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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Putin Era comes to America

Not only was the cake a rip-off of the 2013 Inaugural Ball cake, but it was mostly made of styrofoam

The New York Review of Books has a passion-driven article by Marsha Gessen summing up Trump's disturbing likeness to Putin.

This is a particularly stirring passage:

In his small-mindedness and lack of aspiration, Trump curiously resembles Putin, though the origins of the two men’s stubborn mediocrity could not be more different. Aspiration should not be confused with ambition—both men want to be ever more powerful and wealthier, but neither wants to be or even appear better. (One way in which Putin continuously reasserts his lack of aspiration is by making crude jokes at the most inappropriate times—as when, during a joint appearance with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2013, he compared EU monetary policy to a wedding night: “No matter what you do, the result will be the same,” his way of lightly covering up the “you get fucked” punchline. Watch this video to see the German chancellor cringe.

Trump marked his first moments in office by wielding power vengefully: the head of the D.C. National Guard lost his job at noon, and between festivities the new president signed an executive order to begin undoing his predecessor’s singular achievement, the Affordable Care Act. He swept the White House website clean of substantive content on climate policy, civil rights, health care, and LGBT rights, took down the Spanish-language site, and added a biography of his wife that advertises her mail-order jewelry line. At the same time, as Trump moved through the day, he repeatedly turned his back on his wife. He immediately degraded the look of the oval office by hanging gold drapes...

Russian sociologist Lev Gudkov has theorized that the Soviet totalitarian system, which ruled through violence and fear, created a society in which all initiative was suppressed, personal and professional growth was all but impossible, and the entire society became stagnant. As a result, the word “elite” became a misnomer in Russian: the people with the greatest access to money and power did not perform the traditional tasks of setting priorities, tastes, and the agenda for progress. In the absence of social mobility, there was no aspiration. In addition, because there was no mechanism for transfer of power and the powerful were forever frightened of losing it, the country became a gerontocracy, but also something else too: a kakistocracy.

The rule of the worst seemed to become a thing of the past in the 1990s, but under Putin mediocrity returned with a vengeance. Not only did the media come under the control of the Kremlin but it acquired an amateurish quality. Not only did the government start lying, but did so in dull, simple, and unimaginative language. Putin’s government is filled with people who plagiarized their dissertations—as did Putin himself. The ministers are subliterate. The minister of culture, who has a doctorate in history, regularly exposes his ignorance of history; indeed, Trump might be tempted to plagiarize the minister’s dissertation, which begins with the assertion that the criterion of truth in history is determined solely by the national interests of Russia—if it’s good for the country, it must be true (much of the rest of the dissertation is itself plagiarized). Other ministers provide the differently minded Russian blogosphere with endless hours of fun because they use words the meaning of which they clearly don’t know, or ones that don’t exist—as when a newly chosen education minister invented a word that seemed to mean that she had been appointed to the cabinet by God. They also make ignorant, repressive, inhumane policy. But their daily subversion of integrity and principle is indeed aesthetic in nature. And it serves a purpose: by degrading language and discrediting the spectacle of politics the Russian government is destroying the public sphere.

Sometimes vastly different processes yield surprisingly similar results. Trump is staging an assault on America’s senses that feels familiar to me—not because he admires Putin (though he does) or because he is Putin’s puppet, but because they seem to be genuinely kindred spirits. It might take a long time to understand why we have come to enter the age of a kakistocracy, but evidently we have.

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