Last week here at the San Diego Free Press, Sharon Carr provided a nice overview of Naomi Klein’s new book No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need. These next two weeks, I’d like to follow up Ms. Carr’s good work by underlining what I see to be the two central insights in Klein’s book and why they matter.
In essence, Klein’s book is centered on two key points: 1) Despite all the drama and spectacle, Trump is nothing new; and 2) Neoliberal incrementalism is a dead end and we require bolder vision and practice to win the world we need. This week, we’ll consider the first proposition.
Trump Is Not an Aberration
In the introduction to No Is Not Enough, Klein is very clear that in her estimation, “Trump, extreme as he is, is less an aberration than a logical conclusion—a pastiche of pretty much all the worst trends of the past half-century.” She argues that Trump is simply “the product of powerful systems of thought” that have used racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry to “advance brutal economic policies.” Trump is also the pure product of the “merger of humans and corporations” that marks our era and the embodiment of “the belief that money and power provide license to impose one’s will upon others.” His chaotic machinations are completely in line with “a business culture that fetishizes ‘disrupters’” and his fundamental philosophy is also quite recognizable.
In fact, Klein argues, Trump is:
[T]he incarnation of a still powerful free market ideological project—one embraced by centrist parties as well as conservative ones—that wages war on everything public and commonly held, and imagines corporate CEOs as superheroes who will save humanity. In 2002 George W. Bush threw a ninetieth-birthday party for the man who was the intellectual architect of that war on the public sphere, the radical free-market economist Milton Freidman. At the celebration, then US secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld declared, “Milton is the embodiment of the truth that ideas have consequences.” He was right—and Donald Trump is a direct consequence of those ideas.
Later in the book, she notes that Trump’s neoliberal project’s tools are “all too familiar: privatization of the public sphere, deregulation of the corporate sphere, and low taxes paid for by cuts to public services.” This is basically “neoliberal business as usual” which (with Trump’s cast of climate change denying fossil fuel industry leaders occupying much of his cabinet) may lead to “a species-threatening catastrophe.”
And, as Klein is careful to remind us, Trump’s second in command, Mike Pence, was the driver of the disaster capitalist agenda in post-Katrina New Orleans where the suffering of that city’s citizens led to big corporate profits and things like the near-total privatization of the city’s school system. In the end, many profited handsomely but those guiding the “recovery” effort ultimately did little to adequately address New Orleans’ deep infrastructure and poverty problems.
Thus, Trump’s style may be jarring with all the daily distractions, but what many observers, progressives included, seemed to have missed is that while he may have failed to get much done thus far in terms of policy wins, he has been quite successful in taking over the Supreme Court for the radical right and undoing a host of vital regulations as he aims to defund many needed agencies and public programs.
In sum, Trump has been more adept at moving us in the wrong direction than the daily scandal coverage would have us think. To borrow a phrase from basketball, we’ve been watching Trump moving the ball all around the court rather than keeping focused on his hips. The fact of the matter is that Trump’s grotesque oversized persona and accompanying Twitter meltdowns matter much less than the network of right-wing corporate forces operating beneath the radar screen as all eyes are focused on the clown-in-chief.
As I noted last week, the new Supreme Court majority is well on its way to gutting public sector unions, and now there are bills in both the House and Senate aimed at doing the same for the entire American labor movement, public and private, which even if they don’t pass, send a strong signal to the states to follow the same course. And while Hurricanes Harvey and Irma illustrate the urgent need to act on climate, it cannot be denied that the perhaps the single most fiercely focused demolition effort of the new administration has been aimed at climate and environmental regulations.
These examples speak volumes about the commitment by those on the Right to winning not the battle of the news cycle but rather the long war by seeking to permanently disable their opponents and undermine any effort to protect the commons. And anyone who argues that this is just the result of Trump’s extremism is missing the fact that his political transgressions are, as I have said before, lightning flashes in the night sky that illuminate the greater darkness.
In sum, even if Trump was somehow driven from office today, things will just continue to get worse until the entire dead-end neoliberal project is dismantled. He is simply a manifestation of a much greater political, social, and economic crisis—a mere symptom of the greater disease that ails us.
Next week: Part Two, “Neoliberal Incrementalism Brought to You by Democrats Is Not Enough.”