Friday, November 25, 2016

What You Can Do: Twenty Lessons From Twentieth Century History

From Yale History professor Timothy Snyder's Facebook page:

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 twenty lessons from the twentieth 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 Czesław 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.


  1. Be alert. Your country needs lerts. (A car sticker seen many years ago. Silly but pertinent.)

  2. That's a good list, Cat. I'm saving that one to read more than once.

    1. Glad you found it helpful, Susan. I also thought it useful and very powerful. Certainly gives one food for thought.

  3. Rather a forceful list; ah, my....

    I note that the recount fundraising is currently at 5.5 megabucks; some folks find it fishy, presumptuous and otherwise objectionable. Tough, say I.

    And then there are Deadlines! And Laws! [Click] This recount business could become more fun than a barrel full of monkeys! What if all three states should fail to get their recounts done in time to have their electoral votes counted? I will check on that and get back to you shortly.


    1. Nah, just knocking out WI, MI and PA would still leave DT ahead in the Electoral College, from the looks of it.


      P.S.: I see that Rocky de la Fuente also requested a recount in WI. In a case like that, do the application fees or costs get prorated?

    2. Haven't heard much about Rocky. He was on our primary ballot and Sis and I were like, "Who's he?" :)

  4. From the inbox: Note that DFA and MoveOn could only jump on the bandwagon once Stein had gotten it rolling. :P

    UPDATE: We're blown away. Since Democracy for America shared the following
    message with you on Thanksgiving, grassroots donors have increased Jill
    Stein's swing state recount fund by more than $1 million. According to the
    Stein campaign, the Wisconsin and Pennsylvania recounts are now fully
    funded and a new goal has been set to cover the costs of a final recount
    in Michigan. [1]Want to see all three swing state recounts happen? Chip in
    what you can right now. On behalf of everyone at DFA, thank you for
    stepping up today. -- Charles Chamberlain, Executive Director, Democracy
    for America


  5. Cont.

    Cat --

    What seemed nearly impossible is now becoming a reality -- because of
    Americans like you.

    Just 24 hours ago, the unprecedented movement to audit the presidential
    vote in swing states seemed like a "Hail Mary" pass -- extremely unlikely
    to happen, even if it served to raise awareness about the integrity of our

    But -- riding a sudden tidal wave of bottom-up grassroots activism --
    Democracy for America and MoveOn members demanded action, fueling momentum
    by signing petitions and calling decision-makers on the eve of

    [2]This organic movement's "Hail Mary" was answered on Wednesday afternoon
    by Jill Stein -- a presidential candidate with legal standing to call for
    a full recount of election results -- when she unexpectedly announced that
    she will initiate recounts in three swing states if she can immediately
    raise the millions necessary to pay for it.

    Fewer than 100,000 votes spread across three states -- Wisconsin,
    Michigan, and Pennsylvania -- separate Hillary Clinton and Donald
    Trump. To meet the deadlines for a full recount in these three decisive
    states -- which could cost $6-7 million, according to the Stein campaign
    -- Stein announced that she needed to raise $2.5 million to meet Friday's
    first recount deadline in Wisconsin.


  6. Cont.

    * Public trust in the integrity of our elections is a bedrock principle
    of our democracy. But a recount can happen in Wisconsin and Michigan
    only if a presidential campaign requests it. And the Clinton campaign
    hasn't acted. So the Stein campaign's effort is the only way to set
    all three recounts in motion. Triggering this process may also help
    pressure states to ensure they prioritize vote tally processes that
    can't be hacked and can easily be verified in cases of close races.

    [4]No matter the outcome, supporting full recounts in these swing states
    is a critical action you can take right now to protect and preserve the
    health of our democracy. Join with DFA and MoveOn -- click here to
    contribute directly to the Stein campaign's recount fund right now.

    Want to know more? Read the language on the donation page that the Stein
    campaign is updating constantly at the link above, which fully explains
    their recount plans and next steps.

    Thank you for stepping up to take a meaningful action in this critical
    moment for the future of our democracy.

    - Eden

    Eden James, Political Director
    Democracy for America

  7. Concl.

    P.S. This unprecedented campaign has a strong chance of succeeding because
    people like you are sharing it with their friends and family on
    Thanksgiving, at family gatherings across the country and on Facebook,
    Twitter, and other social media platforms. Once you've chipped in, please
    spread the word! You can [5]click here to share the recount fund link on
    Facebook, or forward this message to your friends.


    Visible links

    1. Ah, phooey! Didn't realize that was so long. And I should have placed the continuations in replies. Sorry.

  8. Only somebody who had standing as a candidate could ask for a recount. Jill did, DFA et al did not. I really don't think they should pat themselves on the back for something they did not initiate. Now people who supported Jill are mad at her for "helping Hillary". That is not what she's doing. What she is doing is verifying that the vote we cast is the actual vote that gets counted, not flipped, not discarded, but counted the same way we cast it.

    And I still have to wonder why Hillary didn't ask for a recount. To heck with looking like a sore loser, Republicans do it all the time.