Perhaps many of us are growing accustomed to the normalization of the reprehensible and destruction of political norms after 100 days of misrule by Der Trumpenführer, Reichsmarschall Pence, and his propaganda ministers. As I speculated over the weekend, perhaps Trump lacks the self-discipline and consistent ideology to be another Adolph Hitler. But one historian sees Trump as a continuing danger to American Democracy. Timothy Snyder, a professor of history at Yale University, is the award-winning author of numerous books including the recent “Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning,” “Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin,” and a new book, "On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.” Snyder, in fact believes that Trump will attempt a coup as he finds himself unable to increase his popularity and unable to pass any meaningful legislation be it good, bad or indifferent. A piece in Salon looks at why Snyder sees a continuing threat. It also tells us that we must resist and not dive into the flow or become complacent. Here are excerpts:
American democracy is in crisis. The election of Donald Trump feels like a state of emergency made normal.Trump has threatened violence against his political enemies. He has made clear he does not believe in the norms and traditions of American democracy — unless they serve his interests. Trump and his advisers consider a free press to be enemies of his regime. Trump repeatedly lies and has a profoundly estranged relationship with empirical reality. He uses obvious and naked racism, nativism and bigotry to mobilize his voters and to disparage entire groups of people such as Latinos and Muslims.
Trump is threatening to eliminate an independent judiciary and wants to punish judges who dare to stand against his illegal and unconstitutional mandates. In what appears to be a violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution, Trump is using the office of the presidency to enrich himself, his family and his inner circle by peddling influence and access to corporations, foreign countries and wealthy individuals.
How long does American democracy have before the poison that Donald Trump and the Republican Party injected into the country’s body politic becomes lethal?
Timothy Snyder, a professor of history at Yale University . . . . explores how the American people can fight back against Donald Trump’s incipient authoritarian regime.
The Greeks understood that democracy is likely to produce oligarchy because if you don’t have some mechanism to get inequality under control then people with the most money will likely take full control.
With Trump, one sees the new variant of this where a candidate can run by saying, “Look, we all know — wink, wink, nudge, nudge — that this isn’t really a democracy anymore.” He doesn’t use the words but basically says, “We all know this is really an oligarchy, so let me be your oligarch.” Although it’s nonsense and of course he’s a con man and will betray everyone, it makes sense only in this climate of inequality.
As I see it, there are certainly elements of his approach which are fascistic. The straight-on confrontation with the truth is at the center of the fascist worldview. The attempt to undo the Enlightenment as a way to undo institutions, that is fascism. . . . . Another thing that’s clearly fascist about Trump were the rallies. The way that he used the language, the blunt repetitions, the naming of the enemies, the physical removal of opponents from rallies, that was really, without exaggeration, just like the 1920s and the 1930s.
In your book you discuss the idea that Donald Trump will have his own version of Hitler’s Reichstag fire to expand his power and take full control of the government by declaring a state of emergency. How do you think that would play out?
Let me make just two points. The first is that I think it’s pretty much inevitable that they will try. The reason I think that is that the conventional ways of being popular are not working out for them. The conventional way to be popular or to be legitimate in this country is to have some policies, to grow your popularity ratings and to win some elections. I don’t think 2018 is looking very good for the Republicans along those conventional lines — not just because the president is historically unpopular. It’s also because neither the White House nor Congress have any policies which the majority of the public like.
Whether it works or not depends upon whether when something terrible happens to this country, we are aware that the main significance of it is whether or not we are going to be more or less free citizens in the future.
My gut feeling is that Trump and his administration will try and that it won’t work. Not so much because we are so great but because we have a little bit of time to prepare. I also think that there are enough people and enough agencies of the government who have also thought about this and would not necessarily go along.
The thing that matters the most is to realize that in moments like this your actions really do matter. It is ironic but in an authoritarian regime-change situation, the individual matters more than [in] a democracy. In an authoritarian regime change, at the beginning the individual has a special kind of power because the authoritarian regime depends on a certain kind of consent. Which means that if you are conscious of the moment that you are in, you can find the ways not to express your consent and you can also find the little ways to be a barrier. If enough people do that, it really can make a difference — but again only at the beginning.
You have to accept there is a time frame. Nobody can be sure how long this particular regime change with Trump will take, but there is a clock, and the clock really is ticking. It’s three years on the outside, but in more likelihood something like a year. In January 2018 we will probably have a pretty good idea which way this thing is going. It’s going to depend more on us than on them in the meantime. Once you get past a certain threshold, it starts to depend more on them than on us, and then things are much, much worse. It makes me sad to think how Americans would behave at that point.
Every day you don’t do something, it makes it less likely that you will ever do something. So you’ve got to get started right away. “On Tyranny” is a suggestion of things that everyone can do. There are plenty of other great ideas from people coming from other traditions, but the basic thing is you have to change your protocol of daily behavior now.
Don’t obey in advance because you have to start by orienting yourself against the general drift of things. If you can manage that, then the other lessons — such as supporting existing political and social institutions, supporting the truth and so on — those things will then come relatively easily if you can follow the first one, which is to get out of the drift, to recognize that this is the moment where you have to not behave as you did in October 2016. You have to set your own habits now.