Trump/Putin … Which Is Worse?

I came across this in The Guardian last night and felt it was well worth sharing. It is chilling, and at the same time thought-provoking.


Masha Gessen: ‘I never thought I’d say it, but Trump is worse than Putin’

Lisa O’Kelly

Four years ago, the author predicted that Trump would transform the US into an autocracy. Now, Gessen believes the country is in a revolutionary moment

Masha Gessen is a Russian-American author and journalist who has been writing about Vladimir Putin and other modern autocrats for two decades. After Donald Trump was elected president of the United States in 2016, they wrote an essay in the New York Review of Books arguing that it was folly to regard him as a regular politician and predicting that he would attempt to transform America into a Putin-style autocracy. Gessen’s new book, Surviving Autocracy, demonstrates how Trump has come closer to achieving autocratic rule than most people would have thought possible.

How do you feel about your predictions having come to pass?

If you look at the essay, I think it holds up awfully well, unfortunately. There’s nothing in it that I would walk back. At the same time, a lot of the things that have happened in the past three years have shocked me.

Such as?

The latest scene with the bible in front of St John’s church, for instance. The iconography of that, including the clearing of the square with tear gas, the Black Hawk helicopters – it was chilling.

Who’s worse, Putin or Trump?

In a way, I think Trump is worse. I never thought I would hear myself say that. They share a lot of characteristics although they are temperamentally extremely different men. They both have this contempt for excellence, they both have a hatred of government, and they both have this way of campaigning against government as such, even as presidents of their respective countries. I think in the end, Putin is somewhat less cynical. He has an idea – it is self-aggrandising and absurd on the face of it – that if he stepped away Russia would fall apart and so he has to carry this burden. And for his labours he deserves to have the yachts and the palaces and all that. But he is doing it for his country. Trump doesn’t even have that delusion. It’s all power and money in their purest form. And you could dig as deep as you want, you would never find a shred of responsibility.


Masha Gessen. Photograph: Christopher Lane/The Observer

Can Americans rely on their institutions – the electoral system, the judiciary, the free press – to save them from Trump’s autocracy?
There’s a way in which Americans think about our institutions as a kind of religion. There’s a faith in the wisdom of the founding fathers who put down these sacred words, this idea that we have the perfect self-repairing system and it will run in perpetuity if we don’t spoil it. The problem is that many of these institutions are enshrined in political culture rather than in law, and all of them depend on the good faith of the people running them to fulfil their purpose and uphold the constitution. So when someone like Trump becomes president, the institutions become vulnerable. As an example, I think we have seen in the last couple of weeks just how effective Trump’s attempts to weaken the national press have been.

How so?
I am talking about the way that the police throughout the country have brutally targeted the media during the Black Lives Matter protests. That’s something that I saw as a foreign correspondent in war zones where there was really no sense of any kind of rules or laws. This happened because for the past four years Trump has been vilifying the media, portraying the media as the enemy of the people, as part of the problem, as part of the great conspiracy to unseat him. And that’s very terrifying.

You were born in Russia, spent your teenage years in America then moved back to Moscow as an adult. Do you feel more Russian or American?
It doesn’t really work that way. But when you have emigrated as often as I have, you learn the benefits of being an outsider. I am very comfortable not belonging. I find it extremely beneficial to my work as a journalist to be highly attuned to this culture yet at the same time hovering outside of it. I do sometimes bristle at this idea people have that my having been born in Russia qualifies me to talk about Donald Trump. I’d rather people said 25 years of studying totalitarianism qualifies me to talk about Donald Trump.

What is the most important rule for surviving autocracy?
For the state of one’s soul, for the state of one’s mind, I think it is absolutely essential to protest and show outrage. Does that have political consequences? Not immediately and not on its own. But I think what we’re seeing in America right now is several steps on from outrage. It’s outrage, plus organising, plus sustained political activity. The big question is how sustained will it be? If it is sustained in some manner, then I think we are in a revolutionary moment. In the book I talk about how in order to actually survive Trump’s attempt at autocracy we have to give up the idea of some imaginary pre-Trumpian normalcy and commit to reinvention. And that is really what these protests are about.

I don’t think there is anyone who is involved who would say: “Oh, we just have to get rid of Trump.” These protests are about the fatal flaw at the root of this democracy and that’s a really upsetting idea for a lot of somewhat conservative commentators. But culturally and politically Americans have a story of being born of protest. These protests are calling for an American reinvention. They are protesting for a more perfect union.

  • Surviving Autocracy by Masha Gessen is published by Granta (£12). To order a copy for go to Free UK p&p over £15

U.S. readers can check out Mr. Gessen’s book on Amazon or Barnes & Noble

39 thoughts on “Trump/Putin … Which Is Worse?

  1. Putin has control of the Armed forces in Russia. So far I don’t believe Donnie has control of yours I believe he thinks he has but I don’t think the forces are ready to tumble into bed with him yet

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re right about that much … I don’t think he does, either, though I wouldn’t bet against them standing with him in a pinch. That is what they are trained to do, since he is the “Commander-in-Chief”, but I also think that some of the military leaders are seeing what an arse he is and might see their duty to country as coming before their loyalty to him. I hope, anyway.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    Excellent interview/article … I’ve learned to respect and admire Masha!! … “Masha Gessen is a Russian-American author and journalist who has been writing about Vladimir Putin and other modern autocrats for two decades.”

    Liked by 2 people

  3. My Coffee & Politics companion and I have in the past 4 months altered our long held usual practice of in person meetings, given her health issues and our at risk ages, due to Covid-19. One of the ways to still keep in touch, when outdoor meetings across our backyards are not feasible, is by computer to computer email discussions. Another innovation of ours is that we make a list of books that both want to read, split the list evenly betwixt us, and then each places an order (most often on Amazon, thus continuing to enrich Bezos beyond belief!) for delivery to our respective homes. After each of us completes a book, we allow it to sit for a few days, package it neatly and exchange them. When both of us have read the same book, we discuss our opinions and findings regarding each book. We call it the C & P Book Club! Please excuse the indulging of my Propensity for Loquacity, which in a thoroughly meandering way finally arrives at the point of it all…though you may have become lost along the way! The book that I am currently reading : “The Team of Five – The Presidents Club In The Age Of Trump” by Kate Anderson Brower. The recently delivered book that she is reading : “Surviving Autocracy” by Masha Gessen. In summation…based upon this post, I am eager to read Gessen’s book. Thank-you!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I LOVE this C&P book club idea … but I have to ask … what do the ‘C’ and the ‘P’ stand for, since your name starts with an ‘E’, and hers with an ‘I’??? Anyway, it’s a great idea! Let me know what you think after you read “Surviving Autocracy”! Also, is the one you’re reading now worthy? I had thought about adding that one to my own list, but had not done so yet.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh Jill, surely you jest! Just as soon as I am able to control my mirth, I will provide you with an answer to what I would have thought might be “somewhat” obvious. C as in Coffee & P as in Politics = C & P Book Club! In all seriousness though, “Team of Five” is an excellent book about the interactions of the five former Presidents and their exclusive President’s club. I highly recommend reading the book as I am enjoying it…even though it makes me sad realizing over and over how the presidency has been so reduced by the current title holder. Thank-you!

        Liked by 1 person

        • 🤦 Boy do I feel stupid! Of course … Coffee & Politics … C&P. Where my head was, I just don’t know! Thanks for the recommendation … I have just downloaded “Team of Five” to my kindle and will start it once I finish the two I am in the middle of now!


  4. Thanks for sharing this interview. I’ve added the book to my To Read List. Gessen’s observation is, in my opinion, very critical to the survival of the United States of our Union: “But I think what we’re seeing in America right now is several steps on from outrage. It’s outrage, plus organising, plus sustained political activity. The big question is how sustained will it be? If it is sustained in some manner, then I think we are in a revolutionary moment.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Like you, I have added the book to my TBR list … in fact, I downloaded it to my Kindle last night, but was simply too exhausted to start reading. I agree that parts of the citizenry of this nation are beyond outraged, but I am concerned that there is another substantial portion who … are wearing blinders and fail to see the path we are on. We have tried over and over to awaken them to the realities, but … they sleep on. It is my fear that those are the ones, the enablers, who will bring this nation down. I hope I’m wrong.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Jill, Putin is worse as he can maneuver his stooge Trump prettily easily. Putin is trained in the art of disinformation. Social media and ill-informed egoists like Trump are easy fodder to Putin. He helped orchestrate Brexit and Trump to aid a Russian reemergence. I think he recognized the true future power lay to his southeast. Trump has enabled the rise of both as the two English speaking power are ebbing. Keith

    Liked by 3 people

    • What you say is all true … I’ve long said Putin orchestrated Trump’s election so he could have a puppet in the West. But, what I fear is that Putin may not be able to control the worst instincts of his puppet and Trump, who truly has no conscience, no moral compass, will one day go off on a tangent from which there will be no turning back. Putin is intelligent, Trump is not. Sigh. You are so right about Putin’s motives, though … he seeks to expand his power, and rendering the U.S. and UK largely ineffective, unable to check his power, is to his advantage.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. One important aspect of leaders any leaders be they elected, non-elected or in between is that they are of their nation or their people. In addition they reflect a certain time and positioning of the nation or people. It can be argued there have never been any who have been able to impose their complete and absolute will upon those they believe they rule, they always have to make adjustments, accommodations. If they don’t they are removed, or fall.
    Putin is of Russia. The classic forceful czar type, inward looking, suspicious, ruthless, impatient with anyone who is not on board, answering to a call of a location steeped in a history short on dull, colourless rulers, ever encouraging men of a harsh breed to rise to the top, sweeping aside those with visions of enlightenment; seeking comfort in the old ways. Authoritarian and asserting the nation is safe and strong under them.
    You don’t get that type in the USA. Not the true deep link with a heritage far older than the USA’s age. You get a whole variety. The visionaries, the ruthless, the time-servers, the haunted driven to prove they are as good as the rest and of course the opportunists. They all come in on some sort of national tide though. Like most democratic processes that is a ‘mood’ of the people. Victory is obtained by a measure of consent, by a pact with one section of the population and the maintenance of that consent and pact. You only impose authoritarian style upon large nations whose cultures and populations are inured to it, whose meanest peasant or worker if they got the chance to rule would impose the same style.
    Trump is a blowhard. He knows nothing of the skills or the deadly ruthlessness of the political predator. He is where he is because (A) A large portion of the population were horrified at the sight of an African-American in the Whitehouse and some pretended was a socialist (hilarious to an intelligent European) (B) The USA had been moving towards division since the 1960s and no one realised. (C) The electorate were betrayed by a freak of the voting system. He does not exist in power by force, that is a chimera, he exists because of that pact with folk who hat or fear the alternatives so much they would put anyone else in the Whitehouse.
    There are no true comparisons as to who is better or worse.
    Putin is of Russia, part of its long sombre, often frightening history. He is classic successful ruling material. He could only exist in Russia, because he is of Russia. The brief flirtation of western-type democracy is other. Back to historic Russia.
    Trump is a indicator of where the USA is today. He only exists where he is because of that divide. Compare him with those who ruled nations by will or force and you will see a small rich white man born of dubious wealth who was inflated by the frivolous side of a nation’s culture. Vacuous. Inane. He could no more rule the USA in perpetuity than he could do an honest productive day’s work. All he is capable of is being one step on the way to the end of a nation as an experiment.
    They are of their nations. No more.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Wow, Roger. You have given me much food for thought here. And, I find that I cannot argue with anything you say. My biggest concern right now, I think, is that those who have better humanitarian values, those who still believe that a democratic system is the fairest, who believe in equality and justice, are not fighting hard enough, but rather are handing the keys to the castle over to a madman. And yes, I really do believe that Trump is mentally deranged and has a very distorted view of not only his own role, but of the values of the majority in this country. I’ve talked to far too many people — friends, relatives, former co-workers — who shrug their shoulders and tell me not to worry, that this will pass, that he cannot cause lasting damage. Or, most maddening of all, those who tell me not to worry, that God has a plan and we should just sit back and wait. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Anyway … thank you for this perspective, for it truly does give me some things to ponder.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Oddly enough I can agree with both responses……
        1) Yes, this will pass(all human efforts ‘pass’), and yes he might, might, just might not cause lasting damage. That however would be taking the long historical view which would encompass decades. Now whereas an historian in say, a hundred years could take that sanguine view, it would not be the experience of the folk living through the turbulence before things settle down. One month of terrible uncertainty, suffering and torment, a walk through that wood will last you forever. Those who say ‘it will pass’ would not want to gamble on living through that experience, even it was only social and not violent strife.
        2) Oh yes, I believe God has a plan. God always takes an extraordinary long view and God is not inclined to go along with a cosy view of someone who is currently materially comfortable and sort of.
        unaffected. We are talking ‘The man who built his house on sand’ (Matthew 7:24-27). If folk would care to consider the contents of the Gospels they will see that Jesus Christ made long and pertinent comments about how we should be living. And whereas Good People are Doing Good Things…in the political arena and those who dabble in it….not so.
        Thus God’s plan is not going to involve a lot of folk sitting in their current comfortable situation, doing whatever they do, day in day out, while singing ‘do-dee-do-dee-do’ happily unto themselves and saying ‘Oh dearie me. Oh my. Never mind. I am being calm. Do-dee-do-dee-do’
        And I conclude my theological perspective by adding. I do not subscribe to the literal interpretation of the Book of Revelations, so sorry to upset any fundamentalists. God’s Plan is Cosmological and way beyond anything we are currently coming up with in the political sphere.
        Our guidance has been laid out for us and Intolerances, Rage, Hatred and Greed do not come into it.


  7. The older I get, the more history I study, the more cynical I become. Allies become enemies become allies again. It’s a fairground ride that you fear you will never get off – and when/if you do you’ll stand still whilst the world continues to spin. When I was born, Hitler and Stalin were still Allies. Then they became enemies and Stalin was ‘our’ ally. Didn’t last, though: after the (hot) war we had the ‘cold’ one when Stalin was our enemy. Khruschov was no better, although ‘we’ did talk to him. Gorbachov changed all that: the USSR broke up, many of its satelites joined Europe, the chairmen of state enterpirses suddenly became oligarchs in sole ownership. Of course they were courted by the likes of Trump. But real power has moved further East. India and China, after all, account for almost half the world’s population. China now controls much of Africa which is where the last of the planet’s riches are still ripe for plucking and where another third of the world’s population lives and procreates at an alarming rate. We Northern Europeans, including Russia and the USA, have had our day. Ten centuries of domination and squabbling over the goodies we found in the rest of the globe. The future belongs to South and South-East Asia. And I’m guessing the next ‘world war’ will be fought between those two, whilst some of ‘us’ profit from it and the rest suffer, as they always have.

    Liked by 4 people

    • An astute, sobering analysis, Frank. I wonder what the world will look like in another 100 years … if, that is, humans haven’t managed to self-extinct by either disregarding the damage we have already done to the planet, or by playing with those nuclear toys that should never have been invented. You and I won’t see any of it, but our children and grandchildren will pay the price for our perfidy.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. IMO, Putin is still the bigger threat, because he already has all the powers Trump wants. If Trump wins in November, he will surpass his teacher, For now, I won’t be surprised by anything Trump does. I won’t like it, but ĺ won’t be shocked.

    Liked by 3 people

Comments are closed.