How an American nightmare becomes real
Dr. Snyder, your voice has kept me sane since before the election of 2016, and I do not say that lightly. I am a member of the clergy, and have been studying civil society and totalitarian systems for many years. I was in Romania in 2001, working among some local church partners in the ethnic Hungarian minority, at a time of heightened nationalism and ethnic tension in the country, most especially in the city of Cluj. My two older children, then 8 and 10, were with me there, and we had many conversations about these issues. On 9/11, we were deep in the Transylvanian countryside, nestled among friends who cared for us as we learned the shocking news. I remember someone saying to me, "Watch now, your President will use this to gain power."
My children and I returned to the United States just after Sept. 11, as soon as we could travel again. As we drove home from the San Francisco airport and saw giant American flags flying everywhere, my son said, "This looks just like Cluj!" I remember my concern over the rapid use of nationalistic images to bolster the security state here in the months that followed. My Hungarian friend's prediction started unfolding. I tried to talk about what I was observing, but I felt like an outlier in so many places, the overwrought Cassandra who kept talking about cabals and the rising autocratic trends.
And now, my Hungarian friends have largely fallen under Orban's sway, especially those in Romania, and some of those friendships have been ruptured, including the very family with whom we were living in 2001. Those friends told me how much they admired President Trump, and that I should too. Autocracy's ugliness seems to be everywhere, emboldened by our own failures in the U.S. And here at home, the people who thought I was exaggerating in 2004 and laughed when I said Trump would win the 2016 election-the same people thanked me during Trump's presidency for lifting up your writings, and on January 6 said, "Oh my god you were right!" Well, those folks are now telling me once again that our institutions will prevail, that we just need to give President Biden time, that the Democrats will prosecute, that the center will hold.
It's so heartbreaking to watch this willful denial. I'm so grateful for historians like yourself, and for the brave journalists all over the world. But it's your voice that has been a rope to the barn for me during this long blizzard. Your writing and lectures remind me that someone far more knowledgeable than me is sounding the alarm ever more loudly. I am so afraid that we won't listen, and that our democracy will indeed fail. Thank you for your clarity and tenacity-we need you more than ever.
Well, in actual fact, a week ago I dreamed about Viktor Orban. I used to know him well, we were both members of the underground political movement, the samizdat culture and the opposition that has split into many factions since then just like Anne Applebaum tells us in Twilight. Anyway, I was shouting at him and telling him how he had betrayed each and every idea that we held dear more than thirty years ago. I was beside myself with fury and when I finished he crouched in a corner and started to cry. Now, we suspect that he is not terribly stable and he clearly went to pieces in my dream, so I crouched down to him and started consoling him as you would a young child or someone who has deep psychological problems. I left Hungary as a political refugee, was back in Budapest as a BBC correspondent, but I have never had a dream like this. It's uncanny that several of us should have politically motivated dreams these days, probably shows how deeply troubled we are about what is happening in our respective countries, even at a subliminal, Freudian level...
Thank you for writing this. As a child of survivors of Hitler and Stalin, I share your distress and urgency. Americans are blessed and cursed by never having to experience that kind of crushing tyranny. Have you considered a meeting with Joe Manchin and the handful of non-Trumpist Republicans in the Senate to share your well-founded urgency? You are someone who can help them understand that their legacy, their children's and their grandchildren's futures hang on what they do in this perilous moment. That they have in their power to save our democracy, and if they don't act, it will collapse, as history teaches. It's their duty as Senators, Americans, and parents to stop the rapid backslide moving like an avalanche across the country, by casting one vote. They can and must pass national standards for a floor of voting rights. Protecting the filibuster over democracy itself will look like an absurd dream when the nightmare becomes reality.
Thank you Professor Snyder for articulating the horror of watching people choose ignorance. I have had a similar dream right when trump got elected where I was in a slow-motion bus crash and all the people closest to me were creepily smiling and trying to pretend the bus was not in flames and careening off a cliff-- and that they supported that destruction. but shouldn't we play some cards and can't we still be friends....? This is very hard to live through but I am confident your example and education have helped us avoid the worst and I hope will keep us free. I am wondering if the 22 states canceling federal unemployment aid are going to see backlash from those voters, or if we're really that far down the Russia/India/China-propaganda style politics with the R party. My heart breaks for the taxpayers getting the rug pulled out on them so that companies are ensured cheap labor... we're always told that we can't afford it, or it will hurt the economy- but these states are literally rejecting $12B to force people to work... so their taxes can continue to subsidize our "free market" oligarchy. SAD.
Please, please keep talking. There are many of us out here who are listening. Before 2016, I never thought much about elections for county-level offices, although I always voted. Now I'm donating to these candidates and volunteering in their campaigns. You taught me why it's important.
Keep talking. Stay in the doirway.
Thank you Dr. Snyder. I appreciate your thoughts and insights.
I've been following your work for about three years now. I wonder if there would be an opportunity to maybe do a video meeting in the future, or at the very least answer some questions. I think the ideas and concerns expressed in this piece are important and valid. I too have many of the same fears. When I talk to people about this topic people look at me like I'm a lunatic, but I think there is ample evidence to build a strong case for where we are today and potentially where we might be going.
I really desire a chance to talk in further detail, but I realize you are quite busy. I'm most interested in finding a way to take your ideas and turn them into actionable items that concerned citizens can do on their own, or perhaps in a group. In my estimation, voter suppression ought to be the rallying cry that we unite behind to stop.
What is to be done when we play by the rules and a large minority of folks are willing to break every rule? In 2016 I was telling my friends that the country was closer to chaos than anytime since 1859. I wonder now if it’s more like the winter of 1860?
I so hate it when you are right.
People can be steered away from the Big Lie. I am Social Worker in rural North Carolina - aka Trump country - and I know many people who believe the Big Lie. I have been able to steer several people away from the Big Lie by building relationships with them in the real-world that extend beyond the political sphere. We discuss sports, music, events, etc. I have found that after we have established trusting relationships with another, people are more inclined to hear and accept opposing viewpoints. It all starts and ends with trust; the belief that the other person is a good-faith actor. We have to trust one another again, but we cannot build trust over a screen. It must be done in the real-world at the local, community level. I am not ready to succumb to despair quite yet.
“Remember, that Countries, just like with people, it’s easy, to let the best of yourself slip away”-Bruce Springsteen.
This is what has happened to Mitch McConnel and todays Republican Party. The best is gone, they have let themselves go to seed. What remains is Oligarchy, Conspiracy Theories,Fascist tendencies of Big Lies, intimidation, social division, and sadly the sewing political violence. It ought not be this way. So I think Dr. Snyder, your substack, books, articles, lectures, and dreams have a lot in common with Woody Guthrie’s guitar.
After reading the Statement of Concern on June 1, I had a short political dream that night. In it a US Senator was walking away and suddenly I just lost it and started screaming after him. My reaction felt wrong for a moment but my anger did not care. It is one of the only times I can remember ever dreaming about politics. So it was very interesting to read this piece here today. Thank you.
Your writing, lectures and your direct-to-camera YouTube talks have been a tremendously helpful source of historical context, extraordinary and at the same time accessible critical thinking, all offered in a deeply human way that reflects not just intellect but also compassion. I immediately shared this piece with many others, with my only comment being "what.he.said." As someone whose analysis and felt sense led me to predict a coup attempt with the mobilization of Q-Anon followers, I resonate with your dream and with your decision to share it. I didn't want to be right - I wanted to sound a clarion call - and I continue to feel that way. Thank you for using your voice and your position of respect and visibility to these deep concerns and the implications of what we are experiencing.
Thank you Dr. Snyder, I have had the same dream.
Has anyone read the essay by Sir John Glubb, "THE FATE OF EMPIRES
and SEARCH FOR SURVIVAL"? I'd be interested to hear people's thoughts on it if they have. You can find a PDF version online from the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
Dr. Snyder, I very much appreciate your voice and books and concern. Is skirting generations and the lore of our falsehoods really promoting the good spirit of your readership? Can we see clearly through the dust, and fog and commotion of our time without clearly confronting our big lies? Did “We” discover “America”; how far back has “White is right, and Christianity is right…”? And presently, per your above 911 lead in, is the great assumption that it happened as “The (blank) Commission” says it did, the right place to begin? It really doesn’t take much common sense with the documented events clearly within our grasp to ask “Really?” When our common sense is denied and “proven” wrong, is it not within reason to expect future events to be fact-less? Yes, T has his big rotten lie(s), but do you belie your sincerity with your assumptions? Sorry, as I could be wrong with the “levels” and “degrees of” and “where should we start first” stuff. Return to your drawing board, but continue your direction.