Who is worse, Trump or Putin?

[Keith Gessen:] Who is worse, Trump or Putin?

[Masha Gessen:] I suggest we both answer that.

[Keith Gessen:] I’ll go first. From my perspective, Trump is worse. Putin, for all his mistakes and crimes, very much represents, I think, the middle of the Russian political spectrum, though I know it’s hard to gauge what exactly the Russian political spectrum is. But I keep going back to the state of Russian politics in the late nineties, when Putin was elected. The other candidates did not present a liberal alternative to what we eventually got.

Whereas Trump is a fringe figure who’s really pulled American politics quite a bit to the right. In that sense, in the context of the political regimes that they’ve come from, Trump strikes me as worse.

[Masha Gessen:] I’ll phrase it a little bit differently, but, fundamentally, I agree. I think that Putin represents the crushing of the hopes for a different Russia. Trump represents a betrayal of the abstract ideals on which this country was founded.

The entire time I lived in Russia, even as Russia started going to hell, I imagined that there was a place in the world that represented an entirely different set of ideals, and I talked to my kids about it. I was so happy that we happened to be here for the Presidential election in 2008. I went with them to the polls, and there was that moment of feeling like this country was better than even it thought it was. And that was just ten years ago. That, to me, feels like a much greater loss.

Russian immigrants and journalists Masha and Keith Gessen on Writing About Russia

March 18, 2019

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