Masha Gessen: I think Donald Trump was brought to power by Americans. They voted for him.
Goldberg: Do you think we are overemphasizing Russia’s nefarious—either intent or actual—actions in this moment?
Gessen: These are leading questions, but yes. Absolutely. I do think that we’re overemphasizing it. And I think we’re overemphasizing it at the expense of actually being able to think about the election.
Goldberg: What do you mean?
Gessen: Americans voted for Trump. A lot of people in this country feel the system of representative democracy hasn’t worked for them for a long, long time. And those are the issues that this election gives us an unfortunate opportunity to engage with. And engaging instead with the Russia conspiracy takes up that bandwidth.
Goldberg: Is the Russia conspiracy real?
Gessen: I don’t know. I mean, we don’t know, right? But it’s not a terribly important question or answer.
Goldberg: Whoa. Wait, why?
Gessen: Well, because ultimately it doesn’t matter what Russia wanted. Right? What matters is whether there was an actual arrangement with the Trump campaign. That’s the part we actually don’t know yet.
Goldberg: Let me just push back a little bit and say that if a foreign power is actively trying to meddle in an American election it still seems to matter, no?
Gessen: Okay, let me give you an example. The weekend before the election I was in Philadelphia with my daughter, canvassing for Hillary. And there was this church where they handed out the clipboards. And so we’re standing in line for clipboards, and a busload of Dutch tourists get off and get in line. And my first reaction was like, Oh these people are Dutch. They shouldn't be canvassing. And then I thought, okay, these people over in Amsterdam—if Donald Trump is elected, they will live on this planet that will risk being annihilated by a nuclear holocaust and damaged by irreparable climate change. And do they have less right to ask the people of Philadelphia to vote in a particular way than I, as a New Yorker, have to ask the people of Philadelphia to vote in a particular way?
Goldberg: So you’re not a huge fan of sovereignty as a concept.
Gessen: As a concept, no, not a huge fan.
Goldberg: As someone who does believe in American sovereignty, I’m offended by the idea that any country would try to interfere in our domestic affairs. But even more so when you have a government that is adversarial.
Gessen: Russian attempts to sow discord—first of all, they’re predictable. Second of all, they’re ridiculous. They’ve been doing pretty much the same thing for at least 50 years. American political reality has moved a lot closer to the Russian perception—what used to be a really distorted perception, it used to be a total caricature—which I think is a little disturbing.
Goldberg: We are becoming more like Russia?