If we measure the success of a politician by his or her ability to reflect the tendencies of their time, then Trump and Putin are triumphant. They both are managing to reflect the worst impulses of our world. Greedy, unethical, uncaring.
If you ask me what I would like to say to President Putin, I’d tell you that I don’t feel like talking to him. To my mind he is a waste of space.
Putin, the man who is the ideology of Russia today, does not have any coherent set of beliefs. “I cannot imagine my country being isolated from Europe,” said Putin in an interview with the BBC in March 2000. He did not mind Russia being a part of NATO, too. Today, an antagonism with Europe, America and NATO seems to be one of Putin’s favorite toys on the playground.
As a former KGB agent, Putin simply does not believe in beliefs. Everyone who “believes” can be bribed or intimidated. Money, prison or a gun can neutralize any “conviction.”
And Putin is an incredibly ordinary KGB agent. Paradoxically, that’s the secret of his success story. Putin got his enormous power by pure accident; he was appointed by the oligarchs in 2000, and the oligarchs believed that Putin would be their puppet. They believed it because Putin was a truly unexceptional human being. Putin is petty, uncaring, spiteful, incapable of love and forgiveness, incredibly insecure. He’s nervous, especially when he tries to hide his tremor under hyper-masculine bravado. Trust, compassion, and empathy are second-rate emotions in a KGB agent’s world.
Stealing money from the Russian people may be Putin’s only consistent idea.
Trust, compassion, and empathy are second-rate emotions in a KGB agent’s world.
Somebody once told me an anecdote about the KGB. I believe this story might be true.
Candidates have come to the KGB to apply for jobs. They have passed the basic tests, and now they are told they have one last test, and everyone who passes it will be hired.
They are shown a room in which each of them sees his wife.
“Here is a gun. Go in and shoot your wife for the sake of the Motherland, and you are hired,” the examiner tells them.
Everyone refuses except for one man. Shots are heard from the room, then shouts, scuffling, and sounds of a struggle.
The candidate emerges from the room and brushes himself off.
“The rounds turned out to be blanks, so I had to smother her,” he says.
Putin will never afford himself to be creatively or intellectually open. He is a well-trained agent. Anything that may make him emotionally vulnerable is harmful. Thus, having a heart is harmful.
He is professional at corrupting people’s souls with material goods, opportunities and, if needed, fear. Good intentions and honesty don’t exist in reality, Putin thinks. A pragmatic, smart, effective player could not allow this sort of sentimental idiocy to decrease his productivity. Remember the main hero of Bertolucci’s “Conformist”? Embodied banality of evil. A pale, insignificant opportunist, who nevertheless has enough power to crush beautiful, sophisticated worlds. If he finds a flower in his hands, he’ll destroy it: its beauty is alien and intimidating for him.
Putin claims to be a religious person. He’s not. As with most American Republicans who are killing freedoms and rights in the name of God. If they opened the New Testament, it would become clear to them that Christ would throw up seeing their initiatives.
Putin condemned Pussy Riot for dancing in a church and demanding women’s rights, saying that he’s the one who’ll save Christianity from devilish witches like us. Seems like Putin has no clue about early Christianity, otherwise he would know that Christ and his followers were rebels, not Caesars. Putin is not able to conceive of the virtue that constitutes the heart of every pure religion: readiness to give yourself away, willingness to sacrifice, unconditional pursuit of truth and justice. Putin only understands a safe, comfortable, bureaucratic type of institutional religiosity. Religion is a useful facade, a masquerade for Putin. Maybe that’s why he does not care about the fact that he’s coming from the KGB, an organization that had prosecuted, arrested and killed hundreds of thousands of Soviet people just because they dared to believe in God. Now Putin has changed his face. Now he’s a big friend of the deeply corrupted and infected Russian Orthodox church. Facades are interchangeable. There is no person who cannot be replaced, as Stalin liked to say. Or: there is no person who I can not fire in order to save my petty ass, right?
When I’m going through Putin’s beliefs and cannot find any, I unwittingly start to think about another petty person I know, Donald Trump.
Putin and Trump share many things (besides business and political connections, as well as being deadly corrupted and crooked). They share the belief that people are motivated only by self-interest. Distrustful of human sincerity or integrity, selfishly and callously calculating their profits from every social transaction. They religiously believe that all connections have to be profitable transactions. Trump is maniacally obsessed with “winning.” He is able to simplify the whole wide world to the degrading opposition “win”/”lose.” KGB agent Putin knows that you have just two options: you’ll eat someone, or you’ll be eaten. In Trump’s and Putin’s world we don’t really care about human dignity, we care about human capital. Dignity is not profitable.
Putin and Trump... share the belief that people are motivated only by self-interest.
There is no friendship or comradeship in a world where only power and profit are being worshipped. No trust, love or inspiration. There are business and political alliances based on a recognition of each other’s power and influence, mutual fear and distrust. It’s scary to lose power in such a gloomy environment. Once you lose protection, your date with the abyss starts. Those who licked your ass yesterday will be happy to use your skull as an ashtray today.
“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others,” George Orwell writes in his 1984, “we are interested solely in power... pure power... The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.”
Putin and Trump, who utterly without convictions or belief, happen to be perfect figures for the 24-hour hyped news cycle, where we are ping-ponged back and forth between indifference and hysteria.
The media universe fills us with a feeling of total helplessness, total defeat. We don’t know what is truth and what is a lie. We’re constantly being fed by shocking stories that leave us feeling hopeless, isolated and powerless. Pure despair. All-inclusive blackout. No surprise that we have anxiety attacks.
When I turn on the TV, I feel miserable. The universe is falling apart, but I don’t know how to keep it together. It’s against our nature to be overwhelmed with bad news and to not have the power to fix it. It leads to frustration, rage, desperation. What every human being needs is to have a set of tools to overcome the horror. Our aim should be to create this set of tools.
It’s called “civil society,” isn’t it? The erosion of civil society feels very real. And not just in Russia, which traditionally is labeled by Americans as the “unfree world.” This erosion is no less real in the so-called “free world” too, citizens of which have been so positive for so long about the fact that they are free, they’ve forgotten what it looks like to stand up for their rights. We’re re-learning now, together.
I will never forget the atmosphere of the giant protests against Putin in Moscow in 2011, we were grateful to each other for coming out of our houses and constituting that new, good, incredible, clever political animal that filled up the streets and squares. We were in love with each other with the love that suffuses everyone involved in major emancipatory social movements. Cultivate a culture of revolt. There are cultures of eating, film viewing, and book reading, and there is the culture of revolt, the ability to pose awkward questions, cast doubt on things, and change them. Even the best, most perfect president won’t bring you fuck all on a silver platter. It is self-service in these parts.
My favorite trick is to turn my weakness into my advantage. I may be a naive amateur in politics, but if something has to be said today about political issues, it should not be done by “professionals,” or think-tanks, or any other special and smart people who have totally disqualified themselves by playing in thefilthy games of mainstream politics. I’m neither well-trained nor well-tamed. What I have is hunger. And I’m with those millions all around the world who’re seeking solutions outside of mainstream politics.
We’re more than atoms, separated and frightened by TV and mutual distrust, hidden in the cells of their houses and iPhones, and venting their anger and resentment within themselves. We don’t want to live in a world where everyone is for sale, and nothing is for public good. We despise this very, very cynical approach, and we’re ready to fight back. More than that, we are not just in resistance, we’re proactive. We live according to our values right now.
We know that there is a power in an intersectional, international, inclusive union of people.