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    • Yale professor Timothy Snyder specializes in central and eastern European history. His most recent book, The Road to Unfreedom traces events in Russia, Ukraine, Europe and the United States from 2011 to the present. It is a chilling tale of the rise of a new form of fascism that originated in Russia and is being exported rapidly to Western democracies. It is a dense work, with extensive footnotes and source references in six languages. I pay a fair amount of attention to politics and world affairs, but even so this book was eye-opening. Anyone who cares about the future of democracy should take the time to read it.

      He starts from the axiom that ideas matter and traces the rehabilitation of the obscure early 20th century Russian fascist philosopher Ivan Ilyin, who was embraced by the Putin oligarchy as an answer to Western ideas about democracy and progress and provided an ideological justification for the revival of totalitarianism in Russia. In order to consolidate his power, Putin needed to export these ideas by sowing discord in the West. Russia's success in the Ukraine in 2014 gave it the confidence to try to influence the Brexit vote, support separatist movements in Scotland and Spain, support the extreme right in European elections and finally to put Donald Trump in the White House. ("Donald Trump was the payload of a Russian cyberattack.") The methods employed were all based on a sophisticated understanding of how to manipulate news reporting and social media to exploit the existing fault lines of Western societies. The strategy of fomenting discord and undermining belief in facts continues, and there's little reason to think that Russia will not intervene in the 2018 mid-terms.

      This is a complex and nuanced work, not an easy read. Snyder gives a 40 minute lecture on YouTube, which is a good summary. Watching Brexit, the rise of the far right in Germany, Austria, France and Italy, and the success of Trump gave me the impression that the world had gone mad. Snyder's book demonstrates clearly that there is method in this madness and it's coming from Russia. We've been warned.

    • Thanks for the book recommendation. I bought it. I wish I was reading more cheerful stuff but what is happening is so confusing and so out of the ordinary that like a lot of people I can't stop thinking about it.

      Trump's approval rating is rising and more Americans are saying the country is heading in the right direction than were a year or two ago. How to explain that? Is it purely the economy? Apparently even the newly laid-off workers at the Harley Davidson plant in Kansas still support the president.

      One thing I don't want to believe is the research NBC reported on yesterday:

      The research suggests that when intolerant white people fear democracy may benefit marginalized people, they abandon their commitment to democracy.

    • Snyder coined the term sadopopulism. It describes a political style that causes harm to the masses, but offers the promise that others will be hurt even more. Trump is doing nothing to solve the day-to-day problems of his core supporters, but is making them glad that they are not immigrants, black, gay, Hispanic, etc. It's a lose-lose strategy in which the winner loses less. It's also a strategy employed by Putin within Russia, as it happens.

      Obviously, this isn't the whole story, but it does seem to be something new in the US during my lifetime, a politics of spite. The good news is that despite all the terrible developments that have gotten Trump into the White House, his supporters are still a minority. Getting out the vote in 2018 is all it takes to reverse the slide into darkness.