Romantics and Pragmatists - chapter 7: transposition of presidents



 
TRANSPOSITION: 
BARACK OBAMA OR GEORGE BUSH IN AMERICA = VLADIMIR PUTIN IN RUSSIA

In 2002 George Bush was mocked as a superhero in Der Spiegel. Vladimir Putin has been the object of ridicule throughout the West for posing shirtless on horseback, fishing, etc. Barack Obama’s public image differs little from a Californian sunny boy or his predecessor George Bush I or his predecessor Bill Clinton.

Are there cultural desiderata for presidents in each country?

There were 16 Republican candidates for president at one time in 2016. With the exception of one (Ben Carson), all spoke quickly, emotionally and loudly. Although you could compare their style with the more measured and calmer approach of the democratic candidates, the emotional character of their speech really stands out in contrast to German politicians in a debate. German candidates speak slowly, without raising their voice, sticking purely to fact and certainly not discussing their hand size or personally offending their opponent.

These candidates in America, similar to those in other elections, are representative of a type that the American public expects to see. Whether the rapid emotional speech is reflective of a people that wants to see proof of fast thinking or lacks the attention span to listen to slower, more complex expression or needs to be stimulated by the speech of the candidates is not important here. The form is what we are interested in. And across a wide range of content, this form remains strikingly similar.

In Vladimir Putin’s annual “press conference” and his address on New Year’s Eve, we see the form that is expected in Russia. He is serious, authoritative, demonstrates competence, attempts to appear close to the people, but simultaneously assuming the position of a strict father. Just like any of the presidential candidates in the U.S., you can derive very little from the content or even manner of the content’s presentation. You certainly cannot say anything about his personal character beyond the fact that he conducts himself in a way that the Russian people want from their leader.

 

What is the leit-character of a leader in America and Russia? 

One of the biggest objections to Donald Trump is his tone. It is something quite foreign to American postwar politics. Although all the candidates, including, even particularly, Trump, speak loudly and emotionally, nobody speaks as chaotically and in such an authoritarian manner as he does. This has shocked the establishment and most pundits. It reminds them of demagogues and fascists abroad. In the U.S., the members of the media and professionals are used to moderation and friendliness in politicians, a mild manner, somewhat boring, but predictable behavior.

The Trump-shock is quite similar to what Russians experienced with Boris Yeltsin, who incidentally also gained popularity by saying that the Russians in the Soviet Union were being discriminated against as a result of the government’s effort to help other republics in the union. This is quite similar to the way Trump is saying that working and middle-class Americans are losing out to the wealthy and/or foreign countries. After the excitement of perestroika and glasnost wore off and gave way to the chaotic transition to the Federal Republic of Russia, Boris Yeltsin began to be viewed more and more negatively. Besides the turbulence, Russians were dismayed by their disorderly and seemingly incompetent president.

In these two negative examples we see rare cases where a person who does not fit the traditional form becomes or comes close to becoming the face of a nation. Obama, Bush II, Clinton, Bush I, Reagan, Ford, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy all shared the sunny boy, optimistic mentality that is what you expect to see in high society: friendly, welcoming, positive, faux-open, good-looking, reasonable and moderate. In this list of presidents and traits, it is interesting to note that Nixon deviated the most from them and also had the greatest difficulty in Washington, ultimately being impeached.

In Russia, naturally, the archetype of a leader deviates from his American equivalent. He is authoritarian, didactic, strict, professional, colloquial, tough.  He does not exhibit these traits as an anomaly, but as a result of what the electorate in his country wants to see in its president. Prior to becoming president, Vladimir Putin was one of many people that could potentially assume the office. In the elections following his appointment, also a product of a smaller “electorate”, the popularity of this character was affirmed. While it may be possible to see the re-election of such a person as a reflection of an improvement in the standard of living, this ignores the similarities between Putin and other popular Russian leaders. The popularity of a certain type as president can be seen across multiple Russian/Soviet leaders.

The prevailing public view of Gorbachev and Yeltsin is a classic example of what Russians do not want to see in a leader. In particular, Russians criticized (and still criticize) these leaders’ willingness to sacrifice the interests of the country to their personal desire to be popular in the West. By contrast, leaders such as Khrushchev and even Stalin are admired for standing up to the West, demonstrating strength and demanding respect from other western countries. In these terms, Putin matches the paradigm of popular leaders: he strengthened the authoritarian state, objected to the expansion of NATO, was willing to support the annexation of Crimea and an insurgency in eastern Ukraine even at the expense of sanctions. This made him extremely unpopular in the West, but, especially in the case of Crimea, resulted in soaring approval ratings at home – despite tremendous hardship.

Text by Yuri Smirnov
Photos by Americanspirit (1) and Igor Dolgov (2)
June 2016





Further reading


Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 3 - Part 3 - So?! (excerpt). November 2016
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 3 - Part 2 - So?! (excerpt). November 2016.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 3 - Part 1 - So?! (excerpt). February 2016.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 7 - Part 6 - The transposition of presidents (excerpt). September 2016.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 7 - Part 5 - The transposition of presidents (excerpt). August 2016.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 7 - Part 4 - The transposition of presidents (excerpt). July 2016.
Smirnov. Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 7 - Part 3 - The transposition of presidents (excerpt). July 2016.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 7 - Part 2 - The transposition of presidents. Part 2 (excerpt). July 2016.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 7 - the transposition of presidents. Part 1 (excerpt). June 2016.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 8 - the exalted place Russian can occupy in the future world order. Part 4. April 2016.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: The exalted place that Russia can occupy in the future world order. Part 3. March 2016.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: What does life look like with just food and shelter (part two)? February 2016.
Smirnov. Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: What does life look like with just food and shelter? (excerpt). January 2016.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: What happens when you do not sacrifice the mind to the body Excerpt. November 2015.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists. Feb. 2015.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 1 - What Do You Have That We Don't? (excerpt). Mar. 2015.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 6 - Are We Really That Different? - Security (excerpt). Mar. 2015.
Smirnov, Yuri: Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 2 - What's The Point of Living? (excerpt) Apr. 2015.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists: Chapter 1 - What Do you Have That We Don't (excerpt)? May 2015.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists - The issue of balance. June 2015.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists - Chapter 2 - What's the point of living (excerpt). June 2015.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists - Chapter 5 - What if America is the best? (excerpt). July 2015.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists - Chapter 8 - The exalted place Russia can occupy in the future world order (excerpt). August 2015.
Smirnov, Yuri. Romantics and Pragmatists - Chapter 8 - The exalted place Russia can occupy in the future world order (excerpt). August 2015.
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