On Tyranny

by

Timothy Snyder

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Donald Trump Character Analysis

Donald Trump is the 45th president of the United States, whose authoritarian style Snyder considers an unprecedented threat to American democracy and whose election motivated Snyder to write On Tyranny. With the United States already on the point of collapse, Snyder argues, Trump threatens to turn the nation into a “fascist oligarchy” by using many of the same strategies that dictators throughout history have used to accumulate power, eliminate opposition, repress citizens, and kill through war and genocide. For instance, Snyder suggests that Trump presents lies as facts and journalists as liars, advocates contradictory policies in a “blatant abandonment of reasoning,” and demands loyalty from everybody who works for him. He also encourages his supporters to use violence, uses the originally pro-Nazi slogan “America First,” and appeals to a “great” past that cannot be identified with any particular moment in history. Snyder highlights how, like Trump, many dictators—like Putin and Hitler—were initially elected but then dismantled the institutions that limited their power and established tyranny, often capitalizing on some sort of crisis or emergency to give themselves greater power that they then never give up. Using these examples, Snyder stresses that liberal democracy is not inevitable and that Americans must act now in order to prevent Donald Trump from establishing tyranny in the United States.

Donald Trump Quotes in On Tyranny

The On Tyranny quotes below are all either spoken by Donald Trump or refer to Donald Trump. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Collapse of American Democracy Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Tim Duggan Books edition of On Tyranny published in 2017.
Chapter 3 Quotes

Does the history of tyranny apply to the United States? Certainly the early Americans who spoke of “eternal vigilance” would have thought so. The logic of the system they devised was to mitigate the consequences of our real imperfections, not to celebrate our imaginary perfection. We certainly face, as did the ancient Greeks, the problem of oligarchy—ever more threatening as globalization increases differences in wealth. The odd American idea that giving money to political campaigns is free speech means that the very rich have far more speech, and so in effect far more voting power, than other citizens. We believe that we have checks and balances, but have rarely faced a situation like the present, when the less popular of the two parties controls every lever of power at the federal level, as well as the majority of state houses. The party that exercises such control proposes few policies that are popular with the society at large, and several that are generally unpopular—and thus must either fear democracy or weaken it.

Related Characters: Timothy Snyder (speaker), Donald Trump, Adolf Hitler, Vladimir Putin
Page Number: 29-30
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

Because the American federal government uses mercenaries in warfare and American state governments pay corporations to run prisons, the use of violence in the United States is already highly privatized. What is novel is a president who wishes to maintain, while in office, a personal security force which during his campaign used force against dissenters.

Related Characters: Timothy Snyder (speaker), Donald Trump
Page Number: 44-45
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

Fascists despised the small truths of daily existence, loved slogans that resonated like a new religion, and preferred creative myths to history or journalism. They used new media, which at the time was radio, to create a drumbeat of propaganda that aroused feelings before people had time to ascertain facts. And now, as then, many people confused faith in a hugely flawed leader with the truth about the world we all share.
Post-truth is pre-fascism.

Related Characters: Timothy Snyder (speaker), Donald Trump
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 16 Quotes

History, which for a time seemed to be running from west to east, now seems to be moving from east to west.

Related Characters: Timothy Snyder (speaker), Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:
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Donald Trump Character Timeline in On Tyranny

The timeline below shows where the character Donald Trump appears in On Tyranny. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 6: Be wary of paramilitaries.
The Collapse of American Democracy Theme Icon
Tyranny and the Consolidation of Power Theme Icon
...is already far down this track: it has privatized its wars and prisons, and Donald Trump encourages his private security team and his supporters to use violence at his rallies. He... (full context)
Chapter 10: Believe in truth.
The Collapse of American Democracy Theme Icon
Tyranny and the Consolidation of Power Theme Icon
...ways that “truth dies.” First, tyrants ignore the truth and lie profusely—Snyder suggests that Donald Trump is a good example, as 78% of his statements during his presidential campaign were false.... (full context)
The Collapse of American Democracy Theme Icon
Tyranny and the Consolidation of Power Theme Icon
Political Action and Civic Responsibility Theme Icon
...strategy that tyrants use to destroy truth is demanding faith and loyalty. For example, Donald Trump insists that he is the only person capable of solving various problems, so people simply... (full context)
Chapter 11: Investigate.
The Collapse of American Democracy Theme Icon
Political Action and Civic Responsibility Theme Icon
...only free and independent because they can tell the truth from falsehoods. Accordingly, authoritarians like Trump try to limit this ability by promoting propaganda, suppressing honest journalists, and accusing critics of... (full context)
Chapter 16: Learn from peers in other countries.
The Collapse of American Democracy Theme Icon
Political Action and Civic Responsibility Theme Icon
History and Memory Theme Icon
...Ukraine and Russia who were covering the 2016 American election saw the dangers of the Trump campaign’s fake news and propaganda before American journalists did. In fact, the Russian government tested... (full context)
Chapter 18: Be calm when the unthinkable arrives.
The Collapse of American Democracy Theme Icon
Tyranny and the Consolidation of Power Theme Icon
Donald Trump openly supports Vladimir Putin’s government and antidemocratic “terror management” tactics. Like tyrants throughout history, Trump... (full context)
Chapter 19: Be a patriot.
The Collapse of American Democracy Theme Icon
Tyranny and the Consolidation of Power Theme Icon
Future generations need role models of American patriotism, and Snyder stresses that Donald Trump is not a good example. From draft-dodging and ridiculing the military to funneling public funds... (full context)
Epilogue: History and Liberty
The Collapse of American Democracy Theme Icon
Tyranny and the Consolidation of Power Theme Icon
History and Memory Theme Icon
...The Nazis, Soviets, and politicians who led Brexit all reasoned this way. So does Donald Trump, who took the slogan “America First” from a 1930s pro-Nazi committee, and whose plan to... (full context)