Digby's Hullabaloo
2801 Ocean Park Blvd.
Box 157
Santa Monica, Ca 90405

Facebook: Digby Parton

@BloggersRUs (Tom Sullivan)

thedigbyblog at gmail
satniteflix at gmail
publius.gaius at gmail
tpostsully at gmail
Spockosbrain at gmail
Richardein at me.com


Mother Jones
Raw Story
Huffington Post
Crooks and Liars
American Prospect
New Republic

Denofcinema.com: Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

January 2003 February 2003 March 2003 April 2003 May 2003 June 2003 July 2003 August 2003 September 2003 October 2003 November 2003 December 2003 January 2004 February 2004 March 2004 April 2004 May 2004 June 2004 July 2004 August 2004 September 2004 October 2004 November 2004 December 2004 January 2005 February 2005 March 2005 April 2005 May 2005 June 2005 July 2005 August 2005 September 2005 October 2005 November 2005 December 2005 January 2006 February 2006 March 2006 April 2006 May 2006 June 2006 July 2006 August 2006 September 2006 October 2006 November 2006 December 2006 January 2007 February 2007 March 2007 April 2007 May 2007 June 2007 July 2007 August 2007 September 2007 October 2007 November 2007 December 2007 January 2008 February 2008 March 2008 April 2008 May 2008 June 2008 July 2008 August 2008 September 2008 October 2008 November 2008 December 2008 January 2009 February 2009 March 2009 April 2009 May 2009 June 2009 July 2009 August 2009 September 2009 October 2009 November 2009 December 2009 January 2010 February 2010 March 2010 April 2010 May 2010 June 2010 July 2010 August 2010 September 2010 October 2010 November 2010 December 2010 January 2011 February 2011 March 2011 April 2011 May 2011 June 2011 July 2011 August 2011 September 2011 October 2011 November 2011 December 2011 January 2012 February 2012 March 2012 April 2012 May 2012 June 2012 July 2012 August 2012 September 2012 October 2012 November 2012 December 2012 January 2013 February 2013 March 2013 April 2013 May 2013 June 2013 July 2013 August 2013 September 2013 October 2013 November 2013 December 2013 January 2014 February 2014 March 2014 April 2014 May 2014 June 2014 July 2014 August 2014 September 2014 October 2014 November 2014 December 2014 January 2015 February 2015 March 2015 April 2015 May 2015 June 2015 July 2015 August 2015 September 2015 October 2015 November 2015 December 2015 January 2016 February 2016 March 2016 April 2016 May 2016 June 2016 July 2016 August 2016 September 2016 October 2016 November 2016 December 2016 January 2017 February 2017 March 2017 April 2017 May 2017 June 2017 July 2017 August 2017 September 2017 October 2017 November 2017 December 2017 January 2018 February 2018 March 2018 April 2018 May 2018 June 2018 July 2018 August 2018 September 2018 October 2018 November 2018 December 2018 January 2019 February 2019


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?


Sunday, July 30, 2017

Stay vigilant

by digby

I sense that people are staying to think that because Trump is an imbecile he can't really do much harm. That's wrong.

Jeffrey Toobin writes a bit
about the Sessions jihad in The New Yorker today and points out all all the terrible things Sessions is doing to enact the Trump agenda all of which is a nightmare. But he goes on to make an important point about the "rule of law" problem:
All these initiatives are unwise, unjust, and counterproductive, but they nevertheless represent the kind of change that tends to occur when an Administration of one political party takes over from the other. Elections, it is often noted, have consequences. President Trump’s behavior, however, represents a different kind of change—one that threatens the basic norms underlying our system of government. No President in recent history has treated his Attorney General solely as a political, or even as a personal, functionary. When Alberto Gonzales, who served as the Attorney General under George W. Bush, fired U.S. Attorneys for failing to do the bidding of the Republican Party, Gonzales, quite properly, lost his job, too. He had violated a principle that, until now, seemed inviolate: that the Attorney General serves the public, not the political interests of the President who appoints him.

Trump’s fixation on the personal allegiance of members of his Administration also led to his decision to fire James Comey as the F.B.I. director. As Comey recounted in his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Trump repeatedly pressed him for his loyalty—demands that Comey tried to finesse, until the President abruptly ended his tenure. Congress set the term of F.B.I. directors at ten years, in order to establish a standard of political independence for them; no President had heretofore violated that tradition out of personal or political pique. But, as bad as the decision to fire Comey was, and as lamentable as Trump’s attempted defenestration of Sessions is, the President may be heading toward even more dramatic departures from American norms in the near future.

Trump now seems set on terminating Mueller’s investigation, which he could attempt to do by directing the head of the Justice Department (whoever that winds up being) to fire him. This, of course, would be reminiscent of President Nixon’s determination, in October, 1973, to fire Archibald Cox, the Watergate special prosecutor. But a dismissal of Mueller would be worse. Nixon clashed with Cox over what was at least an arguable matter of principle—specifically, whether the prosecutor had the right to subpoena the White House tapes. Trump wants Mueller gone simply because he doesn’t want to be investigated. An order to fire Mueller would be an abuse of power, but one in keeping with the way that Trump has conducted his Presidency. On the Saturday night that Cox was fired, he said, “Whether ours shall continue to be a government of laws and not of men is now for Congress and ultimately the American people” to decide. So it remains today.

I am reminded today of this interview with Yale historian Timothy Snyder who has been warning about the authoritarian turn since the election:

A week after Donald Trump’s election, Timothy Snyder, a professor of European history at Yale, posted a long note on Facebook. “Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism,” he began. “Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.”

The note consisted of “twenty lessons from the twentieth century,” adapted to what Snyder called “the circumstances of today.” Among other things, he admonished Americans to defend democratic institutions, to not repeat the same words and phrases we hear in the media, to think clearly and critically, and to “take responsibility for the face of the world.”

The post went viral. It’s now the basis of Snyder’s new book, On Tyranny. The book is a brisk read packed with lucid prose. If it’s not quite alarmist, it’s certainly bracing. This is a call to action, a reminder that the future isn’t fixed. Being a citizen, Snyder argues, means engaging — with the world, with other people, with the truth.

“You submit to tyranny,” he writes, “when you renounce the difference between what you want to hear and what is actually the case.”

If there’s a recurring theme in On Tyranny, it’s that accepting untruth is a precondition of tyranny. “Post-truth is pre-fascism,” he warns, and “to abandon facts is to abandon freedom.”

In this interview, I talk to Snyder about the book, the fragility of America’s liberal democratic system, and what we might learn from Europe’s descent into fascism.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Sean Illing
This is a brief book, but you cover a lot of ground. The tone is measured but also urgent. You write as though the American political order is truly imperiled.

Timothy Snyder
Absolutely. I believe it is. I wrote the book in a few days in December, so it was all done a month before the inauguration. It sounded true at the time, and it sounds even more true now. These are thoughts I had relatively long ago. As a historian, I understand that democratic republics fall all the time. You work on European history and you know that most times it actually doesn't work out.

You also know that the Europeans who saw their regimes change were not necessarily less wise than we are. I'd be tempted to say they're wiser, in fact. I think we have a lot of good attributes in our society, in our political system, but also we've been lucky a lot of the time. It's important to be humble and to realize that past success is no guarantee of future returns.

So what happens next is going to depend on us.

Sean Illing
The American founders were very attuned to the dangers of tyranny, and they designed a system that would guard against it. Why is that system short-circuiting now?

Timothy Snyder
I'm just going to repeat the point that you make. This is something that Americans often get wrong. We think that because we're America, everything will work itself out. This is exactly what the founders refused to believe. They thought human nature is such that you have to constrain it by institutions. They preferred rule of law and checks and balances. They were the opposite of American exceptionalists.

They thought they knew something from history because of the Greeks and Romans. In the book, I just argue that they were right and that we can also learn from more recent and relevant examples because two more centuries have passed. I think our institutions are basically okay, but there are a couple of things that have gone wrong before the election.

Sean Illing
What went wrong before the election?

Timothy Snyder
An obvious problem is the role of money in politics, the confusion between the right to free speech and the right to give as much money as you want to anyone you want. Those are obviously two different things. The founders knew, because they read Aristotle, that inequality itself is always going to be a threat to democracy. If you have too much inequality, Aristotle warned, the people will grow tired of oligarchs. And someone like Trump will come along and say, well, the world's run by billionaires but at least I'll be your billionaire, which is false and demagogic and generally horrible.

But it makes a certain kind of sense when you've already reached a point of extremity.

Sean Illing
Tell me about the distinction you make between “a politics of inevitability” and “a politics of eternity.” I find this interesting from a political theory perspective. What you’re describing is two equally misguided orientations to politics, both of which are grounded in a false story we tell ourselves about history. The price we pay for this is blindness to the present, and to our role in shaping the future.

Timothy Snyder
It all starts with me trying to assert that history matters, that we have to start from history itself and not from the comforting or delusive myths we might have about the past. A politics of inevitability is an idea that’s been pretty widespread in the US since 1989. It’s the view that the past is messy and violent and chaotic but that we’re inching inexorably toward a freer, safer, more progressive world. The future will be better, in other words, because that’s how history works. There will be more globalization, more life, more prosperity, more democracy. But this is just not true.

No big narrative or grand stories like that are true, and they actually blind you to the very real danger of returning to the kinds of things you're saying can't happen, which is where the politics of eternity emerges.

A politics of eternity is an equally antihistorical posture. It’s a self-absorbed concern with the past, free of any real concern with facts. In the book, I call this a longing for past moments that never really happened during epochs that were, in fact, disastrous. An eternity politician seduces the populace with a vision of the past in which the nation was once great, only to be sullied by some external enemy. This focus on the past and on victimhood means people think less about possible futures, less about possible solutions to real problems.

But again, these are just stories. The truth is that history is much more open and we have much more agency and responsibility than we think.

Sean Illing
This reminds me of a recent discussion I had with Fareed Zakaria. People mistakenly assume that history moves in only one direction, that liberal democracy is the logical endpoint of Western civilization. But that’s clearly not the case. History, like everything else, is in flux, and the range of outcomes is infinite.

Timothy Snyder
That is exactly why I wrote the book. I was afraid the dominant narrative reaction would be something like: “Oh, well, it's a bump in the road. It's a detour. The institutions will handle it. It'll all be fine in the end, right?” That's what we were talking about earlier. That's the politics of inevitability. That's just not true.

It's just not true that things have any kind of direction. That's a big intellectual mistake that we made in 1989. We put ourselves to sleep and now we're having a rough awakening, and the rough awakening has to lead us to realize that no, we're actually in charge, and things can go in all kinds of directions.

Sean Illing
A recurring theme of your book is that many democracies have failed in circumstances that resemble our own. Tell me what you mean by “circumstances that resemble our own.”

Timothy Snyder
Well, for one, people overlook the fact that regime change in a democracy usually happens after an election — that’s when we have to be on guard. There are dramatic cases like the Bolshevik Revolution where a very, very young republic was overturned by a true revolution, but usually what happens is the scenario begins with an election, a big election. This is how Hitler came to power, for instance. His party won more votes than anyone else. Once inside, he decided the system needed to be changed. Something similar happened with the communists in Czechoslovakia, who won an election in 1946 and then wanted to carry out a coup d’état.

But to answer your basic question: The general circumstances are when an unusual figure is elected by way of normal mechanisms at a time when for other reasons the system is under stress. That’s the basic setup, and that’s what I was referring to.

Sean Illing
You said a minute ago that you still believe in the basic viability of our institutions. But I wonder if that’s true for the majority of Americans. This last election showed, among other things, that a lot of people have lost faith in public institutions. They elected a man in large part because he wasn’t a product of these institutions. It seems they were willing to flirt with disaster to register their disgust with the system.

So we’re already in a very dangerous place. A liberal democracy can’t survive if people don’t believe in it.

Timothy Snyder
We're not just flirting. We're in a long-term relationship with disaster. The question is whether we get out of it in time. There are two steps here. The first is dealing with these flawed institutions; there’s too much stress in the system. There's gerrymandering, for example, which is an affront to the one-vote-for-one-person principle. These are problems that have to be addressed.

But we’re in a stage now where we have to first rescue the flawed system and then work to improve it. In order to do that, one does have to have some idea of an America that would be better, right? It's an aspiration of America that would be improved. It's not enough to say, “Let's go back to 2016.” We have to have some idea of this as an experience from which one learns and then applies those lessons.

So I do believe our institutions in their logic are basically sound, but I agree with you that they will have to be corrected. The doubt that Americans have for institutions has to be mobilized toward a sense that they can improve as opposed to a cynicism about institutions and rules in general.

If we reach that point where people say, nothing ever works, it's all nonsense, then we really are done.

Sean Illing
Are we there already? My sense is that November 8 was a Rubicon-crossing moment for the country. But you’re a historian, and this is a book about historical lessons, so tell me there’s a non-terrifying precedent for this.

Talk me off the ledge!

Timothy Snyder
My whole gambit in this book is that I'm not a US historian. I'm a historian of Europe, and the experience I'm bringing to bear is what happened to many European democracies and what people I admire have to say about how they resisted and what they learned when beating back authoritarianism. These are the sources of my book, and I believe the lessons learned in the 20th century apply equally to the 21st century.

History doesn't give you perfect analogues, perfect parallels. It doesn't repeat, and it doesn't even rhyme, but it does present patterns.

Sean Illing
Well, let’s talk about one of those patterns, namely the discrediting of truth in totalitarian regimes.

Timothy Snyder
This whole idea we're dealing with now about the alternative facts and post-factuality is pretty familiar to the 1920s. It’s a vision that's very similar to the central premise of the fascist vision. It's important because if you don't have the facts, you don't have the rule of law. If you don't have the rule of law, you can't have democracy.

And people who want to get rid of democracy and the rule of law understand this because they actively propose an alternative vision. The everyday is boring, they say. Forget about the facts. Experts are boring. Let's instead attach ourselves to a much more attractive and basically fictional world.

So I'm not saying that Trump is just like the fascists of 1920s, but I am saying this isn’t new.

Sean Illing
In the book, you say that abandoning facts means abandoning freedom.

Timothy Snyder
That's absolutely the case. The thing that makes you an individual, the thing that makes you stand out, is your ability to figure out what's going on for yourself. If you abandon that, then you open yourself up to some grand dream, and you cease to be free in any meaningful sense.

Sean Illing
Abandoning facts also means abandoning truth, and a civilization can’t get along without shared truths.

Timothy Snyder
Sociologists say that a belief in truth is what makes trust in authority possible. Without trust, without respect for journalists or doctors or politicians, a society can’t hang together. Nobody trusts anyone, which leaves society open to resentment and propaganda, and of course to demagogues.

If a community or country can't hold together horizontally by way of an idea of factuality, then someone comes along vertically with a huge myth, and that person wins.

Sean Illing
When you address this in the book, your intended audience is individual citizens. “Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given,” you write. “Individuals offer themselves without being asked.” Political theorists have understood for a long time that the foundation of political power is consent, which can always be withdrawn. But this is not well understood by most citizens.

Timothy Snyder
I think Americans do understand this well enough for normal times. In normal times, consent means political consent, as expressed in voting. What Americans might not understand is that in abnormal times, when the political system as they understand it is shaken and transformed, they can express consent to these changes without being aware that they are doing so. In normal political times, this sort of social adjustment would also be normal. But in times like these, our impulse to adjust takes on radical political significance.

Sean Illing
Are you optimistic about the potential for collective action in this environment?

Timothy Snyder
Collective action is hard, but there are real opportunities. If we manage to get our heads away from the screens, if we manage to meet people and talk to people with whom we disagree, then there can be new forms of action which may turn out to be effective. It doesn't have to be that all Americans at exactly the same time do the same thing.

If 10,000 little groups do 5,000 little things, that will make a tremendous difference.

Sean Illing
What’s the most important — and relevant — lesson in the book? What do you urge people to do with these historical truths?

Timothy Snyder
The book has 20 lessons in there, and they're of a different character. Some people are going to find some of them more relevant than others. What I want to emphasize is the instruction of the people who survived and learned about totalitarianism. There is wisdom in their examples, in what they did in those dramatic moments. For example, people who lived through fascism understand that when governments talk about terrorism and extremism, you have to be on guard, because these are always the words you hear before your rights are taken away from you.

If another terrorist attack occurs in the United States, which unfortunately is very likely, we have to be vigilant about what comes next. For these are the moments when rights are lost and regimes are changed. So we have to be prepared for that.

We can’t trade our actual freedom for a false feeling of security.