I sank into the big fluffy couch in the back of the living room at the home of the US Embassy deputy chief of mission in Moscow, while Glenn began to present to an enthralled group of mostly middle-aged female administrators from Moscow’s leading higher-education institutions. The intellectual pheromones began to fly. As I observed one lady educator in the front row, I realized my position in the room left me unable to defend him. The rapture on her face as he spoke; the gyrations of her hands as they stroked the air around his words which floated in her direction (she was overwhelmed with the joy that she had found someone who understood her plight); the wiggling of her hips on the chair…I took these as signs that she might, at any moment, leap up and hug him to death. I would be unable to make it to the front of the room and tackle her in time to save him. Eventually, she calmed down, and so did I.
At one point during a lecture, Glenn made it clear he was available for marriage offers, and subsequently distributed his email address (the real one). I find it hard to believe he didn’t receive at least a few takers, though a Cornell ring was prominently displayed on his right ring finger— making it clear who his wife really is.
And there was the Friday evening lecture in St. Petersburg. A group of 40 or so young people between the ages of 14 and 18 had gathered to learn about the origins of rock & roll. I never knew that the term was slang from the 1950s for having sex. And I had no idea that Little Richard’s song Tutti Frutti was about homosexuality. As Glenn described the sensuality of rock & roll, I suddenly remembered we have a law in Russia against promoting non-traditional sexual relations to minors. (I do not know if we have a law against promoting traditional sexual relations to minors). I had visions of a SWAT team softly traipsing up the carpeted marble steps and bursting into the room. Where to hide Glenn? Roll him up in the carpet? They’d likely notice the lump. Stuff him up the chimney? It had long been sealed. Leap out the window together? I think the police troops sometimes repel down the sides of buildings they are storming. By the time my paranoia subsided, he was safely on to the next topic. Something about Elvis’s hips.
The lecture on Ten Great Trials was well received by lawyers and the general public alike. The theme running through it was a paraphrased quote of Jorge Luis Borges: The future belongs to those who tell the best stories. In both court cases Glenn used in the lecture – O.J. Simpson and Dan White – it was clear that the defendant killed people, but was either acquitted or given a reduced sentence because his defense team did a better job at telling their version of the story than the prosecution did. Glenn reminded his audiences that “Facts do not speak for themselves.”
Beyond describing the nuts and bolts of legal advocacy, Glenn pointed out the essential strengths of the American justice system, as revealed in most of the cases he and coauthor Faust Rossi analyzed: it’s good to be lucky; it’s better to be smart and lucky; it’s best to be lucky, smart and rich. One young lawyer told me he was intrigued by what he had learned about the US legal system: much more room for creativity than in Russia.
The last lecture Glenn delivered was about the balance of power between the president of the United States and the other branches of government. An audience of about 40 people, undaunted by the security control necessary to enter, gathered at the American Center in Moscow, which is housed inside the embassy building on Novinsky Bulvar.
The listeners were impressively versed in the intricacies of American politics and government structure. Glenn still impressed them with his summary of challenges to the balance of power created by the executive branch. These include threats to the independence of the judiciary. He used Trump’s immigration ban and the court-imposed decrees around it as an example.
Glenn highlighted efforts to circumvent legislative authority—a trend which picked up steam under every U.S. president since Ronald Reagan. Case in point: Obama’s using executive orders and administrative procedures to ease tensions with Cuba. I learned that “signing statements” – documents a US president can issue to accompany a bill he signs into law which state his interpretation of the law and what he will and will not act on – are also an increasingly popular tool used by recent administrations to maximize their power.
The discussion turned to the administration of President Trump, how it came to exist, and what to expect moving forward. As far as the first question is concerned, Glenn had given me a simple illustration earlier. He described his grandmother’s approach to choosing between candidates. She would simply ask family members, “Do I vote for the Donkeys or the Elephants this year?”
Glenn reminded the audience that Americans have always been suspicious of the exercise of political power. He quoted Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” Sentiments appropriate for leaders of all persuasions and systems
When asked by a member of the audience what can be done to restore relations between our two great countries, Glenn added a final quote, from Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci: “I'm a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will. The challenge of modernity is to live without illusions and without becoming disillusioned.” Then he said, with that twinkle in his eye, “We need to keep doing what we are doing right now: being in contact, talking, trying to understand each other…”
I consider myself lucky to have been able to spend seven days with Glenn, living in the same hotel suite, sharing meals, travel, and many hours in Moscow traffic jams. Our relationship evolved from being long-term acquaintances to good friends. I hope he returns.
Meanwhile, I wonder: does the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs have a similar program for sponsoring cultural figures to go on speaking engagements in the United States? Ok, Josef Kobzon wouldn’t make the list, and I wouldn’t recommend offering former Ambassador Kislyak, just yet. But it’s clear the people-to-people element is one of the few levels of cooperation still functioning. It would be great to see genuine competition between the two countries in this format.