Why Trump Supporters Can’t Admit Who He Really Is

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

“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

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 reputationbeyond 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.

 

 

Masha Gessen, “The Future Is History”

13:55
remember I’m not sure if you were you
were still in Moscow and then probably
at the time but when in Azerbaijan one
of the former Soviet republics the
Soviet era leader Illya Haydar Iliev
died and he saw to pass his country on
to his son which in fact he succeeded at
14:15
doing and I went down for the election
and you know his son was not popular at
all he was sort of seen as a playboy he
was Western educated he was you know a
sort of a worldly sort but not at all
seen as you know fit to lead a country
and so there was unhappiness that was
genuine and that even you know the
reading people would tell you went to
this election it was a totally rigged
election and there was protesting the
streets you know people’s heads were
cracked right in front of me but with
the the lesson that I took away from it
was on the plane going back and there
were some Western election observers and
some Russian election observers on the
plane back to Moscow and the Europeans
said we don’t understand I mean you know
why were they so greedy
why did Elliot have to give himself 85
for some of the vote nobody thinks that
he really kind of 85 percent you know
couldn’t may have done 55 and he said
this to the Russian he said you don’t
understand the 85 percent was the point
the the fact that people knew he wasn’t
very popular and that this had to be you
know an orchestrated result the higher
the percentage the better I’m amazed
they didn’t go for 90% and it was this
very revealing moment to me where I
realized that you know the things that
are necessary to dictate the survival of
an authoritarian government are very
different than you know certainly that
product of the United States is is used
to thinking and and Putin has already
struck me as playing more by alliums law
than then we realize so
based on this book I know every single
person here is gonna stand up and ask
you this question so I’ll just ask you
16:04
for you anyways
16:05
you know why why do you think Putin has
16:09
taken what appears to be such an
16:11
aggressive outward turn you know not
16:13
just focusing on cracking down inside
16:15
Russia and you know making sure no more
16:18
below Tenaya protests break out but
16:20
focusing on the United States to a
16:23
degree that clearly has shocked many
16:24
people here in Washington this Saturday
16:29
it will be the one-year anniversary
16:31
not only of the Access Hollywood tape
16:33
which I’m sure everyone here remembers
16:35
but it will also be the one-year
16:38
anniversary of when the US government
16:40
said Russia had done the packing of the
16:44
dnc the one-year anniversary of the week
16:47
of Tom Podesta’s emails and it’s a lot
16:50
of effort since birthday and the 11th
16:56
anniversary of the murder of Anna
16:58
Politkovskaya
17:00
so I think that actually in it echoing
17:06
what you were just saying about I leaves
17:07
election the outward turn was the point
17:10
right
17:11
I believe and and I discussed this at
17:16
length in the book I believe that the
17:17
nature of the regime changed after the
17:20
crackdown it went from being an
17:22
authoritarian regime to a kind of
17:24
totalitarian regime right when I say
17:26
kind of totalitarian I don’t mean that
17:28
he was establishing a new totalitarian
17:30
regime right that would involve terror
17:33
and just all sorts of unimaginable
17:35
horror but he was calling forth the
17:38
habits and customs of Soviet
17:42
totalitarian society and one of the
17:45
differences between an authoritarian and
17:48
totalitarian regime that I think is key
17:51
here is mobilization and in in an
17:56
authoritarian regime
17:57
nothing is political the authoritarian
18:00
leader wants people to stay home tend to
18:03
their private lives and not pay
18:05
attention while he ponders the country
18:08
consolidate spur or whatever it is
18:10
history
18:11
at two teletraan leader wants the exact
18:14
opposite everything is political there
18:18
is no private realm and the totalitarian
18:21
leader wants people out in the public
18:23
square rallying for a victory right the
18:28
to tell the population has to be
18:30
mobilized and there are lots of reasons
18:33
why it has two immobilized but the
18:35
question is how does it get mobilized
18:37
and it only can get mobilized against an
18:39
enemy and they only Menna me that is big
18:43
enough and glorious enough to be
18:45
mobilized against is the United States
18:47
and I think that’s something that the
18:51
foreign policy establishment in this
18:52
country really failed to understand was
18:54
that was the nature of the war in
18:55
Ukraine the Russians believe that they
18:58
were fighting a proxy war with the
18:59
United States in Ukraine and in Syria
19:02
and so in that sense the intense
19:06
interest and participation in the
19:10
American election he’s just completely
19:13
logical it’s not you know it’s not a
19:15
break with the narrative it’s part of
19:17
the narrative especially because Russia
19:20
believes that the United States has
19:22
meddled in its own politics has
19:24
organized that Hillary Clinton
19:26
personally organized protests in the
19:28
streets in 2011-2012 and so why
19:31
shouldn’t Russia do the same here okay
19:33
so you brought up the t word as in
19:35
totalitarianism which is the subtitle of
19:38
your book how totalitarianism reclaimed
19:41
Russia you know you had to have done
19:43
that recognizing that some people would
19:46
would get in an argument over
19:47
definitions with you and that no
19:50
Lattimore printed as many things you
19:52
described them well in your previous
19:54
book but he has not killed millions of
19:57
people but so um that’s why I wrote a
20:00
whole chapter on the definition of
20:02
totalitarianism chapter 14 but so here’s
20:10
my theory of the case I I think that
20:13
Putin certainly did not set out to be a
20:17
totalitarian leader in fact the regime
20:20
that he was trying to build as a mafia
20:22
state and
20:24
this is I think this is the best
20:26
definition again there have been many
20:27
oligarchy kleptocracy crony capitalism
20:30
the liberal democracy
20:32
I think that they’re all flawed and the
20:37
best one is mafia state and this is a
20:39
definition put forward by a Hungarian
20:42
political scientist named Balan major
20:45
who describes it as a clan a family run
20:50
by patriarch the patriarch distributes
20:53
money and power and you know the amazing
20:58
thing since the people are going to ask
21:00
about this as well I’ll just go ahead
21:02
and say it
21:04
the amazing thing of course is when I
21:06
was writing the book in writing about
21:08
mafia States the whole the concept of
21:10
family was a metaphor right I was
21:14
talking about the other T word I wasn’t
21:18
thinking that you know would be
21:19
observing the formation of a mafia State
21:22
with a literal family at the home but so
21:27
he he was building office T his goal
21:30
continues to be to to retain power in
21:35
perpetuity and to continue in the chisa
21:39
but because to do that he had to crack
21:42
down in 2012 and because he cracked down
21:46
on the ruins of a totalitarian society
21:50
the response he got was the survival
21:53
response of a totalitarian society it’s
21:56
very much like you know a person who has
22:00
been in an abusive situation developed
22:04
survival skills that are suited to that
22:07
situation and those are the skills that
22:10
that person is going to use throughout
22:12
their life unless something
22:15
extraordinary like really great therapy
22:16
happens to this person but as Susan over
22:19
dimensioned Russia didn’t really Russia
22:21
need a lot of therapy didn’t get a lot
22:22
of therapy the survival skills of a
22:25
totalitarian society were perfectly
22:26
suited for the period of state terror
22:28
and the thing that that I think we have
22:31
discovered in the last 20 years is that
22:35
they have been made
22:36
and in response to put subscribe down
22:39
that’s what came forward so I know we
22:43
are gonna want to turn back to the other
22:44
t word in a second but let’s stick with
22:46
the book for right now you have these
22:49
sort of four main characters these young
22:50
people but you you also these sort of
22:52
three intellectual protagonists and one
22:55
of them is Alexander Dugan who has
22:58
become in innocence the chief ideologist
23:01
behind putinism even though it’s he
23:04
wasn’t like personally close to Putin as
23:07
far as we understand it tell us what you
23:09
think about this debate and there is a
23:12
debate about whether there really is an
23:14
ideology of putinism beyond just
23:17
maintaining power for Putin you know
23:20
this is one of the big arguments in our
23:22
sort of world of Russia Watchers and the
23:24
reason I think it’s particularly
23:26
relevant right now is this question of
23:30
what kind of a conflict are we facing
23:33
between Russia and the West between
23:35
Russia and the United States it actually
23:37
depends a little bit on how you assess
23:39
their ideology whether they have an
23:41
ideology and if so you know how it plays
23:44
out so tell us a little bit about your
23:46
study of Alexander Dugan he didn’t
23:48
cooperate unlike the other characters in
23:49
this book well he cooperated in a very
23:52
peculiar way he sent me stuff and he
23:55
sent me his right right-hand person to
23:58
talk to me so I talked to I interviewed
24:00
him by proxy but he also has a vast
24:04
written record that and actually I want
24:09
to just give a shout out to unconscious
24:11
cops of who’s here who knows so much
24:13
more about Alexandra Dugan than I ever
24:15
will and he was a new book out on Russia
24:20
and the European far-right so the
24:27
ideology question actually I’m not sure
24:29
is the right question and I’ll explain
24:33
ideology is also something that looks
24:36
coherent usually in hindsight when you
24:39
read contemporary accounts of say
24:42
Hitler’s Germany which we imagine to
24:43
have had a very clear idea gee
24:48
victor klemper talks about how they are
24:51
opportunists and they just pick up
24:53
whatever whatever is handy to make a
24:55
particular argument erich fromm writes
24:58
that they have no ideology whatsoever
25:00
and the very idea that Hitler has an
25:02
ideology is misguided Hannah Arendt
25:05
writes later than from that that one of
25:10
the reasons that the West was that that
25:12
the the other Western countries were so
25:16
slow to understand what was going on in
25:19
Germany and in the Soviet Union was that
25:22
the ideology on the face of it seemed
25:24
preposterous that if you tell somebody
25:27
that they’re going to kill millions of
25:29
people because they are because of their
25:33
ethnicity it sounds preposterous if you
25:35
told them somebody that their ideology
25:37
is to eliminate eradicate entire classes
25:42
of people to the tune of millions of
25:44
people it sounds preposterous only once
25:47
it’s happened does it become believable
25:49
even if it’s still unimaginable and then
25:52
it starts to add up to coherent ideology
25:54
so I think that you know once you’ve
25:57
immersed herself in those accounts you
26:00
actually think this guy doesn’t have
26:03
less of an ideology than any of those he
26:07
is um I think he has struck a couple of
26:11
themes that are consistent and one has a
26:14
lot of traction and that’s traditional
26:16
values right
26:18
it began in part with queerbaiting the
26:22
protesters and because that turned out
26:25
to be so effective it’s it’s turned into
26:29
this full-fledged sort of idea of a
26:31
traditional value civilization that’s
26:32
Duggan’s idea and a russian world and
26:35
russia as the center of a civilization
26:38
based on traditional values um that’s
26:41
that’s just a heron does it get well I
26:44
know the audience has a lot of questions
26:46
and I’m gonna look for our microphone so
26:49
that you can raise your hands and do it
26:51
while you’re getting your questions
26:52
ready I’ll throw a coin on when – Masha
26:55
before turning it over to you the
26:56
audience back to the other T word
26:59
you know you’ve written in
27:01
sure many people here are familiar with
27:02
your very powerful essay in the New York
27:05
Review books suggesting that you know
27:07
the threat of Trump has to really do
27:10
with the question of
27:13
the kind of society we have here in the
27:15
United States so now that it’s 250 days
27:18
230 days in to the Trump presidency what
27:22
is your own progress report on the state
27:24
of American democracy under Trump do you
27:28
fear do you feel that your predictions
27:30
are coming true I do unfortunately I
27:34
think that and if you recall or you
27:39
don’t have to recall I recall that I
27:44
actually in the in that essay but also
27:47
later this was more vividly when
27:50
Samantha bee asked me what my greatest
27:51
fear was and I said nuclear holocaust
27:53
and you know back in January it seemed
27:57
like a kind of nutty thing to say we’re
28:02
in September in October now and we’ve
28:04
been living with the specter of a
28:07
nuclear holocaust for a month you know
28:13
that’s that’s how fast it has advanced
28:16
and I think that he is Trump’s attack on
28:21
American institutions and even more
28:24
significantly to my mind on American
28:26
political culture has been as unceasing
28:29
as it could possibly have been I didn’t
28:33
actually imagine that it would be this
28:34
cacophonous but I think the cacophony
28:36
makes it that much more effective
28:39
you mean cacophonous from inside the
28:41
Trump administration which clearly is
28:43
not yet singing with one voice I mean
28:46
that but I also mean you know the the
28:48
just endless barrage of news I mean I’m
28:53
boots hidden when he came to power in
28:55
the you know all of us have again our
28:58
own heuristics right my Putin came to
28:59
power he set in motion a kind of
29:01
authoritarian crawl right he was very
29:05
methodical about taking over power but
29:09
every step was was measured and I think
29:13
that that’s part of what made it so
29:14
effective in his case was that every
29:17
single thing he did it on its face
29:20
wasn’t that awful you know until 2004
29:24
when he cancelled the Burnet or election
29:26
but basically up until that point
29:28
everything he did was kind of horrible
29:31
but not not it was difficult actually to
29:36
make the argument in the Western media I
29:38
know I tried that he was establishing an
29:41
authoritarian regime and you know Trump
29:44
has been acting like a bull in the china
29:46
shop from day one
29:49
there has been no crawl there’s like
29:50
this constant artillery attack and on
29:57
that note who wants to be the first to
29:59
jump in with Suzanne um can you talk
30:04
about food as well and how he came by
30:07
that and the oligarchs and Russia and
30:09
how did the people feel about the failed
30:13
attempt at you know an actual kind of
30:16
democracy thank you that’s at least
30:19
three questions so I’m going to focus on
30:24
the last of those three questions
30:25
because it actually has to do with
30:27
what’s what’s in this book as opposed to
30:29
a much earlier book about Putin so how
30:33
do people feel about the failed attempt
30:35
at democracy well we no longer know
30:38
that’s how profound the transformation
30:42
of Russian society has been there’s
30:45
there’s a moment in the book that’s very
30:46
important to me when they have good
30:48
coffee
30:49
the sociologist he has taken a piece of
30:52
paper and he has graft his superimposed
30:56
two graphs the graph of Putin’s
30:59
popularity which skyrocketed after the
31:02
invasion of Ukraine and held at 86% so
31:06
it looks like a vertical line up from 50
31:08
something to 86 and then it just holds
31:10
it plateaus and the graph of consumer
31:15
confidence which is a actually sort of
31:18
more broadly a sense of economic
31:22
well-being which plummeted around the
31:25
same time just as the Russian economy
31:27
tanked and stayed and plateaued at the
31:30
bottom and so it looks like this and he
31:34
held us up and said this can’t happen
31:37
this is impossible right these two lines
31:42
have to meet
31:44
either this goes up where this goes down
31:46
most likely both of them one goes up and
31:48
the other one goes down the fact that it
31:50
hasn’t means that it’s no longer a
31:53
society in which you can meaningfully
31:55
measure public opinion because there’s
31:57
no public and there’s no opinion since
32:00
we’re also coming up on the anniversary
32:03
of the Bolshevik Revolution I was
32:06
wondering how much you feel that Putin
32:08
the KGB agent is influenced by the
32:11
Soviet political culture and structure
32:14
and how much he represents a break from
32:16
that oh I think his he is a KGB agent
32:19
through the truth that’s uh that’s the
32:23
nature of the beast and what I think is
32:26
it is important and what you know what
32:29
this book is about is is how much he has
32:32
been able to tap into a nostalgia for an
32:37
imaginary Soviet Union and recreate
32:42
aspects of that culture okay my name is
32:51
Ruth and given the different histories
32:54
and different political cultures of
32:56
Russia and the US and given what you’ve
33:00
termed the assault on American political
33:03
culture by Trump how successful do you
33:07
think he will be in establishing a
33:10
clause like totalitarian regime here if
33:13
at all and what would be the best
33:15
resistance that you would suggest for
33:18
the American population so I mean I
33:23
don’t think that there’s a danger of
33:26
totalitarianism in this country to Talat
33:29
arianism does require state terror the
33:33
reason that Putin has been able to tap
33:35
into totalitarian culture is that there
33:39
was state terror in the Soviet Union for
33:42
at least three decades and the memory of
33:47
that terror has shaped the society that
33:49
Russia has today I think that Trump is
33:54
an aspiring autocrat
33:56
he wants to he wants to rule like a
33:59
tyrant and that’s a real risk and it’s a
34:03
real risk you know not in the sense that
34:05
that Americans will forfeit as many
34:07
liberties as Russian supported but it
34:10
certainly it will I think there’s a real
34:13
risk to institutions in there there’s a
34:15
real risk to two political culture and I
34:20
think the way to resist it I mean
34:23
obviously I’m in a great position to
34:25
give advice on this because I had to
34:28
flee my own country that’s one way yeah
34:34
I mean
34:35
New Zealand seems like a nice place but
34:39
but I think that in this country we have
34:43
to be really aware of what we have right
34:45
I mean there have been aspiring tyrants
34:51
aspiring autocrats as long as there have
34:53
been democracies right there have been
34:54
people who wanted to destroy them and
34:57
never actually have they confronted a
35:00
civil society this strong and a public
35:04
sphere this healthy and that’s an
35:06
strange thing to say because you know
35:07
we’ve all been bemoaning but good reason
35:09
sort of the the the the polarization in
35:12
this country and the crisis of trust in
35:16
in the media all that is true and still
35:20
I think a majority of people in this
35:24
country are routinely exposed to
35:26
opinions that they don’t share a
35:28
majority of people get their news from
35:30
different sources that don’t speak with
35:34
one voice
35:36
we have an absolutely extraordinarily
35:38
wealthy and broad civil society and we
35:43
saw how it can act when the travel ban
35:46
happened and how a civil society
35:49
motivates institutions to act we have to
35:52
be really aware of that and importantly
35:53
we have to be aware of it because we we
35:55
need to know that institutions don’t
35:58
actually function without civil society
36:02
institutions will absolutely not save us
36:05
only civil society puts pressure on them
36:08
and supports them well we have some hope
36:12
of of protecting what we have but we all
36:15
see you know we also have to understand
36:16
that what we have is very much worth
36:18
protecting hi my name is Jason and my
36:24
question relates to how Russia sort of
36:26
interacts with the broader world I’ve
36:29
sort of noticed a pattern kind of in
36:31
Russian history where you don’t like
36:33
some sort of catastrophic war for
36:35
example will happen like Napoleon
36:36
attacks and as a response there’s a push
36:39
back to the West so Alexander then sees
36:42
as much of Poland or after World War two
36:45
yo you see Stalin setting up this
36:47
network of various satellite states in
36:50
Central Europe
36:51
do you see Putin as kind of actively
36:55
following in that that’s sort of pattern
36:58
um I actually would disagree with your
37:02
narrative a bit you’ve just told a story
37:06
that that actually Russia really loves
37:08
to tell of how Russia is always under
37:10
attack and encounter attacks I think I’m
37:15
probably more accurate way of looking at
37:17
it is to say that Russia has been an
37:20
empire and it has had an expansive
37:22
vector for most of its history
37:25
and it’s not because it’s under attack
37:27
from the West and that’s that’s very
37:30
much in play now I think that one of the
37:33
missed opportunities and I do talk about
37:35
this in the book is is sort of the
37:38
opportunity to develop a post Imperial
37:41
identity okay the Soviet Union was an
37:43
empire it was an empire that didn’t they
37:46
denied that it was an empire but but it
37:50
broke apart like empires do but there is
37:53
still an empire left and thus Empire had
37:59
the opportunity to to start thinking of
38:03
itself in a different way and perhaps to
38:07
not base its identity on greatness
38:10
and that didn’t happen and under Putin
38:14
it’s very much back to a great Russia
38:16
the the the the single great myth of
38:21
Russian history now is World War two
38:24
which as live both again the sociologist
38:27
says is the perfect myth because it
38:29
shines it slides backwards and forwards
38:31
backwards because it justifies all the
38:34
terror that came before and for is
38:36
because it explains how the Soviet Union
38:38
became a superpower and that’s sort of
38:42
that’s that’s at this point the source
38:44
of Russian identity and then in large
38:48
part dictates you know it’s it’s outside
38:50
ambition it’s superpower scale ambition
38:53
and it’s expensive expansive motion
38:58
my name is my name is Jacob and I had a
39:01
question that I think is sort of a
39:02
follow on to the the preceding one and
39:05
it has to do with Turkey and it seems to
39:09
me that air Dewan in Turkey is really
39:12
following a very similar strategy as
39:15
Putin did in Russia and it seems like
39:17
Putin has offered him very close support
39:19
in that process since the coup oh sorry
39:24
since the coup in July of I guess 2016
39:27
and I was wondering if you could talk
39:30
about that relationship from from your
39:32
perspective and and what you see is its
39:34
future um I don’t judge me I’m not at
39:38
all an expert on Turkey like not at all
39:40
so I’d really hesitate to talk about
39:43
Turkey one thing that I would say about
39:46
that relationship is that has been quite
39:48
volatile I mean there was a moment but
39:52
about six months before the coup when it
39:55
looked like there might be a war between
39:56
Russia and Turkey and that’s actually an
39:59
important lesson for Americans I think
40:02
right the here we have a president now
40:05
has promised a wonderful relationship
40:07
with Russia and the u.s. relationship
40:10
with Russia is at its lowest point
40:12
possibly since world war two right at
40:16
the point of you know mutually expelling
40:17
diplomats at a point when the US Embassy
40:21
in in in Russia has stopped issuing
40:24
visas because they no longer have the
40:26
the people power to to issue visas Trump
40:30
has suggested closing the consulate in
40:32
San Francisco I mean it’s just it’s just
40:34
spiraling and I think that’s the serve
40:40
the erdowan Putin example is a good
40:42
example of how unreliable autocratic
40:46
friendships are and how volatile they
40:49
can be hi my name is Tina I have a
40:54
question about the protests that were
40:56
going on earlier this year so it seems
40:58
that people like Navalny really
41:00
capitalized on discontent with the lack
41:04
of economic growth for the middle
41:05
classes so the rich who were getting a
41:08
lot richer and then there was a
41:09
stagnation or
41:10
a loss of economic power in the middle
41:13
classes and the the people that were
41:14
less well-off and it seems like there is
41:18
continued interest in going out and
41:20
doing something or protesting on the
41:21
streets at least in the bigger cities
41:22
and then of course the money was
41:24
arrested but do you see that that
41:26
discontent is going away or are they
41:28
neutralizing it in some way or is it
41:30
still there and just not finding
41:31
expression in any kind of systemic
41:34
organized fashion so the question
41:40
concerns protests that there have been –
41:43
two waves of protests this year and
41:46
probably one more coming in the spring
41:49
and then in June when called upon by
41:55
Alexei Navalny who started out as an
41:58
anti-corruption blogger and has become
42:00
sort of a leading light for for a lot of
42:02
people in Russia people came out into
42:05
the streets to protest corruption all
42:07
over Russia in June people came out in
42:10
over 100 cities and towns so the most
42:13
geographically spread out protests in
42:18
Russian history I believe and the regime
42:21
responded by arresting 1725 people in
42:25
one day so the largest wave of arrests
42:27
in a single day in decades I think that
42:32
gives us a pretty good indication of of
42:36
how this is going to play out but to me
42:39
the saddest thing about those protests
42:41
as much as I you know as much as I have
42:45
I have lots of problems with my Balinese
42:46
politics but I admire his inventiveness
42:50
and his urge immensely and as much as I
42:55
admire the people who came out to
42:58
protest there was something really
43:01
tragic to me about those protests and
43:03
that was how both the number of very
43:06
very young people in them but even more
43:09
so the the way that older people and by
43:13
older people I mean anybody over 25
43:16
interpreted them all over Russian social
43:21
networks
43:23
in what little independent media there
43:25
is there was the sentiment oh this is
43:27
the new generation that’s finally going
43:30
to make change and they’re talking about
43:33
seventeen year olds and a lot of the
43:36
people who are talking about the 17 year
43:38
olds in it and the 15 year olds are
43:40
people in their mid-30s who were the
43:43
young faces of protest five years ago
43:46
and who have already given up on
43:48
themselves and on their entire
43:50
generation and are passing the baton to
43:52
the next generation to me that was
43:55
especially painful because I had just
43:57
finished writing this book a lot of
44:01
which is about this idea of generational
44:05
change and ultimately whether
44:07
generational change is stronger than
44:09
injured intergenerational trauma the
44:16
sociologists who think I keep mentioning
44:19
him more than the other characters but
44:21
he is he offers incredible analysis and
44:23
and he and the team that he worked for
44:27
in 1989
44:29
went out to do survey based on the sizes
44:32
that the Soviet man Hamas of a circus
44:36
was bound to be a dying breed because it
44:40
had been decades more than a generation
44:42
since Stalin’s terror ended and so
44:45
people with the living memory of terror
44:47
were dying off and that would mean that
44:51
a Soviet man was dying off and that
44:54
would mean that Soviet institutions that
44:55
rested on Soviet man would crumble and
44:58
that would mean that would bring the
44:59
Soviet Union down so they had this
45:01
optimistic hypothesis they went out they
45:04
did a survey they concluded that they
45:05
were right two years later the Soviet
45:09
Union collapsed right on schedule
45:11
and in another three years they went
45:13
back to do that survey again and got
45:15
really weird results that suggested that
45:18
Hamas of a Turkish was not dying off was
45:23
surviving and five years after that they
45:25
did it again and concluded and I quote
45:28
that’s Hamas of a circus is not only
45:30
thriving but reproducing
45:34
and they keep getting results that
45:36
affirm that theory in there they don’t
45:37
see that person that that that that
45:43
traumatized survivor of totalitarian
45:46
society going anywhere and so the way
45:49
that one generation sort of looked at
45:51
the next and said okay let the let the
45:53
school children do it just to depress
45:56
the hell out of me
46:00
hi my name is Sophie and I studied China
46:05
oh sorry
46:07
where there’s also been absurd in
46:10
nationalism and also a crackdown on not
46:13
democracy because they don’t have that
46:14
but on civil society within roughly the
46:17
same period of time and in connection
46:20
with that there’s also been a real
46:22
upsurge I think in a propaganda about
46:25
traditional gender rules and so I was
46:28
wondering if you had any thoughts about
46:30
the impact of increasing
46:31
authoritarianism in Russia on gender
46:34
equality and and then also separately
46:41
you’ve spoken about the connection
46:43
between trauma as a sort of collective
46:46
national experience and how that can be
46:49
exploited by governments for to
46:54
implement totalitarianism and I wonder
46:57
if you think that it also works perhaps
47:00
in the opposite direction that repairing
47:03
trauma on an individual level
47:05
um can have a revolutionary impact
47:08
should the National Endowment for
47:10
democracy be adding a line item for
47:14
therapy for this I hope the grants that
47:17
they asked people to apply for oh my god
47:19
that is such a great idea
47:21
I I think the answer is no one has tried
47:26
that but that sounds like such an
47:28
amazing project and and you know you
47:30
can’t go wrong with the project like
47:31
that like you can’t fail at least on the
47:33
individual level you will help people
47:35
which is more than you can say for a lot
47:37
of you know democracy advancement
47:41
projects so gender roles you know it
47:46
Evan it’s it always gets really
47:47
complicated when we talk about gender
47:49
roles in in Russia because it seems so
47:53
contradictory within women equally
47:56
represented in the work place and and
47:59
and and a lot of female-headed
48:03
households and all of that but so that
48:06
said and that the complication
48:08
acknowledged
48:10
there’s been both I think rhetorically
48:13
and and really socially a real sort of
48:17
reversion in the last under Putin
48:21
I mean Putin there’s the great anecdote
48:25
that Hillary Clinton told to Putin told
48:29
to David Remnick in one when he was
48:31
interviewing her but her book where she
48:34
asked Putin and I haven’t gotten to that
48:37
place in the book I don’t know if it’s
48:38
in the book as well but she she was
48:42
looking for something that she could
48:43
discuss with Putin and he’s very
48:47
interested in nature conservation which
48:49
is also something I know a little bit
48:51
about and and so she said to him she
48:56
asked me a question about that and he
48:58
just lit her up and started talking to
49:00
her and he said in fact I’m about to go
49:01
to Chukotka to place a satellite collar
49:03
on a polar bear maybe Bill wants to come
49:06
with me he says to the secretary of
49:10
state of the United States and she says
49:12
well bill might be busy I could come
49:15
with you and he just ignores it and
49:20
that’s sort of you know that’s that’s
49:22
the culture very very much the reigning
49:28
culture and when Putin has also been
49:30
known to be to respond to a question
49:33
asked by a woman journalist you know and
49:35
how many children have you had and a lot
49:39
of the rhetoric underlying the anti-gay
49:42
campaign has actually had to do with
49:44
reproduction and demographics and I
49:46
think part of the reason that has been
49:47
so successful is because it does tap
49:49
into a real demographic panic so all of
49:53
that has not been great for for for
49:59
gender equality and more equal gender
50:03
roles and and they you know the
50:06
incredible emphasis now on traditional
50:08
values or whatever that might mean and
50:11
sort of the imaginary past when we had
50:13
those traditional values ultimately you
50:16
know it’s just going to exacerbate that
50:18
situation
50:21
hi my name is Lia I just wanted to thank
50:24
you for being here um sorry um so my
50:29
question was that in other revolutions
50:33
like for example in the Arab Spring
50:35
social media has been a really effective
50:38
tool for mass mobilization of
50:42
opposition’s
50:43
I was just wondering if you could talk a
50:47
little bit more about how why you think
50:49
that given how unregulated social media
50:52
and the Internet are generally why you
50:55
think the opposition hasn’t really
50:57
effectively used it – yes right so yeah
51:04
I wouldn’t say that the opposition
51:05
hasn’t effectively use social networks
51:09
or social media here’s what I would say
51:12
first of all I would say that there is
51:14
no opposition in Russia right and what I
51:18
mean is that opposition is a word that
51:21
suggests access to public sphere access
51:24
to media access to electoral
51:27
institutions none of that exists right
51:30
so their opponents to Putin who
51:36
publicize who spread information and who
51:40
sometimes organize protests it’s very
51:42
different from saying that there’s an
51:43
opposition and it has a lot to do with
51:46
why the potential of how the potential
51:49
of social media is limited right social
51:52
media cannot create connections that
51:55
don’t exist offline it cannot create
51:58
public space that really doesn’t exist
52:00
offline it can speed up communication
52:04
and it can amplify messages but only
52:08
within the confines of what already
52:09
exists offline okay and so when protests
52:15
broke out people were able to spread the
52:19
message very very quickly within
52:21
existing networks using social media
52:24
among other things it was as often
52:28
happens the impact of social media was
52:30
overestimated polls actually
52:33
that about half the people who
52:35
participated in purchase in 2011-2012
52:38
learned about them from social media and
52:40
about half from other sources great but
52:43
it played an important role but it’s not
52:45
you know social media as we have now
52:47
finally learned in this country as well
52:48
it’s not inherently anything it’s not
52:52
inherently democratic it’s not it
52:54
doesn’t inherently it’s not inherently a
52:57
force for good and it doesn’t inherently
53:02
it doesn’t create things that aren’t
53:04
already there it just makes them more
53:06
efficient so I’m originally from Moscow
53:10
my name is Natasha emigrated about 20 it
53:13
was the last year of the Soviet Union
53:15
I have a personal question actually two
53:19
interrelated personal questions one is
53:23
you have been living in Moscow after you
53:26
came back from the US for quite some
53:30
time and now you are back in the US I
53:33
wanted to find out how you’re finding
53:36
this adjustment back so the US and the
53:42
second question there is one of your
53:43
books which is not political which I
53:45
really love I read it a long time ago
53:48
it’s called blood matters and it’s about
53:52
genetics and your personal journey and
53:54
right now I understand that it’s very
53:56
important to write political books but
53:59
I’m wondering whether you are thinking
54:01
about writing in non political book
54:04
again Wow
54:07
great question so
54:10
to the question of how the adjustment
54:12
has been coming back here so I first
54:16
came here as a teenager in 1981 and then
54:19
I went back to the Soviet Union actually
54:22
is a correspondent in 1991 and stayed
54:27
until December 2013 and then came back
54:31
here but all along I was writing in both
54:34
English and Russian and writing books in
54:37
English so for me coming back was
54:41
actually it has actually been great it’s
54:46
it’s it’s been a homecoming in a way I
54:49
live in New York City which I love I’ve
54:53
had a very rewarding career for the last
54:56
four years I’ve yeah I mean it’s it’s
55:02
it’s it’s been wonderful what has been
55:04
and and I have to say that emigrating
55:08
when you have a choice about it is
55:10
definitely I mean even though I didn’t
55:13
have much of a choice about the timing
55:15
of leaving Russia we had to get out in a
55:18
hurry but but I made that decision
55:20
myself unlike the first time when my
55:22
parents made the decision for me and I
55:24
was just resentful and miserable and but
55:30
this time I brought my teenage children
55:32
very resentful and miserable and I can’t
55:38
blame them because I know exactly what
55:40
it feels like and and I have to say that
55:43
there’s a peculiar difficulty actually
55:45
to have to have a family in which four
55:47
people emigrate it my partner and my
55:51
three kids and I came home and it’s
55:55
that’s that’s really been a struggle
55:57
because I think for at least for for
56:01
people who emigrate as difficult as it
56:03
is there’s also kind of a rewards ladder
56:06
right because you go from you know
56:08
working illegally under the table to
56:10
actually having a regular job to them
56:11
finding a job in your field there’s a
56:14
Rapids kind of growth that compensates
56:16
for that loss of social networks and
56:19
social status that that people
56:22
inevitably Experion
56:23
when they emigrate and and I deprived my
56:27
family of that because we came here
56:29
quite comfortably bought a house and I
56:32
moved in
56:32
but the misery of this location is still
56:36
there and there’s nothing you can do
56:37
about it and to answer your your
56:41
question about whether I’m thinking of
56:42
writing a personal book I am thinking of
56:44
writing a personal book and but it’s
56:49
like years down the road if I do write
56:52
it it will be a book about emigration
56:57
and gender
57:01
hi um thank you for coming my question
57:06
is I was wondering if you were able to
57:07
get outside of Moscow and to some of the
57:09
other cities and whether you were able
57:10
to talk with some of the various other
57:12
ethnic groups in Russia and what were
57:14
your experiences things well I mean in
57:18
in my work as a journalist in Russia I I
57:22
was mostly a roving reporter and I
57:25
traveled all over the country and and
57:28
did a lot of reporting on from different
57:32
cities including a lot of reporting on
57:34
[Music]
57:36
non-russian ethnic groups and non
57:39
Orthodox Christians this book is built
57:43
around seven particular people one of
57:47
whom two of whom are not from Moscow and
57:51
the rest of whom are from Moscow they
57:55
said one of them grew up in a provincial
57:58
well a large but but you know I
58:02
shouldn’t know he didn’t start out in a
58:03
large city he started out in a very
58:05
small town provincial town then moved to
58:07
a larger provincial city and I had to
58:10
actually flee Russia all together and he
58:13
is I think he’s an absolutely
58:15
extraordinary character a young young
58:18
academic who was very hopeful just just
58:21
a few years ago started the first Gender
58:24
Studies Centre at a Russian University
58:26
and and had really found himself in
58:29
academia and then a couple years later
58:32
but later was running for his life and
58:34
now lives in New York and another of the
58:37
characters has burst himselves daughter
58:39
who grew up also in a provincial city
58:41
but a very large one usually Nova cadets
58:43
Jean Anjum Silva and she also has had to
58:46
leave the country
58:48
following her father’s assassination we
58:51
have time for three more quick questions
58:55
I am Julie I’m trying to figure out
58:57
exactly how to word this but I work for
58:59
LGBT rights and it’s been really
59:01
shocking for me I did not expect Trump
59:03
to come after the LGBT community the way
59:04
he has and then you know but the release
59:07
of the D the Department of Health and
59:09
Human Services plan which is basically a
59:11
fundamentalist plan yesterday I’m
59:14
wondering with both Putin and Trump how
59:18
core you think misogyny and homophobia
59:21
is to their how they function and how it
59:26
ties in with their political worldview
59:27
or not is it kind of coincidental I mean
59:30
you talked a lot about traditional
59:31
values but a little more about that role
59:34
the role those blue you know that’s a
59:37
really interesting question because I’m
59:39
and I’ve I’ve actually puzzled over this
59:43
American obsession with core values like
59:48
why do we care if somebody is deeply
59:52
racist if they behave like a racist why
59:55
do we care if somebody is deeply
59:57
homophobic if they if they’re president
60:00
and they encourage homophobic policies
60:02
you know or launched an anti-gay
60:04
campaign it doesn’t matter you know what
60:07
matters is what they actually do and
60:10
what becomes our observed reality our
60:12
observed reality is that this president
60:14
is the Trump I mean but they are the one
60:19
in Russia to is is going after LGBT
60:25
people in a fairly conservative manner
60:27
right I have my ideas about why he’s
60:31
doing it I think because for someone
60:34
like him and this was calculable and
60:36
actually I wrote about this very early
60:39
on in July of 2016 I wrote that he was
60:42
going to reverse progress on LGBT rights
60:45
because for someone like him it makes
60:51
sense to reverse the most pronounced
60:54
most recent most rapid social change in
60:57
this country and that concerns LGBT
60:59
rights and it doesn’t matter how he
61:01
feels about LGBT people and whether all
61:03
of his best friends are gay it really
61:05
makes no difference right
61:07
his power is largely based on his
61:11
ability to demonstrate that he is
61:14
serious about taking people to the past
61:17
and that will necessarily involve
61:21
reversing progress on LGBT rights and I
61:23
think we should expect a lot more
61:25
attacks on that front hi my name is
61:30
Nancy oops
61:34
have the economic sanctions that the
61:37
West has imposed and/or the Magnitsky
61:39
Act provided any constraints on Putin
61:45
and his regime and those around him I
61:50
think so and I also I I’m trying to be
61:55
like a broken record and saying I don’t
61:56
think this is a great question but this
61:59
is this is the way we normally pose the
62:01
question right we normally ask but the
62:03
sanctions are effective and you know
62:08
it’s a perfectly reasonable question of
62:09
course but I also think that when we
62:12
when you deal with someone like Putin
62:13
who’s basically intractable right that
62:17
question can also lead to to illogical
62:20
dead-end right because if there is no
62:23
way to influence his behavior then
62:25
there’s no way to influence his behavior
62:26
so what’s the point of sanctions well
62:28
the point of sanctions is that they’re
62:30
the right thing to do because it is the
62:33
wrong thing to do to do business with
62:35
with the bloody dictator it is the wrong
62:38
thing to do to allow you know him and
62:42
his people to to invest their money here
62:48
and to launder their money here so
62:51
whether or not we can see that we can
62:54
observe the strategic results from
62:56
sanctions sanctions are the right thing
62:58
to do
63:01
my name is George just one question what
63:04
happens after Putin oh well that’s
63:10
that’s an easy one um I have no idea but
63:18
um but actually there’s there’s a
63:21
wonderful book that’s just out in
63:22
paperback that is weirdly relevant to
63:26
that question and the book is called the
63:28
last days of Stalin have you read it it
63:31
was great
63:32
and it’s Joshua Rubinstein it says it’s
63:35
a slim book and it’s amazing you read it
63:39
and and I mean the part that that that
63:42
has to do with how the US foreign policy
63:45
establishment was worried that after
63:47
Stalin died the hardliners might come to
63:49
power that really I thought that was
63:53
really amazing and so it really puts
63:57
into perspective similar fears that have
63:59
been voiced repeatedly in this country
64:03
but I also the other thing that that has
64:06
direct implications for today is that he
64:10
is documented in how much disarray the
64:12
Soviet Union was and how Americans
64:16
looking at it couldn’t believe that it
64:18
was in that much disarray and kept
64:19
looking for sort of hidden meanings and
64:21
hidden strategies and actually what had
64:24
happened was that Stalin had planned to
64:25
live forever
64:26
there was no succession plan nobody knew
64:30
what was happening and how they should
64:31
act and anything was possible and I
64:35
think something similar is going to
64:37
happen after Putin Dyke’s he definitely
64:39
planned plans to live forever
64:43
there will be no succession plan I mean
64:45
I’m assuming that there will be his
64:47
death that that will end putinism if
64:50
it’s something else it will not be
64:51
dissimilar it will also we’ll know when
64:53
it happens right it’s a closed system
64:54
but but there will be disarray one
64:57
prediction that I feel confident enough
64:58
making is that I don’t think that Russia
65:01
will stay in its current borders when
65:03
after Putin it’s there’s so much sort of
65:10
outward tension at this point Huson has
65:12
managed to put so much pressure
65:13
on various constituent members of the
65:16
Russian Federation and pumped them for
65:19
money and/or to the opposite of money
65:25
into supporting friendly dictators and
65:28
in in various places once he is gone so
65:31
the those tensions will come to the
65:34
surface and various places will various
65:37
parts of Russia will break up so we’ll
65:40
we’ll see major rearrangement mom he’s
65:42
done all right
65:44
thank you so much for coming
65:55
you
66:04
you