History is the most valuable touchstone we have to assess the present. To learn its lessons, and never forget them, gives us perspective and guides us so we’re not groping in the dark trying to understand movements and motives while they are quickly overtaking us. Contrary to the fanciful propaganda blathering of “ignorance is bliss” it is never an advantage to lack knowledge.
I have written of how much easier it is to hoodwink a public with no memory of the time before a certain action was taken to go back. When the entire generation of people who lived through the Great Depression and the rise of fascism and National Socialism expire, as they are close to doing, it will be that much easier to say “we don’t need Social Security anymore” or “many people suffered in the Holocaust” and have those statements stand as if valid, unchallenged.
Yale history professor Timothy Snyder (no relation) is one of the historians of the 20th century that is alarmed and is disseminating his knowledge to give us a history booster shot, inoculating us against the authoritarian disease Bannon and Trump are trying to spread.
I could quote all over the place from this piece, but that’s not fair use, so please read it all, it’s not long.
The first thing that we have to notice is that the institutions have not thus far restrained him. He never took them seriously, acts as if they don’t exist, and clearly wishes they didn’t. The story that Americans have told themselves from the moment he declared his candidacy for president, was that one institution or another would defeat him or at least change his behavior – he won’t get the nomination; if he gets the nomination, he will be a normal Republican; he will get defeated in the general election; if he wins the presidency will mature him (that was what Obama said). I never thought any of that was true. He doesn’t seem to care about the institutions and the laws except insofar as they appear as barriers to the goal of permanent kleptocratic authoritarianism and immediate personal gratification. It is all about him all of time, it is not about the citizens and our political traditions.
… But in the inaugural address he made “America First” his central them, and now he can’t say that he doesn’t know what it means. And of course Bannon knows what it means. America First is precisely the conjuration of this alternative America of the 1930s where Charles Lindbergh is the hero. This inaugural address reeked of the 1930s.
It’s also instructional to read Philip Roth’s entertaining and scary novel “The Plot Against America” which imagines an alternative history of America where Lindbergh wins the 1940 election over FDR and America does not get into WWII, rather pro-Hitler forces take control of our democracy. I read it during the Bush administration and saw parallels. But now we have Steve Bannon, an ideological descendant of America Firsters in the WH. It’s fiction becomes reality time.