This week, as the economy revealed that the U.S. GDP cratered, President Donald Trump teased putting a hold on the November election. It is unclear if the president was attempting to distract from the economy in freefall or his falling poll numbers.
Historian and expert on authoritarian regimes, Professor Timothy Snyder, author of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, described the key ways to spot authoritarianism.
"Do we have any reason to believe that Mr. Trump would accept the outcome of the election?" asked the Yale professor. "The tweet of July 30th was a very clear statement. There is nothing in his career that indicates he actually likes democracy. In this particular tweet, we have a dangerous mixture, where he's talking about a problem he created himself. Insofar as we do have problems with voting in the U.S. They have to do with things like African-Americans not being enfranchised, they have to do with the things of foreign intervention. And even the problems he mentioned, which is postal voting. Which is good in and of itself, but might be slowed down because of his own postmaster general. So, he's talking about problems he caused himself, then claiming they're an emergency, and using that as a reason to claim power himself. That's a manufactured emergency and that is, in fact, a prime historical fascist tactic."
He went on to explain that a fascist is someone who will often manufacture a crisis, blame it on the other side, and then use the crisis to his own benefit. In Trump's case, vote-by-mail has become the enemy as Republicans continue to defund the post office and Republicans in several states were caught in absentee-voter crimes.
Snyder said that Trump has already manufactured his crisis and is now trying to create the solution that would best protect him and his power.
"Another element of this, which is worth paying attention to, is the way the tweet ends," he continued. "People can console themselves by saying Mr. Trump can't himself cancel the election. That's true, but what he is doing, as of July 30th, is calling upon others to create a mess, so that the election won't go through smoothly. That's what the three question marks at the end mean. He can't do it himself."
Snyder said that anyone who continues to support Trump knows they are doing so in defiance of the democratic values of America.
"As of July 30th, if you support Mr. Trump, if you're planning on voting for Mr. Trump, if you contribute to the campaign, if you're a delegate, you know perfectly well, this is a man who doesn't believe he can win by the normal vote count," said Snyder. "You know you are taking part now in a campaign which is no longer a democratic campaign, but which is something else. You know that his main task for you now is not to win an election. He's basically conceded defeat already. His main task for you now is to find someone who can mess up the election so he can cling to power. I think that's a big moral question where a lot of Americans should be thinking about the choices they're about to make."
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