Having survived the Thatcher/Reagan years in the 1980s, and thought it could not get any worse until the Blair/Bush junior years from the late 1990s to 2000s, we are now in the present Trump era in which the prospect of dictatorship in the US is openly discussed.
Of course, throughout 2016 I was in denial, like many others, and could not believe Trump could be elected the US president. And, consequently, I invoked such ridiculousness as Trump rebranding the White House to the Trump White House, with all the not quite so subtle subtext of what this meant.
I should explain that my relationship with the US began in the late 1970s when I was in touch from the UK with such veteran activists as Alex Hershaft and Jim Mason. My first US visit in 1980, led to me becoming a US citizen during the 1987 and 2007 years, when I lived and worked in America. For the last 10 years, my permanent home has been in the UK. My dual UK/US citizenship enables me to maintain my trans-Atlantic relationship, which I celebrate as now being 37 years old.
The first time I became truly aware of the shocking prospect of a country I have come to call my second home of becoming a dictatorship was listening to an episode of the Diane Rehm Show on National Public Radio. The host is now retired but the show is still available to listen to here. It is called The History Of Fascism And Its Relevance To U.S. Politics Today. This was the first time I heard historian Timothy Snyder from Yale University speak. The eloquence and precision with which he compared fascistic politics with contemporary American politics took my breath away. You must listen to this show.
Since then, I have sought out Snyder’s work, including buying a paperback copy of his book, Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning. I cannot say I have read this book from cover to cover (it is 400 pages long) but the sections that I have read I found fascinating.
Also, I have watched Snyder be interviewed on various television programs, including “Politically Incorrect” with Bill Maher. My contempt for television prejudices me against these interviews with Snyder. The interviewees all too often will not shut up and let Snyder speak. These I do not recommend.
But I do recommend Snyder’s new book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. For starters, it is easy to read and short on length. It’s cheap, too! In fact, there is no reason why everyone of you reading this should not go out now and get a copy.
Because it is brilliant.
Without ever naming Trump because the point is that the threat of dictatorship is not exclusively from one person but a country not paying attention, On Tyranny could be said to be all about Trump.
Snyder does refer to him and this is how he does it. In chapter 6 called “Be wary of paramilitaries,” he notes “Armed groups first degrade a political order, and then transform it.” And then observes
As a candidate, the president ordered a private security detail to clear opponents from rallies, but also encouraged the audience itself to remove people who expressed different opinions. (P. 45)
The book’s frame is 20 lessons for the reader to rely upon to take a stand against a country’s slide to dictatorship. The lessons include “Defend Institutions,” “Listen for Dangerous Words” and “Believe in Truth.”
Under Trump, truth has been called into question. “Alternative facts” and “fake news” are examples of the slide to tyranny.
As Snyder states, “Post-truth is pre-fascism.”
Buy this book. Read it. Give it to someone else to read.