Masha Gessen - Examining Russia's Autocracy in "The Future Is History" - Extended Interview

Extended - July 27, 2017 - Masha Gessen 07/27/2017 Views: 48,918

Masha Gessen, author of "The Future Is History," compares the authoritarian behaviors of President Trump and Vladimir Putin and breaks down the relationship between the two. (9:20)

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Please welcome Masha Gessen.

(cheering and applause)

-Welcome to the show.-Thank you.

-I cannot start the interview-It's good to be here.

without commentingon your shirt.

That is a, an interesting,uh, motif you have on there.

Uh, this-this actuallyis a shirt

from the 2011-2012 protestsin Russia.

What does, what doesthat shirt mean?

Putin must not weara princess crown?

Um, yes.

Uh, Russians against tiaras.

No, it's, it's Putin shouldnot be a monarch.

Right, right.

We should havea liberal democracy.

That didn't work so well.

Let's, uh, let's talkabout that.

Let's get straight intothat idea.

Putin should not be a monarch.

Uh, do you think in many waysPutin has managed

to cement his power as,in effect,

-a monarch of Russia?-Absolutely.

There are no elections.

There are no elections for,you know, congress,

the Russian equivalentof a congress.

And there's, uh, there'sa presidential election,

but no one can get on the ballot

without Putin'spersonal permission.

And no one can campaign.

Which seems fair.I mean... you know.

But he-he thinks he's thebest person for the job.

He-he genuinely does.

He is, uh, someone who for along time has felt, though,

-that his standing in the worldhas been diminished. -Right.

He-he's someone who has feltfor a long time

that Russia isn't whereit should be in the world.

Would you argue that that'sall he wants from America

and from-from the EU

and all of the pow-powerfulnations out there?

You know, the kind of leaderthat he is,

basically an autocrat,

I don't think there's such athing as "all he wants."

He very much wantsto be taken seriously.

He very much wants to be treated

as an equal partnerby the United States.

But he'll always want more.

It's-it's in the natureof that kind of leadership

to want to expand,and it's also in the--

He needs to constantly, sort of,create the illusion of movement

in order to be ableto mobilize the population.

It's interesting that you say,"the illusion of movement,"

because you'vewritten extensively

about Vladimir Putin andunderstanding authoritarianism,

looking at what it comes withand what it entails.

When you look at Vladimir Putinand you look at Donald Trump,

are they the same person?Are they similar?

Or are there aspectsof what they're doing

that reminds one of the other?

They're not actuallythat similar, right?

I mean, emotionally, they'recompletely different.

Trump is raw emotionand Putin is--

He prides himself on beingso controlled, right?

Now I just picture, like, Trumpcrying watching a movie.

(crying):I'm emotional.

That's not exactlywhat I mean, but, um,

but, you know, they come fromdifferent histories,

and everything about themis different.

But there are certain things

that I think are characteristicof autocrats.

That after 20 yearsof covering Putin

-I've sort of trained my eyesto see that, right? -Such as?

It's like I have, I have optics.

Well, like for Trump and Putin,one amazing similarity

is the way they lie, right?

Which most politicians,who sometimes lie,

will want you to come aroundto their point of view.

-They want to get youto believe something. -Right.

These guys lie to assert power.

The more absurdwhat they say is,

the more powerthey have asserted.

It's basically saying, you know,

"I will say whatever I wantwhenever I want to."

I-It... I don't understand that.

Is that thembasically having the power

to define reality?Is that what it is?

I-I truly don't understand

how they see thatas a powerful thing,

'cause you would assumeeveryone's looking at them

going, "But-but you're lying."

Well, it's two things, actually.

One is having the powerto-to define reality, right?

"It's not... I'm not justpresident of the country.

-I'm king of reality."-Right.

But there's...It's also a bully tactic.

I mean, it's like the kidwho stole your lunch box.

And you're saying,"You stole my lunch box."

And he's holding it,

-but he says, "No, I didn'ttake your lunch box." -Huh.

Right? And he has the power.

That's interesting.

When you... when you look atPutin and Trump's relationship,

um, the mediahas been focusing on it.

You cannot escape iton the news in the U.S.

Um, do you feelthat this is the right amount

of attentionthat should be paid towards it,

or is there a different wayto look at it?

As someonewho has been an expert

at what the Russians want

or what's happeningwith Russia American relations,

how do you thinkit should be handled

as a topic, as an idea?

It's important,obviously, and, um,

and Russian interferencein the election is important,

but I would arguethat, actually,

what's out in the openis much more important

than whatever investigationmight... has unearthed,

at least at this point, right?

Um, I mean,we saw Donald Trump say openly

-that he wants Russia to hackHillary Clinton's e-mail. -Yes.

Right? And so I don'tquite understand the excitement

when nearly a year later,it turns out

that Don Jr. said in private,in confidence,

the exact same thinghis dad said in public

for all the worldto hear, right?

But wouldn't-wouldn'tsome people say,

"Yeah, but that's different.He said it,

"but then he claimedthat he was being sarcastic,

"whereas with Don Jr., it lookedlike this was an action.

These people were willingto collude with the Russians"?

Right. But I think,again, we knew that, right?

And-and I think it's important

to reactto what's out in the open.

What's out in the openis Trump's admiration for Putin.

-Uh-huh.-What's out in the open

is Trump'sexplicit understanding

that political poweris what Putin does, right?

It's controlling a country.

It's-it's governing by decree.

It's basically gonna...establishing an autocracy.

There are many people who say

Putin and Trumpcan't be that similar

because Putin is oppressive

of the LGBTQ communityin his country,

but Donald Trump has said

that he would be an allyto the very same community.

Right.So, I actually wrote a piece...

(laughs)

I actuallywrote a piece a year ago

in which I argue that, uh,

that if Trump became president,

he would likely reverse progressin LGBTQ rights.

And it was a weird thing to do

because when I was writing it,

I thought, "Logically,I know this to be true."

Uh, emotionally,I couldn't believe it.

I was wr...Even as I wrote it, I thought,

"Well, it's impossible.You know, it's like...

-"It seems that we have madeso much progress -Right.

that there's no wayit can be reversed."

Plus, Trump had said...You know, he had draped himself,

-literally, in the rainbow flag.-Right.

Um, and yet it was... it wasthe most recent social change.

It was the most, uh...

it was-wasthe fastest social change.

But I think even morethan that-- and I think

this is where, uh...what his... what he did--

a year to the dayafter I wrote that article,

uh, with tweeting thattransgender people weren't going

to be allowed to-to servein the military,

what he did was somethingthat's emotionally go...

that, emotionally, actually goesto the heart of Trumpism,

which is very antimodern.

It's-it's this promise ofa return to this imaginary past

that is so simple,

that everybody's roleis assigned at birth,

and, you know,you're born to be, you know,

-a carpenter or a farmer-Mm-hmm.

and-and you will livein the same quarter

for the rest of your lifeand you're born man or woman

and it can never change andnothing about you can change.

That... I mean, it's-it'san almost mystical kind of past,

but it's the kind of pastthat-that he promised us.

You know, he ran on the promiseof an imaginary past.

And I think, emotionally, sortof, uh, saying to Americans,

"Look, you're not goingto have to face

-the possibilityof inventing yourself" -Right.

is very important for him.

So if we're to lookat Putin and Trump

and their relationshipas it stands, um,

I believe the Senatejust moved the bill forward now

to the president's desk,sanctions on Russia.

That seems like it's going to bea-a major point for Trump.

He's going to haveto openly say,

"Yes, I am completely withthe United States"

or "I'm going to, uh, deny this.

"I'm going to veto this bill

and-and not supportthe sanctions."

Do we know anythingabout their relationship

beyond what we're toldin public?

Is there anythingthat we should be looking for,

as someone who's familiarwith the Russians

and as someone who's seeingDonald Trump at the same time?

Um, so, again, I mean, I thinkthat we should be looking

-at what's out in the open.Right? -Mm-hmm.

We should, really,at all costs, try to avoid

the kind of conspiracy thinkingthat a leader like Trump,

who is himself a conspiracytheorist, produces, right?

You want to narrow itand look for the hidden secret,

-instead of just staringat the truth that... -Mm-hmm.

uh, that-that stares youin the face.

Um, but, frankly, I don't thinkthat Putin is as interested

in, uh, lifting sanctionsas-as he claims to be.

-Oh, interesting. -There'sa particular set of sanctions

that, um... that Russiansare very interested in lifting,

and those are the sanctionsimposed by the Magnitsky Act.

-Yes. -Right? Um, andthat's-that's when they talk

about adoption, they actuallytalk about those sanctions.

Those sanctions are important

because they target peoplepersonally.

They target their assetspersonally.

And they have really feltthe pain. Right?

When the country at largefeels the pain,

that actually, uh, is not...doesn't necessarily hurt Putin.

And, in a way,it's a mobilizing tool for him.

Because Russia has beensort of gathered around Putin,

uh, who has said thatRussia's at war with America.

He's been saying thatfor, basically,

the last four, five years.

Wow. What a scary story.

And, uh, the shirtthat you're wearing

makes it light at the same time.

Thank you so muchfor joining us.

-Thank you for having me.-I appreciate your mind.

The Future Is History will be available October 3,

but you can preorder now.Masha Gessen, everybody.

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