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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  April 6, 2021 12:30am-1:00am BST

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the police chief in the us city of minneapolis has testified that the white officer on trial for the murder of george floyd violated the department's policy on the use of force during his arrest. medaria arradondo said derek chauvin�*s actions were not consistent with his department's policy or values. the nigerian authorities say more than eighteen—hundred inmates have escaped from a prison in the south—eastern town of owerri after it was attacked by gunmen. the prison authorities say the heavily armed attackers stormed the facility in the middle of the night and used explosives to free them. google has been spared having to pay potentially huge damages after the us supreme court ruled in its favour in a long running copyright dispute with a technology rival, oracle. justices ruled that google's incorporation of oracle's java programming language in its android mobile operating system was "fair use". now on bbc news. it's hardtalk
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with stephen sackur welcome to hardtalk. i'm stephen sackur. donald trump is now holed up in florida, not the white house, and his presidency is history. so, not surprisingly, historians are trying to find some perspective on a president who stress tested american democracy like no other. my guest is timothy snyder, one of america's leading historians of totalitarianism and the holocaust. he believes trump and his movement brought america face to face with early stage fascism. is that pushing historical parallels too far?
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professor timothy snyder in vienna, welcome to hardtalk. glad to be with you. you are a world—renowned historian, but increasingly you seem to be engaged with the politics of the present and i'm wondering why that is. is it for the simple reason that you do not believe the lessons of history are being learned? i think a lot of it has to do with demand. has to do with the fact that, whether you're in the us, or in the uk or in europe, or other places, there have been a lot of surprising events and historians are specialists in surprise. and most of the things that happen that we're supposed to rememberfrom history, the first world war, the second world war and so on, were not expected or predicted
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at the time. so historians are there to say, "look, nothing's predictable. don't be surprised, but, hey, there are some patterns." and if we learn more about those patterns, we might be better able to come to grips with the problems that we're facing now. interesting that you talk about patterns. are you suggesting that, if you understand the patterns, and read them well enough, history can become some sort of forecasting tool? well, i mean, isaiah berlin, who taught at the place where i studied in your country, used to say that historians can't tell you what happened, but they're pretty good at telling you what didn't happen — i'd say that about the present and the future as well. historians do have a sense of plausibility of what things might go together and what things won't go together. i mean, i'd also say that it's not about making specific forecasts, it is about having a sense of what has happened in the past and therefore what can happen. and the more you know about history, frankly,
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the broader your imagination is and the better you're going to be able to be at not being surprised, and i think that's the crucial thing. so, professor schneider, let's get to the f—word, in this case, fascism. you have used the word in connection with donald trump. how much thought did you give to the consequences of using that word? well, i mean, to be very clear, when we talk about fascism, we're not talking about something, which is in a laboratory somewhere, you know, in some kind of an experiment, we're talking about a current of thought and action, which was very much present in the united states and europe. it didn't win everywhere. it won in some places, but it was present pretty much everywhere. in the 1920s and 1930s, the germans were inspired by the americans, notjust the other way around. fascism is an international trend and it's still with us.
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now, with mr trump, what i said very specifically was post truth, which is his way of carrying out politics, is pre—fascism. that is to say, if by way of technology and talent, you clear the field of the idea of factuality, you're opening the way for the big lie. and the big lie is the trap that people fall into and leads them to do things like, for example, violently storm a parliament, whichjust happened in the united states. and those things are, in fact, fascistic and can lead the way to fascism. so, of course, as you quite rightly say, one has to be careful about how one uses the word. but to ignore the phenomenon and the human possibility, i think, is just completely irresponsible. and i take your point, and you've just repeated it, that you use this phrase pre—fascism in connection with trump and his movement. but nonetheless, by using the word, you do invite comparisons and parallels to be drawn. and, of course, the arch fascist, the individual that we associate most closely
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with the word is hitler. so if one then says, are there...? is there anything about donald trump that can be compared to adolf hitler in terms of ideological drive, in terms of his use of political means? are you saying there are any parallels at all to be drawn? i mean, first of all, stephen, i think we should drop the word parallels because parallels are lines that don't meet and history is not like that. history is one stream. i mean, there's only one history and you're in itand i'm in it, and trump is in it, and hitler is in it. it's not really so important what's exactly alike, what's not exactly alike. what's really important is being able to recognise patterns. so, of course, i'm not going to say that trump isjust like hitler, that would be idiotic. however, when you look at hitler, you're looking
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at a package of things, and some of those things are worth noticing when you look at a contemporary politician, for example, mastery of new technology. for hitler, those were mass speeches and the radio, right? for trump, it's twitter. the use of language is also similar — the call and response. the quick, the apparently spontaneous, actually rehearsed quick hit lines. these things are rather similar. but if you... what you do with this argument is you push it into a corner and you say, "well, the guy's not exactly like hitler." basically what you're doing is you're saying, "we have an excuse not to look at history because it's... we're not finding the most extreme things." frankly, i'm a lot more pessimistic about us. i think we ought to be very interrogative of ourselves and look for the ways in which we are similar to the 1920s and �*30s and cut them off before we get to the pass, where things start to become really dangerous. right. and yet early in this conversation, you said what's important often is what's not there, as much as what is there, and what's not there surely is worth discussing in relation to donald trump.
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what we don't see in donald trump is ideological zealotry. i mean, you yourself said that, in the end, donald trump is motivated most by what he sees in the mirror every morning — that is himself. what we also don't really seem to see in donald trump is a coherent organisation. i don't think anybody would say make america great again represented a disciplined political movement in the way that the nazis developed one in 19... ..late �*20s and 1930s germany. so aren't those differences profound and very important to note? right. but, stephen, notice that you only notice the differences when you make the comparison, right? i mean, you'vejust proven how making comparisons is fruitful. i wrote a whole book about what you just said, it's called the road to unfreedom, in which i argue that the difference between fascism and post—fascism, or not even fascism, which i sometimes call it, is that the fascists had one truth, as you say, and mr trump
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and mr putin and people of that ilk have zero truths. there's some similarity there. both of them depend upon myth. both of them want to drive out factuality. but there's also a difference, and i agree with you here. there's not a pronounced vision of the future in trump as there is in hitler. but, notice, we're not able to have this fruitful conversation unless we make the comparison, unless we look at the past — to see what's similar and what's different. if we dismiss this because we're afraid of taboos, then we become boring. yeah, well, i don't want us to be boring and i hope we won't be, but maybe it's more fruitful to draw in other comparisons, which perhaps make america's moment today seem less dangerous, less sort of completely existential than you might contend that it is. for example, there are serious historians who've suggested that donald trump should be compared more to recent historical figures, like ferdinand marcos
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in the philippines and silvio berlusconi in italy, than they should be to, you know, the totalitarians of the past. and, in a sense, they're focusing then on his vanity, his narcissism, his short—term, non—strategic approach to politics. would you accept that there's some truth in that? absolutely. i mean, and those politicians have things in common with one another, and they have things in common with, let's say, francisco franco. you can make all kinds of comparisons. i mean, most of what i have done has been to compare trump to contemporary failed dictators, like yanukovych in ukraine, or contemporary failed... ..contemporary successful dictators, like putin in russia. but i do think we have to start from a different point. we have to start from the point that america really is facing an existential crisis. we really did have people, some of whom really are fascists, violently storm our capitol. we really are in a situation where a sitting president tried to overturn a democratic election. those things are crises and we have to find the ways to explain those crises.
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i would take your point further, though, and say there are plenty of american comparisons to look at. but when you look hard at them, you realise that there are serious problems inside the american system, too. i'm totally open to that. yeah, but surely there are dangers in overplaying dangers as well as underplaying them? and what we learn from your own amazing research in black earth, your book about the rise of hitler and nazism, and then the resulting holocaust, what we learn is that notjust was ideology vitally important to understand, but also it was vital to understand the nature of broken states and civil chaos and the degree to which that was one of the defining reasons why the holocaust played out in the way that it did. so that's by way of prefacing this contention that america is nothing like a broken nation. in fact, what we learned from the assault on the capitol in january and everything that came before and after it was that america's democratic institutions are deeply founded
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and are strong and resilient, yes? hmm. that's nice. i didn't hear the trumpet playing while you said that, but maybe you could put that in afterwards. look, stephen, those things are very nice for americans to hear, but let's try to be a little bit realistic. there are many good things about american democracy. it's a strong civil society, right? there's some greatjournalists, but we have some big problems. we have very little local journalism. historical awareness. we have a constitution which allows for voter suppression, which is practised very seriously. we have massive inequality of wealth and income, which means that people live in very different worlds. and even more than in britain, people's politics are determined by their social media practises. we have some rather serious problems. tim snyder, every... you find me a society that doesn't have deep
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structural problems. i mean, all democratic societies do in one way or another. but surely, again, the point about what happened injanuary is this — that even the most pro—trump news media, like fox news, in the end, called arizona and other states for biden because they couldn't deny the truth. look at the court system from courts in republican red states to the supreme court! the courts would not deny the truth and play trump's game, they refused to. every stage of the institutional system in the united states ultimately held and that's why trump's sitting in mar—a—lago and not in the white house. i mean, that's a view that you can take, but if you happen to be a historian or political scientist who works on coups, what you learn is that failed coup attempts are not good things because failed coup attempts are what
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people learn from. you're right. in this particular case, the coup attempt failed, and i'm as happy as you are about it, maybe happier, but it's not something that people expected to happen, right? you spoke earlier about how one shouldn't expect things to be worse than they are. i was one of the very few people who came out in publication and said there will be a coup attempt, there will be a violent attempt to change this outcome, and i was right and pretty much everybody else was wrong. and there's a reason for this, which is this faith that institutions automatically work and bounce back — they don't. they only work if you care seriously about them, take them seriously. and when something happens, like whatjust happened injanuary, you work hard to repair them instead ofjust saying, "ah—ha, everything was hunky dory." i definitely believe it's right to take things seriously. but there is a strong body of opinion, even within history, even colleagues of yours like david bell, respected professor of history
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at princeton, who think that there's a danger in using the language you use. he says, and i'm going to quote him at some length, "most american voters outside "of the political progressive left do not think of fascism as in any way an american phenomenon. fascism for them is the world war ii enemy, an alien foreign ideology, and to associate it with a president for whom some may even have voted in 2016, and for whom they may still consider to have some sympathy for, seems absurd. it seems like another example of overkill on the left." do you see where he is coming from? no, i think professor bell has identified a very important problem, which is that you always think it's the other guy, right? you always think that these problems happen in other countries. there couldn't possibly be a far right movement in my country. there couldn't possibly be domestic terrorism in my country. it's not going to happen that people carrying confederate flags and nazi symbols are going to storm the capitol in my country.
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professor bell's exactly right. people don't want to think that these kinds of things happen in your country. that's what history is there for. history is there to tell you that your country is not exceptional in these ways. if you're an american historian, history is there to tell you that you had slavery. but... reconstruction failed and that racism is a long—term tendency in the united states. that's what history's for. but is it helpful to infer to many people who voted for trump that they are part of a proto—fascist movement? because that is most definitely not their self—perception. and i'm going to quote to you one other historian, thomas weber, who's talked about trust and where america goes from here. and he says that trust can only be re—established in our america if people are not showered with false accusations. if people have supported a bumbling emperor with no clothes for the last four years, ie trump, we will not get through to them today by calling them fascists.
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yeah, but i'm not... as you might have noticed, stephen, i'm not doing that. what i would do, though, is say that there's an excellent point inside that quotation, which is how to reach people. i don't think you reach people either by humouring them, i think you reach people, and this goes to a problem that the uk also has, by having local sources of reliable information that aren't all about national and international politics. this is where the american discussion has gone wrong. when you let social media take over and you let local media die, you end up in this fight, this bipolarfight, between one side and the other side, where the truth gets lost. so the answer is not, i think, either humouring people and saying, "oh, yes, it's just fine that you think it's ok to storm the capitol by violence or whatever," that's not going to help either, just like calling them fascists isn't going to help. this isn't a bridge party. it's not about, like, patting people on the head or not. democracy depends on something much more serious than that. it depends on factuality. so if you care about democracy, you have to care about building up institutions of factuality, not about humouring people and
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not about calling them names. right. and i've heard you in the past talk about the importance of re—establishing local, reputable news media. you are very upset about the demise of local newspapers across the united states. but, in a sense, that is a sort of counsel of despair. it's very hard to see that local newspapers are going to re—emerge because the digital landscape has changed, and probably changed the media landscape and the information flows across america forever. so what is your prescription for the pushback against what you call the post—truth society? yeah, that's a great question because now we're going down to serious things about how you identify problems, right? i mean, what history tells you — that changes precisely in media are vastly destabilising. i mean, even the printing press was vastly destabilising for the whole european order and, you know, for about 150 years, until people got that under control.
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with the internet, we don't have 150 years. if we care about democracy, we have to start from the premises that democracy�*s an enlightenment project — democracy depends upon people being reasonable and having something to be reasonable with, which is facts. you can't start from saying, "oh, this is an unsolvable problem," because if all these problems are unsolvable, then we can say goodbye to democracy. you have to say, "what can we do?" but i want to hear how you build a 21st century, fact—based culture and society. you break up... 0k, first of all, you treat these enterprises as being subject to antitrust law, right? i mean, hayek, who's not a left—winger, thinks that big monopolies like this are just as bad as central planning and he says it's the government's role to break them up, and he's absolutely right. hang on. you're talking about the big tech companies, the facebooks and googles? yes, yes. you break them up and you tax them. you internalise the externality they're creating. the externality is fake news, lies, conspiracy theories and so on.
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if you're looking at this from a democratic point of view, those are all negative externalities. you internalise them by taxing them and you use the money to support commercial and non—commercial news production all across the country. imean, that... it's something that the governments can do. that's a major structural sort of undertaking. but in the shorter term, i'm just wondering, as an historian, whether you see donald trump and his allies in that particular wing of the republican party that might be represented by, say, senators josh hawley and ted cruz, whether you see them as an ongoing and very significant movement in america. look, the whole conversation hangs together. the thing that mr cruz and mr hawley and mr trump have in common is the big lie that they told together about the outcome of the american election. and so long as you have a big lie functioning in your society, you do have a problem for your democracy. what mr hawley and mr cruz are now doing is fighting for the inheritance of that big lie.
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they want to be the people who tell the americans that the white americans, the republicans, that they're the victims, that they're the ones whose votes are being stolen and so forth. so, yes, so long as we have that big lie in the system, there's going to be a problem, right? and so part of your question about the actuality, the answer would be there has to be serious investigation of what happened in the us from november of last year through january of this year. there has to be some kind of commission which lays that down — notjust for future historians, but for citizens and for judges, so that we can have clarity about that. that will reduce the danger. it won't eliminate it, but it will reduce it. this fight for factuality that you talk about, you take from the us horizon to a global horizon because you talk about climate change being one of the things that most concerns you. the arguments about climate change, the truth about the science, the thing that perhaps most concerns you about the world in general today because you say that you see, in the denial of science, the sort of ground being laid for the rise of new totalitarianisms
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across the world. why does that particularly — that linkage between the denial of the science of climate change and the threat of new violent totalitarianisms, why do you make that linkage? 0k. there are a lot of links in that chain and i fear, stephen, you're going to interrupt me, but, first of all, it's the people who oppose climate change generally tend to be on the wrong side of all of the factuality issues, right? in terms of the causation, the thing about climate change is this — if you don't believe in it, you're not going to work against it. and if you don't work against it, or you stop other people from working against it, as the entire trump administration did, you're going to make it worse. it's going to come harder and it's going to come faster. and if it comes harder and faster with the associated problems, for example, refugees, that's going to tend to consolidate right—wing politics, as we have seen in both europe and
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the united states. so it's important to tell the truth about climate change and work on it in order to expand the time horizon of politics, to keep people from feeling desperate, as though everything had to happen right now, because that's the climate in which the far right, or all forms of extremism, for that matter, are going to flourish. we have to end and i'm going to end with this sort of... i hope it doesn't sound like a banal question, but the arc of your intellectual life seems to have been from relative optimism, when you were writing books earlier in your career about how actually, if you studied eastern europe, belarus, poland and other countries, you could see, you know, after the, i think, 17th century, a period when human beings found ways to live together in very positive terms. so that was one part of your career, but much more recently, you seem to have a very bleak view of how human beings rub along with each other, the way they run politics, the way in which their darker impulses come to dominate.
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am i right that you've, in the course of your intellectual life, left optimism behind and become something of a pessimist? that's a kind question, stephen, i appreciate it. but the answer is no. i mean, going back to your very first question, when you asked about public engagement, i spent a lot of the past five years in public and all of it has been on the premise that, working together, people can make a difference. i wouldn't travel and i wouldn't lecture to little groups in connecticut. i wouldn't spend all this time on civil society if i didn't think that it mattered and it could make a difference. and the things that worked out for us in early 2021, they have to do... the things that worked out, they had to do with people setting other things aside and working really hard on election turnout, on other issues. so, i mean, not really. i mean, as a historian, i have a sense of how badly things can go and that guides me. but as a citizen, i also realise that the horizon of possibility can be better than we can imagine. i mean, history teaches both
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lessons — that things can be worse than we can imagine, but also that things can be better than we can imagine. and as far as my own work goes, i'm always working for the better because i believe that that matters. professor tim snyder, it's been a pleasure to talk to you. thank you for being on hardtalk. pleasure was mine. remember last week? it was nice, warm, and sunny — almost a dose of summer for some of us. a completely different picture — shock this week. we've got cold, northerly winds blowing straight out of the arctic bringing wintry showers, it's already been snowing across some parts of the country, especially in the north.
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if you look at the satellite picture, you can clearly see the pattern. all that weather, all the clouds are drifting in from the north — not coming off the atlantic, coming in straight out of the arctic and invading so many other parts of europe as well. so, we're not the only ones experiencing the cold weather. it's many parts of the continent. now, you can see where the wintry showers will have been across the north of the country, maybe one or two snaking into northern ireland and wales, a few icy patches as well, and a widespread frost early on tuesday morning throughout the uk, probably away from the very immediate coast. now, tuesday is going to bring lots of sparkling sunshine at least in the morning. in the afternoon, the clouds will increase in some areas, and those strong northerly winds will bring wintry showers — particularly across scotland, but they will be strong enough to push some of these wintry showers even into northern england, the midlands, and possibly even the south coast. now, they will be gusting 30, 40, even 50 mph in the north of the uk.
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so, if it's only 2 celsius in aberdeen and you get a gust of around 50 mph — so that's 2 on the thermometer but the wind will make it feel, giving you an apparent temperature of “4 celsius. and look at that — barely above freezing the apparent temperatures in the south, as well. now mid week, wednesday, it's going to start frosty. that's because we still have the arctic air over us. so, the arctic air�*s not going away anywhere. but we're starting to see the winds easing. in fact, that cold air stream straight out of the arctic has been pushed into the north sea and instead, we'rejust getting a waft, a suggestion of atlantic air bringing somewhat milder air. so wednesday is not going to be quite as cold and we're not going to have as many wintry showers if any at all. and in fact, you can see this process happening on the weather map here wednesday and eventually into thursday as well when that milder, slightly milder air — the really mild air is in the south — that slightly milder air arrives, and you can see those temperatures bumping up to around about 12 celsius by the time we get to thursday.
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bye— bye.
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this is bbc news with the latest headlines for viewers in the uk and around the world. my name is mike embley. the minneapolis police chief testifies that the white officer on trial for the murder of george floyd violated the department's policy on the use of force. it is not part of our training and it is certainly not part of our fracture or our values. —— ethics. jailbreak — gunmen attack a prison and police headquarters in southern nigeria — more than 1,800 inmates escape. first a cyclone, now flooding and landslides have killed over 100 people in the east of indonesia. google is spared having to pay billions of dollars of damages to rival 0racle after a ruling that it fairly copied code for its android operating system.


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