By Marina Lademacher
As real as his obesely heavy-handed presence feels now, for many of us who didn’t think he’d actually become President, Trump was once an entertaining spectacle that lightened up an otherwise dreary, neoliberal political atmosphere with his complete defiance of convention and brazen rhetoric. Then came the election, and in Hillary Clinton the Democrats found a candidate so uninspiringly boring and fraudulent that she was putty in Mr Media’s hands. When Trump won, I for one consoled myself with the thought that he probably will be impeached sometime soon and until then we may as well see the positive side (i.e no Hillary). It’s now been 9 months since the Tweeter in Chief was sworn into the highest elected office in the entire world. There have been no upsides. From his withdrawal from the Paris climate deal, both travel bans, his dehumanizing of immigrants and the ‘global gag rule’ on abortion, there seems to be no step backwards The Donald will not take. In fact, it seems as if Tangerine Trump may actually be the Devil reincarnate who’s cast a spell of doom over the world that is cursing us through disaster after disaster.
Yet in this foggy haze of fear, uncertainty and utter disbelief that those who believe in the benevolent potentialities of civilisation now find ourselves in, there remain the unabashed heroes of humanity that give a glimmer of hope. Those that speak truth to the realities of power and who will not shy from exploiting the farce that is Trump.
Naomi Klein is a heroine in this regard. A leading light in the anti-Trump crusade whom through her latest book, ‘No is not enough’, is inspiring reader after reader into action and a questioning of all that we know to be true. It is not enough to simply complain about Trump’s existence, or his policies, or his gold-plated monstrosity of a ‘Cabinet’; rather we must speak out and most importantly, we must resist.
A darling for the 90s anti-globalisation movement that reached seismic levels with the 1999 Battle for Seattle but was subsequently forced into (intimidated) submission by the post-9/11 securitizing and surveillance culture, I find Klein’s most poignant analysis in what she calls the “Shock Doctrine”. Also the name of her 2007 seminal book, it’s the recipe that allows events of shock, be it 9/11, the Iraq War or Hurricane Katrina, to be exploited for corporate gains. “Wait for a crisis (or even, in some instances, as in Chile or Russia, help foment one), declare a moment of what is sometimes called ‘extraordinary politics’, 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”.
Personally, the most disgusting of these exploitations I find in the events post Hurricane Katrina. Decades of neoliberal neglect of the physical infrastructure in New Orleans allowed the tropical storm to engulf and destroy 800,000 homes, which should have been prevented by functioning flood defenses. In the aftermath, police officers shot black people on sight and it took 5 days for the federal government to arrange for food and water to be sent to New Orleans. A 95-year old Milton Friedman penned an article for the Wall Street Journal calling it an opportunity to ‘radically reform the education system’ while Richard Baker, then a Republican congressman for Louisiana, said “We finally cleaned up public housing in Louisiana. We couldn’t do it, but God did”. Contrasted with the human solidarity on display in the public response to the crisis, where people rescued, fed and sheltered each other, and it becomes more obvious that neither the State nor its institutions can fulfill even its most basic function: to protect.
Klein describes how public housing was replaced by luxury condos and town houses priced far out of reach of the residents who used to live there. Deputy vice-puppet Mike Pence (then as chairman of the Republican Study Committee caucus) led a group that proposed 32 ‘pseudo relief’ pro-free market policies as solutions to the crisis. Under the guise of protection, it comprised a full-frontal attack on labour standards and the public sphere, and the introduction of education vouchers that made New Orleans the most privatised education system in the US within a year. The impact of gas emissions on natural disasters ignored, environmental regulations along the Gulf Coast were repealed and permission granted for new oil refineries to be built. As Naomi puts it, the very things that “would exacerbate climate change and weaken public infrastructure even further”. Needless to say, President Bush enacted recommendations within a week.
Shocking as this is, shock therapy is really just the real-life manifestation of neoliberalism. This ruling economic idea that has moved with tornado-like speed since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 (supposedly “the end of history”) is less an ideology and more a rationale for greed. Although frequently misunderstood or undefinable for the common folk, Klein unpacks the beast to its core with sharp analysis: “The primary tools of this project are all too familiar: privatization of the public sphere, deregulation of the corporate sphere, and low taxes paid for by cut to public services, and all of this locked in under corporate friendly trade deals”. Where justice is borne out of love, so neoliberalism is ‘what lovelessness looks like as a policy’.
The epitome of 21st century Western capitalism can be found in Naomi’s dystopic description of Baghdad in 2003 following the US-led invasion. “At the time, the US occupation had carved the city in two. At its heart, behind enormous concrete walls and bomb detectors, there was the Green Zone-a little chunk of the United States rebuilt in Iraq, with bars serving hard liquor, fast-food joints, gyms and a pool where there seemed to be a party 24/7. And then-beyond those walls-there was a city bombed to rubble, where there was often no electricity for hospitals, and where violence, between Iraqi factions and US occupation forces, was spiralling out of control. That was the Red Zone.” Supposed ‘liberation’ amounted to the US remodelling Iraq as a ‘model’ for a free market economy; downsize the government, auction off state assets, sell off national wealth to foreign companies and impose low taxes. Who cares what the Iraqi people want? As ever, Iraq’s vast oil reserves were the motive, but money the driving force.
It’s not all doom however as Klein entertains with comical assertions about Trump and his Cabinet of phoney cronies, delving deep into his past as a real estate rogue. But her utter perceptiveness stretches beyond to the dark heart of greed that underpins Trump’s essence and his Presidency; “That unquenchable hunger, that hollowness at the center, does speak to something real-to a profound emptiness at the heart of the culture that spawned Donald Trump”. Our branded world of self-perfection through social media and the endless consumerism that aggressive advertising spawns is damaging the fundamental needs of human nature, while hyper-consumption is fatally unsustainable for our planet. The exercise of innate inclinations of humans to form communities, build connections and bring meaning to our lives beyond the next iPhone or mid-season sale has decreased as we have become more fragmented, individualistic creatures; what used to bring solidarity and common purpose for people, such as organized labour, has been supplanted by the rise of ‘hollow brands.’ Trump undoubtedly is the personification and culmination of such trends. This ‘market fundamentalism’ and dog-eat-dog world that our so called ‘free society’ now rests upon is a death knell for human well-being and the Earth we take for granted.
We can’t just sit around despairing daily, but relying on a divine hope that the arc of justice delivers retribution upon Trump. Nor can we expect positive change from those at the top of the power chain right now- except further freedoms stolen, more resources commodified for profit and greater surveillance abound. Every seismic social, or structural change in our societies has had its origins in the struggle of the people. The philanthropic capitalism of the Davos Class is mistaken in its assumption that you can throw money (or pretend to) at the problems of the world and expect the peoples to remain in a state of passivity. The altruistic policies, diversity of mind and coming together needed to solve the greatest problems of our day, most urgently climate change, could never be enacted by a ruling class in co-existence with the corporate elite whose very essence is threatened by collective action. Real change, whether to tackle income inequality, racism and sexism, the political stoking of societal divisions or the destruction of public services, must start in the resistance below. Only then can bottom up policies, rather than top down piecemeal efforts, become a reality.
Although the book might make you massively despair at our current state in civilisation and the fallacy of neoliberalism, it is laced throughout with resolute optimism that left me with a renewed sense of purpose. “Faced with a shared trauma, or a common threat, communities can come together in defiant acts of sanity and maturity. It has happened before, and the early signs are good that it might be happening again”. Perhaps the most inspiring tale of resistance in her description of events at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. Denied by Obama but uncompromisingly signed into action by Trump, the Dakota Access Pipeline is to be built directly under Lake Oahe- the sole source of drinking water for the 8,000 residents of Standing Rock. Last year they were at the receiving end police brutality that was compared to that seen against African Americans in 1960s Birmingham, Alabama; many ending up hospitalized including a woman who was shot in the eye and another who lost their arm. In the face of attacks from institutions supposed to uphold the moral order the resilient and transcendent activism of Standing Rock is a force to be reckoned with. The encampment is now a place “where Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people alike are learning to live in relationship and community with the land”. Survival skills are taught, schools run to educate the indigenous youth, traditions and ceremonies are more alive than ever, and the community has become a model for green energy and sustainable living. In other words, there is a renewed deep and benevolent connection with the land they’ve called home for centuries.
Standing Rock is one more victim of the predatory force that Klein calls ‘ecocidal capitalism’. There will be many more in the future, but the camps exemplify what it means to not only resist, but to incorporate our ends into our means. We do not need more of the ‘trickle down identity politics’ that engulfed the Clinton campaign, but a strong and sustained challenge against the system that perpetuates inequality and oppression. Not personifications of the system itself.
When our grandkids ask, what was it like when Trump was in power? What did you do? Let us be able to tell them tales of resistance, defiance and of coming together against the forces of evil. Because to remain in this comfortable state of passivity, is to become putty just like Hillary.
No is Not Enough is an urgent read in urgent times, by an urgently necessary author.