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Before Gus Hall became one of the FBI's most wanted fugitives, he was a child growing up in a log cabin on Minnesota's Mesabi Iron Range. His parents were dirt poor Finnish immigrants. And communist's. Paul left school after the eighth grade and found work in a logging camp in 1927 when he was 17.
His father recruited him into the Communist Party of the United States, as he once told an interviewer, When you work in the woods from sunup to sundown and it's 50 degrees below zero and you eat slop and you make thirty dollars a month, and what was set at home begins to make sense.
At 21, Paul went to the Lenin Institute in Moscow for two years of training and indoctrination.
He returned to the United States in 1933 and he made his name organizing labor unions at a time when that was a dangerous business. Here's Hall describing the difficulty of this work when corporations had their secret police following you.
So you have to get away from them first because you could endanger the steel worker you went to visit. And then you have to go into the home and spend, you know, one evening with one worker, just convincing them, no one, that it's possible and convincing them that it's possible from the viewpoint of security of his job.
As the years went by, Gus Hall rose in the ranks of the American Communist Party, which had started in Chicago back in 1919, not long after the Bolshevik Revolution erupted in Moscow. The party's mission was to overthrow the American government and replace it with something like Soviet Russia.
By the 1940s, the party had grown to include almost 80000 card carrying members, and over the years its presidential and congressional candidates won hundreds of thousands of votes. Here's Earl Browder, who ran as the party's candidate for president in 1936 and 1940, a strong working class, a powerful united labor movement.
This is a necessity for democracy, for progress and for higher standards of living in the party had its virtues. It supported the rights of black people. Before the civil rights movement gathered strength, it stood with workers and the unemployed during the Great Depression, when millions of Americans thought that capitalism had failed.
Today, it is the duty of all of us to help labor hold down the black flag of Wall Street piracy, which flies over our basic industries.
But the party had a fatal flaw that its leaders were slavishly devoted to Stalin's Russia without knowing the reality of what went on within it. They took their political direction and many millions of dollars from the Kremlin. They created an underground for Soviet espionage.
One of the greatest peacetime spy dramas in the nation's history reaches its climax as Julius Rosenberg and Morton Sobell, convicted of revealing atomic secrets to the Russians, enter the federal building in New York to hear their doom. Another of the spy ring.
The party's members deceived themselves into thinking that Soviet Russia was a worker's paradise while millions of peasants were dying. Famine to them, Stalin was a magnificent hero, not a murderous dictator. After World War Two, the FBI escalated its war against American communists, among them gasohol, J. Edgar Hoover called Hal a powerful, deceitful, dangerous foe of American history. J.
Edgar Hoover, head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Communist Party of the United States is a fifth column, if there ever was one. It reveals a condition akin to disease that spreads like an epidemic, like an epidemic. A quarantine is necessary to keep it from infecting this nation. Communism in reality.
In July of 1948, Paul was indicted for rebellion under a law called the Smitha Act. So was the entire leadership of the American Communist Party in the federal court in New York.
Trial begins by 11 of the 12 communist leaders who are charged with a conspiracy to teach and advocate the forcible overthrow of the US government.
With 400 police and defense lawyers charged to police trial within an armed camp after a 10 month trial, a jury convicted Hull and his comrades had jumped bail and fled to Mexico. But he was caught and brought back to America. He served five and a half years in Leavenworth federal prison. In 1959, after gasohol got out of prison, he became the leader of the Communist Party of the United States. He held that post for more than 40 years until he died in the year 2000.
The rift with American capitalism, the priority, the top priority is corporate profits and everything Nixon does. And in fact, everything the Democratic administrations have done is with an eye to safeguard this top priority, which is profit for the private corporations.
And we, of course, all ran for president four times. Although he talked a good game, he never got more than 59000 votes.
The communist vote is a vote for life. A vote for the communist ticket is a vote for the immediate end to all wars, including an end to China. It is a vote to end racism to all forms of discrimination. Paul never wavered in his belief that the United States was ripe for a communist revolution because Marx and Lenin had taught him that it was inevitable, he never stopped dreaming of a Soviet America even after the fall of the Soviet Union. That world had vanished, but not his vision of it.
Hall wanted America to be like Russia, not realizing he was believing a lie, but less than two decades after his death, a leader would come to power who finally did make America more like Russia, just not in the ways Paul dreamed of.
This president wasn't creating a worker's paradise in the image of Vladimir Lenin.
He was building an authoritarian regime in the image of Vladimir Putin.
I'm Tim one, and this is World. On today's episode, we'll speak to two very different experts about what President Trump has done to American democracy and its institutions. We'll also speak to one unexpected guest who wonders if maybe I need to rethink everything. Hey, espionage buffs ever wondered why Internet access so much cheaper these days, like 30, 40 bucks a month? It's because Internet service providers like Comcast or AT&T aren't just making money off subscription fees. They're also making money from spying on your Internet activity and selling your history and data to big tech companies.
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And good evening from our CBS News election headquarters. Certainly a lot of people turned out today. It turns out to have been a perhaps a record turnout across the nation, all across the country.
The incumbent, Gerald Ford, was an unelected president. He had risen to the Oval Office when Richard Nixon resigned. The challenger was a peanut farmer from Georgia named Jimmy Carter, who ran on a platform of human rights and equal justice under law. On Election Day, a young man with a diamond stud earring and a rebellious spirit walked into a voting booth and he cast his ballot in protest. Not for Ford and not for Carter, but for the communists.
Well, I was a 21 year old. I was a bit of a rebel.
That's John Brennan. 37 years after voting for gasohol, he became the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
I had returned from going to school in Egypt in 1975. And so I had Watergate and Vietnam on my mind. And going into that polling booth, the first time in a presidential election, I was already dismayed over partisan politics and didn't know who was going to vote for. And so I went in there. I didn't really know much about Cassol. I had heard about him.
And so I decided to pull the lever and it was basically a protest vote about a protest that will be counted over and over again by the corporation. Godfather's is a vote for myself. That's Hall and Jarvis, trainer for president and vice president. Thank you very much.
And what did you know about Soviet communism at the time? Well, I had read about it in college and understood what it was in the Soviet Union and how different types of communist movements gain traction and put down some roots in countries. Again, you know, thinking back on it now, it was just basically a decision I made at the spur of the moment.
So we'll fast forward to 30 odd years. And you became CIA director in 2013. How did you assess the state of Russian political warfare or active measures at the time?
Well, I had a fairly good grounding in what the Russians have been up to in the previous decades. When I was at CIA previously and I served as George Tenet's chief of staff and deputy executive director, I was familiar with a lot of the counterintelligence investigations that were going on and knew about Russian efforts to subvert and undermine American democracy. So I knew that they were constantly on the march to try to gain insight into what they could in terms of accessing intelligence information and giving things back to mother Russia that could be used against us by August 2016.
The CIA understood that Russian spies directed by Vladimir Putin were subverting the American presidential election. They aimed to put Donald Trump in the White House. Brennan briefed the leaders of Congress. The aim was to get them to issue a bipartisan statement against the Russian assault on democracy. But the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, was dead set against that. I think he was very concerned that there are revelations that the Russians were engaged in the election could undermine Trump's chances, and I think he wanted to prevent that from happening.
McConnell single handedly blocked the public statement in the name of the American government. And so the American people were never fully informed about the nature of the Russian attack on the election until after the election. On January 21st, 2017, the day after Donald Trump was sworn into office, the new president went to Langley, Virginia, and walked into CIA headquarters.
President Trump had a very busy first day, including a trip to the CIA. That face to face encounter today, an about face for Mr. Trump after his public clashes with the intelligence community.
There is nobody that feels stronger about the intelligence community and the CIA than Donald Trump. There's no doubt. The day after you turned over control of the CIA to Trump's appointee, Mike Pompeo. The newly elected president came to CIA headquarters. What did the president do that day? Well, he lied.
No. One, I love you. I respect you. There's nobody I respect more. You're going to do a fantastic job. And they sort of made it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community. And I just want to let you know the reason no one stop it is exactly the opposite. Exactly. And they understand that, too.
And when Trump started to bluster in front of that wall and was talking about the size of his normal crowd and just went off on a political rant, I felt as though it was wholly inconsistent with what I think, first of all, the solemnity of that lobby. But we had a massive field of people.
You saw that PAC. I get up this morning. I turn on one of the networks and they show an empty field. I said, wait a minute. I made a speech. I looked out the field.
Was it look like a million, million and a half people?
But also it was so antithetical to everything that I expect a president of the United States to do, particularly when he's talking to those who serve around the world with great distinction and great courage.
18 months later, Trump stood side by side with Putin at a press conference in Helsinki. He said he believed Putin's innocence that Russia never attacked the election after hearing that John Brennan went ballistic.
And former CIA Director John Brennan just tweeted, and I quote, Donald Trump's press conference performance in Helsinki rises to and exceeds the threshold of high crimes and misdemeanors. It was nothing short of treasonous.
How did you read that? Well, I think it was one of the most worrisome developments of Trump's administration and presidency. He decided to meet one on one with Putin. They each had a translator. Trump did not want his Nasserite adviser or his secretary of state to accompany him. And so for I think it was over an hour, the two of them were engaged in conversation. I don't know what was said. I don't know what notes might have been passed.
And the translator on the other side, that person's notes were taken according to various reports. And I had concerns. My only meeting with Donald Trump when I briefed them in early January of 2017 about the Russian interference election, I had concerns about whether Donald Trump would protect America's secrets to include the sources of our knowledge. And so that meeting with Putin really raised deep concerns in me about what he might have said that could have compromised U.S. national security interests, because I really don't trust Trump when it comes to Mr.
Putin, given his very, very puzzling and obsequious attitude toward Mr. Putin.
And then when the both of them came out to the elections and spoke to the world and Donald Trump said to the world that he sees no reason why Vladimir Putin and the Russians would have interfered in the presidential election, he basically he Trump betrayed the American people, the American intelligence, the CIA, and by siding with an authoritarian leader like Vladimir Putin over the consensus view of the intelligence community, which is why I then went out with her on Twitter with a comment saying that Trump's actions were nothing short of treasonous.
One of the KGB's highest goals in the Cold War was to defame the CIA and the FBI and the State Department, which is exactly what Donald Trump has been doing for four years. For 75 years, Russian active measures aimed to damage the institutions of American national security and ultimately American democracy itself. Has Trump accomplished what they have failed to achieve?
Well, he certainly built on their efforts, and I think he has succeeded more than the Russians have over the years in undermining the credibility and the perceived integrity of the intelligence community, the law enforcement community, our system of justice. And so one of the Russians goals and the Soviet goal before it was to cast the democratic system that we have here in a very dark light. And so the charges that Donald Trump has levied against our institutions of being corrupt, being a partisan, of being involved in politics and politicizing their roles and responsibilities have really taken root, unfortunately, among a certain portion of our country, because Donald Trump has fueled it and has given it credibility.
I don't think he's doing it for Russian purposes. He's doing it for his own, because just like any authoritarian, he's going to try to undermine the credibility, the reputation, the work of those institutions of government that he fears law enforcement.
The top of the FBI was scum, the judicial system.
President Trump's attacks on the judiciary are raising safety concerns for some judges, intelligence services, the media, the press has created a rigged system and poisoned the mind of so many of our voters.
And so by delegitimizing their worth, their integrity, their honesty is casting doubt on any thing that they might do or say that is counter to what are in his interests. And so, therefore, as he pursues this very personal, narcissistic agenda and dividing this country and tearing down those institutions, he is also supporting and advancing the interests of Russia and not just Russia, our other adversaries around the world as well. He is weakening the United States, our ability to govern ourselves, to function, and then to assume or to pursue the leadership role that I think we need to play on the global stage.
You're telling us that the president of the United States has undermined the architecture of American national security, aren't you?
I think he's done a lot to not just degrade its capabilities, but also harm its its standing, its reputation domestically and internationally. But, yes, Donald Trump has hurt those institutions. And I know that it's demoralizing to those who work hard every day to protect their fellow citizens.
Director Brennan, I submit to you that Donald Trump, no less than Vladimir Putin, has been conducting political warfare against the American government. He has attacked the rule of law. He has attacked freedom of the press. He's attacked the legitimacy of elections. He has spewed Russian propaganda into our political discourse. So I ask you, has Trump made America more like Russia? I think Donald Trump has made the office of the presidency in the United States currently much more like the office of Vladimir Putin.
He has hurt our democratic institutions. He has really raised serious questions about the democratic principles that undergird our society and our government. Democracies generally don't fall in coups, they die by the steady degradation of the rule of law. Are we a failing democracy right now, today? Well, I think we're a weakening democracy, certainly. And I lay a lot of that blame on one of our premier political parties, the Republican Party. I am just aghast and appalled that the individuals in Congress, both in the House and the Senate from the Republican side, have been so willing not just to tolerate what Donald Trump has done, but to enable it.
Director Brennan, the manipulation of the American mind through Russian political warfare has been a smashing success for the Kremlin. Vladimir Putin's edict that there are no facts and there is no truth and nothing can be believed has worked. Tens of millions of Americans believe that the Democratic Party is a Satan worshipping cult that kills babies. How do we fix this?
Well, I used to think that the Russians were the best and most sophisticated purveyors of disinformation in the world. But I must say that Donald Trump and his campaign have really exceeded Russian capabilities. And so, yes, Putin has done a lot and this disinformation front over the last decade or more. But I think Donald Trump has brought it to a new height. And just in the short span of four years or so, he has surpassed what the Russians have been able to accomplish.
And so this poisoning of a large portion of the American electorate's views and attitudes and belief systems is really a result of a snake oil salesman like Donald Trump, who has been able to sell his wares as the truth when it's anything but. So in a sense, he really has made America more like Russia. Well, yes, and that's what authoritarian leaders do. They try to convince the masses that they are the savior of the masses and they will just tell whatever stories they can in order to develop that that cult like following.
And that's what Donald Trump has done.
The week after he met Putin in Helsinki, Trump addressed a veterans convention in Kansas City. He told them and told us not to believe the news about him. And just remember what you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening.
And I heard that and it reminded me of George Orwell's novel, 1984. Orwell wrote the party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.
This is what authoritarian rulers do, they want us to lose our faith in our ears and our eyes, in what we read and what we observe so that we can be more dependent on them. Our next guest, the journalist Masha Gessen, who was born in the Soviet Union, sees the United States becoming like a post-Soviet state under President Trump. We'll talk to Masha after the break. In the Cold War, American communists had a romantic image of the Soviet Union as a place where everyone was equal and the people were in charge, they were swallowing the lives of the Kremlin.
People born and raised in Soviet Russia also had to believe these lies to survive in the communist system. At least they had to pretend that they did. Until they did, Masha Gessen was born in Moscow in 1967, the Gessen family won the right to emigrate to America in 1981. Masha went back a decade later to work as a journalist in Moscow, just as Soviet Russia was collapsing. Masha became one of the greatest journalists of that era and of Putin's Russia.
Their work was a beacon for Russians who supported democracy and human rights, including gay rights. But the political pressure from the Kremlin became unbearable. Masha came back to the United States and now writes for the New York.
Among their extraordinary books is The Future Is History How Totalitarianism Reclaim Russia, which won the National Book Award. You were a kid in Soviet Russia in the 70s, your parents saw a TV show, a news report about a beautiful new highway that had just been built and you all got in the car for a road trip so you could check it out. And that story has stuck in your mind, right?
Yeah, I wouldn't call it a highway, but yeah, my parents were planning a trip and maps were extremely hard to come by in the Soviet Union. A lot of geographic information, cartographic information was classified. And, you know, you basically had very few ways of knowing where there were roads or some sort of very slowly update.
So my parents were like planning this trip around some historic sites in Russia. And suddenly we see on television that there's a new road there that connects to cities that weren't previously connected. And so that changed our plans completely. And literally a few days later, we were on the road to the city of Yaroslavl and we started looking in the general sort of direction where at that we couldn't find anything. And so we started asking people, where's the new road?
And like that, there's no new road. Finally, someone brought us to a spot where that news report about the new road had been filmed and there were just a few square meters of new paving for the purposes of the news report. And I would imagine that it's not random that that was produced, I imagine that there was a five year plan that included building this particular road at a certain point when the deadline came or maybe before the deadline came, they cheerfully had to report to the higher ups that it had been accomplished.
Right, because five year plans always had to be triumphantly fulfilled and over fulfilled. But only for the purposes of of reporting upstairs, not not actually for the purposes of producing real stuff, and here we have a gigantic throbbing metaphor for the coming collapse of the Soviet empire.
Exactly, I mean, one of the things that has been sort of forgotten or not understood by a lot of people was the extent to which no one knew anything because everything was falsified.
The country was built on a lie. The country was built on a trillion little lies and some big ones.
And then your family came to America in the 1980s. How did it look to you?
One of the things actually that I recall that may be relevant was that at first I thought that the United States was a really dangerous country. Because whenever you turned on the news, you heard about natural disasters and you heard about crime, but mostly I was impressed by natural disasters. Because I was convinced at the age of 14 that natural disasters were something really exotic, nothing disastrous ever happened in the Soviet Union, not that you could see. Not that I could see.
Not that I could possibly know.
There have been severe winter storms even in Moscow, but they were never reported. Certainly forest fires, hurricanes, storms, floods, all sorts of things that I have since learned happened in Russia and in the former Soviet Union, mudslides, they were just never on television. So. You had the illusion of living in this very stable, stagnant, safe place because you lacked any information that didn't touch you personally, right. Unless you had personally experienced upheaval or calamity, you thought that no one ever had any upheaval or calamity.
You were living in Ronald Reagan's America, where the Soviet Union was the evil empire. Did you buy that? Oh, yeah.
Look, I think that Reagan was wrong about most things, but he was he was right about that.
It was the evil empire to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.
When you return to Russia as a journalist, did you see a ghost of a chance that the country could be a democracy, or was all of that just us in the West looking through the the beer goggles of the post-Cold War world, thinking that history was over and everybody wanted to be just like us?
Oh, I was a true believer. I really thought that that Russia was going to become a democracy.
You know, I happen to belong to exactly the two demographics that were most. Sort of swept up in that vision of the world and that vision of history, one demographic as Western observers of Russia and the other as Moscow intellectuals.
So there was a hope largely, I think, in the first two years of Yeltsin's rule from ninety one to ninety three. Again, those groups that I belong to, Moscow, intellectuals and Western observers who were probably the last to catch up to the fact that that that hope was misplaced. It was absolutely extraordinary. Every story I covered was new. Every, you know, every way of writing about it was new when the Soviet bloc collapsed and all these countries started rebuilding themselves.
We use the language of Western liberal democracy to describe them, partly because we assumed that that's what they were going to become. They were going to become Western style liberal democracies. And partly because that's the language of political science. And that was certainly the spirit of the 1990s. Look, Poland is a democracy now. Hungary is a democracy now. The Czech Republic is a democracy now. They are all in NATO. They're just like us. Russia will come along to something like that now.
And I think that that was supported by, again, by Russian media and by the Russian government up through the early aughts.
The early aughts being the first years of Vladimir Putin, correct, who has since strangled the infant Russian democracy in its cradle, who actually began strangling the infant Russian democracy as soon as he came to power, but continued to use some of that language.
The baby is not dead here. Look exactly, exactly like this parrot is not deceased.
We we were just talking to a couple of CIA veterans who spent many, many years in Moscow. And they believe, to their great dismay, that America is looking more than a little like Russia. You have the same sense that you. Yes, I recently wrote a piece about the United States being like a post-Soviet country. I mean, it's a really hard thing for me to write. I probably should write more of that kind of thing and and more bravely.
But, of course, I. I have to keep questioning myself. That's most of my life experience is in Russia. I've obviously I've covered other countries I. I have spent a lot of time living in the United States, but I lived in Russia for most of my life. And I've spent most of my professional life writing about Russia. So I think am I just seeing signs of Russia everywhere? Do I have no other interpretive language? Aside from what I experienced in Russia, but but there's an extraordinary.
Set of similarities, it's something I've been thinking about a lot recently. It's that sense of disconnect between what you hear on TV or what you hear on TV when you're listening to government representatives and your loved reality. And the other is the sense that nothing works.
You've written that Trump has created a political culture reminiscent of the central committee of the Communist Party. You call this reporting upstairs. What is that? So in the Soviet Union, again, there are these five year plans. There were there were these. Goals that were set, but it was entirely divorced from what was actually produced but actually existed and what people actually experienced. And all of this all these plans and all of these achievements existed only for the purpose of giving cheerful reports to the central committee.
So the minister of what was called light industry, light industries, the clothing and shoe industry. So the minister of Light Industry would report that this many millions of pairs of shoes had been manufactured in this many school uniforms. Uniforms have been manufactured and the people knew that they couldn't get a school uniform. When your kid was going to school, you had to get a special ration card to be able to buy one uniform a year. And even then, you had to hunt around for the stores where you'd be able to use this ration card.
But the minister would have reported it and then the government would have sort of celebrated yet another achievement. And the same with shoes, cars, food, coffee, whatever you can imagine, like anything that could be produced ostensibly for the people was actually actually existed only on paper. And only for the purpose of advancing up the party career ladder, but really in the immediate sense, just for the purpose of getting praised by the leaders of the Communist Party, you know, we have often compared what has happened with the White House's response to the coronavirus, especially in the early stages to Chernobyl.
There is something incredibly familiar or incredibly similar about concealing information about grave danger to people's lives. But I think that some of the cultural similarities that I would focus on there is that exact thing, is that I don't think that people that the bureaucrats who covered up the Chernobyl catastrophe were thinking, let's not tell the people to make sure that they don't panic or let's just hide the danger and hope that it was over. No, I think all they were thinking about was the expectation that they would report upstairs that everything was fine, everything is fine.
But the worst was what they were supposed to tell their audience, which was their superiors, not the people of the in.
And this, in turn would explain why a well respected scientist like Dr. Deborah Barrack's would sit silently while the president talks about drinking bleach to cure coronavirus.
And then I see the disinfectant. We knocked it out in a minute, one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets in the lungs.
And it's not just Dr. Burke sitting silently while he's talking about drinking bleach. It's as this devastating report in The New York Times showed, Dr. Berk's basically telling the president what he wanted to hear, which is in early May or late April, telling him that the numbers were looking better, that if the CDC was saying otherwise, it was being alarmist and she wouldn't believe anything that was coming out of the CDC because that's what he wanted to hear. He wanted to hear that the numbers were looking better.
How would you describe the job President Trump is doing behind the scenes and in front of the camera?
Dr. Burks, he's been so attentive to the scientific literature and the details and the data. And I think his you covered Vladimir Putin for.
Twenty years, you've now covered Trump for what's going on five years now since he started running for president. What similarities do you see between Putin and Trump? They certainly seem to hate many of the same things.
That's funny. I've never really thought of them as a hater of things, as a as a similar as a trade.
We can talk about similarities, but I think that's a great observation. You know, it's funny because they are temperamentally really different. And then Hoosen prides himself on being always controlled and readable, in charge of his emotions, Trampas raw emotion. Trump's charisma is really rooted in just how in touch he is with his emotions and with his audience's emotions. Something that you could never say about Vladimir Putin. But I think that they have pretty similar ideas about power.
I think they both think that political power is sort of raw, violent power. I think that they believe that unanimity and obedience. Are sort of attributes of power. They both find protest absolutely terrifying, but. These guys like. In order to assert their right to say whatever they want, whenever they want, and that's a really different way of dealing with speech. And it's also, you know, it's a very totalitarian impulse because it creates this kind of anything can be said, nothing can be believed.
But some things will have to be accepted because there's great power behind them.
You write about Trump's performance of power. He just jaw like Mussolini. He struts and he shouts like a tinhorn dictator. He acts like an authoritarian. But is this just an act? A lot of power is performance. And so it is really, really important to look at how Trump performs, what kinds of imagery he's using, what he is referencing in the way he looks and the way he speaks and the way he gestures. And I think it's important for us to understand that when we have a leader who is performing fascism and he is no doubt doing exactly that, whether he's capable of grasping the concept or not.
And we have a large part of the population that accepts that performance. That validates it as a way of leading a country then we're not in some sort of make believe world, that's what we're doing right. A performance of fascism that is accepted and affirmed is fascism, Putin said.
As to the question of who can or can't be believed and whether anyone can be believed, no one can be believed. And this is a principle of Russian political warfare under Putin to convince you, me, Americans, everyone. That because there are no facts and because there is no truth, there is no purpose in trying to understand the mechanisms of power, you know, go home, play video games, it's all a fucking lie. But it's worse than that.
He actually believes that there is no truth. He believes that nothing is knowable. There's no such thing as fact. We cannot possibly live in shared reality unless, of course, we want to inhabit his reality, which is ever shifting because nothing is true. And I think the Trump probably basically believes that as well, he has some basic ideas about sort of how power works and that power gives him the right to adulation and the power gives him the right to accumulate more money.
But other than that, he doesn't believe anything. He believes only in power. And the more power there is, the more he can say whatever he wants and then the more he says whatever he wants and it's accepted, the more power he has.
In his embrace of conspiracy theory, Trump has taken this to a level that we really haven't seen in American political discourse.
He seems to embrace the wacky world of Kuhnen, he seems to believe or have believed what Putin told him, that it was the Ukrainians who screwed with the 2016 election and that belief and who told him that.
And he believed it. And that belief got him impeached yet again.
I think you are still holding on to this idea that maybe Trump believes something.
I think he believes nothing. Yeah, he believes nothing.
So it's not that Putin told him that there's a server and Trump is like, oh, yeah, let's like, let's find the truth, which is, you know, inherent in any conspiracy theory, I think, is this idea that there's a secret that will be revealed. That makes everything clear, clarity is not at the end of the journey or any journey that Trump takes us on.
We go back to this matter of there are no facts and there is no truth. And it's just as George Orwell wrote, political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable. And I note with interest for the record that the week after Trump's election, the Oxford English Dictionary selected Post Truth. As the international word of the year and not long thereafter, the historian Timothy Snyder, who we both known and admire, Timothy Snyder wrote To abandon fact's is to abandon freedom.
If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power because there's no basis upon which to do so. Post truth. Is pre fascism? Is that where we are? That is absolutely where we are. I mean, I can't I can't say it any better than that. I don't know that we're pre fascism. You know, we already have children in cages. We have a government that fans the flames of hatred to further its own power. We have a government that is callously letting a pandemic rage.
Because at least partly because it's killing people who are undesirable as voters, we have a president who doesn't let a day go by without casting aspersions on the voting process. I'm not so sure we're pre fascism. You know, fascism doesn't announce its arrival. By saying, I can now we have a fascist state, fascism takes hold over time, and we're in that process. Most of you know, by now, this podcast is based on my latest book, The Folly and the Glory America, Russia and Political Warfare 1945 to 2020.
I had a research assistant on that book named Emma Bebe Doyle. I am very fond of her. She's my daughter. I asked her to read the manuscript, and I have a secret agenda behind that. Emma was born in nineteen ninety six, the Cold War was before her time. She's as distant from it as I am from World War Two. And I wondered, how would a 24 year old respond to the events of the 20th century? And after she read the first chapter, she turned to me and said in so many words, What the hell is this Western democracy you keep talking about?
When was America ever a democracy? You're confusing an ideal with what's real. And that shook me to the marrow of my bones. I guess I just felt like you kept talking about all these outside forces threatening Western democracy without ever critiquing what you're actually defending in Western democracy and well, just in my life, I'm twenty four. And by the time I was five, 9/11 happened and we entered a war that we haven't gone out of. We ended a war that's still going on.
And then ended another war that was based on a lie and then. You know, everything else that happened, drones and Trump and I just don't have an experience of seeing Western democracy as something worth defending, and I think the idea of Western democracy and of the US in general is based on lies. I mean, the Constitution was written by a bunch of slave owning men at the time. We had also we're in the process of committing genocide against people who originally lived here and were also enslaving a whole another population.
And to me, that negates the very founding of the ideal itself that we're trying to live up to.
All my life, I'd seen America and Russia through the prism of the Cold War, and I had thought, like John Brennan and Masha Gessen, that an autocratic president had made our country more Russian. And now Emma was telling me that maybe Trump's America and Putin's Russia weren't all that different to begin with.
When I was talking to you about those, you kept talking about how well we may not have lived up to our ideals, but we can keep trying. And that's why it's an experiment and all that. But the ideals were, you know, bunk from the start, I think.
I mean, you know, the hypocrisy of it goes beyond parts of the founding and the ideals of this country, but is embedded in this every part of the structure of how. The U.S. was set up and run and continues to run, and I have trouble seeing it as something to defend. So in the book and in this podcast, we've come to a kind of a terrible conclusion that Trump has made America more like Russia, more like Putin's Russia.
What do you think about that?
I think of the differentiation you're making of America and Russia is that one is a free society in a democracy and one is an autocracy. I think that that. Is a false comparison or false differentiation, maybe because Trump has, I think, revealed the ways in which America can easily slip into autocracy. I mean, we have a secret police. We have ice that is rounding up people and putting them in concentration camps. We have spy operations on our own citizens.
I mean, I just don't see the the grand differentiation that could be, you know, this the way that they talk about America and Russia during the Cold War. I mean, I just don't think that is the case anymore. If Emma's right, we are in deep trouble. Yes, we had a free and fair election, and yes, Trump will leave the White House, but he will leave a failing democracy behind, we are not one nation, indivisible, but to the one red and one blue, they are in a cold war with one another.
Our divisions, deepened by our president, make it easier for disinformation and deception to prevail today, Trump and his allies are waging a gigantic disinformation campaign claiming that the election was a fraud. And what about tomorrow?
We are on the brink of a world where we will face new weapons of political warfare.
Those weapons are being tested for battle right now. Russia and China are using artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data to create sophisticated forms of deception, like deep, fake videos in which political leaders can be made to appear to say anything at all. They can manufacture their own reality and they will. And that's the next episode of Whirlwind. One is presented by Caden's 13 Jigsaw Productions and Prologue Projects, the show is written by me. Tim Weiner and produced I Know My Husband, Andrew Parsons and Leon NEFA with editorial support from Madison White.
The story is based on my book, The Folly in the Glory America, Russia and Political Warfare, where one is executive produced by Chris Corcoran, Alex Gibney, Stephen Fisher, Stacey ofMan, Richard Borrello, Joey Mara and John Schmitt.
Our next guest, the journalist Masha Gessen, who was born in the Soviet Union.