Gessen spoke about Perm36, the only gulag museum in Russia that was based on what was once a gulag camp during Stalin. In its later incarnation it served as a political prisoner camp until 1988. In 2013 the museum was taken over by the state and those who created it were forced out. It was turned into a museum glorifying the gulag. Gessen spoke of a visit where the guide spoke of Sergei Kovalev, a well-known geneticist held there, as if the camp had attracted distinguished guests rather than the fact that he was imprisoned in solitary confinement for much of his time. The museum was designed to create what she called "squishy reality" where nothing in the museum was clear, pointed or original. It is much how cacophony works to muddle and confuse the public into silence.
Gessen referenced the cacophony of the Trump administration as echoing this approach. Nothing means anything because everything is quickly overtaken by something else. There is always the shiny new object to distract us from public politics which needs to be our focus. She stressed that it is our job to save the public sphere and it must be reality based. The question she closed with is what will we be left with post-Trump and the risk he presents to both our language and the role of our media. Critical thinking must be upheld lest we discover that all that is frosted is not cake.
If you'd like to read more of Masha Gessen's analysis you can find her work at the New York Times or pick up one of her books, one of which takes a closer look at Putin is The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin.