"On Tyranny" - Dr. Timothy Snyder Interview

"On Tyranny" interview with Dr. Timothy Snyder

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Dave Blanks: Hi there I’m Dave Blanks and I work in University Communications here at Appalachian State. In September Appalachian’s Humanities Council under the College of Arts and Sciences presented a symposium titled “Sustaining Democracy: Existence, Persistence, Resistance” The goal of the symposium is to promote a dialogue that explores the various meanings of democracy and the experiences of multiple populations.

The symposium's closing speaker was Dr. Timothy Snyder, the Richard C. Levin Professor of History at Yale University and a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. He joined us in studio for a conversation covering among many things the failure of democracy the difference between patriotism and nationalism and the history of the term “Fake News.” A brief background on Dr. Snyder before we get to our conversation.

Before joining the faculty at Yale in 2001, Snyder held fellowships in Paris, Vienna and Warsaw, and an Academy Scholarship at Harvard. He speaks five and reads 10 European languages. Among his publications are six single-authored books, including “Bloodlands,” which won 12 awards including the Emerson Prize in the Humanities, a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Leipzig Award for European Understanding and the Hannah Arendt Prize in Political Thought. “Bloodlands” has been translated into 33 languages, was named to 12 book-of-the-year lists, and was a bestseller in six countries. His most recent book, “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century,” arrived in the United States in February and will be available in numerous foreign editions.

Now here’s my conversation with Dr. Timothy Snyder:

Dave: Dr. Timothy Snyder, thank you so much for being here. I want to welcome you to Appalachian’s campus.

Dr. Timothy Snyder: Glad to, looking forward to talking.

Dave: Dr. Snyder, with your experience researching Stalinism, would you say that there are lessons from the Russian revolution that you express in your book, since this year is the 100th anniversary?

Dr. Timothy Snyder: Well, in the book “On Tyranny,” what I’m concerned with is the general problem of the failure of democracy. And what I'm trying to show is that, A: Democracies usually fail, and B: There are lessons to be learned from that. So, the approach I'm taking is basically the same approach that the founding fathers took -- when they were writing the constitution and exchanging their ideas in the federalist papers. I’m saying human nature is flawed. We build institutions to try and channel it but we have to constantly be alert, we can't count on those institutions, we have to be the ones who build them up. So from that perspective the 200, you know -- almost 250 years now since those constitutional discussions have taken place, is a time when democracy has continued to fail and in “On Tyranny” i'm writing about all the things the founders could not have known about, mainly the failures of democracy in the 20th century. And so -- the Russian revolution is one of the most dramatic examples of the failure of a constitutional regime, we don't remember it this way but, what happens in Russia is that an empire falls in the midst of a demanding war, people rise to power, constitutionalists, people who want to create a rule of law state in Russia, people who want to have elections, that’s the February revolution in early 1917. And they fail, they are overthrown by the Bolsheviks in the Autumn, as we all know, exactly 100 years ago. So, what's the lesson from that? Well, there are a couple, I mean the easy one is communism is bad, I’m gonna return to that, but the harder one is it takes a lot of effort to build up constitutional regimes, very often they fail. And we in America can be a little more than complacent about that we can think “Well, we're not Russia, we’re not Germany, everything's fine”, which is exactly the wrong way to think about it, it's exactly the way the founders didn't want us to think about it. The founders wanted to remind us that everyone is fallible. So that's the harder lesson. The easy lesson is Communism is bad. I mean, I don't think one has to spend a lot of - a lot of time explaining to Americans why -- why communism is bad but, I will just focus on the way in which communism is bad, which is the one party state. So, you know Americans have a visceral reaction to communism and understandably I think but  just why was it so bad? What was -- what was wrong with it? One of the things which was wrong is the one party state, that you have elections but you don't really have a choice. You go and you vote but you know who's gonna win. And I'm just gonna stress that lesson today for us because I think that's the one which is most pertinent. Regardless of your beliefs, if there's only one party and they're gonna win, you're never gonna be represented. And you know what's a problem for America today is, so now i'm sneaking up on this from the other direction from 2017, A problem for America today are the ways we're drifting away from a truly competitive system where both parties have a chance.

Dave: So based on your themes of democracy and truth, do you think a constitutional democracy is possible without a shared conception of truth?

Dr. Timothy Snyder: Yeah, truth in general and factuality in particular are very important for the kinds of political institutions that we take for granted. Again if you start with the Bolshevik revolution or the other important movements against the rule of law or against democracy you see that they all have a very strong attitude against the truth. So if you're a communist you say “today’s everyday doesnt matter, its just a passing thing. Your daily experiences don't matter, because all that matters is the utopia in the future.” And so it's okay to lie, in fact it's necessary to lie today to bring about that utopian future. If you're a facist, if you're on the far right you say something different you say, “the truth doesn't matter facts don't matter, all the matters are your feelings. All that matters are your feelings that you’ve always been innocent and right, all that matters are your feelings that everyone else is out to get you, all that matters is the feeling that you’re connected to your leader. The laws and the institutions, they don't matter, your feeling of connection to the leader that's what really matters.” And so, Fascism does away with truth in a different way. And then if you look at the 21st century authoritarianism that’s emerging in the age of the internet and in the age of television in Russia, but also in Europe, and now in the United States, what you find is these new post modern authoritarians basically say first-- first thing they do is they just fill up the public’s sphere with lies. They just lie all the time. And then the second thing they do is they say “Oh it's the journalist who are the liars”, and then the third thing they do is they prosper in an atmosphere where no one is sure what is truth. And it’s very easy for people then to just shrug their shoulders and say well “You say this and I say that, So, let's just sit on the couch. Lets not-- lets not do anything.” and that's what 21st century authoritarianism is basically about. It’s about confusing you enough that you're just sit on the couch and so your political system rots and the wealth is concentrated and before you know it you're not living in a free society anymore. So if we recognize that then we realize that truth is a positive value towards which we must strive, not only for moral but also for political reasons. And we also realize that there are everyday things that we can do to promote factuality. Like for example, only talking about things where we know what we’re talking about. Like for example, supporting people who’s job it is to figure out factual truth for example: scientists or humanists or above all journalists. And if you ask “Well, how can you do that?” It’s very simple I mean with journalists you basically have a couple thousand people in the united states, true investigative journalists, from thanks to whom we know everything we know about contemporary politics. I mean there's a lot of nonsense flung about but there are only a few people who actually -- actually have the job description of going out and looking for the facts. You support them by subscribing to newspapers, it's as simple as that. Instead you know, clicking on random stuff on the internet, subscribe to newspapers where they hire real journalists and then -- it's not about the politics it's about whether you have journalists who actually take their bodies, go out on the road, and talk to people and learn stuff. You subscribe to those things, it costs 10 or 20 or 30 dollars a year, you do that and then you read those things first and then you post those articles on the internet. Instead of letting the internet, you know, knock your brain around. So, it’s very important for us to see this as a clear value. If we give up on factuality, then we are giving up on democracy, it's a pretty short road actually.

Dave: So -- and you were kind of dancing around it, not dancing around but you got-- around the neighborhood of this question but, would the prevalence of fake news, which I don't know if you actually said fake news, but with the prevalence of fake news and social sharing  --- the ways in which the internet does knock us around so frequently, how can we decipher what is the truth when were told news stories are fake news?

Dr. Timothy Snyder: Yes, I’m gonna start with a little-- a little history of the term “fake news” because it's interesting and revealing. We in America we think that everything happens here first, which you know is just not true. So a lot of good stuff and a lot of bad stuff happens and just comes here. And the idea of fake news is one of them. That word ‘fake’ which means a new story which is deliberately designed to fool you a piece of fiction which is designed to look like news but is in fact not news. That word actually comes from Russian and from Ukrainian. I mean I know fake is an English word obviously but that specific meaning that for what we now call fake news that word has been circulating in Russian and Ukrainian for about a decade. And only in the last year or so have we started to talk about it in the U.S. And the reason I stress that is because it helps us to see where we are. The business of undermining the news by generating fake news and then usually telling the real journalists that they’re the producers of fake news, that whole strategy emerged in Russia. So when the President of the United States, who is a tremendous producer of things that are not knowledge, when the President of the United States refers to journalists as producers of fake news, he is doing exactly exactly what Russian and Ukrainian leaders have done before him. So I think it's very important to have that context in mind, what we're seeing in the United States is the same transition towards authoritarianism which begins with the head of state, the most important person in the country, denying that the people that actually work for truth are doing that and claiming that they’re doing the opposite. So -- what do we do about it? The first thing is -- to accept that there is such a thing as truth, you know it's not that you know what the whole truth is or I know what the whole truth is but you do have to take a stand and say “Look, there are some things that are true.” It is true that there are mountains at Appalachia it is true that you know they -- emerged from the earth 200 million years ago and not some other time, It is true that there are beaches at Roanoke or whatever. There are things you know there are basic things from which we have to be able to start. It's true that the weather is the way it is and for these reasons and not for those reasons and even though we might not agree on everything, what's important is that we agree that we can try to agree. If you just say well you know my news station says this and your social media network says that and let's just agree you know that nobody really has any idea, then you’re done. The it’s all over, because if you don't accept that there is a factual world there, if you just think there are opinions then it's impossible to have discussions. For example, discussions about policy. And if you dont think its a factual world out there, it's also impossible to resist, right? So there are a lot of young people who think that they’re you know in Russia, Ukraine, Europe, United States it doesn't matter, there are a lot of young people who think they're really cool because they say “Well you know there’s no real truth in the world.”, you know and they think that’s a really cool like post modern skeptical step but actually, it’s an authoritarian step because if you give up on truth, then what’s left is spectacle and you know the people who are gonna produce the spectacle are the people who have all the money. The people who control the media, the people who centralize the media. So when you give up on truth, when you punt on truth, you're basically saying “Well okay I want to live in an authoritarian state and I want my children to live in authoritarian state and I want everyone to live in authoritarian state” and it’s important to recognize that. So the first thing  you have to do is you have to realize you have to accept the stakes and you have to accept your little bit of responsibility for the truth and so what's the difference? Here's the difference, it's really simple, the difference is between, people’s whose job it is to actually go out and figure things out, like journalists, investigative journalists in particular. And everyone else who sits behind a desk and just passes stuff around. And that's a big difference, It’s like the difference between a doctor, a doctor isn’t always right, but a doctor knows certain things and goes through certain procedures and it makes more sense you now to go to a doctor when your child is sick then it makes to go to a shaman or whatever. It makes more sense to go to a doctor than a post office clerk, and with information, it's the same thing. Journalists aren't always right but it's much much more likely that they're gonna be giving you something useful and true than whatever you happen to randomly find on the internet, which suits your case. I mean like again to stick with the analogy of illness, if you feel bad-- you know if you have chest pain it might sound nice if your girlfriend tells you “Well it's probably just indigestion and I love you a lot sweetie lets stay home and watch a movie” and you could, you could do that or you could go to the doctor and find out that you have a problem and get it fixed and live for another fifty years, right? That's kinda your choice. It’s the same thing with news, you can just pop in the internet and say “Oh, this makes me feel good this confirms the things I already think, I want more of this.” click click click. OR you could look at The Washington Post or you could look at The Guardian newspaper where they actually still send reporters out. You could look at Reuters, some place where they actually still send reporters out and try to figure things out, and maybe that doesn't feel as good because it doesn't confirm you where you are. But it’s the thing that you need and it's the thing that you can do to help yourself and other people.

Dave: I feel like you’re talking directly to me because for much of my life, I’ve been surrounded by people who I’ve felt were so sure of the truth, where as I was not certain of the truth and it was like, my greatest fear was that not necessarily that I would be wrong but that I would be so sure and then actually be wrong! So instead of doing that it’s been like kind of a stalemate for me for a lot of stuff in life. Just to not -- not take a strong stance against something you know what I mean and to kind of punt, like you’re saying, punt the truth sort of because I’m like it’s such a complex, everything is so complex like how could I grasp, but like you’re saying come back to these basic truths and just agree that there is a -- that there is truth in the world.

Dr. Timothy Snyder: Yeah, but on another thing you, yeah so we’re not all gonna become experts on everything--

Dave: I mean there are people that are dyed in the wool sure about stuff, and I’ve been kind of jealous of that my entire life because oh what a life to be so sure of you know XYZ, whatever it is. And you know I’ve just felt so grey, you know what I mean?

Dr. Timothy Snyder: Yeah, yeah, yeah but I mean there are -- so there are extremes right? I mean their people who know everything and they have no particular reason. The people who think they know everything but have no particular reason to know everything.

Dave: Sure.

Dr. Timothy Snyder:  And there are people who doubt everything. And those extremes, the know everything and doubt everything, they come out-- they actually kind of come out to the same thing because the people that know everything are then gonna drive the conversation and the people who doubt everything are say “Well I don't know” you know but, the people who know everything are gonna be decisive. What you need is a lot in the middle. Like the people who know that they don’t know everything but they also know that they can find certain things out. --

Dave: Yeah.

Dr. Timothy Snyder: And I mean there are a couple things that can do, I mean we’re never gonna find everything out but you can -- you can become educated on the basic issues of public policy of the day, right? I mean there are just data, I mean they're government -- data from the government, data from ---from other sources about you know “How dangerous it is to own a firearm?” you know there is -- data about why it is that our weather is changing, which is uncontested around the world. There is data about what is healthy to eat, you know there's data about how health insurance saves lives. Those are things that you know a citizen can educate himself or herself about. That might maybe be more interesting than that, what people do is that they become educated about one little thing that they care about. And that’s good I mean that’s really all you need to do you know? So if what you care about, I mean we’re doing a podcast so let’s say that you know, you care about media centralization. You care about the fact that too much media in the United States is owned by too few people.

Dave: Right.

Dr. Timothy Snyder: So you educated yourself about that one thing, right? And then whenever there's a conversation about that one thing, you actually can help, right? And -- it’s important but then it’s also something that you care about, like it's your thing. And over the long run like that really helps. Like if water quality is your thing, then you learn about that. And then in almost every conversation you'll have something to add.--- And then you learn about the people who report on that and you know you make friends with them. And then it also gives you a channel for action. So it's not that we have to find out about everything you know that can become an excuse. Nobody knows about everything. But if there are say lets a dozen areas of American public policy which are really-- which are important. You pick one of them that you happen to care about you learn something about that you know and then you -- thats what you need to do, then you've done what we needed to do.

Dave: Right. So what advice would you give to an individual to fight and resist, while at the same time creating a dialogue with the other side of the aisle? Does that make sense? Does that question?

Dr. Timothy Snyder: Sure, sure it makes tons of sense. I mean the first thing, the first thing to say is that our system is not built around unity. If there's too much talk of unity or if unity becomes a precondition to be in America, well America is done. Cause that wasn't the idea, that was never the idea. The idea from the beginning is that people will disagree, people will have different interests and you channel those by way of elections, which are held freely and fairly and on a regular basis, which means sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose, which is a simple idea but it's also a brilliant idea because it means that you can have a country which continues despite disagreement and despite -- maybe fundamental disagreements about values and interests. If -- there’s a basic point and I wanna stress it. It’s not all about unity. I mean if the unity can be agree-- If unity can be -- we agree there should be a constitution, we agree there should be a country. But, you can't expect that everybody is gonna agree about particular issues like the ones I was talking about before. And that's fine and that's good. Where things go wrong is that where one opinion becomes the one that you have to have. So, resisting, resisting is patriotic. This country began with an act of resistance. The institutions we take for granted, this free speech you and I are using right now only exists because people have constantly fought for them. The thing about the rights and the bill of rights is that against most of them there’s going to be constant pressure, all of the time, especially against free speech. So, it’s important to know also that the exercise of rights is always an act of resistance in a certain way. I mean put it this way, like freedom is not just the same thing as being an American. -- If you wanna be an American in the sense of being free, you have to do stuff which other people aren't doing. And you have tos say things that other people aren't saying, and you have to feel uncomfortable. Because if you're comfortable all the time that means that you're not free, it means you're going along. Being free is actually, it actually requires that you feel a little bit of unease because youre saying and doing things that are a little bit different than what the government's says, or from what the people around you say. That’s kind of a test. If you’re just you know if you’re just drifting, then-- then you know then you’re not really being free. You might say you're free all the time and one things that's characteristic about americans which is a little dangerous is that we talk all the time about how we’re free. But, by talking about it we’re kind of reassuring ourselves but talking about it isn't the same thing you know. Being free means saying and doing things that are a little bit different from others in which make you feel uncomfortable yourself. So this is why there are I guess in answering your question there are three lessons in the book “On Tyranny” which are relevant, at least three. The first is 1. Which is don't obey in advance. So you have to -- you have to -- when you're in a moment where the system is under pressure, today, to be clear about this, you have to decide for yourself what you're clear about, and you have to stand out a little bit from what everyone else is doing, cause if you just say “Oh this is normal” or “I’ll wait and see” or “The institutions will protect us” or -- “I’m not really sure what's happening” if you say those things then you lose the moment that you have to actually be a free person. Another lesson which is relevant is -- the one about small talk. Make eye contact in small talk. So if it's about dealing with a moment of resistance, being in a moment of resistance where people disagree with you, it’s very important to talk to them personally and not just, for example, over the internet. So, you know one Facebook exchange, which has never happened, is the one which ends with the sentence, “Thank you for you rational and convincing arguments which have convinced me” you know? Like that never ever happens, so, and the reason it never happens is that Facebook doesn't actually bring us together it makes us into a whole bunch of individuals alone in a darkened basement staring into screens, saying things that we wouldn't actually say often to a person who is right across from us at a bar or at a restaurant or you know whenever. So it's important to talk to people in real life and not to offend them and not to get in their face but to actually talk to them, and when the moment comes up that you don't like or disagree with or think are dangerous, you gently but directly and looking at them in the eye, say what you think, right? And you're not gonna convince them, nobody ever convinces anybody in the first conversation, I mean think about your relationships with the closest people in your life, you don't convince them. But the point is they realize you're a person and you think something else. It’s very important that more of that happen in real life in the U.S and less of it of it happen over the internet. Because the internet is just clearly driving us apart, the internet is tribalizing us, it's teaching us that the stuff we feel is the same thing as the facts and the people who don't feel the same way that we do, that they -- that they don't care about the country, they don't care about the facts. And that's you know -- we gotta keep that in -- in some kind of balance. The average American spends seven hours a day in front of the screen. I think if it were, if it were four or five, our democracy would in much better shape. The final lesson that’s relevant from the book is number 19, about patriotism. So, In the book I make this distinction between what patriotism and nationalism, where I say, a nationalist is someone who tells you that everything is already great and therefore and you're great and you're wonderful and no matter what you do our countries the greatest country and so on.. Where as a patriot is somebody who thinks “My country has certain values, there are certain values that I hold”, let's say freedom, justice for example. “And I want my country to live up to those values”. So patriotism in that sense, it demands of us that we pay attention. It demands of us that we make -- that we make judgements but it also provides a basis for our conversation, because presumably people who disagree with us about other things also want - also think our country had standards and also thinks our country should live up to them. So, patriotism can be, I mean I think in America it's very important. Patriotism can be a framework in which we have these conversations. What kind of a country do you want? Do you really want a country where the two parties can’t compete with each other? Do you really want a country where the president tells journalists that they’re the enemies of the people? And maybe the answer is yes you know but I think for -- for many folks that’s the right basis for which to proceed. You know what kind of a country do we want, taking for granted that we wanted our country to be better?

Dave: That’s an interesting distinction between the nationalism and patriotism. So, how, if at all, we’re a college campus, lot of discussions happen on college campus, lot of activities, occurrences in the news -- how would you distinguish the tactics of violence used by white supremacists and antifa in protests against say campus speakers with whom they disagree? Do you have thoughts on those tactics?

Dr. Timothy Snyder:  I guess I’d, I’d start a different way, I wouldn’t wanna -- I wouldn’t-- I’m gonna start with the ideas, cause I think that’s helpful. The first thing is like if you don’t want anti fascism don't have fascism. I mean that's a pretty important way to start this conversation. I mean as somebody who writes about stalinism and who writes about famine and terror in the soviet union, I mean I’m perfectly familiar with -- with the dangers of the extreme left and I also know how the slogan of anti fascism can hold under it a whole bunch of things, some of which can be very -- can be very bad. But in our country today, i mean lets look the truth in the eyes, there is not a danger of a far left revolution in the United States of America in the year 2017. That’s really not where our country is heading. What we have instead is a president who refers to America first, which is the idea that Americans and Nazis have more in common than they have different. What we have instead is a drift backwards towards the notion that America is just for its white citizens or primarily for its white citizens. In other words moving towards a racial politics of the far right. And -- when we talk about Charlottesville, I’ll get to your question but when we talk about things like Charlottesville -- people who actually killed people were actually from the far right. The young man who drove his car into a crowd and tragically killed one person but was clearly trying to kill many more people was of the far right. And that’s typical of American terrorism, about three quarters of American terrorists attacks are from the far right, a little less than a quarter have to do with Islam, and then a tiny tiny percentage are from the far left. So we need to know what country were living in and we need to know what violence we’re talking about because the violence from the far right in this country is just much greater than violence from the far left. So, I -- hesitate to put the two in the same basket for that reason, just because you have to kinda be clear about where you’re living and also because of the president we have. If you're the president of the United States, it’s your job to be concerned about -- about the actual problems that are facing you. So, you know when Mr. Trump says “Well on the one hand we’ve got the nazis on the other hand we’ve got this antifa, you know it's just one thing and the other”. I think it may be his job to be clearer that he's not -- that he does not support fascism. Right? it's his job to be extremely clear about that given a number of things that he's said, given a number of things that he's done, his idea that Mr. Obama wasn’t born in this country and that therefore can’t be president, the referring to African Americans who play professional sports “Sons of bitches” this kind of thing raises understandable suspicions that Mr. Trump is on a very far extreme of the political spectrum. So Mr. Trump’s job, I think is above all --- if Mr. Trump is worried about anti fascism, I think his main job is to oppose fascism because the people who are the far left you know who do these things, they're there for a reason, right? Okay that brings me to the second part of your question, so what do I think about it? What do I think about them? So i'm against violence in politics except at an extreme and I think that at this stage in the American political process where there's an event like Charlottesville or when there's a gathering or when there's an assembly of nazis as there were in Boston. What civil society should be doing, what the rest of us should be doing is just overwhelming them with numbers. Which we can at this point, I mean it's true that nazis in the United States have been activated by Mr. Trump’s election but people who oppose nazis are still hugely more numerous, and it makes much more sense and we can see this from the optics of television but we also know this from the research on civil resistance. It makes much more sense to answer every torch with a thousand candles than it does to try to beat them up every time they show up. Thats -- thats I think the lesson of Boston, and that's the lesson of other places as well. So, people who are on the far left and associate with antifa, who believe at some point you have to defend the country with violence, I think that’s true, Thomas Jefferson thought it was true. But, we’re not at that point yet, the point that we’re at is the there’s a significant increase in public racism, in there’s a significant increase in the confidence of -- of nazis and fascists in the United States, thanks to Mr. Trump. But, it can still be overwhelmed by the vast majority of people whether they’re democrats or republicans or someone else, who doesn't think that national socialism is a good idea for the United States. But we have to do that overwhelming ourselves, we have to show up, we have to take down -- we have to paint over the swastikas, we have to talk to people who -- pronounce racist or anti semitic ideas, and we have to show up. And just showing up it’s simple but just showing up is the most important thing to do right now.

Dave: So, we’ve covered some heavy topics of course, which sounds like you don’t stray away from. What’s the last thing that you’ve read just to end on possibly, not necessarily a lighter note, not like a saccharine sweet note but, what's the last thing that you've read that gave you a hopeful feeling or optimistic feeling about our country or state of affairs? And -- should we go read that right now?

Dr. Timothy Snyder: That’s a tough one for me. That’s a tough one for me.

Dave: Yeah? Ah okay, I was curious.

Dr. Timothy Snyder: I’m gonna answer but -- I mean to be clear -- I’m very, I’m very hopeful about the country and I feel very tenderly about the country and I think the country will be okay in the end. But, for me as a historian the thing which is important is to recognize that we have a long history with ups and downs and we don't always get things right. And the important thing is that we be able to correct our mistakes, which partly means you know elections are for that, the free press is for that, discussions like the one we’re having are for that. The whole point is that you don't get -- you can never get everything right. You know a lot of -- if you look back to the past there are wonderful things in the American past but there are also moments where we clearly had to learn things, and we did. So, for me, as a historian, looking to the past, and then looking to the future, that’s the crucial thing, you know not to stop and dig in your heels and say “Well everything was always good in the U.S. and anyone who says otherwise is a traitor” or whatever, that’s an un American attitude. You know America is all about a constitution which recognizes that none of us is perfect, none of us is always right. Therefore, you know one party goes in another party goes out, people change their minds when they learn more things and we move forward, we’re now in a moment where we have to move forward. It’s -- the question you asked is a tough one because as a historian, I mean I work on -- I work on some of the darkest things in the 20th century and then as an American who is concerned about the state of our political system, I spend a lot of time thinking about now --- about what’s going wrong. It’s hard for me to think of something which cheers me up.

Dave: I thought it might be tough. I wasn’t sure though.

Dr. Timothy Snyder: Yeah, but -- I’ll give ya - I’ll give ya an obscure answer. I was in Iceland 3 weeks ago and so I was reading Icelandic sagas, which are these incredible, I mean if you’ve ever read Tolkien, which I bet you have, Tolkien draws a lot from these in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. And so I was reading, there are like 40 of these sagas and they're from the 13th and 14th century it’s an amazing literature and I was just getting into one of them and there’s a sentence -- which is from 1260 or so and -- the sentence is -- “With law our land shall rise, and with lawlessness our land shall fall” and that’s not exactly hopeful but that struck me, I think that we, in the U.S., that’s a bit where we are. Not every -- not all of our -- we’re not firing at all cylinders right now in this country but we are -- we do still have the rule of law, and that’s a thing which, if we get through this, we’re gonna get through it thanks to to the rule of law. We’re gonna get through it thanks to people agreeing on law and on the validity of court decisions and settling disagreements about Mr. Trump or whatever it might be, not only peacefully but according to law. If we get through this, it’s gonna be, it’s gonna be thanks to that. So, that’s not exactly optimism and hope and you know and --- fluffy puppies but  it’s one of the reasons I have -- that I feel personally  we’re -- we’re gonna get through all of this is that we're a nation of laws and not of men.

Dave: I’ll take it. Dr. Timothy Snyder, thank you so much for being here with us today, taking the time. On campus for Appalachian’s Humanities Council Symposium, sustaining democracy, existence, persistence, resistance, Dr. Snyder thank you so much.

Dr. Timothy Snyder: Glad to. Thanks a lot.

Dave: Thanks again to Dr. Timothy Snyder for speaking on our campus here at Appalachian and for taking the time to talk with me as well. His latest book “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century,” is available wherever books are sold. Today’s show was written and produced by Troy Tuttle, Megan Hayes and Me, Dave Blanks. I recorded and edited the podcast  with assistance from Wes Craig. Our web team is Pete Montaldi, Alex Waterworth and Derek Wycoff. Research assistance comes from Elisabeth Wall and video and photo support come from Garrett Ford and Marie Freeman. Liz Pope is our intern. This podcast is a production of the University Communications team at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. From the Greg Cuddy podcast studio on the bottom floor of Anne Belk Hall I’m Dave Blanks saying thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you next time around.