Gary Dorrien, the distinguished Union Theological and Columbia University historian, reviews Timothy Snyder’s bestselling anti-Trump manifesto, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, in the current Christian Century. While endorsing most of what Snyder writes, Dorrien takes him to task for saying “nothing about the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, which drew enormous crowds, and almost nothing about economic injustice.” Snyder, according to Dorrien, “underplays the necessity of building a resistance movement that asks rude questions, challenges normal politics, does not delay out of politeness or caution, and creates new organizations demanding equality and democratic accountability.”
I haven’t read Snyder’s book, but have read much of what he has written about Trump for the New York Review of Books. Snyder is a highly regarded historian of Eastern and Central Europe, best known for his books Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin and Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning. He sees Trump as a familiar authoritarian figure who poses a grave threat to American democracy, and On Tyranny urges Americans to get back to basic democratic hygiene: “Defend institutions,” “Do not obey in advance,” “Believe in truth.” Dorrien reports that Snyder recently warned that some version of the Reichstag fire is “pretty much inevitable.” Trump will then declare a state of emergency and move to govern autocratically, challenging the fundamental institutions of American democracy.
Dorrien takes these warnings seriously, but is impatient with Snyder for advocating “small-bore” solutions instead of calling for a more robust political resistance in the unvarnished Sanders mode. “Authoritarian nationalism is best opposed by a democratic alternative,” he writes.