Timothy Snyder would have preferred a different path to the best-seller lists.
The Yale University professor and scholar of European history, whose books include “Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin,” was so alarmed by the election of Donald Trump last fall that soon after he posted a list on Facebook of “20 Lessons from the 20th Century on How to Survive in Trump’s America.” His advice ranged from “Be kind to our language” to “Believe in truth” to “Do not obey in advance.”
The list went viral and the Penguin Random House imprint Tim Duggan Books released an expanded, pocket-sized edition of Snyder’s warnings that quickly reached high on Amazon.com’s best-seller list. With more than 100,000 copies in print, “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century” has become a guide for many worried about democracy under Trump’s administration, a nonfiction counterpart to such dystopian best-sellers as “1984” and “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
During a recent interview with The Associated Press, Snyder spoke of why he posted the initial list, what concerns him now and what he’d like to see happen.
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ON HIS INITIAL FACEBOOK POSTING
“What I thought I should try to do as quickly as possible, and economically as possible, concisely as possible, was pass on what I think I understand about regime change, in the negative sense, from democracy to authoritarianism. And (to pass on) what I think I’ve learned from people who are smarter than me and who have experienced more than me, in Europe in the 20th century, about what that looks like and how it should be resisted.
“And my sense, which has been confirmed in the weeks and months that followed, is that many Americans understand something strange has happened, but don’t quite know where to turn for guidance about what to do.”
ON THE STRENGTH OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY
“How long has America really been a democracy, in the sense of people being allowed to vote? I would say, circa 1965, Civil Rights Act? If not all of your citizens can vote you’re not really a democracy. So we’re talking about half a century, tops. In addition to that, we’re not a democracy now, in the very important sense that there are voter suppression laws, there is an electoral college, which means people’s votes don’t count the same as other people’s votes. There is a gerrymandered system at the level of congressional districts, so that again means people’s votes don’t count the same as other people’s votes.
“And we have an absurd amount of money in politics, which creates a situation in which someone like Mr. Trump can say, ‘Sure I’m a billionaire, but at least I’m your billionaire. You don’t know what the other side’s billionaires are.’ ”
ON WHAT HE'D LIKE TO SEE CHANGE
“The things that happen here now, that so alarm us or surprise us, have generally happened in some form in some other country in the not too distant past. But we’ve shut ourselves out from that. We’ve made ourselves much more provincial than we used to be. I would think a thoughtful government, rather than attacking the press as is the case now, would incentivize young people to go into careers in journalism. A thoughtful government would find ways to support institutions of the press which actually report abroad. This may seem like a minor thing, but really it’s not. Rather than thinking about the world, we just stare into the mirror 24 hours a day. And not surprisingly we don’t learn anything from that.”