Answering The Kennedys Call
Whether or not President Donald Trump ever owned a copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, stories abound of its existence with followers such as Steve Bannon, who was reported to have gifted him a signed copy when part of Trump’s campaign.
What is most disturbing to Ph.D. Timothy Snyder, Housum Professor of History at Yale University and a scholar of the Holocaust, is that so many of Donald Trump’s supporters espouse Hitler’s program of white (instead of Aryan) nationalism, which could lead to a similar outcome if such a demagogue ever rose to power in the United States of America.
You say that’s not possible with our 229-year old democratic institutions enshrined in the U.S. Constitution?
Professor Snyder writes in his Prologue: “History does not repeat, but it instructs…Americans today are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism in the twentieth century. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.”
And he has listed 20 signs that help us to learn how to remain free from past tyrannies:
- 1. Do not obey in advance.
- 2. Defend institutions.
- 3. Beware the one-party state.
- 4. Take responsibility for thr face of the world.
- 5. Remember professional ethics.
- 6. Be wary of paramilitaries.
- 7. Be reflective if you must be armed.
- 8. Stand out.
- 9. Be kind to your language.
- 10. Believe in truth.
- 11. Investigate.
- 12. Make eye contact and small talk
- 13. Practice corporeal politics.
- 14. Establish a private life.
- 15. Contribute to good causes.
- 16. Learn from peers in other countries.
- 17. Listen for dangerous words.
- 18. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives.
- 19. Be a patriot.
- 20. Be as courageous as you can.
Many of these maxims may seem self-evident, but are necessary for a participatory democracy to exist. “Believe in truth” may seem to be self-evident, but only works if one is willing to “Investigate” untruths, or truthiness, or alternative facts; terms coined by Trump administration officials to deny reality—whether it be the reality of damage done by Republican tax cuts, trade wars, and immigrant caravans that are made up mostly of women and children fleeing terror in their own countries, rather than criminals.
“To abandon facts is to abandon freedom,” says Professor Snyder. “If nothing is true then no one can criticize power.”
“Be kind to your language” is a corollary maxim, which means think for yourself and not be bound up in mass media language and thoughts. Read books, rather than be mesmerized by the Internet. Radio was the medium Hitler’s propaganda chief Goebbels used to hypnotize the German people with Hitler’s speeches.
“Listen for dangerous words” is another corollary. Words have meanings. How many times have we heard President Trump use the words ‘extremists’ and ‘terrorists’ to mischaracterize Muslims and Hispanic immigrants? They give license to President Trump to invoke emergency declarations, which justified his use of emergency powers to slap aluminum and steel tariffs on our allies, while withdrawing from existing trade agreements that in fact protected us from unfair competition, and call up U.S. Troops to supposedly defend our southern border from the approaching immigrant caravans.
“Modern tyranny is terror management,” says Professor Snyder. “Be calm when the unthinkable arrives…The sudden disaster that requires the end of checks and balances, the dissolution opposition parties, the suspension of expression.”
Nothing is more dangerous to Democracy than an immoral and lawless leader who cares only to enhance his own power and wealth, or an adult citizen that doesn’t vote.
Harlan Green © 2018
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