No Is Not Enough by Naomi Klein
Naomi Klein believes that just opposing Donald Trump, especially as an individual, isn’t enough to “win the world we need.” We must also understand where we are and how we got here, and convince our fellow Americans that a radically different world – one in which the needs of the 99% and the earth are met – is achievable. She begins her latest book, No Is Not Enough, by saying, “Up to now there’s been a mask on the corporate state’s White House proxies: the smiling actor’s face of Ronald Reagan or the faux cowboy persona of George W. Bush.” With Trump, however, “the mask is gone,” and the deconstruction of the regulatory and social service state, “the unleashing of a domestic fossil fuel frenzy, and a civilizational war against immigrants and ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ is at hand. Trump’s administration will exploit any shocks that occur or that it creates “to push through the more radical planks of its agenda. A large-scale crisis like a terrorist attack or financial crash, for example, might provide the pretext to declare a state of emergency, during which aspects of the Trump agenda that require a further suspension of core democratic norms, such as restrictions on the press, could be pushed through. A large-enough economic crisis would offer an excuse to dismantle programs like Social Security.”
Klein goes on to explain that “a state of shock” occurs “when a gap opens up between events and our initial ability to explain them,” leaving us “vulnerable to authority figures telling us to fear each other and relinquish our rights for the greater good. In order to resist these tactics, we need a firm grasp on how shock politics work and whose interests they serve. Second, and equally important, we have to tell a different story from the one the shock doctors are peddling, a vision of the world compelling enough to compete with theirs. This values-based vision must be based on coming together across racial, ethnic, religious, and gender divides, rather than being wrenched further apart, and on healing the planet rather than unleashing further destabilizing wars and pollution. Most of all, that vision needs to offer those who are hurting – for lack of jobs, lack of health care, lack of peace, lack of hope – a tangibly better life.” Klein says she doesn’t know exactly what that vision should look like. “I’m figuring it out with everyone else, and am convinced it can only be birthed out of a genuinely collaborative process, with leadership coming from those most brutalized by our current system.
Saying no to Trump and his like may be what initially brings millions into the streets. But it’s the yes of a positive vision that will keep us in the fight and prevent us from losing our way. We need, somehow, to fight defense and offense simultaneously: to resist the attacks of the present day while finding space to build the future we need. To say no and yes at the same time.
Extreme as he is, Trump is less an aberration than the logical conclusion of all the worst trends of the past half-century. He’s the product of powerful systems of thought that rank human life based on race, religion, gender, sexuality, physical appearance, and physical ability, and that have used that ranking to advance brutal economic policies since the earliest days of North American colonization and the transatlantic slave trade. He’s also the embodiment of the belief that money and power provide license to impose one’s will on others, whether that entitlement is expressed by grabbing women or the finite resources of a planet on the cusp of catastrophic warming. Most of all, he’s the incarnation of a still-powerful free-market ideological project – neoliberalism – embraced by centrist and conservative parties – that wages war on everything public and commonly held. Even if Trump’s presidency were to end tomorrow, the political conditions that produced it, and which are producing replicas around the world, would remain to be confronted. With US vice president Mike Pence or House speaker Paul Ryan waiting in the wings, and a Democratic Party establishment also enmeshed with the billionaire class, the world we need won’t be won just by replacing the current occupant of the Oval Office.
To get started, we first need to understand what we’re saying no to – not just an individual or group of individuals, but the system that’s elevated them to such heights.
Trump’s cabinet is more than just a sample of the ultra-rich. To an alarming extent, he’s collected a team of individuals who made their fortunes by knowingly causing harm to some of the most vulnerable people on the planet, and to the planet itself, often in the midst of crisis. There’s junk banker Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s Treasury secretary, once chairman and lead investor in ‘foreclosure machine’ OneWest, which kicked tens of thousands of people out of their homes after the 2008 financial collapse. There’s Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil, which bankrolled junk climate science for decades and lobbied fiercely behind the scenes against meaningful international climate action, while profiting from a warming world. And there are the military and surveillance contractors and paid lobbyists who make up most of Trump’s defense and Homeland Security appointments. This is a ferocious backlash against the rising power of overlapping social and political movements demanding” a world that would be better for most of us but cut into corporate profits.
“Trump won the White House on a campaign that railed ceaselessly against the loss of manufacturing jobs – the same kind of ‘outsourcing’ he and his daughter Ivanka have long taken advantage of. There have been major investigative reports detailing the appalling conditions under which Trump’s ties and Ivanka’s footwear, for example, are made in China. The construction of many Trump-branded hotels and towers has been plagued with similar controversies. Trump defines his brand identity as quality and luxury, but his hotels and resorts don’t make it into the top ten luxury accommodation brands in the world because of problems like Mar-a-Lago being cited for a dozen food safety violations in January 2017 alone. The truth, which doesn’t sound nearly as glamorous, is that the Trump brand stands for wealth itself – or, to put it more crassly, money. And Trump’s personal brand is slightly different but intimately related: being the ultimate capitalist success story, the guy who’s so rich he can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and to whomever he wants. In the world he’s created, he’s a ‘winner,’ and if someone gets stepped on, he or she is a loser.
Trump didn’t just enter politics as a so-called outsider who doesn’t play by the rules. He entered politics playing by a completely different set of rules – the rules of branding according to which you don’t need to be good or decent; you only need to be true to the brand you’ve created. That’s a problem when applied to a sitting US president, especially because over many, many years, and with a startling level of consistency, Donald Trump’s brand has been entirely amoral. On the campaign trail, he was able to shrug off almost every conventional ‘gotcha.’ Caught dodging federal taxes? That’s just being ‘smart.’ Wouldn’t reveal his tax returns? Who’s going to make him? He was only half joking when he said, ‘I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.’ In Trump’s world, impunity, even more than lots of gold, is the ultimate signifier of success.
The Trumps see public office as a short-term investment that will swell the value of their commercial brand. Mar-a-Lago, for example, has already increased its membership fees from $100,000 to $200,000 a year. Trump’s been selling the allure of proximity to wealth and power for decades – it’s the meaning of his brand. But now he’s able to offer the real deal, and he’s exploiting that to its fullest advantage. Asked about these kinds of conflicts of interest, Ivanka stresses that just as her father has supposedly distanced himself from the Trump organization by putting it in the hands of his sons (while he still collects the profits), she’s put her company in the hands of ‘independent trustees’ – her husband’s brother and sister (while she still collects the profits). This goes well beyond nepotism; it’s the US government as a for-profit family business.
Who’s to say what services are being purchased when a private company pays millions to lease the Trump brand? Do they really think it’s that valuable to their condo tower, or do they think that by throwing in an extra $5 million, they might be looked on more favorably in dealings requiring a friendly relationship with the White House? This isn’t just an international question. If a US city or state government grants a Trump development a break on taxes or regulations, are they doing it because they think this particular business will help their community or because they want something from the White House?
The decades Bill and Hillary spent blurring ethical lines at the Clinton Foundation are part of what set the stage for Trump to annihilate those lines altogether. But Trump’s animating life force, the quest for money, can also make him vulnerable. Any brand can be jammed; you just need to understand its weak points. Since Trump’s personal brand is being ‘the boss’ who does what he wants, one way to mess with it is to make him look like a puppet. After persistent jokes about #PresidentBannon, the status of the chief strategist declined rapidly. Since the Trump brand is all about having bags and bags of money, the other way to jam it is to make him less rich. #GrabYourWallet, the clearinghouse for boycotts of Trump’s web of brands, has been on this since before he was elected, successfully pressuring chains to drop Trump brands. The main source of revenue for the Trump organization is selling and renting office and condo units and leasing Trump’s name to real estate companies around the world. What if he starts losing commercial renters because they’re coming under pressure for their association with his brand (several boycott campaigns like this are already under way)? And what if developers come under so much public pressure that they decide having Trump’s name on their façade is costing them revenue?
Trump’s mastery of reality TV was pivotal in the construction of his branded empire and essential to his successful run for president. Now he’s using the skills he learned on ‘The Apprentice’ – the belief that he can cut, edit, and reshape reality to fit a largely pre-scripted, self-aggrandizing outcome – to transform not just the White House, but large parts of the world. The whole genre – the alliances, the backstabbing, the one person left standing – has always been a kind of capitalist burlesque. Before ‘The Apprentice,’ however, there was at least the pretext that it was about something else: how to survive in the wilderness, how to catch a husband, or how to be a housemate. With Donald Trump’s show, the veneer was gone. ‘The Apprentice’ was explicitly about the race to survive in the cutthroat jungle of late capitalism. The first episode began with a shot of a homeless person sleeping on the street – a loser, in other words. Then the camera cut to Trump in his limo, living the dream: the ultimate winner. The message was unmistakable: you can be the homeless guy, or you can be Trump. That was the sadistic drama of the show – play your cards right and be the lucky winner or suffer the humiliation of being berated, then fired. It was quite a cultural feat: after decades of mass layoffs, declining living standards, and the normalization of precarious employment, Mark Burnett and Donald Trump turned the act of firing people into mass entertainment.
Every week, to millions of viewers, ‘The Apprentice’ delivered the central sales pitch of free-market theory: that by unleashing your most selfish and ruthless side, you’re creating jobs and fueling growth while you help yourself. In later seasons, the underlying cruelty of the show extended to the winning team living in a luxurious mansion and zipping off in limos to meet celebrities while the losing team stayed in tents in the backyard. The tent-dwellers, whom Trump gleefully called the ‘have-nots,’ didn’t have electricity, ate off paper plates, and slept to the sounds of howling dogs. They’d peek through a gap in the hedge to see what decadent wonders the ‘haves’ were enjoying. In other words, a representation of the real and ever-widening inequalities outside the show. What’s interesting about this piece of televised class warfare, which aired in 2007, is that the pretense sold to a previous generation that capitalism was going to create the best of all possible worlds was completely absent. Instead, it was admitted that the system generates a few big winners and hordes of losers, so you’d better make damn sure you are on the winning team. There aren’t many serious people left who are willing to argue with a straight face that giving more to the wealthy is the best way to help the poor, but Trump’s pitch has always been different. From the start, it was: I’ll turn you into a winner and together we’ll crush the losers.
It’s worth remembering that Trump’s breakthrough to national celebrity status came not via a real estate deal, but a book about making real estate deals. The Art of the Deal, marketed as holding the secrets to fabulous financial wealth, was published in 1987, the peak of the Reagan era. It was followed up over the years with crasser variations on the same theme: Think Like a Billionaire, Think Big and Kick Ass, Trump 101, and How to Get Rich. Trump first started selling the notion that he held the ticket to joining the top one percent of income earners at the precise moment when many of the ladders that provided social mobility between classes – like free quality public education – were being kicked away, and just as the social safety net was being shredded. The drive to magically strike it rich, to win big and make it into that safe economic stratum, had become increasingly frantic. Trump, who was born wealthy, profited off that desperation across many platforms, but most infamously through Trump University. In one ad for the scandal-plagued and now-defunct ‘university’ (actually a series of dodgy seminars in hotel meeting rooms), Trump declared, ‘I can turn anyone into a successful real estate investor.’ Then there were the casinos, a large chunk of Trump’s US real estate portfolio, and part of the same dream. Finally, Trump used the same pitch on voters: that he’d make America a country of winners again. After decades of hawking how-to-get-rich manuals, he understands how little needs to be behind the promise, if the desperation is great enough.
Well before Trump’s rise, elections had already crossed over into ratings-driven infotainment on cable news. What Trump did was to exponentially increase the entertainment factor, and therefore the ratings. As a veteran of the form, he understood that if elections had become a form of reality TV, then the best contestant (which isn’t the same thing as the best candidate) would win. Maybe they wouldn’t win the final vote, but they’d win massive coverage, which from a branding perspective is still winning. The infotainment model of covering elections also endlessly plays up interpersonal dramas between the candidates while largely abandoning the traditional journalistic task of delving into policy specifics and explaining how different candidates’ positions on issues will play out in voters’ lives. The Tyndall Report found that, through the entire election, the three major nightly network news shows combined spent a total of just 32 minutes on ‘issues coverage’ – down from an already paltry 220 minutes in the 2008 election. Trump didn’t create the problem; he exploited it. And because he understood the conventions of fake reality better than anyone, he took the game to a whole new level.
Trump didn’t just bring reality TV expertise to electoral politics – he mashed that up with another blockbuster entertainment genre also based on a cartoonishly fake performance of reality: professional wrestling. It’s hard to overstate Trump’s fascination with wrestling. He’s performed as himself (the ultra-rich boss) in World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) appearances at least eight times, enough to earn him a place in the WWE Hall of Fame. In a ‘Battle of the Billionaires,’ he pretended to pound wrestling kingpin Vince McMahon and then celebrated victory by publicly shaving McMahon’s head in front of cheering throngs. He’s now appointed the former CEO of WWE, Linda McMahon (wife of Vince), to his cabinet as head of the Small Business Administration. As Matt Taibbi pointed out in Rolling Stone magazine, Trump’s entire campaign had a distinctly WWE quality. His carefully nurtured feuds with other candidates, to whom he assigned insulting nicknames (“Little Marco,” “Lyin’ Ted”), and most wrestling-like of all, he played ringmaster at his rallies, complete with over-the-top insult-chants (“Lock her up!” “Killary”) and directing the crowd’s rage at the arena’s designated villains: journalists and demonstrators.
Reality television and professional wrestling both establish a curious relationship with reality: one that’s fake yet somehow genuine at the same time. They both thrive on the spectacle of extreme emotion, conflict, and suffering, but you know it’s not real, so you don’t have to care. Trump’s grafted this same warped relationship to reality onto his administration, announcing that Obama wiretapped him in the same way a wrestler declares he’s going to annihilate and humiliate his opponent. Whether or not it’s true is beside the point – it’s just part of rousing the crowd. Trump as president sees himself as the executive producer of a country, always looking to his ratings. He thinks he can solve anything with the right stage-managed performance, because so often in the past he has.
Trump’s successful attempt to sell his white working class voters on the dream of a manufacturing comeback will eventually come crashing down to earth. But what’s most worrying is what he’ll do once it’s no longer possible to hide the fact that the coal and factory jobs that enabled workers to provide their families with a middle-class life aren’t coming back. In all likelihood, he’ll fall back on the only other tools he has: he’ll double down on pitting white workers against immigrant workers, do more to rile up fears about Black crime, more to whip up an absurd frenzy about transgendered people and bathrooms, and launch fiercer attacks on reproductive rights and on the press. And then, of course, there’s always war.”
Klein points out that one of the scariest things about the Trump administration is its denial of climate change and the way “his top appointments, his plans to gut environmental regulations, and even his entanglements with Russia all point in the same direction: a determination to kick off a fossil fuel frenzy. Within days of taking office, he pushed through the Dakota Access pipeline, cutting off an environmental review against the powerful opposition of the Standing Rock Sioux. He’s cleared the way to approve the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta, which Obama rejected in part because of the climate impacts. He’s issued an executive order to roll back Obama’s moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands, and has announced plans to expand oil and gas drilling on the Gulf Coast. He’s also killing Obama’s Clean Power Plan.
In addition to Rex Tillerson, Trump has stacked his administration with fossil fuel executives and political figures with extensive ties to the industry, many of whom are opposed, or at best indifferent, to the mandates of the agencies they’re now in charge of. Scott Pruitt, the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, sued the EPA multiple times as attorney general of Oklahoma and has received tens of thousands of dollars from fossil fuel companies. Trump’s pick for energy secretary, Rick Perry, had myriad ties to the oil industry, including serving on the boards of two of the companies behind the Dakota Access pipeline. Back in 2011, while running for the GOP nomination, Perry campaigned on eliminating the energy department entirely. These men are doing favors for oil, gas, and coal companies on multiple fronts. For instance, Trump has killed a new program that required oil and gas companies to report how much methane – a very powerful greenhouse gas – their operations were releasing, including from leaks. Industry hated the program, finalized in the last weeks of Obama’s administration, because it was poised to blow the lid off the claim that natural gas is a climate change solution. They’re so determined to erase the reality of climate change that they’re even aiming to wipe out programs that help communities cope with its impacts. Trump proposed cutting a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association program that helps communities protect their coasts. He also wanted to slash the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the agency charged with responding to large-scale natural disasters, and cut its program to help communities prepare for future crises. His plan to reduce the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget by over 30% would lay off thousands and eliminate the entire environmental justice program.
Oil majors like ExxonMobil, and the banks that underwrote their over-extension when oil prices were high, desperately want those prices to go back up. Trump’s already moved to eliminate the Obama-era requirement that vehicles become more fuel-efficient, and his budget plan aims to completely eliminate funding for new public transit projects and kill funding for long-distance train services. But nothing drives up the price of oil like war and other major shocks to the world market, a scenario” Klein says she’ll go into later in the book. For now, she says that “climate change demands major investments in the public sphere – in new energy grids, public transit and light rail, and energy efficiency. And that can only happen by raising taxes on the wealthy and on corporations, the very people Trump is determined to shower with the most generous tax cuts, loopholes and regulatory breaks. Responding to climate change also means giving communities the freedom to prioritize local green industries, a process that often clashes with the corporate free trade deals that have been such an integral part of neoliberalism, and which bar ‘buy local’ rules as protectionist. To admit that the climate crisis is real is to admit the end of the neoliberal project.
Another set of chilling details about the men who surround Trump, and who support him most publicly in the media, is the number of them who have been accused of beating, harassing, or sexually abusing women. Many of Trump’s voters weren’t primarily driven by ‘whitelash’ or ‘malelash’ sentiments – they said they voted for Trump because they liked what he said about trade and jobs, or because they wanted to stick it to the ‘swamp’ of DC elites. But there’s a problem with these stories. You can’t cast a ballot for a person who’s openly riling up hatred based on race, gender, or physical ability unless, on some level, you think those issues aren’t important. That the lives of the people being put in tangible danger by this rhetoric (and the policies that flow from it) matter less than your life and the lives of people who look more like you.”
Neoliberal economic policies have hurt poor non-whites the most, “though whites are swept up in the system as well. Anyway, Trump’s base wasn’t mostly poor; it was solidly middle-income, with most of his voters earning between $50,000 and $200,000 a year (with a concentration at the lower end of that range). Still, a CNN analysis of exit polls found that Trump won 77% of the vote among those – mostly white – who said that their financial situation was ‘worse today’ than it had been four years earlier. On top of those losses, there are also ground-shifting uncertainties associated with living in a changing country, a nation rapidly becoming more ethnically diverse, and where women are gaining more access to power.”
Klein believes Clinton lost the election because of her (and her party’s) close connection to neoliberal economic policies that have been exposed as benefiting only the very rich. This left her “without a credible offer to make to those white workers who had voted for Obama (twice) and decided, this time, to vote Trump.
Similarly, if there was a problem with her focus on gender, sexuality, and racial identity, it was that Clinton’s brand of identity politics doesn’t challenge the system that produced and entrenched these inequalities, but seeks only to make that system more ‘inclusive.’ So, yes to marriage equality and abortion access and transgender bathrooms, but forget about the right to housing, the right to a wage that supports a family (Clinton resisted the calls for a $15 minimum wage), the universal right to free health care, or anything else that challenges the neoliberal playbook by requiring serious redistribution of wealth from top to bottom. On the campaign trail, Clinton mocked her opponent’s ‘Trumped-up trickle-down economics,’ but her own ‘trickle-down identity politics,’ tweaking the system just enough to change the genders, colors, and sexual orientation of some of the people at the top, works about as well. There have been historic symbolic victories for diversity in recent years: an African-American first family, two Black attorneys general, Hollywood pushed into recognizing Black directors and actors, out gays and lesbians working as news anchors and heading Fortune 500 companies, hit TV shows built around transgender characters, an overall increase in the number of women in management positions, and more. These victories for diversity and inclusion matter, they change lives and bring in viewpoints that would otherwise be absent. But this top-down approach to change, if not accompanied by bottom-up policies addressing systemic issues such as crumbling schools and lack of access to decent housing, isn’t going to lead to anything near real equality. The significant gains made for greater diversity and inclusion at the top in recent years have occurred at a time of mass deportations of immigrants, and as the wealth gap between Black and white Americans increased. According to the Urban Institute, between 2007 and 2010 the average wealth of white families fell by 11% (a huge amount), but Black families saw their wealth fall by 31%, partly because Black families were disproportionately targeted for subprime loans, so were hit hardest when the market collapsed in 2008. During this same period, young Black men continued to be shot and killed by police at an obscene rate (five times higher than white men of the same age bracket).
The overarching task before us isn’t to rank our various issues – identity versus economics, race versus gender, etc. It’s to understand how these forms of oppression intersect and prop each other up,” often by pitting us against each other when we should unite. “Nothing has done more to help build our present corporate dystopia than the persistent and systematic pitting of working-class whites against Blacks, citizens against migrants, and men against women. White supremacy, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia have been the elite’s most potent defenses against genuine democracy. A divide-and-terrorize strategy, alongside ever more creative regulations that make it harder for many minorities to vote, is the only way to carry out a political and economic agenda that benefits such a narrow portion of the population. We also know from history that white supremacist and fascist movements – though they may always burn in the background, far more likely to turn into wildfires during periods of sustained economic hardship and national decline. That’s the lesson of Weimar Germany, which – ravaged by war and humiliated by punishing economic sanctions – became ripe for Nazism. Post-World War II Western powers embraced the principle that market economies needed to guarantee enough basic dignity that disillusioned citizens wouldn’t go looking for scapegoats or extreme ideologies. But all that’s been discarded, and we are allowing conditions eerily similar to those in the 1930s to be re-created today. Since the 2008 financial crisis, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Commission, and the European Central Bank (known as the “troika”) have forced country after country to accept ‘shock therapy’–style reforms in exchange for desperately needed bailout funds.
I understand the urge to boil Trump’s election down to just one or two causes. To say it is all simply an expression of the ugliest forces in the United States, which never went away and roared to the foreground when a demagogue emerged who tore off the mask. To say it’s all about race, blind rage at the loss of white privilege. Or to say that it’s all attributable to women-hatred. But the reduction of the current crisis to just one or two factors at the exclusion of all else won’t get us any closer to understanding how to defeat these forces now or the next time out. If we can’t become just a little bit curious about how all these elements – race, gender, class, economics, history, culture – have intersected with one another to produce the current crisis, we will, at best, be stuck where we were before Trump won. And that wasn’t a safe place. Because already, before Trump, we had a culture that treats both people and planet like garbage.
Fortunately, the fastest-growing grassroots political formations of our era – from the movement to end violence against women to the Movement for Black Lives, from workers calling for a living wage to indigenous rights and climate justice movements – are rejecting a single-issue approach. They’ve embraced the ‘intersectionality’ framework articulated by feminist and civil rights advocate Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw. That means identifying how multiple issues – race, gender, income, sexuality, physical ability, immigration status, and language –intersect and overlap within an individual’s life experience and within structures of power.”
Klein believes that Trump’s attempts to fulfill his economic promises will take the form of a “race to the bottom,” a Third-Worlding of America. “There’s every reason,” she says, “to suspect that the administration’s plans to attract manufacturing back to the States will rely on rolling back many of the protections that unions have won over the last century, including the remaining protections for the right to bargain collectively.”
What happened to the anti-globalization movement that was so strong in the 1990s, exemplified by the 1999 Battle for Seattle “during a summit of the World Trade Organization, where the city was completely shut down by protesters, derailing the meetings? This movement was no small thing: by July 2001, roughly 300,000 people were on the streets of Genoa during a G8 meeting. Unlike today’s hyper-nationalist right-wing movements that rail against ‘globalism,’ our movement was proudly international and internationalist, using the novelty of a still-young internet to organize easily across national borders. Finding common ground in how neoliberal trade deals were increasing inequality and looting the public sphere in all our countries, we called for open borders for people, the liberation of medicines, seeds, and crucial technologies from restrictive patent protections, and far more controls over corporations. At its core, the movement was about deep democracy, from local to global, standing in opposition to corporate rule, a frame more relevant today than ever. Our objection wasn’t to trade; cultures have always traded goods across borders, and always will. We objected to the way transnational institutions were using trade deals to globalize pro-corporate policies that were extremely profitable for a small group of players but which were steadily devouring so much of what used to be public and commonly held: seeds, water rights, public health care, and much more. These deals were leading to devastating job losses, leaving behind rust belts from Detroit to Buenos Aires, while companies such as Ford and Toyota looked for ever-cheaper places to produce. Our opposition wasn’t grounded in Trump-style protectionism; we argued for a model of trade based on protecting people and the planet.
The September 11th attacks, and the whole era of the so-called War on Terror wiped our movement off the map in North America and Europe,” Klein says, which is what started her “exploration of the political uses (and misuses) of crisis. After September 11, 2001, we found ourselves under attack from politicians and media commentators equating rowdy anti-corporate street demonstrations with the attacks on the World Trade Center. It was a vile comparison, entirely without basis, but it didn’t matter. Our movement had always been a very big tent: a ‘movement of movements,’ as we called it (a phrase that has come back into the lexicon). But after September 11th, large parts of the coalition got spooked by ‘with us or with the terrorists’ rhetoric. The nonprofits that rely on large foundations feared losing their funding and withdrew, as did some key unions. Almost overnight, people went back to their single-issue silos, and this remarkable (if imperfect) cross-sectoral alliance, which had brought together such a diversity of people under a pro-democracy umbrella, virtually disappeared. This left a vacuum for Trump and far-right parties in Europe to step in, exploit justified rage at loss of control to unaccountable transnational institutions, direct it toward immigrants and Muslims and anyone else who makes an easy target, and further the project of corporate rule.
Tired of the betrayals, some gave up on centrist parties and voted for self-styled ‘outsiders’ and ‘insurgents’ like Trump. Many more around the world have just given up, staying home during elections and disengaging from electoral politics, convinced that the whole system is rigged and is never going to help improve their lives. This phenomenon was most evident in the United States in the 2016 elections, when despite unprecedented wall-to-wall coverage, despite the presence of a flamboyant and dangerous demagogue in the race, and despite the chance to make history by voting in the first woman president, 90 million eligible voting-age Americans – 40% of the electorate, far more than cast a ballot for Clinton or Trump, failed to vote (Clinton and Trump each got roughly 25% of eligible voters). That’s a staggering level of disengagement in a [purported] democracy, but systemic neglect of and disdain for workers that’s characterized both the Democratic and Republican parties for decades.
Trump’s assertion that he knows how to fix America because he’s rich is nothing more than an uncouth, vulgar echo of a dangerous idea we’ve been hearing for years: that Bill Gates can fix Africa or that Richard Branson and Michael Bloomberg can use their wealth can solve climate change. The divide between this ‘Davos class’ and everyone else has been widening since the 1980s. But for a lot of people, the breaking point came with the 2008 financial crisis. After forcing decades of grinding austerity on people, Treasury secretaries, finance ministers, and chancellors of the exchequer suddenly found trillions of dollars to rescue the banks; people witnessed their governments printing vast sums of money. They’d given up so much – pensions, wages, decent schools, and more – when all of a sudden it turned out that governments can do all kinds of things to interfere in the market, and have seemingly unlimited resources with which to help you out if you’re rich enough. At that moment, everyone on earth saw that they’d been lied to. The implications of this unmasking are still reverberating.
In 2016, there was – almost – a transformative option on the ballot, and there could actually be one next time. I won’t rehash how the Democratic National Committee sabotaged Bernie’s campaign, just note that his campaign was also forcefully attacked by some progressives. Though Clinton thought her nods to identity politics could substitute for substantial economic change, it often appeared as if Bernie thought that economics could paper over the unique needs and histories of Black people, women, and other traditionally marginalized groups.” Klein believes Sanders “could have won, if he had persuaded more middle-aged and older women that he understood how important and precarious reproductive rights are, and that he fully grasped the urgency of the epidemic of violence against women. In key states such as Pennsylvania and New York, he could have won if he’d been able to win the support of just half of Black voters. But to do that, he would have needed to clearly and compellingly connect the dots between the country’s deepest economic inequalities and the persistent legacy of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and housing and financial discrimination. Ta-Nehisi Coates, writing in the Atlantic, pointed out that when it came to confronting that legacy, the boldness and radicalism Sanders displayed when taking on Wall Street suddenly petered out. Asked whether he supported some form of reparations for slavery, he dismissed the idea as politically impractical and unnecessarily ‘divisive,’ saying that big investments in communities of color would have the same effect. But as Coates rightly pointed out, the whole point of Sanders’s candidacy was to push the envelope of what is considered politically possible, so where was that boldness when it came to racial equality?
The crucial lesson of Brexit and of Trump’s victory, is that leaders who are seen as representing the failed neoliberal status quo are no match for the demagogues and neo-fascists. Only a bold and genuinely redistributive progressive agenda can offer real answers to inequality and the crises in democracy, while directing popular rage where it belongs: at those who’ve benefited so extravagantly from the auctioning off of public wealth; the polluting of land, air, and water; and the deregulation of the financial sphere.”
Klein starts Part III of her book, titled “How It Could Get Worse: the Shocks to Come,” by reminding us of the initial days of the American occupation of Iraq. “From deep inside his Green Zone fortress, Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, issued decree after decree about how Iraq should be remade into a model free-market economy. Come to think of it, it was a lot like Donald Trump’s White House. And the edicts were pretty similar too. Bremer ordered, for instance, that Iraq should have a 15% flat tax (quite similar to what Trump has proposed), that its state-owned assets should be rapidly auctioned off (under consideration by Trump), and that government should be dramatically downsized (Trump again). The pace was frantic. His eye on the fossil fuel fields of Iraq and beyond, Bremer was determined to get his country makeover done before Iraqis went to the polls and had any kind of say in what their ‘liberated’ future would look like. In one particularly surreal chapter, Bremer and the State Department brought in advisers from Russia who’d led that country’s disastrous experiment with ‘economic shock therapy,’ the corruption-laden deregulation and privatization frenzy which produced that country’s notorious class of oligarchs. Inside the Green Zone, the visitors lectured US-appointed Iraqi politicians about how important it was to radically remake the economy before Iraq’s population recovered from the war. Bremer’s open determination to auction off Iraq’s state-owned assets under cover of crisis did a lot to confirm the widespread perception that the invasion was more about liberating Iraq’s wealth for foreign companies than about liberating its people from despotism.”
Klein says “it was in Iraq that I developed the thesis for The Shock Doctrine. Originally, the book was going to focus exclusively on Bush’s war, but then I started to notice the same tactics (and the same contractors, such as Halliburton, Blackwater, Bechtel…) in disaster zones around the world. As I delved deeper, I realized that this strategy had been a silent partner to the imposition of neoliberalism for more than forty years. “Shock tactics” follow a clear pattern: wait for a crisis (or even, in some instances, as in Chile or Russia, help foment one), suspend some or all democratic norms, and then ram the corporate wish list through as quickly as possible. The research showed that virtually any tumultuous situation, if framed with sufficient hysteria by political leaders, could serve this softening-up function. It could be an event as radical as a military coup, but the economic shock of a market or budget crisis would also do the trick. In the midst of hyperinflation or a banking collapse, for instance, the country’s governing elites were frequently able to sell a panicked population on the necessity for attacks on social protections or enormous bailouts to prop up the financial private sector, because the alternative, they claimed, was outright economic apocalypse.
Shock tactics were first deployed in the service of neoliberalism in the early 1970s in Latin America, and they’re still being used today to extract ‘free-market’ concessions against the popular will. We’ve seen it happen recently, before Trump, in US cities including Detroit and Flint, where looming municipal bankruptcy became the pretext for dissolving local democracy and appointing ‘emergency managers.’ It’s unfolding in Puerto Rico, where the ongoing debt crisis has been used to install the unaccountable Financial Oversight and Management Board, an enforcement mechanism for harsh austerity measures, including cuts to pensions and waves of school closures. It’s being deployed in Brazil, where the questionable impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff in 2016 was followed by the installation of an unelected, pro-business regime that’s frozen public spending for the next twenty years, imposed punishing austerity, and begun selling off airports, power stations, and other public assets in a frenzy of privatization. And, as noted above, it’s happening in blatant form under Donald Trump despite his campaign promises. Since taking office, he’s never allowed the atmosphere of chaos and crisis to let up.
The first country to put neoliberal theorist Milton Friedman’s ideas into practice in unadulterated form was Chile in the immediate aftermath of the CIA-supported coup that overthrew a democratically elected socialist president, Salvador Allende, and installed a far-right dictator, General Augusto Pinochet. This wasn’t an accident – neoliberal ideas were just too unpopular to be introduced without the help of a strong-arm despot. Under the advice of the famed economist and his former students (known in Latin America as “the Chicago Boys”), Chile replaced its public school system with vouchers and charter schools, made health care pay-as-you-go, privatized kindergartens and cemeteries, and did many other things US Republicans have been eyeing for decades. Similar regimes were installed in several other Latin American countries during this period, and leading intellectuals in the region drew a direct connection between the economic shock treatments that impoverished millions and the epidemic of torture that ravaged hundreds of thousands in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil who believed in a fairer society.
Radical political transitions such as the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of South African apartheid have also provided disorienting cover for neoliberal economic transformations.
The neoliberal revolution got a head start in New York City in the mid-1970s. Up until this point, the city had been a bold, if imperfect, experiment in social democracy, featuring the most generous public services in the United States, from libraries to mass transit to hospitals. But in 1975, federal and state cutbacks combined with a national recession pushed New York to the brink of bankruptcy, and the crisis was seized upon to dramatically remake the city, with brutal austerity, sweetheart deals to the rich, and privatizations. In Fear City, a recently published book about this little-understood chapter in America’s past, historian Kim Phillips-Fein documents how this remaking of New York City was a prelude to what would become a global tidal wave, one that’s left the world sharply divided between the 1% and the rest. It’s a story in which Trump plays a starring role. In 1975 Trump was 29 years old and still working in the shadow of his wealthy father, who’d made his fortune building unflashy middle-class homes in New York’s outer boroughs, and who was notorious as a landlord practicing systemic discrimination against African
Americans. Trump had always dreamed of making his mark in Manhattan, and with the debt crisis he saw his big chance. The opening came in 1976, when the famed Commodore Hotel, a historic midtown landmark, announced that it was losing so much money that it might have to close down. The city government was panicked at the prospect of this iconic building sitting empty, broadcasting a message of urban decay and depriving the city of tax revenue. They needed a buyer, quick. Enter Trump, proto–disaster capitalist. Trump’s career was forged in shock, and it’s
an attitude that’s stayed with him. It’s worth remembering that on September 11, 2001, shortly after the Twin Towers came down, Trump gave an interview to a radio station during which he could not help observing that, with the Towers gone, he now had the tallest building in downtown Manhattan. Dead bodies were in the street, lower Manhattan looked like a war zone, and yet, with only a little encouragement from the radio hosts, Trump was thinking about his brand advantage.
Senior members of Trump’s team have been at the heart of some of the most egregious examples of the shock doctrine in recent memory. Rex Tillerson, US secretary of state, has built his career in large part around taking advantage of the profitability of war and instability. ExxonMobil profited more than any oil major from the increase in the price of oil that was the result of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Another example: Between election day and the end of Trump’s first month in office, the stocks of the two largest private prison companies in the USA, CoreCivic (formerly the Corrections Corporation of America) and the GEO Group, doubled. These companies are part of the sprawling industry of private prisons, private security, and private surveillance that sees wars and migration – often linked to climate stresses – as market opportunities. In the United States, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) incarcerates up to 34,000 immigrants thought to be in the country illegally on any given day, with 73% of them are held in private prisons. Little wonder, then, that these companies’ stocks soared on Trump’s election.
And another: As Lee Fang reported in the Intercept in March 2017, “President Donald Trump has weaponized the revolving door by appointing defense contractors and lobbyists to key government positions as he seeks to rapidly expand the military budget and homeland security programs. At least 15 officials with financial ties to defense contractors have been either nominated or appointed so far.” The revolving door is nothing new, of course. Retired military brass often take jobs and contracts with weapons companies. What’s new is the number of generals with lucrative ties to military contractors whom Trump has appointed to cabinet posts with the power to allocate funds, including those stemming from his plan to increase spending on the military, the Pentagon, and the Department of Homeland Security by more than $80 billion in just one year. The other thing that’s changed is the size of the Homeland Security and surveillance industry. This sector grew exponentially after the September 11th attacks, when the Bush administration announced it was embarking on a never-ending ‘war on terror’ and that everything that could be outsourced would be. Security firms draw heavily on the military and intelligence wings of government for their staffing. Under Trump, a remarkable number of lobbyists and staffers from these firms are now migrating back to government, where they’ll very likely push for even more opportunities to monetize the hunt for people President Trump likes to call ‘bad hombres.’ With a group of people who directly profit from war at the heart of government, who’s going to make the case for peace?
Ties between the US government and the business world date back to 1776, and the revolving door’s been spinning ever since in both Democratic and Republican administrations. The difference with Trump, as is so often the case, is one of volume, and shamelessness. As of this writing, Donald Trump has appointed five current or former Goldman Sachs executives to senior roles in his administration, including Steve Mnuchin as Treasury secretary, James Donovan (formerly a Goldman Sachs managing director) as deputy Treasury secretary, Gary Cohn (formerly Goldman’s chief operating officer) as director of the White House National Economic Council, and Dina Powell (formerly Goldman’s head of impact investing) as the White House senior counselor for economic initiatives. Even Steve Bannon once worked at Goldman. And that’s not counting Trump’s pick to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission, Jay Clayton, who served as Goldman’s lawyer on multibillion-dollar deals, and whose wife is a wealth manager with the company. Making all these Goldman appointments is particularly brazen given Trump’s invocation of the bank to attack his opponents. In a typically vicious salvo at his GOP rival Ted Cruz, he claimed the Goldman guys ‘have total, total control over him. Just like they have total control over Hillary Clinton.’ It’s also extremely worrying for what it says about the administration’s willingness to exploit the economic shocks that may well reverberate on their watch. Of all the major Wall Street investment banks at the center of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis, Goldman Sachs was among the most predatory. Not only did it do a huge amount to help inflate the mortgage bubble with complex financial instruments, it then turned around and, mid crisis, bet against the mortgage market and earned billions.”
Of Hurricane Katrina, one of the best examples of natural disasters exploited by neocons, Klein says “there was nothing natural about the way it impacted the city of New Orleans.” Despite the fact that by the time the storm hit the city in August 2005, it had been downgraded from a Category 5 hurricane to a ‘tropical storm,’ it broke through the levees. Why? Because “despite repeated warnings about the risk, the Army Corps of Engineers had allowed them to fall into a state of disrepair. This was part of a wider neglect of public infrastructure across the United States, the direct result of decades of neoliberal policy. It wasn’t just the physical infrastructure that failed the city, and particularly its poorest residents, who are, as in so many US cities, overwhelmingly African American. The human systems of disaster response also failed – it took FEMA five days to get water and food to people in New Orleans who had sought emergency shelter in the Superdome.
The abandonment played out along lines of race and class. Many people were able to leave the city on their own – they got into their cars, drove to a dry hotel, and called their insurance brokers. Some people stayed because they believed the storm defenses would hold. But a great many others stayed because they had no choice – they didn’t have a car, or were too infirm to drive, or simply didn’t know what to do. Those are the people who needed a functioning system of evacuation and relief, and they were out of luck.
Abandoned in the city without food or water, those in need did what anyone would do in those circumstances: they took provisions from local stores. Fox News and other media outlets seized on this to paint New Orleans’s Black residents as dangerous ‘looters’ who would soon be coming to invade the dry, white parts of the city and surrounding suburbs and towns. Buildings were spray-painted with messages: ‘Looters will be shot,’ and checkpoints were set up to trap people in the flooded parts of town. On Danziger Bridge, police officers shot Black residents on sight (five of the officers involved ultimately pled guilty, and the city came to a $13.3-million settlement with the families and two other similar post-Katrina cases). Meanwhile, gangs of armed white vigilantes prowled the streets looking, as one resident later put it in an exposé by investigative journalist A.C. Thompson, for ‘the opportunity to hunt Black people.’
I was in New Orleans and I saw for myself how amped up the police and military were – not to mention private security guards from companies like Blackwater, showing up fresh from Iraq. It felt very much like a war zone, with poor and Black people in the crosshairs – people whose only crime was trying to survive. And when the National Guard arrived to organize a full evacuation of the city, it was done with a level of aggression and ruthlessness that was hard to fathom. Soldiers pointed machine guns at residents as they boarded buses, providing no information about where they were being taken. Children were often separated from their parents. Then, with the city reeling and with its residents dispersed across the country and unable to protect their own interests, a plan emerged to ram through a pro-corporate wish list with maximum velocity. Milton Friedman, then 93 years old, wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal stating, ‘Most New Orleans schools are in ruins, as are the homes of the children who attended them. The children are now scattered all over the country. This is a tragedy. It’s also an opportunity to radically reform the educational system.’ In a similar vein, Richard Baker, at that time a Republican congressman from Louisiana, declared, ‘We couldn’t clean up public housing in New Orleans, but God did.’ Thousands of public housing units, many of which had sustained minimal storm damage because they were on high ground, were demolished, replaced with expensive condos and town-homes.
At the time Katrina hit New Orleans, Mike Pence, now vice-president, was chairman of the powerful and highly ideological Republican Study Committee (RSC), a caucus of conservative lawmakers. On September 13, 2005 – just fourteen days after the levees were breached and with parts of New Orleans still under water – the RSC convened a fateful meeting at the offices of the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC. Under Pence’s leadership, the group came up with a list of ‘Pro-Free-Market Ideas for Responding to Hurricane Katrina and High Gas Prices’: 32 pseudo relief policies, each straight out of the disaster capitalism playbook. What stands out is the commitment to wage all-out war on labor standards and the public sphere and use any opportunity to strengthen the hand of the oil and gas industry. The list includes recommendations to ‘automatically suspend Davis–Bacon prevailing wage laws in disaster areas,’ a reference to the law requiring federal contractors to pay a living wage; ‘make the entire affected area a flat-tax free-enterprise zone’; and ‘repeal or waive restrictive environmental regulations that hamper rebuilding.’ President Bush adopted many of the recommendations within the week, although, under pressure, he was eventually forced to reinstate the labor standards. Another recommendation called for giving parents vouchers to use at private and charter schools (for-profit schools subsidized with tax dollars), a move perfectly in line with the vision held by Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos. Within the year, New Orleans became the most privatized school system in the United States. And there was more. Though climate scientists have directly linked the increased intensity of hurricanes to warming ocean temperatures, that didn’t stop Pence and his committee from calling on Congress to repeal environmental regulations on the Gulf Coast, give permission for new oil refineries in the United States, and green-light ‘drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.’
Now Mike Pence is in a position to bring this vision to the entire United States.
The oil industry wasn’t the only one to profit from Hurricane Katrina. Immediately after the storm, the whole Baghdad gang of contractors – Bechtel, Fluor, Halliburton, Blackwater, CH2M Hill, and Parsons – descended on New Orleans. They had a singular vision: to prove that the kinds of privatized services they had been providing in Iraq and Afghanistan also had an ongoing domestic market and to collect no-bid contracts totaling $3.4 billion in the process. Observer Mike Davis reported that ‘every level of the contracting food chain is grotesquely overfed except the bottom rung, where the actual work is carried out.’ These supposed ‘contractors’ were really, like the Trump organization, hollow brands, sucking out profit and slapping their name on cheap or nonexistent services. In order to offset the tens of billions going to private companies in contracts and tax breaks, in November 2005 the Republican-controlled Congress announced that it needed to cut $40 billion from the federal budget. Among the programs that were slashed: student loans, Medicaid, and food stamps.
The Katrina experience stands as a stark warning to those holding out hope for Trump’s promised trillion dollars in infrastructure spending. Crucially, Trump has indicated that he plans to do as much as possible not through the public sector but through public-private partnerships, which have a terrible track record for corruption, and may result in far lower wages than true public works projects would. Given Trump’s business record, and Pence’s role in the administration, there’s every reason to fear that his big-ticket infrastructure spending could become a Katrina-like kleptocracy, a government of thieves, with the Mar-a-Lago set helping themselves to vast sums of taxpayer money.
Trump won’t be able to realize the full breadth of his antidemocratic vision in the current circumstances. Without a crisis, the courts will keep getting in the way, as will state governments controlled by Democrats. On some of Trump’s more sadistic dreams – like bringing back torture – even Congress might stand up to him. But the full agenda is still there, lying in wait. In Trump’s first week in office, when he imposed a travel ban on seven majority-Muslim countries, the response was immediate and admirable. But we can’t forget that a terrorist attack in the United States would provide the administration with a pretext to try to override much of this kind of pushback. In all likelihood they would do it swiftly, by declaring protests and strikes that block roads and airports a threat to ‘national security,’ and then using that cover to go after protest organizers with surveillance, arrests, and imprisonment. We should be prepared for security shocks to be exploited as excuses to increase the rounding up and incarceration of large numbers of people from the communities the administration is already targeting: Latino immigrants, Muslims, Black Lives Matter organizers, and climate activists. There’s also no guarantee that, in the aftermath of an attack, judges would show the same courage in standing up to Trump as they did just after his inauguration. As much as they position themselves as neutral arbiters, courts are not immune to public hysteria. And there’s no doubt that the president would seize on a domestic terrorist attack to blame the courts. He made this abundantly clear when he tweeted, after his first travel ban was struck down: ‘Just can’t believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens, blame him and court system.’
Some have warned that Trump has so much to gain from an atmosphere of heightened fear and confusion, and such a blatant disregard for the truth, that we should expect this administration to cook up its own crises. While it would be unwise to put anything past this constellation of characters, the fact is that nefarious conspiracies may well be unnecessary. After all, Trump’s reckless and incompetent approach to governance is nothing short of a disaster-creation machine. Trump has openly called for a new nuclear ‘arms race,’ and has reportedly asked his foreign policy advisers repeatedly why the United States can’t just use nuclear weapons, seemingly not grasping the principle of retaliation.
Another reason why this administration might rush to exploit a security crisis to start a new war or escalate an ongoing conflict is that there’s no faster or more effective way to drive up the price of oil, especially if the violence interferes with oil supplies making it to the world market.” Exxon Mobil and the other oil giants would gain immense benefit from this, as would “Vladimir Putin, head of a vast petro-state that’s been in economic crisis since the price of oil collapsed. Russia is the world’s leading exporter of natural gas, and its second-largest exporter of oil after Saudi Arabia. Prior to 2014, fully half of Russia’s budget revenues came from oil and gas, but when prices plummeted the government was short hundreds of billions of dollars, an economic catastrophe with tremendous human costs. According to the World Bank, in 2015 real wages fell in Russia by nearly 10%; Russia’s currency, the ruble, depreciated by close to 40%; and the population of people classified as poor increased from 3 million to over 19 million. Putin plays the strongman, but this economic crisis makes him vulnerable at home. Which is why many have speculated that Russia’s high-risk military involvement in Syria is partly driven by a desire to get oil prices back up. Putin has other reasons for being in Syria, including a desire to access the country’s ports and potentially its oil and gas fields, and war’s a great distraction from the misery at home.
Just as Trump can’t be unaware that his anti-Muslim actions and rhetoric make terror attacks more likely, I suspect that many in the Trump administration are fully cognizant of the fact that their frenzy of financial deregulation makes other kinds of shocks and disasters more likely as well. Trump has announced plans to dismantle Dodd–Frank, the most substantive piece of legislation introduced after the 2008 banking collapse. Dodd–Frank wasn’t tough enough, but its absence will liberate Wall Street to go wild blowing new bubbles, which will inevitably burst, creating new economic shocks. Trump’s team is not unaware of this, they’re simply unconcerned – the profits are too tantalizing. Besides, they know that since the banks were never broken up, they’re still too big to fail, which means that if it all comes crashing down, they’ll be bailed out again. An economic crisis would give Trump a handy excuse for abandoning those promises not to cut Medicare or Social Security. Betsy DeVos might even have a shot at realizing her dream of replacing public schools with a system based on vouchers and charters.
What we’re hurtling toward is a world demarcated into Green (safe) Zones, Red (unsafe) Zones, and black sites for whoever doesn’t cooperate. And a Blackwater-style economy in which private players profit from building the walls, from putting the population under surveillance, and from private security and privatized checkpoints. The migrant crisis (since 2014, an estimated 13,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean trying to reach European shores) is an indication of this global destabilization, with many of the conflicts driving migration today exacerbated by climate change. If we chart the locations of the most intense conflict spots in the world right now, from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Iraq, what becomes clear is that these also happen to be some of the hottest and driest places on earth. And it all goes back to countries insisting that slavery and indigenous land theft were just glitches in otherwise proud histories. After all, there’s little more Green Zone/Red Zone than the economy of the slave plantation – cotillions in the master’s house steps away from torture in the fields, all of it taking place on the violently stolen indigenous land on which North America’s wealth was built. The same theories of racial hierarchy that justified those violent thefts in the name of building the industrial age are resurfacing as the system of wealth and comfort they constructed starts to unravel on multiple fronts. Trump is an early and vicious manifestation of that unraveling, but he’s not alone and he won’t be the last.
Like many shock therapists before them, Trump and his gang are betting that an all-at-once strategy will overwhelm their adversaries, sending them scrambling in all directions and ultimately causing them to give up out of sheer exhaustion or a sense of futility. This blitzkrieg strategy, though it’s often worked in the past, is actually quite high-risk. The danger of starting fights on so many fronts is that if it doesn’t succeed in demoralizing your opponents, it could very well unite them.
Because shock tactics rely on the public becoming disoriented by fast-moving events, they tend to backfire most spectacularly in places where there is a strong collective memory of previous instances when fear and trauma were exploited to undermine democracy. Those memories allow them to name what’s happening and fight back.
One example: At the end of 2001 and the beginning of 2002, Argentina was in the grips of a severe economic crisis. In the 1990s, the country had opened itself to corporate globalization so rapidly and so thoroughly that the International Monetary Fund held it up as a model student. The iconic logos of global banks, hotel chains, and US fast-food restaurants glowed from the Buenos Aires skyline, and its new shopping malls were so fashionable and luxurious that they drew comparisons with Paris. And then it all came crashing down. Amidst a spiraling debt crisis, the government attempted to impose a new round of economic austerity, and all those gleaming global banks had to board up their windows and doors to prevent customers rushing in to withdraw their life savings. Protests spread across the country. In the suburbs, supermarkets owned by European chains were looted. In the midst of this chaotic scene, Fernando de la Rúa, then Argentina’s president, went on television and announced that the country was under attack from ‘groups that are enemies of order, looking to spread discord and violence.’ He declared a 30-day state of siege—which gave him the power to suspend a range of constitutional guarantees, including freedom of the press, and ordered everyone to stay in their homes. For many Argentinians, the president’s words sounded like a prelude to a military coup, and that proved a fatal misstep. People remembered that when the military staged its brutal coup in 1976, the need to restore public order against internal enemies had been the pretext. The junta stayed in power until 1983, and stole the lives of some 30,000 people. Determined not to lose their country again, even while de la Rúa was still on television ordering people to stay in their homes, Buenos Aires’s famed central square, Plaza de Mayo, filled up with tens of thousands of people, many banging pots and pans with spoons and forks, a wordless but roaring answer to the president’s instructions. When this great gathering found its voice, a single rebellious cry rose up from the crowds of grandmothers and high school students, motorcycle couriers and unemployed factory workers, their words directed at the politicians, the bankers, the IMF, and every other ‘expert’ who claimed to have the perfect recipe for Argentina’s prosperity and stability: ‘¡Que se vayan todos!’ – they must all go! Demonstrators stayed in the streets even after protesters were killed in clashes with police, bringing the total who lost their lives across the country to more than twenty. Amidst the mayhem, the president was forced to lift the state of siege and flee the presidential palace in a helicopter. As a new president was appointed, the people would rise up and reject him in disgust again and then again, flipping through three presidents in just three weeks. Meanwhile, in the rubble of Argentina’s democracy, something strange and wonderful started to happen: neighbors poked their heads out of their apartments and houses and, in the absence of a political leadership or a stable government, began to talk to each other. To think together. A month later, there were 250 asambleas barriales (neighborhood assemblies, small and large) in downtown Buenos Aires alone. Picture Occupy Wall Street – everywhere. The streets, parks, and plazas were filled with meetings as people stayed up late into the night, planning, arguing, testifying, and voting on everything from whether Argentina should pay its foreign debts to when the next protest should be held, to how to support a group of workers who had turned their abandoned factory into a democratic cooperative.
The political changes that came out of Argentina’s uprising were far from utopian. The government that eventually restored ordinary democracy, headed first by Néstor Kirchner and then by his wife Cristina, was masterful at reading the street, and channeled enough of its spirit and demands to preside over more than a decade of progressive, if scandal-marred rule. To this day, debates rage about how more could have been made from that unique political moment if the popular movements had been ready with their own plan for taking power and governing differently. Yet it’s undeniable that, in resisting de la Rúa’s austerity plans and defying his order to stay home, Argentinians saved themselves from years of economic bloodletting, and worse.
Another example of how historical memory can serve as a powerful shock absorber took place a few years later, in Spain. On March 11, 2004, ten bombs ripped through commuter trains and rail stations in Madrid, killing nearly 200 people. An official investigation found that the attacks had been staged by a terrorist cell inspired by al Qaeda, reportedly in retaliation for Spain’s participation in the US-led invasion of Iraq. Yet Spain’s prime minister at the time, José María Aznar, went on television and told Spaniards to blame Basque separatists and, in a bizarre non sequitur, to support his unpopular decision to participate in the Iraq War. This wasn’t seen as evidence of strong leadership but as a sign of a resurgent fascism. ‘We’re hearing the echoes of Franco,’ said José Antonio Martines Soler, a prominent Madrid newspaper editor who’d been persecuted under Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, which terrorized the country for 36 years. Over the next two days, remembering a time when fear had governed their country, Spaniards surged into the streets, saying no to fear and terrorism and to government lies and the Iraq War. All of this happened to be on the eve of national elections, and voters seized the opportunity to defeat Aznar and vote in a party that promised to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq.
The problem in the United States after 9/11 wasn’t that the country had no history of shocking events harnessed to attack democracy and human rights. The problem was that these traumatic events, while well understood in the communities impacted, were insufficiently understood more broadly: they weren’t part of a shared national narrative that could have helped all Americans see the difference between reasonable security measures and leaders taking advantage of fear to advance opportunistic agendas. That’s why the Bush administration was able to mercilessly exploit the shock of the September 11th trauma to attack civil liberties at home and launch wars abroad, which we now know were justified through doctored intelligence. That’s why the neglect and violence of the state during and after Katrina came as no great surprise to the city’s African-American residents, yet seemed unprecedented to many white Americans. The split between people who were stunned by Trump’s victory and those who saw it coming followed similar racial fault lines. But one thing that’s become clear since Trump took office is that the memory of how terror was exploited after September 11th lives on. Though Trump and his supporters have tried their best to use fear of Muslims, of Mexicans, and of violent ‘ghettos’ to control and divide the population, the tactic has backfired repeatedly. Since Trump’s election, countless people have participated in political actions and gatherings for the first time in their lives, and have rushed to show solidarity with people cast as the ‘other.’ It began on Day One of the new administration. At Trump’s inauguration, small groups representing different movements, from climate justice to Black Lives Matter, occupied various street intersections to block access to the ceremony. Then, the next day, came the women’s marches: with some 600 cities participating, it was the largest coordinated protest in US history, with an estimated 4.2 million people on the streets. Men as well as women showed up, in defense of the rights of their partners, mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends. And while some may have initially thought they were marching only to defend a woman’s right to make decisions over her own body, as well as for pay equity, they soon discovered that, in this new era, women’s rights include Black women’s right to be free from police violence, and immigrant women’s right to be free from fear of deportation, and trans women’s right to be free from hate and harassment. As its mission statement declared: ‘This march is the first step towards unifying our communities, grounded in new relationships, to create change from the grassroots level up.’ This same spirit of unity has been on display when specific communities have been targeted by the administration, or by the wave of hate crimes it’s helped unleash. The new activism was most visible after Trump issued the first of his Muslim travel bans, and tens of thousands of people of all faiths and none took to the streets and airports to declare ‘we are all Muslims’ and ‘let them in.’
What’s stood out in this wave of early resistance is how the barriers defining who is and who isn’t an ‘activist’ or an ‘organizer’ are breaking down. People are organizing mass events who’ve never organized anything political before. A great many are discovering that, whatever their field of expertise, whether they are lawyers or restaurant workers, they have crucial skills to share in this emerging network of resistance. And wherever they live or work, they have the power, if they organize with others, to throw a wrench into a dangerous system. At the same time, many of us are realizing that if we’re going to rise to the urgency and magnitude of this moment, we need skills and knowledge that we currently lack – about history, about how to change the political system, and about how to change ourselves. So, in addition to the highly visible campaigns and demonstrations, there has also been a surge of popular education.”
Klein then goes back to examples of successful movements from below in our history, many of them documented in Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States. “As historian Robin D.G. Kelley has written, the end of the 19th century was a period of foment for ‘black-led biracial democratic, populist, and radical movements.’ The same is true of the hard-won victories of the civil rights era. A similar utopian fervor in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, emerging out of the countercultural upheaval, when young people were questioning just about everything, laid the groundwork for feminist, lesbian and gay, and environmental breakthroughs. The New Deal, it’s worth remembering, was adopted by President Roosevelt at a time of such progressive and left militancy that its programs – radical by today’s standards – appeared at the time to be the only way to prevent full-scale revolution.
But by the time the 2008 financial fiasco was unfolding, that utopian imagination had largely atrophied. A great many people knew that the appropriate response to the crisis was moral outrage, that gifting the banks with trillions, refusing to prosecute those responsible, and asking the poor and elderly to pay the steepest costs was an obscenity. Yet generations who’d grown up under neoliberalism struggled to picture something, anything, other than what they’d always known.”
Again, except people with a family and/or group memory of overcoming insurmountable odds, like “Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Junot Díaz, who observed shortly after the 2016 election, forecasting the hard times ahead: ‘Those of us whose ancestors were owned and bred like animals know that future all too well, because it is, in part, our past. And we know that by fighting, against all odds, we who had nothing, not even our real names, transformed the universe. Our ancestors did this with very little, and we who have more must do the same.’ It’s this imaginative capacity, the ability to envision a world radically different from the present, that’s been largely missing since the cry of ‘No!’ first began echoing around the world in 2008. In the West, there is little popular memory of any other kind of economic system. There are specific cultures and communities – most notably indigenous communities – that have vigilantly kept alive memories and models of other ways to live, not based on ownership of the land and endless extraction of profit. But most of us who are outside those traditions find ourselves fully within capitalism’s matrix, so while we can demand slight improvements to our current conditions, imagining something else entirely is distinctly more difficult. Which is partially why the movements that did emerge, from Europe’s ‘movement of the squares’ to Occupy Wall Street and even Egypt’s revolution, were very clear on their ‘no’: no to the greed of the bankers, no to austerity, and, in Egypt, no to dictatorship. But what was too often missing was a clear and captivating vision of the world beyond that no. And in its absence, the shocks kept coming. With unleashed white supremacy and misogyny, with the world teetering on the edge of ecological collapse, with the very last vestiges of the public sphere set to be devoured by capital, it’s clear that we need to do more than draw a line in the sand and say ‘no more.’ We need to do that and we need to chart a credible and inspiring path to a different future – somewhere we have never been before.
Part of that voyage isn’t just talking and writing about the future we want, but building it as we go. It’s a principle I saw in action (and prayer, and song) at Standing Rock. Less than a month after Trump was elected, I went to Standing Rock, North Dakota. Days earlier, the governor had announced plans to clear the camps of the thousands of water protectors gathered on the outskirts of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to try to stop the Dakota Access pipeline. The company was determined to build the oil pipeline under Lake Oahe, the sole source of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux, as well as under another section of the Missouri River, which provides drinking water for 17 million people. After months of confrontations with private security and highly militarized police, it seemed the governor now felt, with Trump on the way to the White House, that the coast was clear to crush the movement with force. The blows had been coming for months; when I arrived, Standing Rock had already become the site of the most violent state repression in recent US history. With the issuing of the eviction order, many were calling December 5, 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux’s last stand, and I along with many others had traveled there to stand with them. A convoy of more than 2,000 military veterans had also come to Standing Rock to stand with the Sioux, prepared to face off against their fellow uniformed officers if need be. By the time I arrived, the network of camps had swelled to roughly ten thousand people, living in hundreds upon hundreds of tents, tepees, and yurts. After all the times American soldiers have been called upon to protect oil and gas wealth and to wage war on indigenous people at home and abroad, it was incredibly moving to see the veterans show up.” The slogan of the encampment was/is “Mni Wiconi (water is life).”
One of my first conversations at Standing Rock was with legendary Lakota elder LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, who in many ways had gotten this resistance going when she opened the first camp, the Sacred Stone Camp, on her land in April 2016.
Brave Bull Allard, who is the official historian of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, said that, most of all, the encampment had become a school for indigenous youth seeking to connect more deeply with their own culture, to live on the land and in ceremony, and for non-indigenous people who realized that the moment called for skills and knowledge most of us don’t have. ‘My grandkids can’t believe how little some of the white people know,’ she told me, laughing, but without judgment. ‘They come running: “Grandma! The white people don’t know how to chop wood! Can we teach them?” I say, “Yes, teach them.”’ Brave Bull Allard herself patiently taught hundreds of visitors what she considered basic survival skills: how to use sage as a natural disinfectant and how to stay warm and dry in North Dakota’s vicious storms. She told me she’d come to understand that, although stopping the pipeline was crucial, there was something greater at work in this convergence. She said the camps were now a place where indigenous and non-indigenous people were learning to live in relationship and community with the land. For her, it wasn’t just the hard skills that mattered. This moment was also about exposing visitors to the traditions and ceremonies that had been kept alive despite hundreds of years of genocidal attacks on indigenous people and culture. This, she told me, is why the traditions survived the onslaught. ‘We knew this day was coming – the unification of all the tribes….We’re here to protect the earth and the water. This is why we are still alive. To do this very thing we are doing. To help humanity answer its most pressing question: how do we live with the earth?’ [Read Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel Almanac of the Dead (1991), which has the same theme, along with an astute critical view of white culture.] After the pipeline was defeated, Brave Bull Allard said, the Standing Rock Sioux needed to turn themselves into a model for green energy and sustainable living. This vision of a movement not just resisting but modeling and teaching the way forward is shared by many of the movement’s key figures.
On December 5th, the Obama administration announced it had denied the permit to lay the pipeline under the tribe’s reservoir. That evening, a ‘forgiveness ceremony’ was held on the reservation. For hours, hundreds of vets lined up to beg forgiveness of the elders for crimes committed against indigenous peoples over centuries by the military institutions they served. As Wesley Clark Jr., one of the main organizers of the veterans’ delegation to Standing Rock, said to elder Leonard Crow Dog, ‘We didn’t respect you, we polluted your earth, we’ve hurt you in so many ways, but we’ve come to say that we are sorry.’
The pipeline was originally supposed to pass through the majority-white city of Bismarck, where it was widely rejected over concerns about safety. So the system of ecocidal capitalism moved it to Standing Rock in a display of the utmost racism. Now, as the great Anishinabe writer and organizer Winona LaDuke wrote of the standoff, ‘This is a moment of extreme corporate rights and extreme racism faced with courage, prayers and resolve.’ It’s a battle that knows no borders. All around the world, the people doing the sacred work of protecting fragile ecologies from industrial onslaught are facing dirty wars. According to a report from the human rights watchdog Global Witness, ‘More than three people were killed every week in 2015 defending their land, forests, and rivers against destructive industries…. Increasingly communities that take a stand are finding themselves in the firing line of companies’ private security, state forces, and contract killers.’ Forty percent of the victims are indigenous. [Read Arundhati Roy’s book Walking with the Comrades about such a movement (and war) in India.]
Standing Rock did not, in the end, manage to stop the pipeline – at least not yet. In a flagrant betrayal of treaty and land rights, Trump immediately reversed Obama’s decision and allowed the company, flanked by layers of militarized police, to ram the pipe under Lake Oahe, without the consent of the Standing Rock Sioux. As I write, oil is flowing beneath the community’s drinking water reservoir, and the pipe could burst at any time. That outrage is being challenged in the courts, and extensive pressure is being put on the banks that financed the project. Roughly $80 million (and counting) has been pulled from the banks invested in the pipeline. But the oil still flows.
Trump’s action cannot and does not erase the profound learning that took place during all those months on the land. The modeling of a form of resistance that, with one hand, said no to an imminent threat and, with the other, worked tirelessly to build the yes that’s the world we want and need.”
Klein then describes a two-day gathering in Toronto in May 2015 at which activists came together “to figure out what connects the crises facing us, and to try to chart a holistic vision for the future that would overcome many of the overlapping challenges at the same time. So many of the crises we are facing are symptoms of the same underlying sickness: a dominance-based logic that treats people and the earth as disposable. We came together out of a belief that the persistence of these disconnections, of this siloed thinking, is why progressives are losing ground on virtually every front, left fighting for scraps when we all know that our historical moment demands transformative change. These divisions and compartmentalizations – the hesitancy to identify the systems we are up against – are robbing us of our full potential, and have trained too many to believe that lasting solutions will always be out of reach. We also came together out of a belief that overcoming those divisions, finding and strengthening the threads that run through our various issues and movements, is our most pressing task. That out of those connections would emerge a larger and more fired-up progressive coalition than we’ve seen in decades, one capable of taking on not only the symptoms of a failed system, but the system itself. Our goal, and it wasn’t modest, was to try to map not just the world we don’t want but the one we want instead. Our experiment in mapping these intersectional agendas began in Canada, but it’s part of an international conversation – in the US, the UK, Australia, Europe, and beyond, in which more and more people are arriving at the same conclusion: it’s time to unite around a common agenda.
I had thought, at one point, that the factual revelations of climate science, if we truly understood them, might be the catalyst. After all, there couldn’t be a clearer indication that our current system is failing. Yet, as we all know, climate change doesn’t play out like a market collapse or a war. With the exception of increasingly common monster storms, it’s slow and grinding, making the warming dangerously easy to push into our subconscious, behind more obvious daily emergencies.
We started from the premise that we live in a time of multiple, intersecting crises, and since all of them are urgent, we can’t afford to prioritize them. What we need are integrated solutions, concrete ideas for how to radically bring down greenhouse gas emissions while creating huge numbers of unionized jobs and delivering meaningful justice to those who have been abused and excluded under the current extractive economy. Another ground rule was that respectful conflict is healthy and a necessary part of getting to new territory. The frame within which everything seemed to fit was the need for a shift from a system based on endless taking – from the earth and from one another – to a culture based on caretaking, the principle that when we take, we also take care and give back. A system in which everyone is valued, and we don’t treat people or the natural world as if they were disposable. Acting with care and consent, rather than extractively and through force, became the idea binding the whole draft together, starting with respect for the knowledge and inherent rights of indigenous peoples, the original caretakers of the land, water, and air. Though many of us (including me) had originally thought we were convening to draft a list of policy goals, we realized that this shift in values, and indeed in morality, was at the core of what we were trying to map. The specifics of policy all flowed from that shift.
We decided to extend the traditional definition of a green job to anything useful and enriching to our communities that doesn’t burn a lot of fossil fuels. As one participant said: ‘Nursing is renewable energy. Education is renewable energy.’ It was an attempt, in short, to show how to replace an economy built on destruction with an economy built on love. We also decided to resist the temptation to make laundry lists that would cover every conceivable demand. Instead, we emphasized the frame that showed how so many of our challenges and solutions are interconnected, because the frame could be expanded in whatever place or community the vision was applied. At the same time, there were certain demands, specific to different groups in the room, that needed to be in the platform. For the indigenous participants, it was crucial to call for the full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states that no development can take place on their without their ‘free, prior, and informed consent.’ For the climate activists, there needed to be an acknowledgment that no new fossil fuel infrastructure can be built. For trade union participants, it was critical to call for workers to be not only retrained for new green jobs but democratic participants in that retraining. The integrity of individual movements, the specificities of community experiences, must be reflected and protected, even as we come together in an attempt to weave a unified vision.
In a way, we asked ourselves this: what are the qualities that we value most in people? Those included generosity, hospitality, warmth, and wisdom. And then we asked ourselves: what do those qualities look like when expressed in public, as policy? We discovered that one of the things those qualities reflect is openness. Which means nurturing a culture that welcomes those in need, rather than greeting strangers with fear and suspicion; that values elders and the knowledge they’ve accumulated over lifetimes, as well as their ancient ways of knowing. Bianca Mugyenyi, who co-leads the organization that came out of the gathering, boils that principle down when it comes to climate and migration: ‘The refugee flows we’re seeing now are just a glimpse of what’s to come. Climate change and migration are intimately linked, and we’re going to see massive displacement of people caused by sea-level rise and extreme weather in the decades to come, all around the world. So there’s a question facing all of us: are we all in this together? We think most people, given the opportunity, believe that we are. You see it over and over in times of crisis, when people step up for others in their communities, but also for complete strangers. But we need our immigration, border, and social support systems to catch up with this idea. The Leap [this whole project] is about speaking to our better selves.’
What, we asked, if the energy we use was owned by ordinary citizens, and controlled democratically? We decided we didn’t want to buy renewable power from ExxonMobil and Shell, even if they offered it – we want that power generation to be owned by the public, by communities, or by energy cooperatives. If energy systems are owned by us, democratically, then we can use the revenues to build social services needed in rural areas, towns, and cities: day cares, elder care, community centers, and transit systems, instead of wasting it on, say, $180-million retirement packages for the likes of Rex Tillerson. This turn toward community-controlled energy was pioneered in Denmark in the ‘80s, with government policies that encouraged and subsidized cooperatively owned wind farms, and it’s been embraced on a large scale in Germany. Roughly half of Germany’s renewable energy facilities are in the hands of farmers, citizen groups, and almost 900 energy cooperatives; in Denmark in 2000, roughly 85% of the country’s wind turbines were owned by small players such as farmers and co-ops. Both countries have shown that this model carries immense social benefits and is compatible with a very rapid transition.
In addition to calling for energy democracy on the German model, we placed reparative justice at the center of the energy transition, calling for indigenous and other front-line communities (such as immigrant neighborhoods where coal plants have fouled the air) to be first in line to receive public funds to own and control their own green energy projects, with the jobs, profits, and skills staying in those communities.
Working closely with a team of economists to see how we could raise the revenues to pay for our plan, we ended up listing ending fossil fuel subsidies, getting a fairer share of the financial sector’s massive earnings by imposing a transaction tax, increasing royalties on fossil fuel extraction, raising income taxes on corporations and the wealthiest people, a progressive carbon tax, and cutting military spending. The money for this transition is out there – we just need governments with the guts to go after it.
It’s all the opposite of The Art of the Deal.
The full text of the Leap Manifesto appears at the end of the book and is available online at leapmanifesto.org. You can also go to theleap.org to sign the Manifesto and to get ideas on bringing the its ideas to life in your community. As Klein’s partner, Avi Lewis, one of the document’s coauthors, puts it, “the Leap rings true because it sees the climate crisis not as a technical problem to be solved by engineers, but as a crisis of a system and an economic philosophy.” Klein says that “within days of The Leap’s launch, tens of thousands of people and well over 200 organizations had signed it. Now, in Canada, the United States, and everywhere else, we need to get our dreams as quickly as possible.
In the months since its launch, The Leap has become a living, evolving project, with an ever-growing community of supporters constantly enriching and revising the work. Our team is also working closely with organizers around the world who are kicking off similar experiments.
At first there was a lot of pressure on The Leap team to start our own party, or run candidates in existing ones, using the manifesto as a platform. We resisted those calls, wanting to protect The Leap’s movement roots, and not wanting it to be owned by any one party. The vitality of The Leap today, especially since Trump’s election, lies in the people, inside Canada and out, who are using it as the basis for their own local work and electoral platforms.
In the United States, the boldest and most inspiring example of this new utopianism is the Vision for Black Lives, a sweeping policy platform released in the summer of 2016 by the Movement for Black Lives. Born of a coalition of over fifty Black-led organizations, the platform states, ‘We reject false solutions and believe we can achieve a complete transformation of current systems, which place profit over people and make it impossible for many of us to breathe.’ It goes on to place police shootings and mass incarceration in the context of an economic system that has waged war on Black and brown communities, putting them first in line for lost jobs, slashed social services, and environmental pollution. The result has been huge numbers of people exiled from the formal economy, preyed upon by increasingly militarized police, and warehoused in overcrowded prisons. The platform makes a series of concrete proposals, including defunding prisons, removing police from schools, and demilitarizing police. It also lays out a program for reparations for slavery and systemic discrimination that includes free college education and forgiveness of student loans. There’s much more – nearly forty policy demands in all, spanning changes to the tax code to breaking up the banks.
In the months after Trump’s inauguration, the Movement for Black Lives played a central role in deepening connections with other movements, convening dozens of groups under the banner ‘The Majority.’ The new formation kicked off with a thrilling month-long slate of actions between April 4th, the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, and May Day. Nationwide ‘Fight Racism, Raise Pay’ protests linked racial justice to the fast-growing workers’ campaign for a $15 minimum wage and the mounting attacks on immigrants.
In June 2017, thousands of activists from diverse constituencies are coming to Chicago for the second annual People’s Summit, organized by National Nurses United, to continue hashing out a broad-based ‘People’s Agenda.’ Similar state-level convergences are also under way in Michigan and North Carolina, where ‘Moral Mondays’ have been bringing movements together for several years. A powerful and broad coalition called New York Renews is pushing hard for the state to transition entirely to renewable energy by 2050. The plans that are taking shape for defeating Trumpism wherever we live go well beyond finding a progressive savior to run for office and then offering that person our blind support. Instead, communities and movements are uniting to lay out the core policies that politicians who want their support must endorse.”
Tepid liberalism won’t work, and “many of us are clearly ready for another approach, unafraid of powerful words such as redistribution and reparation and intent on challenging Western culture’s equation of a ‘good life’ with ever-escalating creature comforts regardless of what the planet can take or what actually leads to our deepest fulfillment. Clearly, it’s the culture itself that must be confronted now, not policy by policy, but at the root. The spell of neoliberalism has been broken, crushed under the weight of lived experience and a mountain of evidence. What for decades was unsayable is now being said by candidates winning millions of votes: free college tuition, double the minimum wage, Medicare-for-all, 100% renewable energy as quickly as technology allows, demilitarize the police, open prison doors, refugees are welcome here, war makes us less safe, etc. And crowds are roaring their agreement.”
What should you do with the facts and ideas in Klein’s book? Whatever stirs your imagination and aligns with your beliefs about how to effect political, economic, and social change. Check out the Leap Manifesto websites noted above, Google some of the groups mentioned in the book, talk to friends and family, etc., etc. Positive action on issues you’re passionate will probably beat having “Ain’t it Awful” conversations with likeminded friends/sharing jokes about Trump on Facebook, but do whatever you need to do to care for your heart, mind, and spirit…We’re in this for the long haul.