In putting The Star together we agree that it benefits not just from a variety of feature and news stories each week but diversity among the opinion pieces. “How about the holidays or a funny anecdote?” I’ve been asked when trying to come up with a topic of late. In recent weeks, though, it has not always been easy to supply the requisite entertainment or light humor.
Clearly, I am not alone in looking for words of wisdom about facing what looks to become a grim epoch in this country’s history: I apologize that two out of three columns on this page are devoted to the subject of how to conduct yourself under an authoritarian regime. (And, well, at least Jack Graves has written about his sister this week — see the bottom of the page — rather than the state of the nation, which he is also often wont to do.)
Timothy Snyder, a professor of history at Yale with a concentration on Central and Eastern Europe as well as the Holocaust, is the author of “Twenty Lessons From the 20th Century, Adapted to the Circumstances of Today,” an essay that is making the rounds online. He speaks 5 and reads 10 European languages, and has written six award-winning books and co-authored others. He is a prolific essayist and commentator on American politics.
“Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin” traces the circumstances that led to dictatorship in Germany and Russia. It has won 12 awards and been translated into 33 languages. His most recent book, “Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning,” will appear in 24 foreign editions.
What better academic to take advice from now?
“Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism,” Mr. Snyder writes in prefacing his “20 Lessons.”
Here are a few of his maxims that seem most appropriate to follow today:
“When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words. . . . Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“Give regularly to good causes, if you can. Pick a charity and set up auto-pay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.”
“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.”
Until the Electoral College confirmed Donald Trump as president-elect on Monday, I refused to believe he would make it to the White House. Now, I’m afraid, it is time to take advice like Professor Snyder’s to heart.