Masha Gessen is the author of The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2017. She is a staff writer at The New Yorker. (February 2018)
Trump has become the real version of the man Putin plays on television—an unpredictable, temperamental, impetuous man who will push reality past the limits of the imagination. Putin’s relationship to television is different from Trump’s because Putin controls Russian television outright. But war has been good for him, too. It’s all about the ratings for both men, in the end.
The dream fueling the Russia frenzy is that it will eventually create a dark enough cloud of suspicion around Trump that Congress will find the will and the grounds to impeach him. More likely, the Russia allegations will not bring down Trump. Meanwhile, while Russia continues to dominate the front pages, Trump will continue waging war on immigrants, cutting funding for everything that’s not the military, assembling his cabinet of deplorables.
A close reading of the intelligence report on Russian interference in the US election shows that it does nothing to clarify the abnormalities of Trump’s campaign and election. Instead, it suggests that the US intelligence agencies’ Russia expertise is weak.
In the face of the impulse to normalize, it is essential to maintain one’s capacity for shock. This will lead people to call you unreasonable and hysterical, and to accuse you of overreacting. It is no fun to be the only hysterical person in the room. Prepare yourself.
Human Rights in Russia: Citizens and the State from Perestroika to Putin
by Mary McAuley
In August the Russian supermodel Natalia Vodianova wrote a bitter post on her Facebook page. The previous day, her twenty-seven-year-old sister Oksana, who has autism and cerebral palsy, was taking a customary walk with her caretaker in Nizhny Novgorod, where she lives. They stopped at a café in a park …
by Sofi Oksanen, translated from the Finnish by Lola Rogers
Viewed from the inside and from below, history is frightfully confusing. The movements of troops and borders that will later be described as orderly, planned, and logical feel simply like waves of violence and fear. They are waves of hope, too, though hope wanes as soon as the confusion subsides …
Limonov: The Outrageous Adventures of the Radical Soviet Poet Who Became a Bum in New York, a Sensation in France, and a Political Antihero in Russia
by Emmanuel Carrère, translated from the French by John Lambert
Eduard Limonov’s first book, published as a “fictional memoir” back in 1983, showed the rarest of talents: the ability to laugh at one’s own insecure, obnoxious, angry, and overbearing self. It’s Me, Eddie begins with a rant describing the main character living in squalor—we first see him eating sour cabbage …
by Sergei Dovlatov, translated from the Russian by Katherine Dovlatov, with an afterword by James Wood
In a less punishing country than Russia, Sergei Dovlatov would have been a popular writer whose revolutionary approach to writing would have been obscured by the lightness of tone, brevity, and apparent simplicity of most of his work. The public would have loved him, but most critics would have been disdainful of the vulgarity of his characters’ language and the apparently autobiographical nature of most of his writing. But Dovlatov lived in the Soviet Union, where his fiction could not be published, so he was denied the popularity he deserved.
Here is one way to take stock of the ways in which this year has changed us. Consider three stories of alliances—or misalliances—unfolding in three different important institutions in this country. One involves Congressional Democrats and the president in Washington; the second is a story of political troublemakers descending on Berkeley; and the third involves political actors welcomed and not welcomed by Harvard. These are stories of new alignments and battles over legitimacy. All three showcase shattered expectations, both institutional and personal, and represent new and profound failures of moral compasses.
Trump’s base shares his contempt for the Washington institutions that are once again exposing their duplicitous nature. Some of this base also happens to be armed. Over the last two weeks, we have seen Donald Trump send out signals to the vigilantes of his own choosing. “Be wary of paramilitaries,” the Yale historian Timothy Snyder warned in his recent book On Tyranny.
Trump’s campaign ran on promises to “take back” a sense of safety and “bring back” a simpler time. When he pledged to build the wall or to fight a variety of non-existent crime waves (urban, immigrant) he was promising to shield Americans from the strange, the unknown, the unpredictable. Queers can serve as convenient shorthand for change.
After months of talk about what it would take to get Trump impeached, analysts are calling this the “smoking gun” that could actually bring his downfall. Why does the occasion feel so momentous (other than because we want it to be)? After all, we learned only that Don Jr. said in confidence roughly the same thing that his father said for all the world to hear. But the news has been as shocking as it has because, after all this time, we still have not learned to take Trump’s public utterances seriously.