Masha Gessen visits College of Charleston

Masha Gessen, a Russian-American journalist who has worked in the United States and Russia, came to the College’s Sottile Theater on Tuesday, Sept. 19. Gessen is a well-known journalist who was born in Russia, but emigrated to the United States with her parents as a child in order to escape anti-Semitism. As an adult, she returned to Russia to work as a journalist. A strong critic of Putin and his policies, especially those targeting the LGBTQ community, Gessen felt pressures from the government to stop writing. Therefore, she and her family emigrated back to the United States.

The event started at 6 p.m. and was free and open to the public. Her original topic of discussion was supposed to be on the correspondence between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, she instead discussed the similarities that she perceives between the two men, and how she believes the similarities are dangerous for American society. Gessen stated that she did not want to discuss the correspondence between the two men because “just because we know of a conspiracy between Trump and Putin, it does not mean that we have to give in to conspiracy thinking.”

She highlighted similarities in the way that the two leaders deny information, their outlook on the media, their contempt for government, how they have interests but not priorities, and their encouragement of mediocrity. Gessen admitted early in her speech that she has a bias against both President Trump and President Putin. Nevertheless, Gessen supported her arguments with examples, such as Putin shutting down unfavorable media stations and Trump blocking certain media companies from having access to his press releases.

Near the end of her lecture, Gessen said that the greatest, and what she considers the most important, similarity between the two leaders is their disregard to moral authority, or actors and parties that use morality or ethics to justify their actions or points of view. For instance, Trump said that John Lewis, a leader in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, was “all talk” after John Lewis called Trump an illegitimate president . In the end of her lecture, Gessen argued that because the leaders do not know how to tolerate moral authority, society must use moral authority to protest policies and actions that are perceived as unjust.

After her lecture, she answered questions from the audience, and then signed books for audience members who have purchased her book, The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. Although mostly sponsored by the Department of German and Russian Studies, the event was also sponsored by the Department of Political Science, the Center for Public Choice and Market Process, the Department of Jewish Studies, Friends of the Library, the International Studies Program, and the Women and Gender Studies Program.


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