Vladislav Surkov kept a photo of Tupac Shakur on his desk. He also kept Vladamir Putin in the Presidency for sixteen years. He did so by turning Russian politics into a bewildering piece of theatre, a kind of reality TV show. As former deputy head of the presidential administration, later deputy prime minister and then assistant to the president on foreign affairs, Surkov came originally from the avant-garde art world. He took the ideas of conceptual art and injected them deep into the soul of the Russian power. Surkov is why we saw Putin riding shirtless on a horse, ‘finding’ ancient Greek pottery while scuba-diving, and hugging a polar beer. They weren’t just superficial publicity stunts. They were also designed to confuse. He then went much further. He used Government money to sponsor Neo Nazis and liberal rights support groups, he even funded parties that were directly opposed to Putin. But then it got weirder. He told everyone that this was exactly what he was doing. No one knew what was real or fake anymore. It didn't make sense. During the annexation of Crimea, as fighting began, Surkov published a strange novel under a pseudonym. Close To Zero is about something called non-linear war. A war where you never really know what the enemy are up to or even who they are. The underlying aim is not to win the war itself but to use the conflict to create a constant state of destabilised perception. In the confusion power is managed and controlled.
Donald Trump's campaign was unlike anything seen before. With an actual reality TV star in charge nothing was fixed. What he said, who he attacked, and how he attacked them was constantly changing and shifting. He began by attacking his Republican rivals in the primaries, by accusing them all of being part of a corrupt and broken system. He went on stage in the debate and said that he himself had bought many of the people up on stage next to him. He also teased them like a bully in a playground. Trump's ceaseless shape shifting was unstoppable because it was indefinable. When he went after Hillary Clinton he used words that could have come from the Occupy movement. But at the same time Trump used the language of the extreme racist right, connecting with people’s darkest fears, pushing bigoted fears out into the open. Many of the facts that Trump also asserted were completely untrue. Trump's Electoral College victory meant that he had not just defeated Clinton. His non-linear campaign had also defeated journalism. Because journalists’ central belief is that their job is to expose lies and assert the truth, to understand the world and then tell stories to the public that will illuminate their decision making processes.