Resisting the Un-Presidency: A 20-Point Guide to Defending Democracy Under Trump by Timothy Snyder – Housum Professor of History at Yale University

This is a time of great danger for our children and we must do everything we can to imagine the impact of the duping of the public and the election of an un-president. If we are going to see through the unscrupulous entrapment of the democratic process we must think deeply about what’s gone wrong. We need to know as much as we can about the way the world works – and doesn’t work, what’s happening now and how we can respond to the events that are taking place.

For both young and old there has been a tacit understanding that we are no longer vulnerable to the tactics of indoctrination used by Hitler in the 1930’s in Germany – we believe we would not be so susceptible, that it happened there but could not happen here, that it happened then but could not happen now.

It is happening here and now.

Once we get over the shock our task is to ask why and then what can we do to change the future, fast approaching. The surging wave of “billionaire populism” will hasten the negative impact of carbon producing human societies on our children and the planet. Understanding this surge requires much greater knowledge than most of us have about how narcissism blinds men of power and privilege to the suffering of the poor, how many people are so susceptible to deception, and how mass-hysteria blinds people to the consequences of the propaganda that is instilled in them.

Seriously. We do not have power. We are not rich. But we have fine minds and must use them now to understand how this human catastrophe, which will have dangerous repercussions for our children, has happened, and what we can do about it.

Timothy Snyder, the renowned Yale historian makes this case in a 20-point guide to defending democracy under a Trump presidency. Snyder states:

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 Snyder’s twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today. Save them on every electronic device you have. Make multiple copies. Keep one in your kitchen drawer, your desk, tuck them into books, and keep copies in your bags. Share them with your friends, family and colleagues. Be vigilant. Our human inclination is to normalize, rationalize, and be easy on ourselves. Do not. We must not. Here’s Snyder:

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.

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. Learn about 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.

This 20-point guide was originally published as a Facebook post by Timothy Snyder, the Housum Professor of History at Yale University and author of  Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning.


Related: #14 – “Give regularly to good causes, if you can.”

View the resource list from Garn Press. A list of more than 80 organizations and advocacy groups that need our support.

View the complete list here.

So where does this leave us – we who live our lives small? Somewhere? Or no place at all? The take-away at Garn Press is that we must work harder to participate in positive ways in a society we admire and want to sustain. We will not kowtow to despots or kings and we hope you’ll follow suit – by supporting an organization in a coherent response. It is going to take everyone to participate if the values we hold dear and the people we love are to survive this ordeal. Here’s our starter list – more than 80 organizations and advocacy groups.


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