By Steven Rosenfeld
How close is President Donald Trump to following the path blazed by last century’s tyrants? Could American democracy be replaced with totalitarian rule? There’s enough resemblance that Yale historian Timothy Snyder, who studies fascist and communist regime change and totalitarian rule, has written a book warning about the threat and offering lessons for resistance and survival. The author of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century talked to AlterNet’s Steven Rosenfeld.
Steven Rosenfeld: Three weeks ago, you said that the country has perhaps a year ‘to defend American democracy.’ You said what happens in the next few weeks is crucial. Are you more concerned than ever that our political culture and institutions are evolving toward fascism, resembling key aspects of the early 20th-century European regimes you’ve studied?
Timothy Snyder: Let me answer you in three parts. The first thing is that the 20 lessons that I wrote, I wrote on November 15th. The book, On Tyranny, was done by Christmas. Which means if people read it now, and people are reading it, and it’s describing the world they are in, that means I’ve successfully made predictions based on history. We’re going to talk about what is going to come, but I want to point out that timeline—it was basically completely blind. But the book does describe what is going on now.
So in terms of what might happen next, or what people could look out for, some kind of event that the government claims is a terrorist incident, would be something to be prepared for.
The year figure is there because we have to recognize that things move fast. Nazi Germany took about a year. Hungary took about two and a half years. Poland got rid of the top-level judiciary within a year. It’s a rough historical guess, but the point is because there is an outside limit, you therefore have to act now. You have to get started early. It’s just very practical advice. It’s the meta-advice of the past: That things slip out of reach for you, psychologically very quickly, and then legally almost as quickly. It’s hard for people to act when they feel other people won’t act. It’s hard for people to act when they feel like they have to break the law to do so. So it is important to get out in front before people face those psychological and legal barriers.
Am I more worried now? I realize that was your question. No, I’m exactly as worried as I was before, in November. I think that the people who inhabit the White House inhabit a different ideological world in which they would like for the United States not to be the constitutional system that it now is. I was concerned about that in November. I’m concerned about it now. Nothing that has happened since has changed the way I see things.
SR: Let’s talk about how this evolution takes place. You’ve written about how ‘post-truth is pre-fascism.’ You talk about leaders ignoring facts, law and history. How far along this progression are we? I’m wondering where you might see things going next.
TS: That’s tough because what history does is give you a whole bunch of cases where democratic republics become authoritarian regimes; sometimes fascist regimes, sometimes communist regimes. It doesn’t give you one storyline: A, B, C, D. It gives you a bunch of clusters of A, and a bunch of clusters of C. But factuality is really important and more important than people realize, because it’s the substructure of regime change.
We think about democracy, and that’s the word that Americans love to use, democracy, and that’s how we characterize our system. But if democracy just means going to vote, it’s pretty meaningless. …
(Commoner Call art by Mark L. Taylor, 2017. Open source and free to use with link to www.thecommonercall.org )
Researchers Examine Breitbart’s Influence On Election Information & Dawn Of A New Breed of Fascism
By Steve Innskeep
A study of 1.25 million media stories says a Breitbart-centered media ecosystem fostered the sharing of stories that were, at their core, misleading. Steve Inskeep talks to researcher Yochai Benkler.
Researchers say they better understand how we spread around the media coverage of the 2016 election. They analyzed more than 1 million stories shared on social media. And they say they discovered the outsized influence of one particular site. It’s Breitbart, whose former leader Steve Bannon advises President Trump. Researcher Yochai Benkler says his group downloaded masses of data.YOCHAI BENKLER: And we tried to see, who linked to whom on the web? Who shared on Facebook? How many times was something tweeted? Did people who tweet Breitbart tweet The New York Times or did they retweet Fox News?
INSKEEP: Benkler was drawing a picture of something we can’t really see, how millions of people find and pass on information. He’s a Harvard professor. He also works with the Open Society Foundations. Those are the pro-democracy groups funded by George Soros, the financier who has commonly backed Democrats in the United States.
Benkler’s team illustrated its findings on a chart with different news sites spread from left to right based on their apparent politics. And when I look at that chart, I think of a map of the solar system. There’s all these planets. The New York Times is a planet. And The Wall Street Journal is a planet. There are lots of other planets. And they’re different sizes depending on how busy they were.
What is the biggest planet? …