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Open Discussion Discuss “We have at most a year to defend American democracy, perhaps less“ at the General Forum; Timothy Snyder is a professor of history at Yale University and the author of numerous books of European history, including ...

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Old 02-24-2017, 10:16 PM
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Default “We have at most a year to defend American democracy, perhaps less“

Timothy Snyder is a professor of history at Yale University and the author of numerous books of European history, including „Bloodlands“ and „Black Earth“. His most recent book, “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century“, will be published at the end of the month. This is the English version of an interview published in Süddeutsche Zeitung on February 7, with some additional information due to current developments.

By Matthias Kolb

SZ: Donald Trump has been president for three weeks. How would you describe his start?

Timothy Snyder: The first thing that we have to notice is that the institutions have not thus far restrained him. He never took them seriously, acts as if they don’t exist, and clearly wishes they didn’t. The story that Americans have told themselves from the moment he declared his candidacy for president, was that one institution or another would defeat him or at least change his behavior – he won’t get the nomination; if he gets the nomination, he will be a normal Republican; he will get defeated in the general election; if he wins the presidency will mature him (that was what Obama said). I never thought any of that was true. 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.

You wrote an article for Slate in November, comparing the rise of Donald Trump with the rise of Adolf Hitler. Why did you feel the need to publish such a piece?

It’s very important that we use history to our advantage now, rather than finding in history taboos and ways to silence one another. The history of the 1930s is terribly important to Americans (and Europeans) right now, just as it is slipping from our memories. I was not trying to provoke one more fruitless series of conversations about comparability. I was trying to help Americans who were generally either shocked (people who voted against Trump) or surprised (people who voted for him, who generally thought he would lose) find their bearings in a new situation. The temptation in a new situation is to imagine that nothing has changed. That is a choice that has political consequences: self-delusion leads to half-conscious anticipatory obedience and then to regime change. Anyway, I didn’t actually compare Trump to Hitler, I didn’t use these two names. What I did was to write a very short history of the rise of Adolf Hitler to power without using his name, which might allow Americans to recognize certain similarities to the moment they themselves were living through. I know that these comparisons are a national taboo in Germany, but at the moment its rather important that Germans be generous with their history and help others to learn how republics collapse. Most Americans are exceptionalists, we think we live outside of history. Americans tend to think: “We have freedom because we love freedom, we love freedom because we are free.” It is a bit circular and doesn’t acknowledge the historical structures that can favor or weaken democratic republics. We don’t realize how similar our predicaments are to those of other people.

You use the Weimar Republic as a warning example.

I wanted to remind my fellow Americans that intelligent people, not so different from ourselves, have experienced the collapse of a republic before. It is one example among many. Republics, like other forms of government, exist in history and can rise and fall. The American Founding Fathers knew this, which is why there were obsessed with the history of classical republics and their decline into oligarchy and empire. We seem to have lost that tradition of learning from others, and we need it back. A quarter century ago, after the collapse of communism, we declared that history was over – and in an amazing way we forgot everything we once knew about communism, fascism and National Socialism. In this little article for Slate, I was trying to remind us about things that we once knew.

How similar is the situation between Germany of the 1930s and today’s United States?

Of course, not everything is similar. Some things are better now than they were in the 1930s but some things are worse. The media is worse, I would say. It is very polarized and it is very concentrated. In Germany before the state shut down German newspapers, there was authentic variety that we don’t have now. People in the 1930s generally had longer attention spans than we do. On the other side, the United States is a larger country, with pockets of wealth distributed widely, and it is more connected to the world. The main advantage that we have is that we can learn from the 1930s. Again, it’s very important to stress that history does not repeat. But it does offer us examples and patterns, and thereby enlarges our imaginations and creates more possibilities for anticipation and resistance.

When did you realize this lack of knowledge about 20th century history here in the US?

I got an early hint of that when I was touring the United States for my book “Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin”. This was in 2011 and I realized that Americans had really forgotten about the crimes of Stalin – which is strange because we were educated, during the Cold War about Stalinist terror. I thought that Americans would be surprised because I was saying that number of Soviet citizens killed (although still horrifyingly large) was much smaller than we had been taught. Instead I realized that Americans had simply forgotten that there was Stalinism and terror. That struck me: What else could we forget? The idea of the Holocaust is certainly present, but it is almost totally lacking in context. And without context it is hard to see resemblance. A Holocaust that is reduced to a few images or facts cannot teach about larger patterns. And Americans risk of stressing its uniqueness is that it allows people to dismiss any learning from history. People will ask: Is he wearing a Hakenkreuz, did he kill six million Jews? if the answer is in the negative, then they will reply: then history has nothing to do with the present. Over the last 25 years, we have not only forgotten much of what we once knew but we have raised a whole generation which doesn’t have these reference points.

You would argue that this knowledge had existed before but it was forgotten.

Scholars knew much more know about the 1930s – whether we are speaking of National Socialism, fascism, or Stalinism. But publics are much less interested. And we lack, for whatever reason, the concepts that we used to have that allowed us to connect ideas and political processes. When an American president says “America First” or proposes a political system without the two parties or attacks journalists or denies the existence of facts, that should set of a series of associations with other political systems. We need people who can help translate ideological utterances into political warnings. Thinkers of the middle of twentieth century are now being read again, and for good reason. The American canon included native and refugee ex-communists who came to this country of the 1930s, refugees from fascism and National Socialism in the 40s, and the Cold War liberals of the 1950s. There was this time where we engaged in political theory and history, where people thought about what fascism and communism meant for democracy. Now, one reason why we cannot forget the 1930s is that the presidential administration is clearly thinking about them – but in a positive sense. They seem to be after a kind of redo of the 1930s with Roosevelt where the Americans take a different course. where we don’t build a welfare state and don’t intervene in Europe to stop fascism. Lindbergh instead of FDR. That is their notion. Something went wrong with Roosevelt and now they want to go back and reverse it.

President Trump’s political strategist, Steve Bannon, has said that he wants to „make life as exciting as it was in the 1930s“. The first two weeks have shown how big his influence is, it seems much bigger than Reince Priebus’s or Jared Kushner’s.

I can’t speak to intra-White House conflicts. I can only say that Mr. Trump’s inaugural address was extremely ideological. During the campaign he used the slogan “America First” and then was informed that this was the name of a movement that tried to prevent the United States from fighting Nazi Germany and was associated with nativists and white supremacists. He claimed then not to have known that. But in the inaugural address he made “America First” his central them, and now he can’t say that he doesn’t know what it means. And of course Bannon knows what it means. America First is precisely the conjuration of this alternative America of the 1930s where Charles Lindbergh is the hero. This inaugural address reeked of the 1930s.

When Bannon calls himself a „Leninist“, do Americans know what is he talking about?

No, they usually have no idea. It is a good question. Americans have this idea that comes from Jefferson and the American Revolution that you have to rebel every so often. And they sometimes don’t make the distinction between a rebellion against injustice and the extinction of the whole political system, which is what Bannon says that he is after. The American Revolution actually preserved ideas from Britain: the rule of law being the most important. The whole justification of the American Revolution was that the British were not living up to their own principles, were not including Americans in their own system. In a broad way that that was also the argument of the civil rights movement: the system fails itself when it does not extend equal rights to all citizens. So there can be resistance and even revolution which is about meeting standards rather than about simple destruction. What Bannon says correctly about the Bolsheviks was that they aimed to completely destroy an old regime. We can slip from one to the other very easily, from rebelliousness to a complete negation of the system. Most Americans had a rule of law state for most of their lives, African Americans are an exception, and so most Americans think this will be there forever. They don’t get that a “disruption” can actually destroy much of what they take for granted. They have no notion what it means to destroy the state and how their lives would look like if the rule of law would no longer exist. I find it frightening that people who talk about the destruction of the American state are now in charge of the American state.

International - “We have at most a year to defend American democracy, perhaps less“
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Old 02-25-2017, 08:05 AM
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Default Re: “We have at most a year to defend American democracy, perhaps less“

It is strangely ironic because today the Democrats really must turn to the Republican Party for the sake of the future of America. It's the Republican Party, and it's Congressional power, that must step up to constrain the Trump administration.

The federal courts are standing alone right now and the courts simply aren't enough. While extreme White House actions, like the Muslim Travel Ban, can be rapidly stopped by the courts there are many other things that simply take too long to wind their way through the court system. The courts, at best, provide redress-ability well after the fact but we need prevention before the harm is done.
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Based upon the corruption, brutality, inhumanity, immorality, dishonesty, and incompetence of the Trump administration the White House is the dirtiest house in America and there's no known cleanser that with remove the stains of the Trump Administration.
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Old 02-25-2017, 08:30 AM
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Default Re: “We have at most a year to defend American democracy, perhaps less“

The partisan Left so blinded by hate for Trump and unable to process Hillary’s defeat recycles Bush Hitler into Trump Hitler. Like "not my President" they simply recycle the same trash again and again to never Trumpers who accept it as "truth" without question.

Let's see, Trump the autocrat fascist in his first month in office has rolled back Obama's war on coal, instituted a policy requiring a 2 to 1 reduction in Federal regulations for new regulations, turned over control of bathrooms and other facilities to the states, pressed Congress for a free market oriented replacement for Obamacare, lobbied businesses to make more private investment in the US and commissioned a study aimed at reducing the dictatorial power of the unaccountable Dodd Frank bureacrats. Those actions are the polar opposite of what an autocrat would do. But to a radical Leftist professor probably protected by tenure, facts don't matter.
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Old 02-25-2017, 06:17 PM
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Default Re: “We have at most a year to defend American democracy, perhaps less“

The founders of our Democratic Republic envisioned one which was as large as necessary but yet as small and intrusive as possible. The new occupant of the executive Office is attempting against all winds to return our government to be in line with that concept.

How is that a threat to the Democracy can only be justified in the mind and soul of an irrational Alinsky progressive.
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Old 02-25-2017, 09:36 PM
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Default Re: “We have at most a year to defend American democracy, perhaps less“

Quote:
Originally Posted by [B
AZRWinger;874569]The partisan Left so blinded by hate for Trump and unable to process Hillary’s defeat recycles Bush Hitler into Trump Hitler. Like "not my President" they simply recycle the same trash again and again to never Trumpers who accept it as "truth" without question[/B]
n.
Let's see, Trump the autocrat fascist in his first month in office has rolled back Obama's war on coal, instituted a policy requiring a 2 to 1 reduction in Federal regulations for new regulations, turned over control of bathrooms and other facilities to the states, pressed Congress for a free market oriented replacement for Obamacare, lobbied businesses to make more private investment in the US and commissioned a study aimed at reducing the dictatorial power of the unaccountable Dodd Frank bureacrats. Those actions are the polar opposite of what an autocrat would do. But to a radical Leftist professor probably protected by tenure, facts don't matter.
And how long are you Rightists gonna YAP about this one??

This post also gets a big: BS from here!!

PS: All of you Rightists are far and away behind the times.HELL

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Old 02-25-2017, 09:47 PM
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Default Re: “We have at most a year to defend American democracy, perhaps less“

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Originally Posted by Uncle Jim View Post
And how long are you Rightists gonna YAP about this one??

This post also gets a big: BS from here!!

PS: All of you Rightists are far and away behind the times.HELL
Oh yea?

Explain to me if we are so far behind the times how the left and you, have lost over 1,000 seats in State and Federal Government? How is it that now 33 States have TOTAL REPUBLICAN CONTROL?

The country has moved on. It is in FACT you who has been left behind. It is you who are so "yesterday"

So the B.S. is yours alright. You spew it forth with regularity.

You lost the election. Why don't you sit down and STFU.

Regards, Kirk
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Old 02-25-2017, 09:50 PM
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Default Re: “We have at most a year to defend American democracy, perhaps less“

Quote:
Originally Posted by FrancSevin View Post
The founders of our Democratic Republic envisioned one which was as large as necessary but yet as small and intrusive as possible. The new occupant of the executive Office is attempting against all winds to return our government to be in line with that concept.

How is that a threat to the Democracy can only be justified in the mind and soul of an irrational Alinsky progressive.
Great he wants to bring us back to the 18th century where slavery was legal, genocide was a policy and women had no rights...
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Damn shame it couldn't have been a father / son event. IMHO.
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Old 02-25-2017, 10:10 PM
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Default Re: “We have at most a year to defend American democracy, perhaps less“

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Originally Posted by winston53660 View Post
Great he wants to bring us back to the 18th century where slavery was legal, genocide was a policy and women had no rights...


Looks like the falsehood of the week here...

I guess one could call it a lie, but that seems so blunt.

Regards, Kirk
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Old 02-25-2017, 11:59 PM
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Default Re: “We have at most a year to defend American democracy, perhaps less“

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Originally Posted by 300 H and H View Post


Looks like the falsehood of the week here...

I guess one could call it a lie, but that seems so blunt.

Regards, Kirk
Personally I think we should move beyond Founding Fathers and their time period. After all they were quit revolutionary with their knowledge base. And today we have an incredible knowledge base. We can have fresh living shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico on your plate in Idaho. Or giant prawns from China. We can also do things like heart transplants, lung transplants as well as kidney transplants. I think the Founding Fathers would be proud of accomplishments like this. What I do not think they would be proud of is a reliance on their 18th century understanding in the 21st century. One thing I do think they would agree with is people having opportunity.
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Originally Posted by TiredRetired View Post
Damn shame it couldn't have been a father / son event. IMHO.

Last edited by winston53660; 02-26-2017 at 12:07 AM..
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Old 02-26-2017, 06:22 AM
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Default Re: “We have at most a year to defend American democracy, perhaps less“

Quote:
Originally Posted by winston53660 View Post
Great he wants to bring us back to the 18th century where slavery was legal, genocide was a policy and women had no rights...
An irrational rant. I notend the absence of any justification for the wild claims. Of course it is just the same with the OP.
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