Selma. Chicago. Charlottesville. Ferguson. Minneapolis. These are a few cities whose mention alone evokes painful memories of protest and repression. To that list can now be added Portland, which has witnessed federal forces for weeks acting like enforcers of foreign dictatorships. And more cities are threatened.
On May 4, 2018, VoxFairfax published a review of “TYRANNY: A POLITICAL DISEASE THAT CAN HAPPEN HERE” (https://wp.me/p9wDCF-6s). On February 17, 2020, we published another article commenting on the book, “ON TYRANNY Redux” (https://wp.me/p9wDCF-17f). Due to events in Portland, it is time for an updated look.
The slim tome, On Tyranny, by Timothy Snyder, was published in 2017. Tyranny can be defined as the usurpation of power by a single individual or group, or the circumvention of law by rulers for their own benefit. P45 initiated the federal special operations policing recently engaged in in Portland.
In recent days, Snyder has commented on the events in Portland (see video: https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=3110986028999599&id=100002646978843&sfnsn=mo). He makes the following points:
- use of illegitimate authority by police without identification can often be a precursor to tyrannical action;
- violence frequently begins against immigrants at the border before moving into other, inland cities;
- the curtailing of human rights can lead to the curtailing of civil rights; and
- the best way to oppose such strategies is activism, identifying with those being targeted as if the target were you. (First they came for the immigrants, but I was not an immigrant, so I said nothing. . . .)
Tyranny may encroach on freedoms slowly, over time, such that it’s advance is barely noticed until a Portland makes it crystal clear. 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 happening here.
As the 2020 election approaches in just 84 days, it is especially critical now to think about what our country may be becoming.
As the 2020 election approaches in just 84 days, it is especially critical now to consider what our country may be becoming. What to do? Remember a couple of Snyder’s lessons:
- DEFEND INSTITUTIONS. Institutions [such as voting] will not automatically maintain themselves against attack.
- 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.
We tend to complacency, believing that tyranny could never succeed because we’d all be on guard and take steps to prevent it. P45 has shown us in no uncertain terms that this is dangerous folly.
A favorite weapon of tyrants is the ”emergency.” It is terror management. Beware the sudden disaster that requires a loss of freedom (“it’s just temporary”). As James Madison said, “tyranny arises on some favorable emergency.” (Shall we delay the election?)
We must be sure to vote, and be vigilant about ensuring the right to vote.
Between now and November 3–AND between November 4 and January 20–we must remain on high alert for what P45 may do.
Under this president, our democratic heritage will not automatically protect us from these threats. Between now and November 3–AND between November 4 and January 20–we must remain on high alert for what P45 may do.
L’etat c’est moi. Only if we let it be.