History doesn’t repeat itself exactly, but it can illuminate possible futures. This is a central point in this book by Timothy Snyder, who is among other things the Richard C Levin Professor of History at Yale. He has written extensively on the emergence of autocracies. One of his other recent books is On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century which is a pocket guide to fighting a takeover of your democracy. (You might want to get a copy)
I am writing this review as a capitalist. If you are a crony capitalist who enjoys garnering political advantage for your business interests, you do not need to read further. If your corporation is funding the political campaigns that undermine our democracy, take heed, you (and your grandchildren) might not like what you are paying for.
If however you are a true capitalist (see our Credo) then consider this. Democracy ensures the peaceful transfer of power. A peaceful transfer of power is our best hope of ensuring fairness in law. Without this fairness there is no foundation for true business.
Russia is a kleptocracy. If you think wealth disparity is bad in the US, take a look at Russia. It is full on, crony capitalism. Putin has a problem. His government can’t continue to survive if the Russian people believe there is a better way. Elections are staged in Russia but they are meaningless. Putin’s best hope is to convince the Russian people that all political systems are corrupt and all news is fake. If no news can be trusted then how do we know what is really happening and how can we make any judgements or any plans for change? If all governments are corrupt then there is no point of fighting for something better.
Nevermind if the fake stories are contradictory. Contradictory and emotionally charged, logically mutually exclusive fake news stories are exactly the point. These fake stories send real reporters out in so many directions in an attempt to get to the truth that they can’t keep up. It takes little time to promote a number of different versions of events and a lot of time to disprove them. In the end viewers are overwhelmed and give up trying to make sense of it and stop listening to real news. Instead they just consume the news that confirms their current views (on both ends of the political spectrum) which is of course the goal.
Russia managed (with the help of a skilled campaign manager) to get its preferred candidate elected president in Ukraine. When that Ukrainian president refused to do Russia’s bidding they undermined him and he fled the country, to Russia. (The campaign manager also of course lost his job.)
Then Russia invaded Ukraine while denying it was doing so. When the invasion was not a total success Russia used social media and lies to incite Ukrainians to storm their individual state capitol buildings and take over the local government.
Russia promoted Brexit, Russia promoted Scotland seceding from England. Scotland did not secede but Russia generated election lies and 30% of Scots still don’t believe it was a fair election.
Does this all sound familiar?
As soon as the Scottish vote was over, those same Russian sites began to promote a US presidential candidate. That campaign manager (Paul Manafort) went to work for a new presidential candidate this time in the US whom Putin succeeded in getting elected.
We narrowly dodged a big bullet a few months ago but it is not a bullet, it is a comet and it is coming around for another pass. The only thing that saved us last time was a few very brave people, most of them Republicans who did their jobs while under extreme pressure and threats to themselves and their families.
If you are a true capitalist you recognize that we depend on the continued existence of democracy. Without a peaceful transfer of power there can be no fair law. Without fair laws there is no playing field for real capitalism. Political favoritism and bribery are the gateway to facism.
Democracy is no sure thing. Democracy in our country is not inevitable. It is here only so long as we are willing to defend it. Are you?
I highly recommend this book.
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