Tuesday, February 14, 2017

We have at most a year

Matthias Kolb interviewed Timothy Snyder for the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung (South German Times) for an article published February 7. Snyder is a professor of history at Yale University. His most recent book, out at the end of the month, is On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. No, I haven’t been scanning the English version of European news sources. This article was suggested by my regular sources as important. Some thoughts that caught my attention:

* We Americans, told ourselves that the nasty guy would be defeated or the process will mature him. That won’t save us.
He doesn’t seem to care about the institutions and the laws except insofar as they appear as barriers to the goal of permanent kleptocratic authoritarianism and immediate personal gratification. It is all about him all of time, it is not about the citizens and our political traditions.

* Snyder wrote an article for Slate that compared the rise of Hitler to the rise of Trump in hopes of educating Americans (something for another post). We tend to have short memories. We as a society don’t remember Stalin’s war of terror. We know something about six million Jews, but there is no context. We feel history has nothing to do with the present. When the nasty guy says “America First” we should have a series of associations with other political systems. This should set of warnings, but the media isn’t explaining the connections.

* The nasty guy and his cronies are clearly thinking about the 1930s, but in the sense of a redo – don’t build a welfare state, don’t intervene in Europe to stop fascism. This is their chance for that redo. “This inaugural address reeked of the 1930s.”

* America was created through a rebellion. We think it natural to rebel – in this case elect a guy who vowed to change things – every so often. But those who voted for the nasty guy don’t see the distinction between a rebellion against injustice and the destruction of the political system the Steve Bannon says he is working towards. We don’t understand what it means to destroy a government.

* When the nasty guy spoke on Holocaust Day Jews were intentionally not mentioned. This disassociates history and leaves only myth, allowing Americans to think they are the victims.

* On the travel ban:
And right now the comparison we need to ponder is between the treatment of Muslims and the treatment of Jews. It is obviously the case that the point of the Muslim ban is to instruct Americans that Muslims are an enemy: a small, well-assimilated minority that we are supposed to see not as our neighbors or as fellow citizens but as elements of an international threat. More than that, Trump’s policy is a provocation, which is probably meant to provoke an event like the assassination of the German diplomat Ernst Eduard vom Rath on November 7 1938.
I had to look up that reference. Vom Rath was a Nazi diplomat in Paris. He was shot by Herschel Grynszpan, a Jew. Hitler declared that the Jews had “fired the first shot” in a war against Germany. Kristallnacht was launched within hours of when vom Rath died on November 9.

* On attacking the media:
When I am a Republican and say the Democrats are the opposition, we talk about our system. If I say the government is one party and the press is the opposition, then I talk about an authoritarian state. This is regime change.

* Some in the GOP dismissed recent protests because they claimed they were being paid (see below). That is getting us used to the idea there should be no right to protest, that we’re being invited into the process of forming an authoritarian regime by having contempt for those who are defending the Republic. It is also getting us used to to permanent lying, to prefer fiction and inaction over reality and action, to teach people to just sit there and nod your head.

* Authoritarians try to overwhelm us with bad news, so we become resigned and feel we can do nothing. Antidote: limit the amount of news consumed, but act on what you do read. Then don’t obsess over it for the rest of the day.

* On turning points:
There is a playbook from the 1930s that some people in the presidential administration are following. This includes picking a minority in your country, associate it with a global threat and use the notion of a global struggle as a way to create national solidarity while neglecting the nation’s actual problems.
See Kristallnacht above. We can’t fall for the tricks of authoritarians.

* Our protests have two parts. First, when the gov’t tries to slice off a group, such as Muslims through the travel ban, respond immediately. This is not OK. We did this pretty well. Second, call ourselves patriots as we decry individual policies. It may take six months to a year, until we get beyond “just give him a chance,” to convince those who voted for the nasty guy that he isn’t working in their interest. Those voters had sensible reasons for their votes, and these reasons weren’t racist (many voted for Obama). We show them that what the nasty guy is doing isn’t meeting their concerns.

* Republicans have good reasons to defend the republic, but so far aren’t doing so.

Snyder’s closing:
I think things have tightened up very fast, we have at most a year to defend the Republic, perhaps less. What happens in the next few weeks is very important.

Yesterday I heard about the Indivisible movement. It is the progressive response to the Tea Party, rejecting their ideology, but using their tactics. Their guidebook is here. This is a loose association of local groups with reportedly over 50 within 25 miles of where I live. Alas, contact to most of them is either through Facebook or an email address. I’m reluctant to send my contact to an email address I can’t do research on, and I don’t do Facebook.

The basic component of Indivisible action is to pester your Congresscritters.

Speaking of which…
Those Congresscritters, especially from red states, are being hit by that pestering as they try to hold town hall meetings.

* Jason Cheffetz of Utah was repeatedly shouted down and left early (wimp – Hillary lasted 11 hours in a Bengazi hearing).

* Justin Amash of Michigan got yelled at for supporting Betsy DeVos.

* Diane Black of Tennessee got an earful about the Affordable Care Act – the protester said, “As a Christian, my whole philosophy in life is to pull up the unfortunate.” Thanks dear.

* Others are calling for more security or simply skipping such events, sometimes leaving hapless aids to record the complaints.

Steve King of Iowa said, “I think it’s going to be a demonstration a week until they run out of funding. They will incrementally die off.”

Yeah, the Tea Party was eventually well funded by the Koch Brothers. But progressives aren’t doing this for the pay. We really are mad as hell and we’re not going away any time soon.

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