Naomi Klein's new book on Donald Trump gets to the heart of the problem: billionaire saviours
Some of Hillary Clinton's most ardent supporters blame the "Bernie people" for Donald Trump's election to the presidency.
They argue that attacks from Sen. Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primaries inflicted enough damage on Clinton to clear a path for Trump to squeak out a victory in the general election.
In this scenario, Sanders became the equivalent of the Green party's 2000 presidential candidate, Ralph Nader. The long-time consumer advocate's condemnations of Al Gore helped an inferior and more dangerous candidate, George W. Bush, become president.
One of the more influential media critics of Sanders was Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and progressive columnist in the New York Times.
In one controversial column, Krugman took aim at Sanders for claiming that Clinton was unfit for the presidency because she voted in favour of the Iraq war and supported international trade agreements in the past.
"This is really bad, on two levels," Krugman wrote. "Holding people accountable for their past is O.K., but imposing a standard of purity, in which any compromise or misstep makes you the moral equivalent of the bad guys, isn’t. Abraham Lincoln didn’t meet that standard; neither did F.D.R. Nor, for that matter, has Bernie Sanders (think guns)."
One of the high-profile Bernie people was Canadian writer, social activist, and filmmaker Naomi Klein. The author of This Changes Everything, No Logo, and The Shock Doctrine declared during the Democratic Party primaries that she didn't trust Clinton to address climate change.
In her new book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting the New Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, Klein writes about how she couldn't look at social media for a while because of all the fighting between the "Bernie bros" and the "Hillary Bots".
"I lost friends over it, as others did on all sides—people who blame me and people like me for Hillary's defeat because we did not publicly endorse her or because we were so hard on her corporate entanglements during the primary," Klein reveals in her book. "And I have trouble forgiving people like the liberal economist Paul Krugman, who has written so much of such great importance about economic inequality and bank fraud over the years, and yet used his influential platform in the New York Times to repeatedly attack the only candidate, Bernie Sanders, who was serious about battling income inequality and taking on the banks."
Why Klein was so suspicious of Clinton
Klein's objections to Clinton stem, in part, to her actions as secretary of state in the Obama administration. According to Klein, Clinton did not use her "megaphone" to advance greater understanding of the perils of climate change.
While Clinton did offer poor countries $100 billion to address the issue, Klein likened the then secretary of state's conditions for receiving this cash to widely loathed structural-adjustment programs. In the past, the International Monetary Fund has provided financing to countries that implement neoliberal reforms, such as privatizing state assets and sharply slashing government spending on health care and education.
Klein's father-in-law, former Canadian UN ambassador Stephen Lewis, happens to be one of the world's most articulate critics of these IMF structural adjustment programs.
In a 2005 interview with the Straight, Lewis stated that financing conditions imposed by the IMF, World Bank, and African Development Bank in the late 1980s and 1990s were a factor driving the AIDS pandemic in Africa.
"There is a definite connection in the sense that structural-adjustment programs clearly impoverished countries and clearly had a devastating effect on the social sectors, particularly health, nutrition, education, water, and sanitation," Lewis said at the time. "So all of the elements of a society which expose poor people to risk—when you go to a school, you have to pay—all of it [was] imposed by the international financial institutions."
So when Clinton proposed a new wrinkle on structural-adjustment programs—this time to deal with climate change—it's understandable why Klein reacted negatively. It smacked of disaster capitalism, in which U.S. corporations profit from economic, political, military or environmental shocks.
Moreover, Klein has probably had several dinner conversations with her brilliant father-in-law about how structural-adjustment programs contributed to long-lasting suffering and death in Africa, not to mention in other parts of the world.
Go after Trump's brand
No Is Not Enough is billed as a blueprint for resistance to the Trump agenda. And sure enough, it delivers, dissecting the Trump brand in many of its manifestations.
The book points out how this brand and that of his daughter Ivanka can be poked, prodded, and jammed in ways that will undermine Trump's capacity to create havoc as president.
As has been reported elsewhere, Klein draws upon her 20 years of experience analyzing branding and how corporate free-market zealots exploit economic shocks to impose their will on various countries.
She doesn't expect Trump's attempts to revise or scrap international trade deals will do anything to address how workers are getting shafted. She buttresses this argument by pointing out that the Trump cabinet is populated with billionaires and former investment bankers with Goldman Sachs.
Nor does she anticipate that Trump will do anything to impair corporations' capacity under trade agreements to sue governments for passing laws that interfere with their profitability.
In fact, she cites a Public Citizen analysis suggesting Trump will take the worst parts of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and add that to the North American Free Trade Agreement. And by voicing vague objections to trade treaties, Trump can make it appear as though he's standing up for the little guy.
"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," Klein writes. "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 have benefited so extravagantly from the auctioning off of public wealth; the polluting of land, air, and water; and the deregulation of the financial sphere."
In Canada, that genuinely redistributive progressive agenda is reflected in the Leap Manifesto, which Klein co-authored, and which is covered extensively near the end of her book.
One of the most vivid sections describes how Baghdad was divided into a safe green zone and a more perilous red zone under the U.S.-led governing authority in 2003 and 2004. The man in charge was U.S. diplomat Paul Bremer, a former consultant with Henry Kissinger's company, who ruled by issuing decrees.
This is how disaster capitalism functions in its purest form. But Klein explains in her new book how the green and red zone phenomenon is also arising in the United States and around the world in response to the threat of climate change.
She also prepares readers for how to counter the Trump administration when it inevitably tries to exploit a shocking incident, such as an act of terrorism, to advance its neofascist agenda.
Billionaires at the root of the crisis
Klein's previous book, This Changes Everything, advocated for a global movement to address climate change. She argued that it was a product of neoliberal capitalism and international trade agreements espoused by billionaire money managers and CEOs of the world's largest corporations.
One of the most compelling sections of This Changes Everything focused on how billionaires such as Richard Branson and Bill Gates were eagerly investigating geo-engineering to alter the climate.
Klein explained how this supposedly technological whiz-bang solution, which could involve seeding the upper atmosphere with aerosols, was fraught with risk. That's because it could easily alter precipitation patterns in the Global South, creating famines that could kill untold hundreds of millions or even billions.
Yet geo-engineering continues to be discussed seriously even though it would do nothing to counter the acidification of the oceans, which is disrupting the food chain.
So you can see why Klein harbours a deep suspicion of billionaire "saviours" that the media so frequently lionize. And she argues convincingly in No Is Not Enough that Bill and Hillary Clinton played a major role in expanding these philanthrocapitalists' influence in the 1990s.
Klein also points out that the so-called "Davos class" has been closely linked to the Clinton Foundation. Even now, you hear talk of billionaires like Oprah Winfrey, Mark Zuckerberg, and even Mark Cuban rising up to challenge Trump for the presidency.
Yet back in the 1990s, Klein notes, Gates was "widely regarded as a corporate villain, known for exploitative employment practices and for building what looked like a predatory software monopoloy".
"Trump's assertion that he knows how to fix America because he's rich is nothing short of an uncouth, vulgar echo of a dangerous idea we have been hearing for years: that Bill Gates can fix Africa. Or that Richard Branson and Michael Bloomberg can fix climate change," Klein writes.
It's thought-provoking stuff, and is all the more remarkable because this book was written in such a hurry. I highly recommend it to all those Hillary Clinton admirers truly curious to understand why the Sanders crowd had so much difficulty with their candidate.
At the same time, it's hard not to think of Naomi Klein herself as a brand that's been carefully cultivated over the years. Her unquestioning and frequent endorsements of activists often dismissed in their own countries has certainly added some lustre. And this new book is another extension of the Klein brand, offering protection from critics who haven't forgiven her for not doing more before the U.S. election to thwart Donald Trump.
Like Klein's other books, this one brims with ideas rarely heard in the mainstream media. And her fiery, punchy writing style, which is occasionally laced with humour, makes it hard to put down.
My only truly serious complaint about No Is Not Enough is that it doesn't include an index. This is a hallmark of books turned around quickly, even ones as well edited as this.
It's too bad because I would like to go back and re-read that section on Paul Bremer. But now I have to flip through all the pages to find it.More