HimHis election that November came as a surprise…

By Timothy Snyder

Nov 18 2016


His election that November came as a surprise. The conservative intellectuals had made telling arguments against his racism and conspiracy thinking. Rival nationalists had mocked his affection for a foreign tyrant. Businessmen had explained that economic isolation could only harm an export economy. All to no avail.

His followers had faith, of course. They had roared at his rallies and echoed his slogans. They had come out to vote, in higher numbers than expected, especially working-class men and women. Even so, the results of the election were paradoxical. The left received 1 million more votes than his party. But due to the vagaries of the electoral system he was called upon to form a government. His followers exulted, but the various right-wing elites preserved their calm. Although they had failed to keep him from power, they were sure that they could control him. He was good at convincing his followers that he was a revolutionary and convincing others that he was harmless.

His administration was at first a coalition of the old right and his new right. The members of the major left-wing party, historically larger than his, had a sense that something was afoot. But the left was divided upon itself and unsure about its leadership; its own conflicts could, from moment to moment, seem more pressing than the affairs of the country as a whole. He did not invent the highway, as his propaganda claimed, but he did support public works. This sort of thing helped to confuse the left and the workers.

Among much of the ordinary citizenry there was a certain faith that the political elite had matters under control. Among the elite there was a certain faith that state institutions would somehow protect themselves, that the rule of law and administrative habit would somehow maintain themselves. It was a minority that exulted in his power and a smaller minority that broke the windows and painted the symbols. Somehow, amid the misplaced hopes, his followers set the tone. As the mood changed, much of the citizenry began to think ahead about what he would want and make adjustments in advance. This made his task infinitely simpler.