Why do people lie about their inheritance

Historian Timothy Snyder"Trump's legacy is the big lie"

Corona, climate change, the economy, racism, the threat to democracy: these are some of the issues facing the new US president. Joe Biden has already reversed important decisions made by his predecessor. The US has returned to the Paris Agreement and the World Health Organization. The wall to Mexico will no longer be built. And the president lifted the entry ban for visitors from several Muslim countries. Setting the political course is one thing.

In addition, historians will be occupied with the years 2016-2020 for a long time - and with January 6, 21, the storming of the Capitol.

Professor Timothy Snyder teaches history at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. He is a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Science in Vienna. In 2017 his book "On Tyranny. Twenty Lessons for the Resistance" was published. In his most recent book from last year, he looks at the US healthcare system during the pandemic.

The interview with the historian Timothy Snyder in the original English version

Christoph Heinemann: What are the lasting effects of Donald Trump's presidency?

Timothy Snyder: Let me mention one thing that is easily overlooked in the general noise: global warming. The United States has spent four years accelerating global warming. The Trump administration has tried for four years to deny that global warming is a problem. So one of the lasting consequences for the whole world of this government is that it will be more difficult to solve the problem of climate change.

For the United States, the biggest immediately palpable problem - or the legacy of the Trump administration - is the big lie: Mr Trump's big lie claiming he won the presidential election, that our electoral system would not work, and that it is Would act fraud. This lie was big enough to divide American society. And it led some Americans to use violence. This will have to be dealt with in the years to come.

(picture alliance / White House / Cover Images) Right-wing media in the USA: twisting the truth and stoking fears
US President Donald Trump has a new favorite station after Fox News: The One America News Network broadcasts presidential praise and conspiracy theories. Other right-wing podcasts and shows are also fueling rifts in US society.

"The lie requires violence"

Heinemann: Do you see a connection between lies and violence?

Snyder: I would say so, but many bright people before me have said that. The problem with a big lie is that it puts you in a special role. It becomes a matter of faith. If all the facts and all the authorities are directed against you, then there is a conspiracy behind it. And if the big lie is about something important, like a choice, then it's worth fighting for. The ultimate logic of the big lie is, as Hannah Arendt has already explained, that violence is needed to bring the world into agreement with this big lie. We have seen this happen again in the United States.

Heinemann: So the horror Trump isn't really gone?

Snyder: The problem is less in him than in the lie itself: there is the distrust of many Americans towards elections and democracy. The possibility that another politician could pick up this big lie and then declare the Americans to be the victims, and not Mr Trump. The long-term problem, which I also consider important for Europeans, is the lack of local news and local media. Normal, everyday facts are no longer collected. Because this is lacking in the Americans, great lies and conspiracy theories were given such wide scope for development in our society.

(dpa / AP Photo / Branden Camp) US media after the Trump era - the local hopefuls
The much discussed division of society in the USA is also reflected in the polarization of public opinion. But the local newspapers, radio and TV stations in particular still enjoy broad trust among the population - an opportunity and a danger at the same time.

Heinemann: How does it affect democracy when there is no more local reporting?

Snyder: First: Without the representation of the real world, the institutions that are needed for democracy cannot work. It is very difficult to have a local civil society dealing with local issues without access to basic facts.

Second: Local reporting enables trust in all media. If that doesn't exist, if you don't know reporters personally, then the word media has something negative, distant and abstract. And maybe even something hostile.

Third, the representation of the real world opens up the possibility of people finding different topics on which they would like to collaborate. It is normal for us to have different feelings and values. But if there are different facts or no facts at all, then it becomes difficult for people to believe that they are citizens of a republic and the same country. And it is difficult for them to find their places for fruitful collaboration. And without that, democracy becomes very difficult.

"Democracy requires resources to be made available for local reporting"

Heinemann: In Europe, the public media are under pressure: They live in the United States and in Vienna. What are your experiences with a view to the media landscape?

Snyder: The most important topic worldwide, in various forms, is the centralization of media. And the most important necessity is a return and a commitment to a diverse media landscape. If democracy is a value, then resources have to be allocated so that local reporting can be sustained. Either through direct funding, as the Norwegians do. Or by taxing social media companies. That has to be. In my experience, one of the strengths of a democracy like Germany is that it still has regional radio stations and regional newspapers. You still have a good number of political conversations about local or regional life. In contrast to the fact that everything only takes place as national politics, as fiction or abstraction. Unfortunately, that is where the culture of conversation in America has developed.

(imago / Allison Dinner) US media after Trump - New dialogue between government and media
With the change of office in the White House, a lot is likely to change for the US media as well. There will probably be no insults or public attacks from Joe Biden. But the journalist Christoph von Marschall also expects continuity on some issues.

Heinemann: And this diversity stands for trustworthy sources?

Snyder: Good question. Because here we come to the question of ethics. It's about a commitment to the truth. We believe reporting leads to the truth. For me, trustworthy sources means above all: rapporteurs. Reporters are an element of a healthy civil society. You cannot have media without the sustainable and valued profession of reporter.

Heinemann: How did the institutions and the system of separation of powers, checks and balances function during Donald Trump's tenure?

Snyder: Relatively bad. Had it worked well, we would not have seen the United States Capitol occupied by armed protesters and five people dying. I cannot tell a story about America with functioning institutions that ends in blood on the steps of the Capitol. Nobody can. In 2016, it was widely expected in the United States that institutions would impose restrictions on Mr. Trump. That was the general expectation. Instead, we have seen these institutions slowly disintegrate. We had to realize that the Justice Department, which was supposed to ensure the independent application of the country's laws, could and was corrupted. We have seen that very rarely has the United States Congress exercised its control over executive power. After another four years with this president, the institutions would have looked very bad. But the Americans have to be credited for having recognized that.

Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk does not adopt statements made by its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.