With a new flood of populism in full swing around the globe, it can be difficult to differentiate between real threats and a poor governments. Unfortunately for those who were hoping to get a positive report on the United States, well-known historian Tim Snyder is alarmed by all of the recent events stacking up. He works at Yale and specializes in studying totalitarian regimes, so people tend to listen to Snyder when he speaks up about the current state of affairs in the world.
This time, Snyder is so concerned that he’s actually released a book about the situation. Exploring all the ways in which democracies are dismantled by fascism, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century is an insightful tome that puts the evidence front and center. Written right after the election, the book could not be more timely. One of the first points that Snyder explores is the fact that these kinds of takeovers happen very quickly. Using Germany, Poland and Hungary as examples, he shows how quickly a situation can transform. Although the wheels and cogs of government tend to move slowly during normal times, everything is sped up when totalitarian regimes step up into power.
Snyder also illuminates the point that a “post-fact” world is one of the most likely indicators that circumstances are about to turn in a negative direction. In order to get people to behave in the manner that they would prefer, Trump and his ilk need to get people on board and make them ignore history, as well as the evidence that is staring them in the face. Unfortunately, they have been very skilled at doing exactly this. The Yale historian has stated that, based upon history, American citizens should be on the lookout for an event that would require constitutional norms to be abandoned, such as a terrorist attack. He states that Germany’s Nazi leaders used this tactic very effectively, setting fires and then blaming them on their enemies.
In order to avoid a Reichstag fire event, Snyder counsels that people need to take their time before making decisions. In Nazi Germany, one of the biggest mistakes they made was joining the “unthinking” herd before truly realizing what was happening. Snyder believes that thoughtful, careful deliberation is key in avoiding another incident like this. He said that everyone must figure out ways in which they can keep themselves motivated, keep others engaged in the good fight and avoid slip-ups. In his philosophy, people need to call out others who make a mistake and get caught up in the allure of the takeover, complimenting the leader for one reason or another. Using a recent example of an unhinged Trump speech that elicited favorable remarks from a CNN commentator, Snyder proves his point.
Snyder encourages people to stay in touch with friends who may be Trump supporters because he believes that many of these people will eventually come to their senses and realize that their decisions were wrong. He says that they need to have people to talk to who will guide them back towards the right ideology. By sticking to the issues and not personally identifying factors, he believes that people can show Trump supporters where they’ve gone wrong. Although this can be a painful process, it can be triumphant in the end.
This brilliant historian doesn’t mince words when it comes to our current situation, stating that we are, in fact, facing a huge crisis of epic proportions. However, it is our reaction to this reality that will determine whether or not we will be able to uphold the Constitution.