Please join us on Friday, February 1st for “Thugocracy: A Way to Think about Trump and Russia”, a talk with Nancy Ries, Colgate University . This event is part of the Occasional Series, sponsored by the NYU Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia.
U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictments and other prosecutorial filings point to unprecedented and unusual interactions between Trump campaign personnel and Russian political and oligarchic circles. These appear to suggest broad Russian elite participation in the project to make Trump president. Yet there is a long history of transnational, organized political and criminal enterprise surrounding the Trump “project.” A wider, socio-political analysis of Trump’s networks can provide nuance to the standard narratives about “Trump-Russia.”
Taking advantage of the voluminous legal documentation of Donald Trump’s business and political history, Thugocracy provides a social-theoretical frame to analyze the nature of Trump’s connections to Soviet and post-Soviet Russia. It offers a “theory of the case” of this relationship that situates Trump, from the very start of his career, in an ever-growing network of trans-national, often criminal, investors, entrepreneurs, and agents of political PR (including, notably, “black PR”, to adopt the Russian term). The Trump Organization’s mob-enriched projects of the 1980s and 1990s harmonized well with and were dramatically amplified in their potency by emergent Soviet and post-Soviet networks and, in particular, by the hyper-charge of post-Soviet capital outflows.
The argument that emerges from this analysis centers around the concept of “thugocratic governmentality,” which describes the complex goals of allied regimes: unlawful capital accumulation, money laundering, and transfer, state capture, deregulation of natural resource extraction, the ascendance of informality, the undermining of the rule of law, voter manipulation and suppression, the stifling of civil society, and the delegitimization of professional spheres of journalism, science, and higher education. Political disruption, confusion, and the spread of a popular sense of chaos are part and parcel of thugocracy, and signs of both its tactics in action and its political achievements.
Analyzing thugocratic governance as a longstanding transnational phenomenon of networked oligarchies and interconnected political-economic projects allows us to explore the “Trump-Russia” phenomenon without falling into the now well-demarcated rhetorical furrows characterized by many as Russophobic conspiracy theory.
Nancy Ries is Christian A. Johnson Chair in Liberal Arts Studies, Director of the Division of University Studies, and Professor of Anthropology and Peace and Conflict Studies at Colgate University. Among her publications are the 1997 book, Russian Talk: Culture and Conversation during Perestroika, which won the Barbara Heldt Book Prize, and a 2009 article “Potato Ontology: Surviving Post-Socialism in Russia which won the Cultural Anthropology Horizons Prize. She has published on state capture and the Russian mafia, everyday life theory and traumatic violence, and nuclear weapons. She was co-editor, with Bruce Grant, of the Cornell Press series “Culture and Society after Socialism,” and helped create the online museum, “Communal Living in Russia.” She is currently researching contemporary Russian and American nuclear discourse, and is writing a book-length essay on Thugocracy.