USA: short post-election note, plus Noam Chomsky on Trump and what’s next

Morrissey and forward-looking dog
Morrissey and forward-looking dog.

A friend who lives in the USA wrote this to me about an hour ago:

I am absolutely depressed, disgusted, and pissed if that fucker gets in office.  They both suck…but he sucks more cause he’s a sociopath.  Get the futon out of the closet and put some clean sheets on it with a warm comforter.  I’ll buy my ticket tomorrow and be at your door within hours like maybe tomorrow night.  If…and that’s a big if…if I can get to an ATM machine and pull out all my cash.  Doubtful since I expect Marshall Law everywhere…banks will close…stock market will shut down…internet will crank to a halt thanks to China, Russia, and the Dumper.  It will not be a pretty sight out there.  So…if…I can buy my ticket I’ll see you this time tomorrow night.  Please don’t make it snow.

Sadly, it’s snowing wildly in Sweden today, in fact, the most it’s snowed in months.

Another dear friend’s Twitter feed is dominated by American HBTQ persons who are sharing suicide hotline telephone numbers.

Facebook and Twitter, to me, are awash in extreme reactions. There is very little room for nuance. Fear and rejection fills the air, which is strange; people are bewildered, but those two sentiments are what Donald Trump exudes, and thrives on.

Even though the current political status of the USA is horrid, I believe it’s most important to try and stay calm and rational. It’s hard, I know.

I think of this interview with Noam Chomsky which was conducted by James Resnick in July of 2016, which carries hope:

Businesses are always involved in a class war; sometimes they can do better and sometimes they can do worse but right after the Second World War, the major attack on labour and New Deal measures begun and took awhile to take off but with the breakdown of the international financial system in the early ’70s, opportunities arose and class warfare increased. You can see that already in the late Carter years and it took off very strongly during the Reagan/Thatcher period where neoliberal policies were instituted and which had a devastating effect on the weaker societies, including the third world. In the richer societies, the United States and Europe, it has the effect of imposing relative stagnation on the large majority of the population while for a tiny sector a huge increase in wealth, but these are just all aspects of a constant class war that is being carried out. If there’s no reaction to it on the part of public organisations, then the class war succeeds.

Popular public organisations have been under attack and atomised, and the labour movement has been under severe attack. One aspect of the concentration of private wealth is that it sets off a vicious cycle; private wealth concentrates and it carries with it political power. That political power is used to introduce legislation which increase private wealth and so the cycle goes on. It’s not a law of nature, or a law of economics; these are matters of relative power of various classes of people and the ongoing conflicts over the social and political nature of the system. It right now happens to be a period of regression from the general viewpoint of the population. It’s happened before and it’s been overcome. You see it happening in many ways. One aspect is the decline of democracy which is very visible both in the United States and in Europe and has led to the significant decline of the more-or-less centrist parties. In the United States, the Democrats and the Republicans are both under severe attack from popular-based forces, such as Trump and Sanders. People that have very much the same interests and concerns and if they could get together on those issues it would be a major popular force and in Europe you see the same thing. Recently, in the Austrian elections, the two traditional parties that ran the country were out of the elections. The choice was between a neo-fascist party and a green party.

JR: You reference Martin Gilens’ study that finds that around 70% cannot affect government policy in any form. How has this alienation among the powerless translated in the discourse seen during the 2016 election primaries?

NC: Very directly. That’s part of the basis of the support for Trump and Sanders. In some respects, they’re pretty similar reactions. There’s a close correlation between effective disenfranchisement and simply abstention which has been studied for years. Walter Dean Burnham years ago did a study of the socio-economic character of non-voters in the United States and what he found is that they’re pretty similar to the people in Europe who voted for Social Democratic and Labour-based parties. Since they don’t exist in the United States, they just didn’t vote. It’s been around for a long time, but it’s just getting exacerbated as large sectors of the population are just cast by the wayside in the course of neoliberal programs. Either they would organise, be effective and do something about it, such as the 1930s with the militant labour movement or just get angry or frustrated, xenophobic, racist, destructive and so on.

JR: Inequality in all its forms continues to threaten democracy in the United States. Do you see evidence that positive change to reverse these trends will arise, and is there a case for optimism?

NC: We can be very optimistic. Things like this have happened before and they’ve been overcome. The 1920s were a period kind of like this in many ways, but the 1930s were a significant revival, things changed and there are forces you can easily identify. A lot of the support for Sanders is promising and could have a lot of promise but it depends how it is developed; the same with Corbyn in England and Podemos in Spain. There are reactions to problems that are not easy to overcome, but I think there are plenty of possibilities.

Personally, even though Donald Trump’s rhetoric is very often stupid, farcical and impossible to rely on – even for his most devoted followers – I believe the biggest problem lies in not being able to know his next move. Still, an ego-centric person like Trump is bound to make mistakes. And mistakes can be corrected – providing room for those mistakes not having anything to do with nuclear weaponry nor completely fucking up the environment – oh, wait, yes, there are quite a few mistakes that cannot be corrected – by others.

Here’s from an interview with Chomsky from The Guardian in May 2016:

Q: What effect would electing Donald Trump have?
A: It’s hard to say because we don’t really know what he thinks. And I’m not sure he knows what he thinks. He’s perfectly capable of saying contradictory things at the same time. But there are some pretty stable elements of his ideology, if you can even grant him that concept. One of them is: “Climate change is not taking place.” As he puts it: “Forget it.” And that’s almost a death knell for the species – not tomorrow, but the decisions we take now are going to affect things in a couple of decades, and in a couple of generations it could be catastrophic.


Do you not feel you’ve had enough sometimes?
It’s like seeing a child in the street and a truck coming rapidly. Do you say, “Look, I’m too busy thinking about interesting questions, so I’ll let the truck kill the child”? Or do you go out into the street and pull the child back?

But if it was another child, every day, for decades?
It doesn’t matter. I remember the philosopher Bertrand Russell was asked why he spent his time protesting against nuclear war and getting arrested on demonstrations. Why didn’t he continue to work on the serious philosophical and logical problems which have major intellectual significance? And his answer was pretty good. He said: “Look, if I and others like me only work on those problems, there won’t be anybody around to appreciate it or be interested.”

What would you like to see happen, in that case?
I would like to see serious and significant steps made to put an end to the use of fossil fuels, to create sustainable energy systems and to save the world – as much as we can – from likely environmental catastrophe. I would move very quickly towards de-escalating military confrontations, which are quite serious, and move towards fulfilling our legal obligation to rid the world of nuclear weapons. I would like countries to become democracies, not plutocracies.

How do you turn a plutocracy into a democracy?
It’s not very hard. In the US, it simply means going back to mainstream ideas. To quote John Dewey, the leading US social philosopher of the 20th century, until all institutions – industrial, commercial, media, others – are under democratic control, or in the hands of what we now call stakeholders, politics will be the shadow cast by big business over society. That’s elementary and it can be done.

Curtis Mayfield and Sam Cooke will end this one:

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