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Gessen writes: "I sometimes joke that growing up in the Soviet Union prepared me for working as a journalist in the United States."

Joseph Stalin and Donald Trump. (photo: Getty Images)
Joseph Stalin and Donald Trump. (photo: Getty Images)

Donald Trump's Very Soviet Fixation on Applause

By Masha Gessen, The New Yorker

06 February 18


sometimes joke that growing up in the Soviet Union prepared me for working as a journalist in the United States. That joke has become less funny now that the President is positioning applause as a central issue of American politics. On Monday, before a crowd at a manufacturing plant, in Ohio, Donald Trump criticized Democrats who did not applaud during his first State of the Union address. “They were like death and un-American,” he said. “Un-American. Somebody said treasonous. I mean, yeah, I guess, why not? Can we call that treason? Why not?”

In Soviet politics, too, applause was a central issue—sometimes, it seemed, the central issue. Whenever the Politburo or the Central Committee of the Supreme Soviet or the Party Congress had a session, the newspaper would fill with endless metres of incomprehensible gray copy, in which the only lines that made any sense were the parenthetical clauses describing applause. The Soviet papers had more ways to describe applause than they had for any other event in society or nature.

“Applause” was your vanilla clapping.

“Enthusiastic applause” (literally: “stormy applause”) took the description up a notch. No enthusiastic—much less stormy—emotion was actually in evidence: Soviet apparatchiks usually stood still, mechanically touching their hands together. But “stormy applause” did last a bit longer than plain applause.

“Thunderous applause” was even more enthusiastic than “enthusiastic applause.”

“Enthusiastic applause transitioning to an ovation” was even bigger and longer and often involved standing.

“Enthusiastic long-lasting applause transitioning to an ovation. Everybody stands.” You get the idea. In my recollection, this was often the last line of a newspaper report, but a media-dictionary entry compiled by a Russian media outlet offers more options. (This was compiled years ago; all the people involved with that project have long since lost their jobs.) “Enthusiastic applause that refuses to quiet down, transitioning to an ovation. Everyone stands. Audience member spontaneously shouts out, ‘Glory to the party of Lenin!’ ” “Enthusiastic applause that refuses to quiet down, transitioning to an ovation. Everyone stands and sings ‘The Internationale.’ ”

Naturally, this emphasis on clapping led to a kind of applause inflation. Here, for example, is a two-and-a-half-minute clip of Joseph Stalin giving a speech in 1937, at the height of the Great Terror. Stalin is speaking at a campaign event. (Russia had fake elections then, too.) You can observe the progression from “applause,” which lasts five seconds, to “enthusiastic applause,” which lasts fifteen seconds, to “enthusiastic applause transitioning to an ovation,” which lasts twenty-two seconds, to a finale that consists of three short bursts of “applause” before turning into “enthusiastic applause transitioning to an ovation. Everybody stands.”

Over the next fifteen years, it appears, applause became largely panic-driven; contemporary accounts show that people feared that the first person to stop clapping would be the first to be hauled off to jail. Failure to applaud could certainly be considered treason. So they went on and on, shouting “Long live Comrade Stalin,” “Glory to our beloved Comrade Stalin,” and “Glory to the revolution,” clapping until the palms of their hands bled. At the same time, the crowd seemed preternaturally attuned to the orator-in-chief: watching footage from the nineteen-forties and fifties, one wonders about how people knew at which moment to begin clapping in unison, and marvels at how quickly and completely they quieted down as soon as Stalin opened his mouth to speak.

A generation later, that discipline was gone. Here is Leonid Brezhnev speaking, or trying to speak, at the opening of a Komsomol (Communist Youth League) congress, in 1974. The thousands of people in the Kremlin Palace of Congresses will not stop clapping. Brezhnev is helpless to control them. There seems to be confusion between the applauders and the applauded: Brezhnev tries signalling to the crowd, joining the crowd, sitting, standing, smiling—all for naught.

This was no longer the era of terror, and the Komsomol members no longer feared being accused of treason or sent to jail. Nor did they necessarily think that clapping their hands together was the best way of expressing love of their country. They just had nothing better to do: once they stopped clapping, they would have to sit down and listen to hours of mind-numbing speeches that, the following day, would cover the endless pages of newspapers with incomprehensible gray words, among which only the lines “applause,” “enthusiastic applause,” and “enthusiastic applause transitioning to an ovation, everybody stands” stood out like something resembling the language of human communication. your social media marketing partner


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-62 # babaregi 2018-02-06 15:12
Trump grabs 'em by the pu**y, but the Muslims take it a step further.
Yet feminists stay silent.
+4 # Robbee 2018-02-07 12:17
Quoting babaregi:
feminists stay silent.

- as robbee always says - "libertarians be crazy!"
+61 # bread and butter 2018-02-06 16:01
I love France. In France, you can openly state in public:


Of course, you can do that in America too. Even here, you can say:

+4 # bread and butter 2018-02-07 16:58
It's an old joke, referring to the Soviet Union vs. the U.S.

Back then, we thought we had moral superiority.

Now, not so much.
+67 # revhen 2018-02-06 18:41
Trump is destroying us. He HAS to be removed.
+1 # Robbee 2018-02-07 12:14
Quoting revhen 2018-02-06 18:41:
Trump is destroying us. He HAS to be removed.

- pale face, who is this "us" you speak of? - the ship you imply, that "we" can remove dickhead, sailed in nov. 2016

to remove dickhead from office takes at least 18 repuke senators, in other words, massive senate revolt

in turn, massive senate revolt takes at least 18 repuke senators deciding that in 2020 pence gives repukes a better chance of keeping the presidency

go pence? go repukes?


don’t it always seem to go?
that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone? - j. mitchell

“we have seen the enemy! and they are us!” - pogo

"Keep the faith and please remember, despair is not an option.
In Solidarity,”
Bernie Sanders
"Next election, resolve to MAKE OUR VOTE COUNT!”

you conclude "Trump is destroying us. He HAS to be removed."

pop quiz! back to you, pale face! - what are odds that repukes will replace dickhead with pence before 2020?

what are odds that repuke-scotus will strike down crossCheck before 2020, allowing anyone but repukes to count, or not, latino votes?

what are odds that dickhead or pence will be prez in 2021?

anyway in nov. 2016 "we" left alot of votes off the tally!

in 2020 what, if anything, do you intend to do about it?

and do you have any plans for 2018?
+12 # Farafalla 2018-02-06 18:59
The article makes references to clips or images that are not shown. :-(

"Here, for example, is a two-and-a-half- minute clip of Joseph Stalin giving a speech in 1937, at the height of the Great Terror."

"Here is Leonid Brezhnev speaking, or trying to speak, at the opening of a Komsomol (Communist Youth League) congress, in 1974."
+1 # kgrad 2018-02-06 21:05
Quoting Farafalla:
The article makes references to clips or images that are not shown. :-(

"Here, for example, is a two-and-a-half-minute clip of Joseph Stalin giving a speech in 1937, at the height of the Great Terror."

"Here is Leonid Brezhnev speaking, or trying to speak, at the opening of a Komsomol (Communist Youth League) congress, in 1974."

A good point; I noticed it, too.
+7 # vicnada 2018-02-06 23:44
Here you go:


In the future, when you have this trouble, just click "Go to Original" link at the top of the article and you will find the links embedded.
0 # mim 2018-02-08 11:50
The links don't copy. Hit "Go to original."
+69 # sbessho 2018-02-06 19:01
45's suggestion that lack of applause can be considered treason is grounds enough for impeachment. To make such an assertion in public is a high misdemeanor against the people and our form of government. Let's go. Start demanding impeachment statements from every candidate for the House in 2018.
+9 # Texas Aggie 2018-02-06 23:13
He is now walking that back claiming that it was a joke. There is a reason that his controllers wouldn't let him attend the DC reporters' banquet. They knew that his attempts at humor would be equally ridiculous.
+5 # tedrey 2018-02-06 19:39
When attending peace conferences about 1970, it took me a while to get used to the Communist delegates clapping back at their audience. I didn't know if they intended to applaud us or themselves.
+2 # Kootenay Coyote 2018-02-07 09:37
It is an old Russian custom for applaudees to applaud back.
+24 # Adoregon 2018-02-06 20:40
Sounds like Resident Rump has a bad case of the clap. (zen joke)

But seriously, the statement in the above article by the Rump stinks of a solipsistic McCarthyism that seeks to criminalize anyone who does not uncritically display sufficient approval of his Rumpness.

Trump is a demagogue who would be a demigod. Get this mendacious fool off the stage.
+10 # pushingforpeace 2018-02-06 21:12
Trump makes a mockery of this supposed Democracy.
+6 # ahollman 2018-02-07 00:15
In the US, we too have our social niceties, our rituals that simply must be observed, so that anyone who doesn't is a renegade. For example, reaction by Congress to a Presidential State of the Union speech is limited to clapping or cheering at appropriate times. Hence, when S. Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson interrupted President Obama's State of the Union speech by shouting out "You lie", everyone was shocked. Similarly, Trump deserves our criticism for trying to turn an honest reaction - clapping - into a required (and thus meaningless) social norm.

In the bad old USSR, the dictatorship frowned on unapproved literature. Publication was limited to members of the Union of Soviet Writers, which gave or withheld its blessing. Subversive literature, called "samizdat", written on cheap paper or microfilm, made its way around surreptitiously , at great risk to those who transported or possessed it.

The USSR decreed that everyone had a right to a job, and created full employment, in part by running industrial operations with a gross excess of people, in part by recruiting (often blackmailing) one portion of the population to spy on the other.

The USSR also guaranteed health care for all, through a shabby, second-rate system (Party members and other elite got first care care separately). The system included mental health; subversive writers were considered mentally ill, locked up in mental hospitals and doped up with thorazine and other drugs.

So, clap with great enthusiasm!
+8 # draypoker 2018-02-07 04:32
It is less dangerous for Trump to play with military parades than to plan real wars. He reminds me of General Scheisskopf in the famous satirical novel. He liked nothing better than making lots of soldiers do pointless activities.

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