the sake of partisanship.
But what’s different in this case is that Trump, because of the corruption that seems to pervade every area of his life and his damaged psychological and emotional state, has shown us just how much people will accept in their leaders as a result of “negative partisanship,” the force that binds parties together less in common purpose than in opposition to a shared opponent. As the conservative writer David French has put it, with Donald Trump and his supporters we are seeing “negative partisanship in its near-pure form, and it’s the best way to explain Trump’s current appeal to the Republican party.” His ideology is almost entirely beside the point, according to French: “His identity matters more, and his identity is clear—the Republican champion against the hated Democratic foe.”
I know plenty of Trump supporters, and I know many of them to be people of integrity in important areas of their lives. Indeed, some are friends I cherish. But if there is a line Donald Trump could cross that would forfeit the loyalty of his core supporters—including, and in some respects especially, white evangelical Christians—I can’t imagine what it would be. And that is a rather depressing thing to admit.
Polarization and political tribalism are not new to America; fear and hatred for our fellow citizens have been increasing for decades. We’ve had plenty of presidents who have failed us, in ways large and small. But this moment is different because Donald Trump is different, and because Donald Trump is president. His relentless assault on truth and the institutions of democracy—his provocations and abuse of power, his psychological instability and his emotional volatility, his delusions and his incompetence—are unlike anything we’ve seen before. He needs to be stopped. And his supporters can’t say, as they did in 2016, that they just didn’t know. Now we know. It’s not too late—it’s never too late—to do the right thing.
13:55remember I’m not sure if you were youwere still in Moscow and then probablyat the time but when in Azerbaijan oneof the former Soviet republics theSoviet era leader Illya Haydar Ilievdied and he saw to pass his country onto his son which in fact he succeeded at14:15doing and I went down for the electionand you know his son was not popular atall he was sort of seen as a playboy hewas Western educated he was you know asort of a worldly sort but not at allseen as you know fit to lead a countryand so there was unhappiness that wasgenuine and that even you know thereading people would tell you went tothis election it was a totally riggedelection and there was protesting thestreets you know people’s heads werecracked right in front of me but withthe the lesson that I took away from itwas on the plane going back and therewere some Western election observers andsome Russian election observers on theplane back to Moscow and the Europeanssaid we don’t understand I mean you knowwhy were they so greedywhy did Elliot have to give himself 85for some of the vote nobody thinks thathe really kind of 85 percent you knowcouldn’t may have done 55 and he saidthis to the Russian he said you don’tunderstand the 85 percent was the pointthe the fact that people knew he wasn’tvery popular and that this had to be youknow an orchestrated result the higherthe percentage the better I’m amazedthey didn’t go for 90% and it was thisvery revealing moment to me where Irealized that you know the things thatare necessary to dictate the survival ofan authoritarian government are verydifferent than you know certainly thatproduct of the United States is is usedto thinking and and Putin has alreadystruck me as playing more by alliums lawthan then we realize sobased on this book I know every singleperson here is gonna stand up and askyou this question so I’ll just ask you16:04for you anyways16:05you know why why do you think Putin has16:09taken what appears to be such an16:11aggressive outward turn you know not16:13just focusing on cracking down inside16:15Russia and you know making sure no more16:18below Tenaya protests break out but16:20focusing on the United States to a16:23degree that clearly has shocked many16:24people here in Washington this Saturday16:29it will be the one-year anniversary16:31not only of the Access Hollywood tape16:33which I’m sure everyone here remembers16:35but it will also be the one-year16:38anniversary of when the US government16:40said Russia had done the packing of the16:44dnc the one-year anniversary of the week16:47of Tom Podesta’s emails and it’s a lot16:50of effort since birthday and the 11th16:56anniversary of the murder of Anna16:58Politkovskaya17:00so I think that actually in it echoing17:06what you were just saying about I leaves17:07election the outward turn was the point17:10right17:11I believe and and I discussed this at17:16length in the book I believe that the17:17nature of the regime changed after the17:20crackdown it went from being an17:22authoritarian regime to a kind of17:24totalitarian regime right when I say17:26kind of totalitarian I don’t mean that17:28he was establishing a new totalitarian17:30regime right that would involve terror17:33and just all sorts of unimaginable17:35horror but he was calling forth the17:38habits and customs of Soviet17:42totalitarian society and one of the17:45differences between an authoritarian and17:48totalitarian regime that I think is key17:51here is mobilization and in in an17:56authoritarian regime17:57nothing is political the authoritarian18:00leader wants people to stay home tend to18:03their private lives and not pay18:05attention while he ponders the country18:08consolidate spur or whatever it is18:10history18:11at two teletraan leader wants the exact18:14opposite everything is political there18:18is no private realm and the totalitarian18:21leader wants people out in the public18:23square rallying for a victory right the18:28to tell the population has to be18:30mobilized and there are lots of reasons18:33why it has two immobilized but the18:35question is how does it get mobilized18:37and it only can get mobilized against an18:39enemy and they only Menna me that is big18:43enough and glorious enough to be18:45mobilized against is the United States18:47and I think that’s something that the18:51foreign policy establishment in this18:52country really failed to understand was18:54that was the nature of the war in18:55Ukraine the Russians believe that they18:58were fighting a proxy war with the18:59United States in Ukraine and in Syria19:02and so in that sense the intense19:06interest and participation in the19:10American election he’s just completely19:13logical it’s not you know it’s not a19:15break with the narrative it’s part of19:17the narrative especially because Russia19:20believes that the United States has19:22meddled in its own politics has19:24organized that Hillary Clinton19:26personally organized protests in the19:28streets in 2011-2012 and so why19:31shouldn’t Russia do the same here okay19:33so you brought up the t word as in19:35totalitarianism which is the subtitle of19:38your book how totalitarianism reclaimed19:41Russia you know you had to have done19:43that recognizing that some people would19:46would get in an argument over19:47definitions with you and that no19:50Lattimore printed as many things you19:52described them well in your previous19:54book but he has not killed millions of19:57people but so um that’s why I wrote a20:00whole chapter on the definition of20:02totalitarianism chapter 14 but so here’s20:10my theory of the case I I think that20:13Putin certainly did not set out to be a20:17totalitarian leader in fact the regime20:20that he was trying to build as a mafia20:22state and20:24this is I think this is the best20:26definition again there have been many20:27oligarchy kleptocracy crony capitalism20:30the liberal democracy20:32I think that they’re all flawed and the20:37best one is mafia state and this is a20:39definition put forward by a Hungarian20:42political scientist named Balan major20:45who describes it as a clan a family run20:50by patriarch the patriarch distributes20:53money and power and you know the amazing20:58thing since the people are going to ask21:00about this as well I’ll just go ahead21:02and say it21:04the amazing thing of course is when I21:06was writing the book in writing about21:08mafia States the whole the concept of21:10family was a metaphor right I was21:14talking about the other T word I wasn’t21:18thinking that you know would be21:19observing the formation of a mafia State21:22with a literal family at the home but so21:27he he was building office T his goal21:30continues to be to to retain power in21:35perpetuity and to continue in the chisa21:39but because to do that he had to crack21:42down in 2012 and because he cracked down21:46on the ruins of a totalitarian society21:50the response he got was the survival21:53response of a totalitarian society it’s21:56very much like you know a person who has22:00been in an abusive situation developed22:04survival skills that are suited to that22:07situation and those are the skills that22:10that person is going to use throughout22:12their life unless something22:15extraordinary like really great therapy22:16happens to this person but as Susan over22:19dimensioned Russia didn’t really Russia22:21need a lot of therapy didn’t get a lot22:22of therapy the survival skills of a22:25totalitarian society were perfectly22:26suited for the period of state terror22:28and the thing that that I think we have22:31discovered in the last 20 years is that22:35they have been made22:36and in response to put subscribe down22:39that’s what came forward so I know we22:43are gonna want to turn back to the other22:44t word in a second but let’s stick with22:46the book for right now you have these22:49sort of four main characters these young22:50people but you you also these sort of22:52three intellectual protagonists and one22:55of them is Alexander Dugan who has22:58become in innocence the chief ideologist23:01behind putinism even though it’s he23:04wasn’t like personally close to Putin as23:07far as we understand it tell us what you23:09think about this debate and there is a23:12debate about whether there really is an23:14ideology of putinism beyond just23:17maintaining power for Putin you know23:20this is one of the big arguments in our23:22sort of world of Russia Watchers and the23:24reason I think it’s particularly23:26relevant right now is this question of23:30what kind of a conflict are we facing23:33between Russia and the West between23:35Russia and the United States it actually23:37depends a little bit on how you assess23:39their ideology whether they have an23:41ideology and if so you know how it plays23:44out so tell us a little bit about your23:46study of Alexander Dugan he didn’t23:48cooperate unlike the other characters in23:49this book well he cooperated in a very23:52peculiar way he sent me stuff and he23:55sent me his right right-hand person to23:58talk to me so I talked to I interviewed24:00him by proxy but he also has a vast24:04written record that and actually I want24:09to just give a shout out to unconscious24:11cops of who’s here who knows so much24:13more about Alexandra Dugan than I ever24:15will and he was a new book out on Russia24:20and the European far-right so the24:27ideology question actually I’m not sure24:29is the right question and I’ll explain24:33ideology is also something that looks24:36coherent usually in hindsight when you24:39read contemporary accounts of say24:42Hitler’s Germany which we imagine to24:43have had a very clear idea gee24:48victor klemper talks about how they are24:51opportunists and they just pick up24:53whatever whatever is handy to make a24:55particular argument erich fromm writes24:58that they have no ideology whatsoever25:00and the very idea that Hitler has an25:02ideology is misguided Hannah Arendt25:05writes later than from that that one of25:10the reasons that the West was that that25:12the the other Western countries were so25:16slow to understand what was going on in25:19Germany and in the Soviet Union was that25:22the ideology on the face of it seemed25:24preposterous that if you tell somebody25:27that they’re going to kill millions of25:29people because they are because of their25:33ethnicity it sounds preposterous if you25:35told them somebody that their ideology25:37is to eliminate eradicate entire classes25:42of people to the tune of millions of25:44people it sounds preposterous only once25:47it’s happened does it become believable25:49even if it’s still unimaginable and then25:52it starts to add up to coherent ideology25:54so I think that you know once you’ve25:57immersed herself in those accounts you26:00actually think this guy doesn’t have26:03less of an ideology than any of those he26:07is um I think he has struck a couple of26:11themes that are consistent and one has a26:14lot of traction and that’s traditional26:16values right26:18it began in part with queerbaiting the26:22protesters and because that turned out26:25to be so effective it’s it’s turned into26:29this full-fledged sort of idea of a26:31traditional value civilization that’s26:32Duggan’s idea and a russian world and26:35russia as the center of a civilization26:38based on traditional values um that’s26:41that’s just a heron does it get well I26:44know the audience has a lot of questions26:46and I’m gonna look for our microphone so26:49that you can raise your hands and do it26:51while you’re getting your questions26:52ready I’ll throw a coin on when – Masha26:55before turning it over to you the26:56audience back to the other T word26:59you know you’ve written in27:01sure many people here are familiar with27:02your very powerful essay in the New York27:05Review books suggesting that you know27:07the threat of Trump has to really do27:10with the question of27:13the kind of society we have here in the27:15United States so now that it’s 250 days27:18230 days in to the Trump presidency what27:22is your own progress report on the state27:24of American democracy under Trump do you27:28fear do you feel that your predictions27:30are coming true I do unfortunately I27:34think that and if you recall or you27:39don’t have to recall I recall that I27:44actually in the in that essay but also27:47later this was more vividly when27:50Samantha bee asked me what my greatest27:51fear was and I said nuclear holocaust27:53and you know back in January it seemed27:57like a kind of nutty thing to say we’re28:02in September in October now and we’ve28:04been living with the specter of a28:07nuclear holocaust for a month you know28:13that’s that’s how fast it has advanced28:16and I think that he is Trump’s attack on28:21American institutions and even more28:24significantly to my mind on American28:26political culture has been as unceasing28:29as it could possibly have been I didn’t28:33actually imagine that it would be this28:34cacophonous but I think the cacophony28:36makes it that much more effective28:39you mean cacophonous from inside the28:41Trump administration which clearly is28:43not yet singing with one voice I mean28:46that but I also mean you know the the28:48just endless barrage of news I mean I’m28:53boots hidden when he came to power in28:55the you know all of us have again our28:58own heuristics right my Putin came to28:59power he set in motion a kind of29:01authoritarian crawl right he was very29:05methodical about taking over power but29:09every step was was measured and I think29:13that that’s part of what made it so29:14effective in his case was that every29:17single thing he did it on its face29:20wasn’t that awful you know until 200429:24when he cancelled the Burnet or election29:26but basically up until that point29:28everything he did was kind of horrible29:31but not not it was difficult actually to29:36make the argument in the Western media I29:38know I tried that he was establishing an29:41authoritarian regime and you know Trump29:44has been acting like a bull in the china29:46shop from day one29:49there has been no crawl there’s like29:50this constant artillery attack and on29:57that note who wants to be the first to29:59jump in with Suzanne um can you talk30:04about food as well and how he came by30:07that and the oligarchs and Russia and30:09how did the people feel about the failed30:13attempt at you know an actual kind of30:16democracy thank you that’s at least30:19three questions so I’m going to focus on30:24the last of those three questions30:25because it actually has to do with30:27what’s what’s in this book as opposed to30:29a much earlier book about Putin so how30:33do people feel about the failed attempt30:35at democracy well we no longer know30:38that’s how profound the transformation30:42of Russian society has been there’s30:45there’s a moment in the book that’s very30:46important to me when they have good30:48coffee30:49the sociologist he has taken a piece of30:52paper and he has graft his superimposed30:56two graphs the graph of Putin’s30:59popularity which skyrocketed after the31:02invasion of Ukraine and held at 86% so31:06it looks like a vertical line up from 5031:08something to 86 and then it just holds31:10it plateaus and the graph of consumer31:15confidence which is a actually sort of31:18more broadly a sense of economic31:22well-being which plummeted around the31:25same time just as the Russian economy31:27tanked and stayed and plateaued at the31:30bottom and so it looks like this and he31:34held us up and said this can’t happen31:37this is impossible right these two lines31:42have to meet31:44either this goes up where this goes down31:46most likely both of them one goes up and31:48the other one goes down the fact that it31:50hasn’t means that it’s no longer a31:53society in which you can meaningfully31:55measure public opinion because there’s31:57no public and there’s no opinion since32:00we’re also coming up on the anniversary32:03of the Bolshevik Revolution I was32:06wondering how much you feel that Putin32:08the KGB agent is influenced by the32:11Soviet political culture and structure32:14and how much he represents a break from32:16that oh I think his he is a KGB agent32:19through the truth that’s uh that’s the32:23nature of the beast and what I think is32:26it is important and what you know what32:29this book is about is is how much he has32:32been able to tap into a nostalgia for an32:37imaginary Soviet Union and recreate32:42aspects of that culture okay my name is32:51Ruth and given the different histories32:54and different political cultures of32:56Russia and the US and given what you’ve33:00termed the assault on American political33:03culture by Trump how successful do you33:07think he will be in establishing a33:10clause like totalitarian regime here if33:13at all and what would be the best33:15resistance that you would suggest for33:18the American population so I mean I33:23don’t think that there’s a danger of33:26totalitarianism in this country to Talat33:29arianism does require state terror the33:33reason that Putin has been able to tap33:35into totalitarian culture is that there33:39was state terror in the Soviet Union for33:42at least three decades and the memory of33:47that terror has shaped the society that33:49Russia has today I think that Trump is33:54an aspiring autocrat33:56he wants to he wants to rule like a33:59tyrant and that’s a real risk and it’s a34:03real risk you know not in the sense that34:05that Americans will forfeit as many34:07liberties as Russian supported but it34:10certainly it will I think there’s a real34:13risk to institutions in there there’s a34:15real risk to two political culture and I34:20think the way to resist it I mean34:23obviously I’m in a great position to34:25give advice on this because I had to34:28flee my own country that’s one way yeah34:34I mean34:35New Zealand seems like a nice place but34:39but I think that in this country we have34:43to be really aware of what we have right34:45I mean there have been aspiring tyrants34:51aspiring autocrats as long as there have34:53been democracies right there have been34:54people who wanted to destroy them and34:57never actually have they confronted a35:00civil society this strong and a public35:04sphere this healthy and that’s an35:06strange thing to say because you know35:07we’ve all been bemoaning but good reason35:09sort of the the the the polarization in35:12this country and the crisis of trust in35:16in the media all that is true and still35:20I think a majority of people in this35:24country are routinely exposed to35:26opinions that they don’t share a35:28majority of people get their news from35:30different sources that don’t speak with35:34one voice35:36we have an absolutely extraordinarily35:38wealthy and broad civil society and we35:43saw how it can act when the travel ban35:46happened and how a civil society35:49motivates institutions to act we have to35:52be really aware of that and importantly35:53we have to be aware of it because we we35:55need to know that institutions don’t35:58actually function without civil society36:02institutions will absolutely not save us36:05only civil society puts pressure on them36:08and supports them well we have some hope36:12of of protecting what we have but we all36:15see you know we also have to understand36:16that what we have is very much worth36:18protecting hi my name is Jason and my36:24question relates to how Russia sort of36:26interacts with the broader world I’ve36:29sort of noticed a pattern kind of in36:31Russian history where you don’t like36:33some sort of catastrophic war for36:35example will happen like Napoleon36:36attacks and as a response there’s a push36:39back to the West so Alexander then sees36:42as much of Poland or after World War two36:45yo you see Stalin setting up this36:47network of various satellite states in36:50Central Europe36:51do you see Putin as kind of actively36:55following in that that’s sort of pattern36:58um I actually would disagree with your37:02narrative a bit you’ve just told a story37:06that that actually Russia really loves37:08to tell of how Russia is always under37:10attack and encounter attacks I think I’m37:15probably more accurate way of looking at37:17it is to say that Russia has been an37:20empire and it has had an expansive37:22vector for most of its history37:25and it’s not because it’s under attack37:27from the West and that’s that’s very37:30much in play now I think that one of the37:33missed opportunities and I do talk about37:35this in the book is is sort of the37:38opportunity to develop a post Imperial37:41identity okay the Soviet Union was an37:43empire it was an empire that didn’t they37:46denied that it was an empire but but it37:50broke apart like empires do but there is37:53still an empire left and thus Empire had37:59the opportunity to to start thinking of38:03itself in a different way and perhaps to38:07not base its identity on greatness38:10and that didn’t happen and under Putin38:14it’s very much back to a great Russia38:16the the the the single great myth of38:21Russian history now is World War two38:24which as live both again the sociologist38:27says is the perfect myth because it38:29shines it slides backwards and forwards38:31backwards because it justifies all the38:34terror that came before and for is38:36because it explains how the Soviet Union38:38became a superpower and that’s sort of38:42that’s that’s at this point the source38:44of Russian identity and then in large38:48part dictates you know it’s it’s outside38:50ambition it’s superpower scale ambition38:53and it’s expensive expansive motion38:58my name is my name is Jacob and I had a39:01question that I think is sort of a39:02follow on to the the preceding one and39:05it has to do with Turkey and it seems to39:09me that air Dewan in Turkey is really39:12following a very similar strategy as39:15Putin did in Russia and it seems like39:17Putin has offered him very close support39:19in that process since the coup oh sorry39:24since the coup in July of I guess 201639:27and I was wondering if you could talk39:30about that relationship from from your39:32perspective and and what you see is its39:34future um I don’t judge me I’m not at39:38all an expert on Turkey like not at all39:40so I’d really hesitate to talk about39:43Turkey one thing that I would say about39:46that relationship is that has been quite39:48volatile I mean there was a moment but39:52about six months before the coup when it39:55looked like there might be a war between39:56Russia and Turkey and that’s actually an39:59important lesson for Americans I think40:02right the here we have a president now40:05has promised a wonderful relationship40:07with Russia and the u.s. relationship40:10with Russia is at its lowest point40:12possibly since world war two right at40:16the point of you know mutually expelling40:17diplomats at a point when the US Embassy40:21in in in Russia has stopped issuing40:24visas because they no longer have the40:26the people power to to issue visas Trump40:30has suggested closing the consulate in40:32San Francisco I mean it’s just it’s just40:34spiraling and I think that’s the serve40:40the erdowan Putin example is a good40:42example of how unreliable autocratic40:46friendships are and how volatile they40:49can be hi my name is Tina I have a40:54question about the protests that were40:56going on earlier this year so it seems40:58that people like Navalny really41:00capitalized on discontent with the lack41:04of economic growth for the middle41:05classes so the rich who were getting a41:08lot richer and then there was a41:09stagnation or41:10a loss of economic power in the middle41:13classes and the the people that were41:14less well-off and it seems like there is41:18continued interest in going out and41:20doing something or protesting on the41:21streets at least in the bigger cities41:22and then of course the money was41:24arrested but do you see that that41:26discontent is going away or are they41:28neutralizing it in some way or is it41:30still there and just not finding41:31expression in any kind of systemic41:34organized fashion so the question41:40concerns protests that there have been –41:43two waves of protests this year and41:46probably one more coming in the spring41:49and then in June when called upon by41:55Alexei Navalny who started out as an41:58anti-corruption blogger and has become42:00sort of a leading light for for a lot of42:02people in Russia people came out into42:05the streets to protest corruption all42:07over Russia in June people came out in42:10over 100 cities and towns so the most42:13geographically spread out protests in42:18Russian history I believe and the regime42:21responded by arresting 1725 people in42:25one day so the largest wave of arrests42:27in a single day in decades I think that42:32gives us a pretty good indication of of42:36how this is going to play out but to me42:39the saddest thing about those protests42:41as much as I you know as much as I have42:45I have lots of problems with my Balinese42:46politics but I admire his inventiveness42:50and his urge immensely and as much as I42:55admire the people who came out to42:58protest there was something really43:01tragic to me about those protests and43:03that was how both the number of very43:06very young people in them but even more43:09so the the way that older people and by43:13older people I mean anybody over 2543:16interpreted them all over Russian social43:21networks43:23in what little independent media there43:25is there was the sentiment oh this is43:27the new generation that’s finally going43:30to make change and they’re talking about43:33seventeen year olds and a lot of the43:36people who are talking about the 17 year43:38olds in it and the 15 year olds are43:40people in their mid-30s who were the43:43young faces of protest five years ago43:46and who have already given up on43:48themselves and on their entire43:50generation and are passing the baton to43:52the next generation to me that was43:55especially painful because I had just43:57finished writing this book a lot of44:01which is about this idea of generational44:05change and ultimately whether44:07generational change is stronger than44:09injured intergenerational trauma the44:16sociologists who think I keep mentioning44:19him more than the other characters but44:21he is he offers incredible analysis and44:23and he and the team that he worked for44:27in 198944:29went out to do survey based on the sizes44:32that the Soviet man Hamas of a circus44:36was bound to be a dying breed because it44:40had been decades more than a generation44:42since Stalin’s terror ended and so44:45people with the living memory of terror44:47were dying off and that would mean that44:51a Soviet man was dying off and that44:54would mean that Soviet institutions that44:55rested on Soviet man would crumble and44:58that would mean that would bring the44:59Soviet Union down so they had this45:01optimistic hypothesis they went out they45:04did a survey they concluded that they45:05were right two years later the Soviet45:09Union collapsed right on schedule45:11and in another three years they went45:13back to do that survey again and got45:15really weird results that suggested that45:18Hamas of a Turkish was not dying off was45:23surviving and five years after that they45:25did it again and concluded and I quote45:28that’s Hamas of a circus is not only45:30thriving but reproducing45:34and they keep getting results that45:36affirm that theory in there they don’t45:37see that person that that that that45:43traumatized survivor of totalitarian45:46society going anywhere and so the way45:49that one generation sort of looked at45:51the next and said okay let the let the45:53school children do it just to depress45:56the hell out of me46:00hi my name is Sophie and I studied China46:05oh sorry46:07where there’s also been absurd in46:10nationalism and also a crackdown on not46:13democracy because they don’t have that46:14but on civil society within roughly the46:17same period of time and in connection46:20with that there’s also been a real46:22upsurge I think in a propaganda about46:25traditional gender rules and so I was46:28wondering if you had any thoughts about46:30the impact of increasing46:31authoritarianism in Russia on gender46:34equality and and then also separately46:41you’ve spoken about the connection46:43between trauma as a sort of collective46:46national experience and how that can be46:49exploited by governments for to46:54implement totalitarianism and I wonder46:57if you think that it also works perhaps47:00in the opposite direction that repairing47:03trauma on an individual level47:05um can have a revolutionary impact47:08should the National Endowment for47:10democracy be adding a line item for47:14therapy for this I hope the grants that47:17they asked people to apply for oh my god47:19that is such a great idea47:21I I think the answer is no one has tried47:26that but that sounds like such an47:28amazing project and and you know you47:30can’t go wrong with the project like47:31that like you can’t fail at least on the47:33individual level you will help people47:35which is more than you can say for a lot47:37of you know democracy advancement47:41projects so gender roles you know it47:46Evan it’s it always gets really47:47complicated when we talk about gender47:49roles in in Russia because it seems so47:53contradictory within women equally47:56represented in the work place and and47:59and and a lot of female-headed48:03households and all of that but so that48:06said and that the complication48:08acknowledged48:10there’s been both I think rhetorically48:13and and really socially a real sort of48:17reversion in the last under Putin48:21I mean Putin there’s the great anecdote48:25that Hillary Clinton told to Putin told48:29to David Remnick in one when he was48:31interviewing her but her book where she48:34asked Putin and I haven’t gotten to that48:37place in the book I don’t know if it’s48:38in the book as well but she she was48:42looking for something that she could48:43discuss with Putin and he’s very48:47interested in nature conservation which48:49is also something I know a little bit48:51about and and so she said to him she48:56asked me a question about that and he48:58just lit her up and started talking to49:00her and he said in fact I’m about to go49:01to Chukotka to place a satellite collar49:03on a polar bear maybe Bill wants to come49:06with me he says to the secretary of49:10state of the United States and she says49:12well bill might be busy I could come49:15with you and he just ignores it and49:20that’s sort of you know that’s that’s49:22the culture very very much the reigning49:28culture and when Putin has also been49:30known to be to respond to a question49:33asked by a woman journalist you know and49:35how many children have you had and a lot49:39of the rhetoric underlying the anti-gay49:42campaign has actually had to do with49:44reproduction and demographics and I49:46think part of the reason that has been49:47so successful is because it does tap49:49into a real demographic panic so all of49:53that has not been great for for for49:59gender equality and more equal gender50:03roles and and they you know the50:06incredible emphasis now on traditional50:08values or whatever that might mean and50:11sort of the imaginary past when we had50:13those traditional values ultimately you50:16know it’s just going to exacerbate that50:18situation50:21hi my name is Lia I just wanted to thank50:24you for being here um sorry um so my50:29question was that in other revolutions50:33like for example in the Arab Spring50:35social media has been a really effective50:38tool for mass mobilization of50:42opposition’s50:43I was just wondering if you could talk a50:47little bit more about how why you think50:49that given how unregulated social media50:52and the Internet are generally why you50:55think the opposition hasn’t really50:57effectively used it – yes right so yeah51:04I wouldn’t say that the opposition51:05hasn’t effectively use social networks51:09or social media here’s what I would say51:12first of all I would say that there is51:14no opposition in Russia right and what I51:18mean is that opposition is a word that51:21suggests access to public sphere access51:24to media access to electoral51:27institutions none of that exists right51:30so their opponents to Putin who51:36publicize who spread information and who51:40sometimes organize protests it’s very51:42different from saying that there’s an51:43opposition and it has a lot to do with51:46why the potential of how the potential51:49of social media is limited right social51:52media cannot create connections that51:55don’t exist offline it cannot create51:58public space that really doesn’t exist52:00offline it can speed up communication52:04and it can amplify messages but only52:08within the confines of what already52:09exists offline okay and so when protests52:15broke out people were able to spread the52:19message very very quickly within52:21existing networks using social media52:24among other things it was as often52:28happens the impact of social media was52:30overestimated polls actually52:33that about half the people who52:35participated in purchase in 2011-201252:38learned about them from social media and52:40about half from other sources great but52:43it played an important role but it’s not52:45you know social media as we have now52:47finally learned in this country as well52:48it’s not inherently anything it’s not52:52inherently democratic it’s not it52:54doesn’t inherently it’s not inherently a52:57force for good and it doesn’t inherently53:02it doesn’t create things that aren’t53:04already there it just makes them more53:06efficient so I’m originally from Moscow53:10my name is Natasha emigrated about 20 it53:13was the last year of the Soviet Union53:15I have a personal question actually two53:19interrelated personal questions one is53:23you have been living in Moscow after you53:26came back from the US for quite some53:30time and now you are back in the US I53:33wanted to find out how you’re finding53:36this adjustment back so the US and the53:42second question there is one of your53:43books which is not political which I53:45really love I read it a long time ago53:48it’s called blood matters and it’s about53:52genetics and your personal journey and53:54right now I understand that it’s very53:56important to write political books but53:59I’m wondering whether you are thinking54:01about writing in non political book54:04again Wow54:07great question so54:10to the question of how the adjustment54:12has been coming back here so I first54:16came here as a teenager in 1981 and then54:19I went back to the Soviet Union actually54:22is a correspondent in 1991 and stayed54:27until December 2013 and then came back54:31here but all along I was writing in both54:34English and Russian and writing books in54:37English so for me coming back was54:41actually it has actually been great it’s54:46it’s it’s been a homecoming in a way I54:49live in New York City which I love I’ve54:53had a very rewarding career for the last54:56four years I’ve yeah I mean it’s it’s55:02it’s it’s been wonderful what has been55:04and and I have to say that emigrating55:08when you have a choice about it is55:10definitely I mean even though I didn’t55:13have much of a choice about the timing55:15of leaving Russia we had to get out in a55:18hurry but but I made that decision55:20myself unlike the first time when my55:22parents made the decision for me and I55:24was just resentful and miserable and but55:30this time I brought my teenage children55:32very resentful and miserable and I can’t55:38blame them because I know exactly what55:40it feels like and and I have to say that55:43there’s a peculiar difficulty actually55:45to have to have a family in which four55:47people emigrate it my partner and my55:51three kids and I came home and it’s55:55that’s that’s really been a struggle55:57because I think for at least for for56:01people who emigrate as difficult as it56:03is there’s also kind of a rewards ladder56:06right because you go from you know56:08working illegally under the table to56:10actually having a regular job to them56:11finding a job in your field there’s a56:14Rapids kind of growth that compensates56:16for that loss of social networks and56:19social status that that people56:22inevitably Experion56:23when they emigrate and and I deprived my56:27family of that because we came here56:29quite comfortably bought a house and I56:32moved in56:32but the misery of this location is still56:36there and there’s nothing you can do56:37about it and to answer your your56:41question about whether I’m thinking of56:42writing a personal book I am thinking of56:44writing a personal book and but it’s56:49like years down the road if I do write56:52it it will be a book about emigration56:57and gender57:01hi um thank you for coming my question57:06is I was wondering if you were able to57:07get outside of Moscow and to some of the57:09other cities and whether you were able57:10to talk with some of the various other57:12ethnic groups in Russia and what were57:14your experiences things well I mean in57:18in my work as a journalist in Russia I I57:22was mostly a roving reporter and I57:25traveled all over the country and and57:28did a lot of reporting on from different57:32cities including a lot of reporting on57:34[Music]57:36non-russian ethnic groups and non57:39Orthodox Christians this book is built57:43around seven particular people one of57:47whom two of whom are not from Moscow and57:51the rest of whom are from Moscow they57:55said one of them grew up in a provincial57:58well a large but but you know I58:02shouldn’t know he didn’t start out in a58:03large city he started out in a very58:05small town provincial town then moved to58:07a larger provincial city and I had to58:10actually flee Russia all together and he58:13is I think he’s an absolutely58:15extraordinary character a young young58:18academic who was very hopeful just just58:21a few years ago started the first Gender58:24Studies Centre at a Russian University58:26and and had really found himself in58:29academia and then a couple years later58:32but later was running for his life and58:34now lives in New York and another of the58:37characters has burst himselves daughter58:39who grew up also in a provincial city58:41but a very large one usually Nova cadets58:43Jean Anjum Silva and she also has had to58:46leave the country58:48following her father’s assassination we58:51have time for three more quick questions58:55I am Julie I’m trying to figure out58:57exactly how to word this but I work for58:59LGBT rights and it’s been really59:01shocking for me I did not expect Trump59:03to come after the LGBT community the way59:04he has and then you know but the release59:07of the D the Department of Health and59:09Human Services plan which is basically a59:11fundamentalist plan yesterday I’m59:14wondering with both Putin and Trump how59:18core you think misogyny and homophobia59:21is to their how they function and how it59:26ties in with their political worldview59:27or not is it kind of coincidental I mean59:30you talked a lot about traditional59:31values but a little more about that role59:34the role those blue you know that’s a59:37really interesting question because I’m59:39and I’ve I’ve actually puzzled over this59:43American obsession with core values like59:48why do we care if somebody is deeply59:52racist if they behave like a racist why59:55do we care if somebody is deeply59:57homophobic if they if they’re president60:00and they encourage homophobic policies60:02you know or launched an anti-gay60:04campaign it doesn’t matter you know what60:07matters is what they actually do and60:10what becomes our observed reality our60:12observed reality is that this president60:14is the Trump I mean but they are the one60:19in Russia to is is going after LGBT60:25people in a fairly conservative manner60:27right I have my ideas about why he’s60:31doing it I think because for someone60:34like him and this was calculable and60:36actually I wrote about this very early60:39on in July of 2016 I wrote that he was60:42going to reverse progress on LGBT rights60:45because for someone like him it makes60:51sense to reverse the most pronounced60:54most recent most rapid social change in60:57this country and that concerns LGBT60:59rights and it doesn’t matter how he61:01feels about LGBT people and whether all61:03of his best friends are gay it really61:05makes no difference right61:07his power is largely based on his61:11ability to demonstrate that he is61:14serious about taking people to the past61:17and that will necessarily involve61:21reversing progress on LGBT rights and I61:23think we should expect a lot more61:25attacks on that front hi my name is61:30Nancy oops61:34have the economic sanctions that the61:37West has imposed and/or the Magnitsky61:39Act provided any constraints on Putin61:45and his regime and those around him I61:50think so and I also I I’m trying to be61:55like a broken record and saying I don’t61:56think this is a great question but this61:59is this is the way we normally pose the62:01question right we normally ask but the62:03sanctions are effective and you know62:08it’s a perfectly reasonable question of62:09course but I also think that when we62:12when you deal with someone like Putin62:13who’s basically intractable right that62:17question can also lead to to illogical62:20dead-end right because if there is no62:23way to influence his behavior then62:25there’s no way to influence his behavior62:26so what’s the point of sanctions well62:28the point of sanctions is that they’re62:30the right thing to do because it is the62:33wrong thing to do to do business with62:35with the bloody dictator it is the wrong62:38thing to do to allow you know him and62:42his people to to invest their money here62:48and to launder their money here so62:51whether or not we can see that we can62:54observe the strategic results from62:56sanctions sanctions are the right thing62:58to do63:01my name is George just one question what63:04happens after Putin oh well that’s63:10that’s an easy one um I have no idea but63:18um but actually there’s there’s a63:21wonderful book that’s just out in63:22paperback that is weirdly relevant to63:26that question and the book is called the63:28last days of Stalin have you read it it63:31was great63:32and it’s Joshua Rubinstein it says it’s63:35a slim book and it’s amazing you read it63:39and and I mean the part that that that63:42has to do with how the US foreign policy63:45establishment was worried that after63:47Stalin died the hardliners might come to63:49power that really I thought that was63:53really amazing and so it really puts63:57into perspective similar fears that have63:59been voiced repeatedly in this country64:03but I also the other thing that that has64:06direct implications for today is that he64:10is documented in how much disarray the64:12Soviet Union was and how Americans64:16looking at it couldn’t believe that it64:18was in that much disarray and kept64:19looking for sort of hidden meanings and64:21hidden strategies and actually what had64:24happened was that Stalin had planned to64:25live forever64:26there was no succession plan nobody knew64:30what was happening and how they should64:31act and anything was possible and I64:35think something similar is going to64:37happen after Putin Dyke’s he definitely64:39planned plans to live forever64:43there will be no succession plan I mean64:45I’m assuming that there will be his64:47death that that will end putinism if64:50it’s something else it will not be64:51dissimilar it will also we’ll know when64:53it happens right it’s a closed system64:54but but there will be disarray one64:57prediction that I feel confident enough64:58making is that I don’t think that Russia65:01will stay in its current borders when65:03after Putin it’s there’s so much sort of65:10outward tension at this point Huson has65:12managed to put so much pressure65:13on various constituent members of the65:16Russian Federation and pumped them for65:19money and/or to the opposite of money65:25into supporting friendly dictators and65:28in in various places once he is gone so65:31the those tensions will come to the65:34surface and various places will various65:37parts of Russia will break up so we’ll65:40we’ll see major rearrangement mom he’s65:42done all right65:44thank you so much for coming65:55you66:04you