The election of Donald Trump inspired Snyder in 2017 to write On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, accessible reflections which might be useful in a country suddenly finding itself governed by a racist authoritarian. The book was a best seller.
In 2021, Snyder is back with a new edition, with commentary somewhat updated for a new moment of danger and hope, now illustrated by Nora Krug. The new edition is once again a best seller on Amazon. I'm encountering it via his Substack podcast where he is reading the entries aloud. Last week Lesson 4 turned up in my email inbox.
“Take responsibility for the face of the world. The symbols of today enable the reality of tomorrow. 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.”
Life is political, not because the world cares about how you feel, but because the world reacts to what you do. The minor choices we make are themselves a kind of vote, making it more or less likely that free and fair elections will be held in the future. In the politics of the everyday, our words and gestures, or their absence, count very much.In conclusion, he adds that removing negative symbols -- such as monuments to Confederate generals -- is not enough.
... Taking responsibility for the face of the world also means thinking about what the world should be. ... Without the future, democracy if very hard to maintain. ... Part of taking responsibility for the face of the world is thinking about what the future should look like and taking seriously the people who labor in the direction of generating possibilities, aesthetic possibilities and moral possibilities."
Given this conclusion, I was a bit surprised that Snyder made no recognition that people all over this country -- most frequently in blue cities and college towns, but in corners everywhere -- have been displaying alternative signage during the last five years, repudiating encroaching fascism and offering better values. For too many observers, it has become a mark of sophistication to mock "Resistance" to Trumpism as a kind of performative self-indulgence. Do the resisters really accomplish anything? Probably both yes -- and never enough.
walking and photographing every corner of San Francisco, from toney St. Francis Woods to the rundown avenues of the Bayview. Nowhere I have walked has been without this signage of hope.