September 29, 2019

Everything old is new again.

Rachel Maddow resurrected a viral Facebook post from just after Trump's election (which has since become a small book) that offers guidance on how we can protect ourselves and our nation's institutions in the face of impending facism. It was written by Timothy Snyder, a professor at Yale who has studied Russia and Ukraine for 25 years. He knows that of which he speaks. His Facebook post began,

Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, naziism, 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 the 20th century adapted to the circumstances of today.

Nearly three years later, with the authoritarian, fascist slag heap in the White House facing impeachment, Maddow brought Professor Snyder back on to her show Friday night for a re-visitation of that guide, and a discussion of how our nation has been faring. Of the book, she said,

It's a very short book. It fits in your pocket. it is filled with sobering and very specific advice for being a citizen in a country that is at risk. Being a citizen in a country where democratic norms and the basics of our system of government suddenly don't seem like a given anymore. It's not an activist's guide per se, it's a survivor's guide. "the new york times" advised approaching it like a medical pamphlet on an infectious disease. Quote, read it carefully and be on the lookout for symptoms.

Then she read a few of those twenty lessons to her audience, and they were each, for their own reasons, absolutely chilling.

Case in point, lesson number two, defend institutions. It is institutions that help us to preserve decency. They need our help as well...They fall one after the other unless each is defended from the beginning. So choose an institution you care about a court, a newspaper, a law, a labor union, and take its side.

This is from lesson 14. Establish a private life. Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push your around. Scrub your computer of malware on a regular basis. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Tyrants seek the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have hooks.

I'll give you one more, this is from lesson 5. And this one has been stuck into me all this week like a splinter under a finger nail. You will see why when I tell you what it is. Lessons 5 is remember professional ethics. When political leaders set negative examples, professional commitments to just practice become more important. It's hard to subvert a rule-of-law state without lawyers, or to hold show trials without judges. Authoritarians need obedient civil servants. Concentration camp directors seek businessmen interested in cheap labor.

How ripe were we for this national destruction in 2016? How willing are we to fight it now? "Concentration camp directors seek businessmen interested in cheap labor." How ARE those babies in cages at the border doing right about now?

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