Naomi Klein on Bracing for Trump’s Shock Politics While Daring to Dream Big

Naomi Klein’s latest book offers a strong dose of clarity to counteract the chaos plaguing the country since Donald Trump won the election. Klein draws from her unique areas of expertise—almost clairvoyantly—to decipher what the hell is going on at this moment in history.

Written in a matter of months, “No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need” is a quickly digestible read compared to Klein’s previous books, but it is no less provocative. Klein is also featured in a nine-minute YouTube video via The Intercept that offers viewers a concise version of how to resist Trump’s shock politics in five simple steps.

In “No Is Not Enough,” Klein exposes the man behind the Trump-brand façade, dissects his administration with precision and offers a dystopian glimpse of what we might be in for—it could get a lot worse, she warns.

But Klein doesn’t leave readers without hope. She lays out a path forward that requires not only bold action, but even bolder expectations. She argues that in the face of forces pushing systems backward, people must demand the opposite—a giant leap forward.

In Canada, that leap took the form of the Leap Manifesto, created as a platform with no party affiliation. A broad array of social movements came together and agreed on 15 demands, including a shift to 100 percent renewable energy, while ensuring that those on the front lines of pollution, such as indigenous peoples, would be first in line for their own clean energy projects. The Leap Manifesto represents an idea that can be embraced across different sectors of society or levels of government anywhere. In Canada, more than 46,000 people have signed the manifesto.

On June 19, Klein sat down with Spare Change News’ partner newspaper Street Roots in the bookstore’s Green Room to discuss her new book, what she calls the “Trump show,” the Portland MAX attack on Memorial Day weekend and why progressive causes should unite to demand a leap forward.

 

Emily Green: In your book, you suggest Trump may be well aware that his anti-Muslim rhetoric could be inciting an attack on U.S. soil and that [policy makers are unconcerned that] the repeal of Dodd-Frank could lead to another economic crash. These shocks are just what the White House will need to disorient the public and rationalize checking off unpopular items on their corporate wish list. But everyday, it seems like there is some sort of shock. How will we recognize the big one?

Naomi Klein: They are dismantling Dodd-Frank because there is money to be made—and they’re just not concerned. They’re not concerned about the bubbles that will burst because the profits are too tempting in the meantime, and they are making sure the public is going to foot the bill again for the bailout.

I think Trump has already shown his willingness to exploit terrorist attacks for his own political gain. He made that clear with the Manchester attack when he immediately said that this is happening because of immigrants streaming across our borders, when in fact it was a British-born bomber. After the London Bridge attack he said: This is why we need the Muslim ban.

In terms of how will we know? These shocks that Trump generates himself are pretty minor compared to what 2008 looked like or Katrina looked like or Sandy or 9/11. We will know. And part of the reason we will know is because we will see a side of this administration that we haven’t seen before when that happens.

 

EG: And when that does happen, the masses will likely be fearful and inclined to support drastic anti-democratic measures in the name of safety and security. There will be a tendency to drink the Kool-Aid in that respect. How should the progressive movement persist without alienating people who are having the emotional reactions that the Trump administration will be exploiting?

NK: This is part of why I wanted to get the book out before a shock like that happened—pointing out how shocks will be exploited before they happen and also connecting it to moments in U.S. history when this has happened—because historical memory is the best shock absorber of all. It is the thing that allows societies to identify patterns and go, “Wait a minute—they did this before and they’re doing it again.” I think there is some of that post 9/11. I think people do remember the way the Bush administration exploited that shock. There are a lot of people around who vividly remember how Rudy Giuliani seemed like a great daddy figure, and that’s pretty embarrassing right now in retrospect. It’s important to remind people, yeah—maybe it was a mistake to hand over so much power to Dick Cheney and Rudy Giuliani.

I think reminding your readers of what happened after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, with the internment of Japanese Americans, and what happened during the Great Depression, with the mass deportations of Mexicans. This is history that, unfortunately, isn’t taught well enough in schools, if at all. In particular, it’s not taught as a warning for what happens in these states of crisis and hyper-jingoism. Societies that have learned that history, that can identify it early and go wait a minute, they’re doing it again, we’re not going to fall for it again. That’s the work that needs to be done before the moment of shock, because as you say, when the shock happens, that’s when people are most vulnerable.

 

EG: How can journalists and independent media work as a shock absorber rather than just fueling the hysteria?

NK: There’s no shortage of people fueling the hysteria. I think it creates a lot of space for alternative media and independent media to focus on all the things that are being missed while the national media has its eyes fixed on the Trump show. By the Trump show, I mean the show that Trump is putting on because he’s always understood the value of distraction. And also the show that is being foisted on Trump—I don’t think he enjoys being investigated by the FBI, but all this is just journalistic crack. They can’t look away. The ratings for cable news have never been better. It physically pains them to spend one minute talking about healthcare, talking about what’s being done to Dodd-Frank, talking about the economic policies that are being advanced and how that is going to impact people’s actual lives—they can’t anymore than they couldn’t during the election campaign. They are addicted to Trump.

There was this mea culpa after the election with all of these cable news people admitting that they helped fuel and create this monster because they just couldn’t look away, and it’s only gotten worse.

It’s not to say that there is nothing to cover, absolutely—cover the Russia investigation, cover all the investigations. The investigations should be happening, and it should be a part of the coverage, but it’s not—it’s 99 percent of the coverage. This has basically been the biggest gift of all time to Mitch McConnell. They didn’t plan this, but this has landed on their laps, and this is basically the best recipe they’ve ever had for pushing through an incredibly unpopular, damaging economic program because they have this constant distraction.

And the Democrats seem to think their best strategy is to run an impeachment into 2018—basically, to go all-in on building the case for impeachment and then run the next election on “elect us and we’ll impeach Trump.” I think that the vacuum for independent media is to focus on all the things that are being missed while the Trump show provides cover.

 

EG: In November 2016, you wrote that the Democratic Party needs to move away from neoliberals like the Clintons or be abandoned. In the months since, have you seen any promising alternative parties popping up or signs that would suggest it is possible to reshape the Democratic Party?

NK: What I’ve seen is like a hardening of positions within the Democratic Party and a hardening around treating Bernie’s base as the enemy. I don’t really understand what planet these people are on, like that it’s a good idea to just write off 13 million people who voted for Bernie—and the fact that he carried more than 20 states. I mean, I don’t understand. But that seems to be where some powerful people in the Democratic Party are going. In terms of whether or not the fight is within the Democratic Party or outside the Democratic Party or some space in between, I don’t really know.
It is interesting what has happened in the U.K. because Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership was fought at every single stage by the equivalent of the DNC, the Labour Party. He was sabotaged again and again. He won because of a mass movement to join the Labour Party led by young people, and this appears to have worked. Finally, it appears that they are going to stop fighting him because he did so much better than expected in the last election.
You’re going to be fought at every stage. Of course they will undermine you and undercut you—and that means maybe you don’t walk away, but it’s a different structure. I think there definitely is an argument for an independent party that has one foot in and one foot out. It’s a rigged system, so vote splitting is a real problem. It is a structural problem that you would not have if you had an electoral system—be it that wasn’t first-past-the-post (winner take all, such as in the U.S.)—whether it be coalitions, and if there was a system like that, it would be an absolute no-brainer to keep the Democratic Party, but that’s not the system. It’s a really complicated question, and anyone who claims it’s not is, I don’t think, paying attention closely enough.

 

EG: I wanted to touch on “racial capitalism.” In Oregon, we have heard from the agriculture sector that the Trump administration’s immigration stance is exacerbating the already drastic shortages we have in migrant labor—they think they might not have people to pick the cherry trees this season.

NK: The crows will be really happy.

 

EG: Do you think capitalism and across-the-board fair treatment of workers can coexist?

NK: This phrase, “racial capitalism”—the late Cedric Robinson, a Marxist theorist, used it to describe the fact that you really can’t separate systems of white supremacy from the birth of modern capitalism, and that the modern capitalist system was born with the Industrial Revolution. And two major inputs of the Industrial Revolution, which created the excess capital, were stolen indigenous land and stolen African labor. In order to do that, there needed to be the creation of a hierarchy of humanity that would justify the theft of that land and the theft of those people.

That created the context for the Industrial Revolution and the birth of the U.S. economy, which was at the same time. The modern version of this is how neoliberalism has been sold in this country, through using race as a wedge, systematically, at every turn.

One of the details about the Portland stabbing I feel didn’t get enough attention was what the attacker was saying to those women. He was saying “go back to where you come from,” but he also said, “get off this bus, you don’t pay taxes.” This is a really key part of the messaging that has advanced these economic policies.

At every stage, “people of color are exploiting the system, they are abusing the system.” Whether it’s the Welfare Queens invented by Ronald Reagan, or Jeff Sessions today talking about how …  Chicago and New York’s systems are overburdened …  because immigrants are taking advantage. This has been the way neoliberalism has been sold in this country, by pitting whites against blacks with this idea that people of color are exploiting the system.

It’s worth noting that was what was said. That’s very telling about what racial capitalism looks like.

 

EG: If people read this interview or read your book or see the Leap Manifesto and think, yeah, that’s something I really want to get behind, what should they do?

NK: There seems to be some local interest. A local youth “leap” group forming, and it doesn’t matter if it’s called “the leap” or not. There are some great examples, like Portland Just Energy Transition initiative, which is bringing together the racial justice movement with the climate movement in a really meaningful way, calling for a key part of the just transition. We often focus on the “just” piece of it being either workers being included in the transition or communities of color getting resources, but we often don’t focus enough energy on the flipside of this, which is that the people who are most responsible for the climate crisis have to do more, have to pay their fair share. This is often glossed over by the big green groups who feel that would be too divisive.

The two pieces of just transition are the people who got the worst deal are first in line to benefit from the transition, and the people who did the most to create the crisis need to pay the most. And [Portland Just Energy Transition] is a great example of bringing those two demands together and getting the largest businesses to pay a significant part of the justice-based transition. So if people want to get involved locally, I would say, get involved in that. Get involved—Portland has some of the boldest transition policies on the books to get to 100 percent renewable energy, and this is in the Leap, but the question is how is that going to happen?

When we drafted the Leap Manifesto, we were inspired by this slogan by a group in the Bay Area called Movement Generation, which is, “Transition is inevitable, justice is not.” The justice piece has to be fought for.

It’s possible for the transition off of fossil fuels to be done in a completely brutal way. There is prison labor that is making solar panels right now.

If the jobs are going to be union jobs, if the jobs are going to pay a living wage, all that has to be fought for. If the transition doesn’t replicate the same divisions, that has to be fought for.  

I would also encourage people to go to leapmanifesto.org and check out the living leap [theleapblog.org] with just examples of what people have done with this vision, whether it’s incarcerated youth, postal workers, local city council, students—there’s lots of examples of people taking this broad-strokes aspiration of the society that we want, instead of the one we have now.

Courtesy of Street Roots / INSP.ngo

[Ed. Note: This is a shortened version of the interview. For the full version, visit Street Roots’ website or sparechangenews.net soon.]

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