The strongman fantasy

The strongman fantasy

Timothy Snyder writes:

Quite a few Americans like the idea of strongman rule. Why not a dictator who will get things done?

I lived in eastern Europe when memories of communism were fresh. I have visited regions in Ukraine where Russia imposed its occupation regime. I have spent decades reading testimonies of people who lived under Nazi or Stalinist rule. I have seen death pits, some old, some freshly dug. And I have friends who have lived under authoritarian regimes, including political prisoners and survivors of torture. Some of the people I trusted most have been assassinated.

So I think that there is an answer to this question.

Strongman rule is a fantasy. Essential to it is the idea that a strongman will be your strongman. He won’t. In a democracy, elected representatives listen to constituents. We take this for granted, and imagine that a dictator would owe us something. But the vote you cast for him affirms your irrelevance. The whole point is that the strongman owes us nothing. We get abused and we get used to it.

Another pleasant illusion is that the strongman will unite the nation. But an aspiring dictator will always claim that some belong and others don’t. He will define one group after another as the enemy. This might feel good, so long as you feel that you are on the right side of the line. But now fear is the essence of life. The politics of us-and-them, once begun, never ends.

We dream that a strongman will let us focus on America. But dictatorship opens our country to the worst the world has to offer. An American strongman will measure himself by the wealth and power of other dictators. He will befriend them and compete with them. From them he will learn new ways to oppress and to exploit his own people. [Continue reading…]

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