Have we elected a tyrant as President? It’s hard to believe the clownish behavior and blatant lies of President Donald Trump could make him a tyrant, but author and history Professor Timothy Snyder says he has all the makings of a tyrant in On Tyranny, a pamphlet-size book making the rounds of talk shows.
It has 20 valuable lessons on how to avoid tyrannical governments, such as is happening now in Washington with one political party possibly controlling all three branches of government, if Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch is confirmed—and why this is leading to the greatest lawlessness in our history with the Trump administrations and a Republican Party that is not only quiescent to his blatant law breaking, but in some ways has aided and abetted it.
“As they know,” Snyder begins in his Prologue, “Aristotle warned that inequality brought instability, while Plato believed that demagogues exploited free speech to install themselves as tyrants.”
We now have the greatest income inequality since 1929, and it led to the Great Recession and political polarization we have today. President Donald Trump would not have been possible, if incomes hadn’t declined so drastically for those dissatisfied white voters from the rust-belt.
And then there was the Russian meddling in our media with thousands of bots sending out fake social media news, Tweets, and Wikileaks exploiting the hacked Democrat’s emails, not to speak of Breitbart propaganda campaign of inflaming the alt-right, all white nationalists.
Professor Snyder listed three of the most important lessons on HBO’s Bill Maher show.
#1) “Don’t obey in advance—Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then offer themselves without being asked.”
How could that happen? How could West Virginians in the heart of what was formerly coal country vote more than 2 to 1 for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in a historically Democratic state?
And this is leading to the acquiescence in the rollback of environmental laws that will allow more and dirtier coal mining, as well as coal-powered plants, when more than 250 coal plants have already closed, with cheaper natural gas replacing coal.
It is mainly out of ignorance of what was in their best interests. Coal now occupies but a minor position in W Virginia’s economy with natural gas and renewable energies having replaced it since 1980, according to Nobel Economist Paul Krugman.
#2) “Defend Institutions—It is institutions that help us to preserve decency. So choose an institution you care about—a court, a newspaper, a law, a labor union—and take its side.”
Sound familiar? What has Donald Trump been attacking—the courts, the media (“enemies of the people”), laws that prevent conflicts of interest, and labor union laws that protect worker safety. I might add scientific facts, as he has said he believes global warming a “hoax”. So in effect Trump is attacking all of the institutions that preserve decency and a functioning democracy.
“Institutions do not protect themselves. They fall one after the other unless each is defended from the beginning,” said Snyder.
#3) “Above all believe in truth,” as without truth there is no trust, and without trust there are no effective laws, which leads to tyranny. And candidate, now President Donald Trump, has made a point of blatant lying, meaning he wants his followers to believe whatever he says rather than objective facts such as global warming, or size of the audience that attended his inauguration.
This can only be because his followers have acquiesced in advance, either out of ignorance of the actual facts, or because they will follow him regardless of the consequences to themselves and the nation.
We can only preserve democracy and defeat tyranny in all its forms—including fascism, racism, discrimination, propaganda, oligarchies, if we learn from history. “History does not repeat, but it does instruct,” says Professor Snyder in On Tyranny, a must read for anyone wanting to understand the rise of President Trump.
Harlan Green © 2017
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