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On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder|
This is a thoughtful, thought-provoking set of aphorisms and reflections. As much as I enjoyed it – and believe that I benefited from reading it three times – I have to ask if the author would have written it had Hillary Clinton been elected president.
Snyder’s thesis is that Donald Trump represents a new fascism. Snyder includes aspects of communism and Nazism, as well, acknowledging that all three are variants of the same collectivism of the early 20th century. A couple of warnings do apply to Democrat Party politicians; and at least one nice nod went to the unnamed George H. W. Bush for his “thousand points of light.” But Snyder’s target is Donald Trump. And I have to agree, if only because Trump is the President, and, whatever her foibles, Clinton is not.
None of the quotations or citations are referenced; the book has no footnotes or end notes. However, the writing is unassailable with nice segues across the chapters. Snyder counsels us to be our own investigative reporters, to check stories, rather than just accepting what we want to view and believe. Snyder also warns us to be wary of sound-bites out of context. He then commits both errors near the end of the book.
Explaining why Donald Trump is a nationalist, but not a patriot (which I accept), Snyder writes that Trump wants to return to the economic chaos of the 1930s:
So, I googled the statement, and found that it was made on February 10, 2014 about 6:36 AM on "Fox & Friends." Then, I found a plausible interpretation from Snopes. I checked four other claims Snyder made, and all of them were true. In any case, the quote above was unreferenced and taken out of context.
Chapter 6: Be wary of paramilitaries
He does not identify the Occupy movement of the left as a paramilitary, but neither does he dwell on the many “citizen militias” of the right. Snyder’s concern is with the crowd control at the Trump campaign rallies in 2016. I found that less salient. Hecklers are there to disrupt, not to engage in dialog. In effect, they are thieves who violate property rights, denying access to the venue that was paid for by the candidate and the supporters. However, Snyder is cogent when he points out: “The SS began as an organization outside the law, became an organization that transcended the law, and ended up as an organization that undid the law.” (44)
That warning underscores the opening Chapter 1 and is reinforced by other examples as the book progresses.
“Do not obey in advance.” Many of the horrors of totalitarian regimes were not contemplated by the rulers at the top, but were invented by followers far below who anticipated orders they never actually received. Snyder cites the Nazis, but it applies to the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. And it explains the violence of self-defined “patriots” who attack American Sikhs, thinking them to be Muslims, in effect carrying out what they imagine to be their leader’s command to rid the nation of undesirable foreigners.
Chapter 9: Be kind to our language
(That closes the chapter and segues to …)
“So try for your self to write a proper article, involving work in the real world: traveling, interviewing, maintaining relationships with sources, researching in written records, verifying everything, writing and revising drafts, all on a tight and unforgiving schedule. If you find you like doing this, keep a blog. In the mean time, give credit to those who do all of that for a living.” (76)
Chapter 14. Establish a private life.
I could go on at extreme length, quoting Snyder and recording my reflections. This is a book to carry around and read when you have a moment. More to the point, it is a book to discuss with your friends.
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century