“I try to understand, how did we find ourselves in this surreal political situation, how can it get worse further and how we could win a radically better future.” Naomi Klein travelled in Italy to launch her new book, No is not enough (Allen Lane, 2017, pb £.12.99) just translated by Giancarlo Carlotti for Feltrinelli Editore as Shock Politics.
Your last book seems like a text very different from previous works. It is not the result of long years of research, combining inquiry journalism and the elaboration of new concepts in extensive narrative frescoes. Instead, it moves from the urgent need to intervene in the current American and global situation, one year after Donald J. Trump’s election to the United States presidency. It was written for a North American audience, but the text has the merit of placing the same phenomenon of “trumpism” in a wider global context. What is it’s relationship with the growth of a dangerous new Right wing around the world?
Trump is just the strain of a global epidemic. Of course, every single political project is linked to its specific national context. Trump emerges from the unresolved “racial issue” of American history, the refusal to deal with the slave past and the burden of discrimination in the present. And the rejection of the first African-American president experience. But we must withhold the idea of an “American exceptionalism” in this. There are many Trumps around the world, each carrying a regional specificity. Let’s think of Marine Le Pen in France or Modi in India. The way these new nationalist rights come about has to do with the widespread feeling of a “loss of control” in our own lives. Think of the slogan that characterized the campaign for Brexit. And of the reality of increasing precarization of every sphere of life. In a historical period characterized by unprecedented wealth, the numbers of economically excluded people are growing. What is common to the personalities of the right all over the world is the ability to mystify and distort the legitimacy of this feeling of insecurity with the unlawfulness of a proposal, which is a rebellion of the oligarchies directed against the affirmation of any principle of equality. Racial equality, gender equality, social equality are the real enemies of the global growth of these scary right wings.
Your book seeks to combine two different temporalities: that proposed in The Shock Doctrine, in which the disaster economy was used to spread the neoliberal paradigm, and an explanation of how Trump has come so far.
Of course, the results of the presidential election a year ago were a real trauma. But reading what has happened only in these terms is likely to be a consolatory and, sometimes, self-exculpatory attitude for many Americans to lift themselves from the collective responsibility for creating this monster. His election is, in some ways, also a new way to go through shocks. It is not like Hurricane Katrina; it is rather the production of a continuous “shock-show”: the spectacular way to advance and pursue a permanent destructive policy aimed at a precise redistribution of wealth upwards. A policy of systematic destruction of welfare, attacks on small achievements in the field of health care, and dismantling the already fragile mechanisms of regulation of the financial system are the substance. From my first book, No Logo, I had to resume studies on marketing and business branding: Trump reflects their worst features, fueling his “superbrand” by using the form and the language of reality show, and subcontracting to seemingly invisible exploitation chains the relationship with real work. And the war is part of this permanent wrestling show being staged. This makes Trump very dangerous. But the bubble of every superbrand has got a weak point, where it can be hit to make it explode. We have to — and we can — find it for Trump, too.
How to respond then to this offensive? There are those who propose, even on the left, in Europe, to end it with women’s movements, with the solidarity and struggles of migrants, with the defense and the conquest of new civil rights, with the ecological question. And to return to deal only with the “white working class” to take it from right-wing populists. In dealing with this question, your proposals are instead to restart from the extraordinary richness of conflicts that animate North America. What role can they have in building an alternative?
Social resentment has been an important part of Trump’s consensus. But it is not something new: The permanent and systematic pitting of working-class whites against blacks, men against women, citizens against migrants, is crucial in building the current corporate dystopia. It is the strategy of “divide and conquer,” one of the most powerful élite-defense weapons against true democracy. The writer and intellectual Cornel West said that “justice is what love looks like in public.” Neoliberalism is politics without love. The incarnation of greed and indifference, like Trump himself. Unleashing hatred against the most vulnerable is an essential aspect of it. For this reason, it is critical to choose an intersectional approach as embraced by many American movements. It means understanding how the multiple issues — race, gender, income, migrant status, climate crisis — intersect and overlap within the individuals’ life experience and in the deep structures of power. We must be able to show the role played by the politics of division and separation. To overthrow these politics and not to follow them.
In your book you insist on the need to grasp two concepts that should be guidelines for activism. What do you mean by “protection” and “taking care”?
I learned what it means to take the role of “protectors” on the days I spent at Standing Rock during resistance to the devastating pipeline project. It means defending nature and commons when they are threatened, because they are fundamental to protect our lives. And taking care of others, because only in the reciprocity of relationships can we build a possible future for all. The systemic connections we face are becoming evident to everyone. And beyond shouting our strong “no,” we must also be able to put in place another strategy: to pronounce a captivating “yes,” which develops a project capable of realizing tangible improvements in the daily life of many, built on powerful words like “redistribution” and “reparation.”
In the 2016 presidential election campaign, not only Trump’s phenomenon emerged. Something has also emerged that made me understand how the ideas for a progressive transformational change, the radical contents we are carrying on, are much more widespread and popular than I expected. I think of Sanders’ campaign. To build a credible narrative in which the issues of race and migration, gender, labor and income, and climatic justice are included in the proposal of a post-capitalist transformation of society. Bernie and so many other Left-wing experiences on both side of the Atlantic, with all their limits and contradictions, are showing that there is space to do it.
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