Lecture: The Politics of Discontent - East and West

Prof. William T. Bianco, Department of Political Science, Indiana University, Bloomington Prof. Regina Smyth, Department of Political Science, Indiana University, Bloomington

Boris Mints Institute, Academic Institute for Structural Reforms and the School for Social and Policy Studies hosted the lecture at Tel Aviv University

Prof. Regina Smyth has explained how the Russian Political institutions function and what plays the most important roles in the political arena. It is very significant to control the electoral arena, yet nonetheless, however there is a lot of variation in regime durability. In general, on the global scale - autocracies seem to be more durable and that is shown by the Russian example with Putin and United Russia as a dominant party being active in the government since 1999. It is important for the government to depoliticize politics and be involved in the information control. Russia is not changing, yet there are a lot of political instabilities and shocks, however the government is constantly restructuring of the regime adapting to new challenge. Context which needs to be controlled affects the challenge. In terms of the electoral process in Russia - the government has had two options in the past: either demolishing the opposition in an election, or excluding the opposition in the voting. In cases where the public is not happy - massive protests are evolving around the crisis. There are studies that are linking the elections and the protests. From excluding the opposition - Russia switches towards agenda control. It is also tremendously significant to note the Invention of the hegemonic narrative, starting with Putin himself as the main figure of national pride. The narrative stopped working in 2011-2012 with all the protests occurring at the time, so Russia had to start stigmatizing the opposition and splitting it. During the period of “the new cold war” and the invasion of Crimea, the government has started to focus more on constructing majorities between elections, in order to fight the radical opposition, institutionalizing regime support, increased politicized justice, counter protest protests, while having minimal accountability, yet still responding to some of the protests which seem to be either less radical or having a larger support among the wider audience. As the public starts to see the responsiveness to the protests, such on hot topics are increasing. It will be interesting to see what will happen in the 2024 elections, as Putin is getting older, alongside with many of the representatives of United Russia and his office, as well as, tools that used to keep the country together are being challenged more and more as there is an increase among general public that are supporting a more liberal agenda.

Prof. William T. Bianco on the other hand has explained how there seems to be a lot of similarities between Trump and Putin, particularly in the process of decision making. Trump is willing to change institutions for the first time in America, however being more modern, he is using twitter to speak to American public. It was never imagined that a president may talk that way, and Trump is taking advantage of it. Trump is quite unpopular compared to his predecessors, even though the economy is doing way better than it was, before he came in the office. In some areas Trump has succeeded in his ideas, especially where the congressional agreement does not have to be reached. Unlike Putin - Trump is not an autocrat, and cannot be one, as there are still many functioning institutions in the U.S. Nonetheless, Trump is trying to push moral panic. At the state level there is also change, such as reversing Barack Obama’s policy-adjustments. Trump is contributing to policy deadlock, in terms of not taking global action. His attacks on the media are affecting the public perception of the media. Trump is not condemning local events that are happening across the U.S., even though they are rather disturbing, such as on the day of Trump rallies - the number of physical assaults goes up. It is important to understand Trump’s actions even if he is not considered to be a popular leader, he is still bringing change to the U.S. and the global system as well.