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Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so.
Here are 20 lessons from across the fearful 20th century, adapted to the circumstances of today.
1. Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.
2. Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.
3. Recall professional ethics. When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.
4. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words. Look out for the expansive use of “terrorism” and “extremism.” Be alive to the fatal notions of “exception” and “emergency.” Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.
5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don’t fall for it.
6. Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don’t use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.) What to read? Perhaps “The Power of the Powerless” by Václav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czeslaw Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev.
7. Stand out. Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.
8. Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.
9. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Bookmark PropOrNot or other sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.
10. Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.
11. Make eye contact and small talk. This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.
12. Take responsibility for the face of the world. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.
13. Hinder the one-party state. The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can.
14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can. Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.
15. Establish a private life. Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.
16. Learn from others in other countries. Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports.
17. Watch out for the paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.
18. Be reflective if you must be armed. If you carry a weapon in public service, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.)
19. Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.
20. Be a patriot. The incoming president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.
Timothy Snyder, a Yale history professor and historian of Eastern Europe, originally published this on Facebook. He is the author of “Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning.” Twitter: @TimothyDSnyder
Dear US citizens who want to move to Canada because of the election,
Recently your country has elected Donald Trump to be your president for the next four years. This concerns a great deal of us up here in Canada (and conversely there are some up here that think it’s a great idea). I’m sure it concerns many of you too. In fact I know it as it is hard to escape this reality. The blogosphere, Facebook, Reddit, and even the coffee room is abuzz with this. #Notmypresident is a thing now. People are talking about impeachment before Trump has served a day in office. I get it, people are upset. However I have a few talking points I would like to convey to you at present.
First off, Canada is not a consolation prize, it is a privilege to live here and one that is very difficult to achieve. Just because you don’t like the outcome of your election doesn’t mean we want you here. Quite frankly, we don’t have room. I mean if we even take half of the people who voted for Clinton then we would double our population. But to be honest, we don’t really want you here. We like being your neighbours, but we don’t really want you to move into our house when your left hand is upset with your right hand.
Second, I think you are needed in the USA. Honestly. I really do. Someone has to undo the damage your Democratic Party has done to its base. What they did to Bernie and his supporters is beyond the pale. Actively working against one candidate and for another when they were supposed to be impartial, gaslighting Bernie’s supporters when they complained, impugning their integrity after Wikileaks proved you worked against them, telling them you could win the election without them and you were better off without them. Give your head a shake. You need to make up with these people and then you need to come up with a way to join together. Otherwise what you are looking at in your home is going to become a very familiar story.
Third, you need to get over the delusion that things were that much better under Obama. Obama also has been bombing the shit out of brown people, more so than Bush ever did. He gave you a shitty healthcare option that only gave the health insurance companies more power when he could have pushed for single payer when the democrats owned the Presidency, the House and the Senate. He never did close Guantanamo nor did he even stop the torture that was happening there. Then there was the incident where that man literally went to Flint, Michigan and drank poisonous water and declared it safe. Sure, harm was very unlikely to come to him from drinking such a little amount however is sure as fuck was and still is, to this day and beyond, to all the residents of Flint whom are still there being forced to deal with what I would describe as Hell. If you think I’m being facetious about Flint, think again. If you were the mother of a small child in Flint and are without means, your options are to knowingly poison your children and let them die a slow death or to deny them water and let them die a fast death. The icing on this Hell Cake is when the guy who is supposed to be on your side, Obama, the President of the people, comes to Flint, and you get your hopes up that he’s going to fix this mess but then he not only doesn’t but he almost literally stabs you in the back instead. So Trump might be a lot of things but to date I don’t think he’s ever actually perpetuated the poisoning of an entire community.
Fourth, and finally (not because I couldn’t go on, but because this is getting too long to retain the reader’s interest) you have one of the biggest privileges known to man in this word, that being having citizenship in the most powerful country in the world. With that citizenship you can actually get involved in the democratic process and be the change you want to see. Bernie supporters, this goes double for you. You need to double down and get involved in the party you were so motivated to elect Bernie to just a few months ago. Bernie always said he couldn’t do this alone, that he needed people like him to be elected in all the different offices aside him for him to do the things he wanted to do. This remains true today. And it is now, the “quiet” periods of politics where these shifts really happen. If you want the revolution that Bernie offered then now is the time to go out and make it happen! It certainly won’t happen if you run away to a different country.
Fascinating article by Thomas Barker- here is the conclusion. Find the rest on Counterpunch.
As with so much of the racial tension in the United States, the origins of the present situation can be traced back to slavery. In his ground-breaking work on the American slave system, the historian John Blassingame has suggested that black passivity in the antebellum South existed primarily in the minds of whites—on the one hand, to justify white paternalism, and, on the other, to dispel the fear that they felt toward slaves: ‘Like a man whistling in the dark to bolster his courage, the white man had to portray the slave as [passive].’ Although, of course, much has changed since the transatlantic slave trade, there is no reason to suspect this ideology has been altogether vanquished. The underlying cause, it seems, is still fear – a fear which drives liberals to identify black victimhood only with the passive. However, fear does not only manifest itself as whistling in the dark, or in the lies told to maintain high spirits, but also in the clenched fist – poised, ready to defend. The liberal media’s bitter condemnation of black radicals as mindless killers is the expressive form of this anger, of this perceived insurgent threat. And so they should feel threatened – they have no stake in eliminating racial oppression. It is, simply put, not in their class-interest.
Though, of course, the Eric Garners and the Trayvon Martins of history are deserving of immense respect, and their murderers bitter condemnation, we must not be fooled into canonizing only those who the liberal media consider to be true victims. In the fight against racism in the US, it is frequently those who fight the hardest, who in every respect give their lives to the struggle, that are excluded from the liturgy of black victims. Indeed, such individuals are frequently portrayed as the opposite, as perpetrators of unjust violence. The ideology of black victimhood which predominates in the liberal media would have us believe that only the helpless can be victims – on the contrary, I argue that those who use violent methods in the struggle against racist oppression are victims nevertheless, and worthy of remembrance. To be sure, it is only through an appreciation of such individuals that a legitimate strategy for racial equality will emerge.
Remember Garner, yes. But also remember Little Bobby Hutton, Fred Hampton, and Malcolm X.
I get email:
From the Sandyhook Promise –
“The person who killed my precious son Dylan carried 10, 30-round, large-capacity gun ammunition magazines into Sandy Hook Elementary. 300 rounds. He deliberately left the smaller-capacity magazines at home.
In approximately four minutes, he shot 154 bullets, killing 20 children and 6 educators. Five of those bullets hit my son, and in an instant, Dylan was gone.
But in the time it took the shooter to reload, 11 children were able to escape. If magazines were reduced to one-third the number of rounds available that day, just think how many more could have survived. Perhaps my son would still be alive.
Right now in New Jersey, the clock is ticking for Governor Chris Christie to decide whether or not to sign a bill into law that would reduce the size of ammunition magazines to 10 rounds – and opponents of common sense reforms from across the country are pressuring him to veto it. We need your help today to make sure Governor Christie signs this common sense, potentially life-saving bill into law before the June 30 deadline.”
Reduce the size of the magazines?
Let me ironically restate that in bold lettering – Reduce the size of the magazines? (???)
One hundred and fifty four bullets and twenty-six deaths later the people in the US are talking about reducing the size of magazines? How ridiculously absurd is this plea?
How is this even a thing? Don’t even start to talk to me about incrementalism – how many more berserk white dudes killing scores of people does it take for the US to wake the frak-up and institute gun control?