Historian Timothy Snyder: “It’s pretty much inevitable” that Trump will try to stage a coup and overthrow democracyHistorians in the News
tags: democracy, Timothy Snyder, Trump
American democracy is in crisis. The election of Donald Trump feels like a state of emergency made normal.
Trump has threatened violence against his political enemies. He has made clear he does not believe in the norms and traditions of American democracy — unless they serve his interests. Trump and his advisers consider a free press to be enemies of his regime. Trump repeatedly lies and has a profoundly estranged relationship with empirical reality. He uses obvious and naked racism, nativism and bigotry to mobilize his voters and to disparage entire groups of people such as Latinos and Muslims.
Trump is threatening to eliminate an independent judiciary, and wants to punish those judges who dare to stand against his illegal and unconstitutional mandates. In what appears to be a violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, Trump is using the office of the presidency to enrich himself, his family and his inner circle by peddling influence and access to corporations, foreign countries and wealthy individuals. Trump and his representatives also believe that he is above the law and cannot be prosecuted for any crimes while in office.
What can the American people do to resist Donald Trump? What lessons can history teach about the rise of authoritarianism and fascism and how democracies collapse? Are there ways that individuals can fight back on a daily basis and in their own personal lives against the political and cultural forces that gave rise to Trump’s movement? How long does American democracy have before the poison that Donald Trump and the Republican Party injected into the country’s body politic becomes lethal?
In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Timothy Snyder, a professor of history at Yale University. He is the award-winning author of numerous books including the recent “Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning” and “Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin.” Snyder’s new book, “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century,” explores, among other things, how the American people can fight back against Donald Trump’s incipient authoritarian regime.
The election of Donald Trump is a crisis for American democracy. How did this happen?
We asked for it by saying that history was over in 1989 [with the end of the Cold War]. By saying that nothing bad could never happen again, we were basically inviting something bad to happen.
Our story about how nothing could never go wrong was a story about how human nature is the free market and the free market brings democracy, so everything is hunky-dory — and of course every part of that story is nonsense. The Greeks understood that democracy is likely to produce oligarchy, because if you don’t have some mechanism to get inequality under control then people with the most money will likely take full control.
With Trump one sees the new variant of this where a candidate can run by saying, “Look, we all know — wink, wink, nudge, nudge — that this isn’t really a democracy anymore.” He doesn’t use the words but basically says, “We all know this is really an oligarchy, so let me be your oligarch.” Although it’s nonsense, and of course he’s a con man and will betray everyone, it makes sense only in this climate of inequality. ...