Masha Gessen Speaks with Samantha Bee in a Bunker About the Need for Persistent Panic


In a pre-election segment on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, the late night comedian/political commentator spoke with The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin author/journalist/anti-Putin activist Masha Gessen on the unsettling parallels between Trump’s relationship with the press and that of Vladimir Putin, for a potential glimpse of what to expect — as far as the policing of First Amendment Rights under an autocracy are concerned — if Trump were to win the election. Then, Gessen had said, “I feel like we’re staring into an abyss.” In a new segment from last night’s episode, Bee reframes America as now “plummeting” into that abyss; she thereby figured it was time to speak with Gessen again.

They spoke in Bee’s “subterranean panic room” — through a trap door in a Soul Cycle — where Bee opened with the very large question many will be looking for answers to as they march in various protests this disquieting inaugural weekend: “what is a successful recipe for resisting an autocracy?” The answer, as Gessen explains, from someone who had to flee her country in order to be able to speak her mind, is, well, that most tactics fail. As joke credits roll, Bee decides to work past the defeatism and continue the interview…towards perhaps a more active despair, in which Gessen says that her biggest fear with the incoming Presidency is nuclear holocaust — which, given his pick for Energy Secretary (Rick Perry, who apparently didn’t understand the job entailed safeguarding the nuclear arsenal when he was first chosen by Trump), doesn’t seem like too absurd a concern.

From there, Gessen and Bee chart a projected future for a Trump presidency, and when the country will reach rock bottom. But then Gessen mentions a Russian joke, “we thought we had hit rock bottom, and then someone knocked from below.” She equates him to Putin in his likeness to a bully in a playground. “He uses language to assert his power over reality,” she says, akin to denying he’s taken a little kid’s pencil box, while holding it right over him. “The point is not to take your pencil box; it’s to render you completely powerless, because everything you know how to do — which is to say ‘it’s right there, it’s right there’ — is useless.”

If Gessen isn’t sounding so different than your friends and family who’re propagating anxiety and speaking in constant worst case scenarios, well that’s the point. That’s the only recipe Gessen admits might at least have some personal value. “The thing to do — and this is my recipe — is to continue panicking. To continue being the hysteric in the room, to say ‘this is not normal.'” Perhaps the only “normal” is to be so panicked about the legitimate ways Trump not only seems to be threatening American democracy, but the state of the entire planet.

Watch the clip (which, somehow, on occasion, manages to also be funny):