Authoritarians rise to power by finding ways to go around the law: tyranny expert
"He (Putin) said he didn't meddle. I asked him again," US President Donald Trump told reporters on Air Force One as he flew to Hanoi for a state visit (Vietnam News Agency/AFP / STR)

Author and historian Timothy Snyder literally wrote the book on tyranny. When he spoke to CNN's Ana Cabrera Sunday, he explained that the president's decision to call a national emergency is the perfect example of the ways in which authoritarian rulers are able to take over a country.


"Living in a democratic country means you're the ones who have to rule, which means you have to watch your leaders," he explained. "But of course, you're right. There are two unusual things to be concerned about. On the one side, there's the concern about whether we really are a sovereign state, whether we can run elections by ourselves, or whether a foreign country has undue influence."

On the flip side, Snyder explained that the problem arises when a leader tries to get around the normal way of making laws, policies, and changes to either.

"Instead, thinking about a national emergency, about an essentially phony issue," he continued. "That's a classic way that democracies become authoritarian regimes. So we should be concerned."

When it comes to the new Washington Post report that the president took the notes away from the meeting with Putin so they would be secret, Snyder said it was like a meeting between spies.

"What's interesting about it is that, that is how an intelligence officer would handle his own agent," he explained. "So if you're an agent, that means you're working for an officer. The agent takes orders and the agent keeps quiet. If you're the officer, what you do is insist that your agent stay quiet. In an odd way, The New York Times report and The Washington Post report look like they reinforce one another. This behavior is not typical of diplomats or leaders or presidents. It is, unfortunately, typical of the way that a handler, an officer would deal with his agent."

He noted that while Putin likely doesn't consider Trump his favorite, Russians have already gone all in on Trump and they're sticking with the one they can control for now.

"There are a lot of things about the U.S. System that confounds the one thing they're pretty confident about is Mr. Trump so I think they're going to stay with Mr. Trump for as long as they can," he said. "They don't really have any other major in, into the system."

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