Are We Living in an Age of Strongmen?

Are We Living in an Age of Strongmen?
Torsten Silz/AP Images for AVAAZ

The intellectual left reacted to Donald Trump’s election in 2016 in two very different ways. One group, like so many in the general public, immediately fell into full panic mode. The historian Timothy Snyder, for instance, rushed into print with a book called On Tyranny and in an interview declared it “pretty much inevitable” that Trump would follow Adolf Hitler’s example by declaring a state of emergency and staging a coup. Others urged caution. Snyder’s Yale colleague Samuel Moyn and Oxford’s David Priestland insisted in a New York Times opinion piece that “there is no real evidence that Mr. Trump wants to seize power unconstitutionally, and there is no reason to think he could succeed.” Trump, they claimed, was in reality a weak leader, despite his ability to exploit populist discontent. What was needed, they implied, was a focus less on his tweets and more on the neoliberalism and endless war that had provoked the discontent that brought him to power in the first place. The debates continued right through the 2020 election, with Snyder and many others continuing to warn of jackboots in the streets and Moyn and numerous other commentators insisting that the warnings themselves mostly worked to distract our attention from the staggering structural problems that the country faces.

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