"May you live in interesting times” is a Chinese adage that seems to perfectly apply to the state of utter bewilderment everyone faces in the Trump era. When uncertainty reigns supreme, the political environment becomes highly interesting. Several alarmists would have us believe that Donald Trump may take us back to the Hobbesian ‘state of nature’ popularly known as ‘war of all against all’. However, some scholars are trying to understand the Trump phenomenon and the underlying reasons of his rise to the most powerful office in the world.
No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need is Canadian author and social activist Naomi Klein’s attempt to do so. Klein previously authored No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism and This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Her newest book is a culmination of these three earlier works in the same way that Trump is the epitome of all three maladies: hollow brands, disaster capitalism and climate change denial.
Klein sees Trump not as a singular phenomenon, but part of a worldwide trend. She explains: “We are seeing a surge of authoritarian, xenophobic, far right politics — from Marine Le Pen in France to Narendra Modi in India, to Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, to the UK Independence Party, to Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey and all of their counterparts (some explicitly neo-fascist) threatening to take power around the world.” A similar approach has been adopted by British-Indian author Pankaj Mishra in his book Age of Anger: A History of the Present where he treats Trump as part of a larger trend of angry populists ruling several nations. Continental philosopher Slavoj Zizek highlights similar concerns in one of his articles by asking the question, “What happens to democracy if the majority is inclined to vote for racist and sexist laws?”
Naomi Klein writes on Trump’s triumph and the threat his presidency poses to people around the world
According to Klein, Trump is the apogee of neo-liberal policies that started in the Reagan-Thatcher era with their call for an ever expanding role of free market policies and ever receding government regulations. The role of big money has been increasing in United States’ politics; so much so that big corporations introduced one of their own guys as the US president and politicians with lifelong careers could not defeat him, either in party primaries or in the presidential election. Now that he is in office, he plans to take the onslaught of neo-liberal policies to whole new level. Klein signals it by stating: “Trump and his cabinet of former executives are remaking government at a startling pace to serve the interests of their own businesses, their former businesses and their tax bracket as a whole. Within hours of taking office, Trump called for a massive tax cut, which would see corporations pay just 15 percent (down from 35 percent), and pledged to slash regulations by 75 percent.” This total takeover by the corporations was lamented by former vice president Al Gore in his book The Future: The Six Drivers of Global Change in the following words: “virtually any proposal that required the exertion of governmental authority — even if it was proposed, debated, designed and decided in a free democratic process — was often described as a dangerous and despicable step towards totalitarianism.” One is compelled to add that perhaps it is a government of the corporations, for the corporations, by the corporations.
Klein states that Trump is a product of the system that pitches humans against each other in a winner-take-all competition where you either win or lose. The winner is glorified and entitled to material luxuries in life. Losers are blamed for not stooping to the lowest levels that their competitors could sink to in order to win. This gladiatorial drama only cares for the end goal and not the means adopted to achieve that goal. It depicts the world in false binaries of winners and losers. The winners can adopt any means in life with impunity as long as they are winning. Klein writes: “Trump’s personal brand is ... being the ultimate boss, the guy who is so rich he can do whatever he wants (including grabbing whichever woman he wants, by whichever body part he wants).”
Klein discusses climate change as a major threat to human existence and the need to combat it collectively. She highlights the role of the oil sector in propping up fake research to create doubts about climate change while an overwhelming majority of scientists of the world have accepted the devastating effects climate change might bring in near future. Her exposé of ExxonMobil reminds one of Ida Tarbell, an early 20th century ‘muckraker’ journalist who exposed the shenanigans of the Standard Oil Company. Klein’s fears about the Trump administration causing havoc to the environment were proved correct when Trump announced the withdrawal of the US from the Paris climate accord. She informs us that “Trump’s rescue plan for the fossil fuel sector is multi-pronged: bury the evidence that climate change is happening by stopping research and gagging agencies; cut the programmes that are tasked with coping with the real-world impacts of climate disruption; and remove all barriers to an acceleration of the very activities that are fuelling the crisis — drilling for more oil and gas, mining and burning more coal.”
What worries Klein most is the extent to which the exploitative plunder of Trump and his coterie of “disaster capitalists” can go. She describes her previous thesis of the ‘shock doctrine’ that these business moguls use to rebuild any society after it is hit by a disaster, in a fashion that erodes anything of public value from there while maximising the profits of their private enterprises. This trend can be seen in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans as well as in Baghdad after the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. Klein writes that “shocks and crises have been handmaidens to the worst abuses in the aftermath of the civil war, the promise of land distribution as economic reparation to freed slaves was promptly betrayed. ... During the Great Depression, amidst economic panic, as many as two million Mexicans and Mexican Americans were expelled. After the attacks on Pearl Harbour, approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans (two thirds of whom had been born in the US) were incarcerated in internment camps.”
After discussing these problems, Klein does not end on a pessimistic note. Rather, she cites examples from around the world as well as the US where people successfully fought neo-liberal policies and forced governments to adopt more people friendly programmes. She advises an approach of “intersectionality” where activism movements in apparently diverse areas unite to form a collective front against the horrible policies of the neo-liberal elite in order to save our planet. In the words of American historian Howard Zinn: “The really critical thing isn’t who is sitting in the White House, but who is sitting-in — in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of the governments, in the factories. Who is protesting, who is occupying offices and demonstrating. Those are the things that determine what happens.”
Written five months into Trump’s presidency, No Is Not Enough not only analyses Trump’s popularity, but also warns about the dangers of his presidency for the whole world in general and the US in particular. Klein also goes on to present a roadmap in the form of a “Leap Manifesto” that presents broad outlines of policies that governments around the world should pursue and civil society activists should campaign for.
The reviewer is a civil servant and a freelance writer
No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock
Politics and Winning the World We Need
By Naomi Klein
Haymarket Books, US
Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, November 26th, 2017