On May 4, 2018, VoxFairfax reviewed Timothy Snyder’s 119-page On Tyranny (2017) in a post entitled “A Political Disease That Can Happen Here” (https://voxfairfax.com/2018/05/04/tyranny-a-political-disease-that-can-happen-here/). The news of the past week regarding the President’s usurpation of the Department of Justice, portends, a short 21 months later: It Is Happening.
Tyranny is defined by Snyder as the usurpation of power by a single individual or group, or the circumvention of law by rulers for their own benefit.
Tyranny doesn’t show its face overnight. It has a stealth-like quality, gradually creeping up on society. Plato believed that demagogues exploited free speech to install themselves as tyrants. Consider 1930s Germany. All of a sudden, it seems as though events we believed could never happen here are beginning to happen.
In our 2018 review, we quoted the author as warning against complacency, the feeling that, surely, it cannot happen here. As Snyder says,
The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.
It can’t happen here? We cannot think this way. As Snyder says, the politics of inevitability [that bad things won’t be allowed to happen] is a self-induced intellectual coma.
In the American Revolution, we declared that we would not be ruled by a king. The Declaration of Independence noted that King George has obstructed the Administration of Justice. It famously went on,
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness….
In other words: we will not be governed by a tyrant.
This President has indeed acted as a tyrant. He has tried to restrict immigration from all over the world; he has put children in cages as if they were threats to America; he has ruined our alliances worldwide; he has encouraged violence at his rallies; he has cozied up to tyrants such as Putin and Kim Jong Un; he has insulted and disregarded the institutions designed to ensure our safety, such as the intelligence community; he has stated that as President, he can do anything he wishes; he has enabled criminal behavior by his cohorts; and much more.
The President’s Attorney General–and he really is just that–takes over line department functions when their rulings displease the emperor. Resignations ensue. Shades of the Saturday Night Massacre of 1973. But what is so startling, and frightening, now, is that, since removal after impeachment has failed, there appears to be no remedy, short of the next election. And the President can cause a lot of harm in 8.5 months.
Unfortunately, because of the Senate Sheep, impeachment for such behavior did not result in conviction or, as some promised, a change in the President’s behavior.
We are now living in a dangerous time with our freedom at risk.
It’s worth recalling some of Snyder’s 20 lessons:
√ DEFEND INSTITUTIONS. Institutions will not automatically maintain themselves against attack.
√ STAND OUT. It can be difficult to do or say something different. [Or to obey congressional subpoenas even when the executive forbids it.] The moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.
√ BELIEVE IN TRUTH. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. Once truth has become oracular rather than factual, evidence becomes irrelevant. A drumbeat of propaganda is used to arouse feelings before people can ascertain facts. Post-truth is pre-fascism.
So, what now? As the President becomes more outrageous and out of control, what may we expect from a Congress ignored? The Senate GOP find its backbone? Sure, we can vote them out, but that’s still some 34 weeks away. It would appear that all we have left is the courts, possibly inspectors general. But is there more we can do?
We can refuse to accept the new normal.
We can talk. We can organize. We can protest the looming loss of democracy. Along with preparing for the election to come, We can make ourselves heard, over and over again, so that it is clear we do not acquiesce in what is happening to our country. We can challenge evil acts in the courts. We can demand action from our members of Congress. We can amplify our voices in groups and in the press. In short, we can refuse to act as if everything is OK; we can refuse to accept the new normal.
Shocked by the sudden rise of an evil ruler, Hamlet laments, The time is out of joint. O cursed spite,/ That ever I was born to set it right!
We can–and must–also talk with those with whom we disagree. It seems that many liberals fear doing this. We must have confidence in the strength of our convictions. If we cannot argue for what is right, who will?
Hamlet’s prescription fits: Nay, come, let’s go together.