According to the director of the “Going Clear,” the definitive documentary on Scientology, the rise of both Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin neatly mirror each other in the way that they have propelled themselves into office by using media manipulation as their most potent weapon.
As part of a discussion with the Daily Beast about his latest work, Citizen K, a look at the life of Russian dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Alex Gibney said Putin’s career trajectory became a major part of his story — and he noticed extraordinary parallels with Trump.
“Citizen K traces Putin’s evolution from political newbie to uncompromising autocrat whose ability to harness the power of TV allowed him to gain total control over a democratic state,” The Beast reports, with Gibney admitting, “It’s a cautionary tale. There’s a lot that Putin and Trump share in common.”
According to the documentary maker, Putin made his move into politics by watching how his predecessor Boris Yeltsin used television to manipulate the populace.
“The lesson that Putin saw was: ‘Yeah. All right. I get it. Just lie. Use the media to lie,’” Gibney explained. “I didn’t realize what a manufactured character he was. What a TV-manufactured character. He learned the lessons of television very well. He wasn’t a kind of born politician. The people around him, their ability to use TV to create this larger-than-life James Bond-like figure—that took over.”
According to the report, the documentary shows “Putin telling obvious, outright lies about the attempted murder of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, in southwest England. At the time, Putin backed the claims made on camera by two Russian intelligence agents, who were caught on CCTV heading to Salisbury on the day of the nerve-agent attack, saying they had flown to England simply to see the local cathedral and hoped to squeeze in a trip to Stonehenge.”
That led the director to make a salient point.
“Talking about the whole Skripal attempted killings, it’s like Putin is saying: ‘We’re obviously lying. We don’t care that you know we’re lying. And by the way, we’re going to do it anyway. So go fuck yourselves,'” he noted. “It’s like Trump saying, ‘There were more people at my inauguration than any other inauguration in history.’ You can look at the photographs. You don’t have to count the numbers. It’s a lie. But maybe more than a lie, it’s bullshit.”
Gibney added another note, saying it might be as difficult to force Trump out of power as it would be to oust Putin.
“I think in the back of everyone’s minds they’re terrified of the idea that whether Trump loses in 2020 or whether he gets another four years, how can he imagine stepping down?” lamented Gibney. “So many norms have been bent and twisted out of shape. With Trump, there is a real fear that whenever he steps down—if he steps down—from his perspective, he’ll be prosecuted, he’ll be sent to jail. How do you forestall that eventuality? It’s the same thing with Putin—there are a lot of parallels in the film.”
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