Teri Kanefield @Teri_Kanefield Author, lawyer (U.C. Berkeley). I tweet about the law, books, politics, and history. All my threads are here as blog entries: t.co/vdLoEAoLvv Mar. 05, 2019 4 min read

(Thread) Putin and the U.S.

I finished @mashagessen stunning book👇

I am left with two distinct thoughts:

First: I see why Putin methods work on America’s far right wing.
Second: I see why Putin’s methods are unlikely to succeed in the U.S.

1/ By “succeed” I mean that the Trump-Fox-GOP—which openly uses Putin’s propaganda methods—are unlikely to turn the US into another Russia.

(Examples of Putin's methods are "Firehose of Falsehoods" & "Crisis and spectacle":

 https://www.rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PE198.html  )

2/ Gessen describes how & why Russia slipped back into totalitarianism after a brief flirtation with democracy.

She quotes Bálint Magyar, who says: “the conditions preceding the democratic big bang have a decisive role in the formation of the system.”

3/ Comparing the conditions that existed at the time of the American Democratic Big Bang (1776) with the conditions in Russia during its Democratic Big Bang (1991) demonstrates why Putin’s methods are unlikely to succeed here.

(all facts & quotations about Russia from👇)

4/ First, some history: The Bolsheviks never did create a true communist government: instead they created a totalitarian society which led to Stalin’s reign of terror.

Soviet totalitarianism created a "barren intellectual landscape" and an "ideological vacuum."

5/ Disciplines like sociology were banned, so Russians didn’t have the tools to understand themselves or their society.

Free thinking wasn’t permitted. To be a “critical thinker” in a Soviet university meant spotting where a person deviated from the Party line.

6/ In the late 1980s—as Russia was nearing its Big Bang—a self-taught Russian sociologist conducted far-reaching surveys and studies.

His aim was to understand what kind of regime the Soviet Union had been, and what Russia was becoming.

7/ He concluded that decades of trauma at the hands of the totalitarian Soviet regime created a particular kind of damaged and beaten-down person who he called Homo Sovieticus—a fearful and authority-loving personality.

8/ At the time of the Russian Big Bang, the Party had a monopoly on power and resources: All industries were centralized and in the hands of the government.

After the Soviet Union fell, “The country was in a state of high anxiety.”

9/ The economy went “from bad to dead.” Portable coal stoves were in demand. People were concerned with basic survival.

For a while, though, it looked hopeful that Homo Sovieticus could embrace democracy and freedom (and diversity, which always grows in a true democracy).

10/ “Deviants” of any kind had never been tolerated in Soviet Russia. Homosexuals in particular had always been hated and criminalized.

At the time of the Russian Big Bang, only 1/3 believed homosexuals should be liquidated. 10% believed they should be left alone.

11/ Researchers thought that 10% was encouragingly high. Only 20% wanted to liquidate “rockers” (this meant "hippies")

Things, though, didn’t go well. Attempts to privatize the nation’s industries and distribute wealth created opportunities for corruption.

12/ That was when the oligarchs (thieves) seized control of the nation’s industries.

Democracy never took hold.

The Russian people remained poor with the impression that “crooks, con men” and “criminals” were getting rich.

13/ Russians quickly lost faith in the new government. (🎶Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss🎶)

As Putin consolidated his power, his regime whipped up the old hysteria over homosexuals, and the number of people who wanted to "liquidate" homosexuals grew again.

14/ The majority of Russians hungered for an authoritarian figure.

The conditions at the time of the American Big Bang were different.

There was no intellectual vacuum. The drafters of the Constitution were well-versed in the classics & philosophy, which they used for guidance.

15/ The states (former colonies) already had working local governments, so there was some stability.

Private property was widely distributed: Wealth and power were entirely in the hands of elite white men—but there were a lot of them and they were spread out.

16/ There was a continent of land and resources (which belonged to someone else—another of the conditions of our Big Bang)

The white men of the American colonies rejected a king, and—living dispersed in colonies—were used to doing as they pleased and governing themselves.

17/ They were thus not vulnerable to fear-mongering authoritarians.

A kind of representative democracy thus took hold in the U.S.— a democracy in which a certain portion of the population (white men) enjoyed freedom & opportunity.

They established democratic institutions. . . .

18/ . . .institutions like an independent judiciary, independent prosecutors, a free press, three co-equal branches of government, a tradition of peaceful transfer of power, and universities free from state control and dogma.

19/ American liberal democracy is under attack right now, but we’ve had 243 years for those democratic institutions to take hold, and for the democratic traditions to sink deeply into the national conscious.

20/ My second insight from the book—why Putin’s methods are succeeding so well on America’s right wing—I will save for another day and another thread.

Note: Gessen talks only about Russia. Facts about the U.S. Big Bang come from my own research.

You can follow @Teri_Kanefield.


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