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Excerpt: "There are a lot of political spaces where it is possible for progress to happen whether at the sub-national level in the United States, internationally or just in movement spaces."

Author Naomi Klein. (photo: Getty)
Author Naomi Klein. (photo: Getty)

Naomi Klein: Progressives Must Continue the Fight to Take Over the Democratic Party

By John Tarleton, The Indypendent

15 July 17

Klein discusses Trump, fake news, decolonizing the Democrats and why a positive vision of what we’re fighting for is crucial.

onald Trump’s election to the presidency has prompted an outpouring of protest and activism from millions of people, including many who had not been politically engaged before. But what will it take for “the resistance” to not only defeat Trump but push forward a transformative agenda to address the multiple crises of our time?

In her best-selling new book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics And Winning The World We Need, Naomi Klein draws from her previous books on corporate branding, the politics of climate change and the history of neoliberal elites around the world using moments of profound crisis to advance unpopular policies. With hindsight, her work over the past two decades anticipates in many ways the rise of a rightwing reality television star who wants to dismantle democratic institutions and burn as much fossil fuels as possible.

“It’s like bad fiction it’s so obvious,” Klein told The Indypendent.

In No Is Not Enough, she doesn’t shy away from showing how Trump emerged from a decaying political culture to seize power, or warning that the worst is yet to come. But she refuses to wallow in despair, arguing instead that the oppositional forces conjured up by Trump have a unique opportunity to build a much more just and humane world than anything we have seen before — provided we fight not only what we’re against but what we’re for. This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for length and clarity.

JOHN TARLETON: This book begins with a scene from the night of Trump’s election in which you are meeting with a group of prominent activists in Australia. The meeting gradually runs out of steam as people in the room watch the election results come in over their phones. Can you describe how you got from that moment of shock and horror to producing this book, which is ultimately quite hopeful?

NAOMI KLEIN: (Laughs) Slowly, I would say. I think that day the only emotion I could compare Trump’s election to was a feeling that many of us involved in the anti-corporate globalization movement had after 9/11. We had been part of this movement where there was a lot of forward momentum and a deepening of analysis and an opening of new political spaces, and then just this kind of instant feeling that all of those spaces were going to be shut down. A lot of us projected that political moment into Trump’s election. But, I think we gave him more power than he actually has.

There are a lot of political spaces where it is possible for progress to happen whether at the sub-national level in the United States, internationally or just in movement spaces. I think there was a slow process of realizing that this did not necessarily have to be a repeat of a closing off political progress. There are ways in which the assumption that from now on we’re only playing defense is true and unavoidable, but there are also ways in which it is not necessarily the case.

You assert that Trump’s election is not an aberration but the fulfillment of 50 years of historical events.

What could be a more obvious outcome of a culture that has turned consumption into a way of life and fetishizes the rich and dominance-based logic — power over other people, over the planet, over nature at every level — than to have Donald Trump become president of the United States? It’s like bad fiction it’s so obvious, which is why I wanted to question this language of shock being used about Trump’s election.

There’s a way in which accepting the idea that he comes as a shock absolves the broader culture of a shared responsibility in creating a context where Trump could succeed politically. And that goes from philanthro-capitalism to commercial news turning itself into reality television before Trump showed up to play so successfully in that domain because this is his world. But he’s not the one who turned news into reality TV. Cable news did that. So that’s why I don’t spend a lot of time in the book psychologizing Trump. I want to look at the trends that produced him because an even more dangerous version of Trump could rise to the fore. There are folks who are more racist than him out there who might decide to occupy that space.

Have you been surprised by the size and scope of the resistance to Trump?

The grassroots resistance has been really inspiring and is the result of very powerful organizing around immigrant rights, against anti-black violence and racism and for climate justice and a living wage that was going on in the years before the election. There were the beginnings of a sturdy movement infrastructure that, in turn, became the infrastructure responding to the first wave of attacks from the Trump administration, whether it was the Muslim travel ban,  attacks on climate scientists and so on.

What do you make of the emphasis that some Trump critics are placing on Russia, Comey, impeachment, etc? Is this a fruitful path to go down?

While there’s certainly a lot of people in the resistance who are very concerned about this, I think that’s been more of a top-down focus coming from the Democratic Party establishment and coming from cable news for whom Trump is crack. Absolutely nothing has been learned, either by cable news or the Democratic Party establishment. They are all still following the same losing, dangerous, toxic formula. The Democrats seem to be planning to run a “vote for us so we can impeach Trump” campaign in 2018, which is just doubling down on the “vote for us because we’re not Trump” strategy that lost them the election in 2016. It doesn’t propose anything inspiring to energize the millions and millions of Americans who don’t vote and didn’t vote.

How do you think people who want to see change through the electoral process should engage with the Democrats?

The Democratic Party establishment is entirely enmeshed with the interests and culture of the billionaire class, as Bernie Sanders calls them. I think there are very powerful people in the Democratic Party who would rather lose elections than stand with the masses of people for whom they’ve shown they have complete contempt. But that doesn’t mean necessarily that the Democratic Party cannot be taken over.

It’s certainly hard. I’m not sure it can be done. But being in contact with folks who are very involved in the Jeremy Corbyn campaign and who were really on the front lines of the process of radically changing the Labour Party, I know that they had to fight at absolutely every turn and face attacks well above what the Bernie folks faced within the DNC. But yet they won. They won by starting a movement that led tremendous numbers of young people and others to become members of the Labour Party and vote for the candidate that they wanted as party leader. They then had to repel coup attempt after coup attempt from party elites.

The process of taking over a party that has been colonized by neoliberalism and by the interests of economic elites who do not want to change is in an extremely difficult one. Anybody who’s waiting to hear “oh you guys were right after all” — it’s not going to go down that way. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth fighting. It just means you have to approach it as a battle for the soul of, not just the party, but the country.

The vision you put forward in your book under the rubric of the Leap Manifesto is in many ways a 21st Century version of social democracy with higher taxes on the rich to finance generous public social programs, infrastructure and a full transition to a low-carbon economy. In the past generous social welfare programs such as the New Deal have often been marred by exclusionary practices that channeled more resources to favored racial or ethnic groups. What could be done to ensure this doesn’t happen again?

This is the moment of deeply intersectional politics and organizing. The only solutions that are viable are ones that tackle multiple problems, multiple crises, overlapping crises, simultaneously. If we don’t fight to make sure that the communities that have been most ravaged by this system are first in line to benefit from this transition, then the opposite will be the case. There will be a process of re-victimization and deepening of economic exclusion. Already solar panels are being manufactured by prison labor. Prisoners in California are fighting wildfires caused by climate change. Many of the jobs being created in the green economy are precarious, non-union, not paying a living wage. We have to make sure that deep principles of justice inform how we change.

Going back to the role of the press, Trump and his administration have repeatedly launched attacks against establishment media organizations such as the New York Times, Washington Post and CNN among others for purveying “fake news.” These attacks are often unfair if not unhinged from reality. How should the left respond given that it has long criticized these same media institutions for serving as mouthpieces for powerful corporate interests?

I think just because Trump is attacking traditional or corporate media as fake news doesn’t mean that they deserve our blanket defense. We certainly need to be defending the principles of a free and independent press, but we don’t have that. We should take a posture of defend and transform, sort of like with Obamacare. Just as this is the moment to be putting forward a vision of single-payer health insurance, it is also the moment of putting forward a vision of a truly democratic, non-commercially driven independent media. Corporate media was never acceptable to us and its failures are what created openings for Trump.

They don’t appear to have learned much.

They gave us Trump. And I frankly believe that through their own greed they are creating conditions to keep him in power, rather than doing real journalism about the conspiracies in plain view.

There’s been so little coverage of his economic agenda, of the myriad broken promises he made to American workers. That is where he is so much more vulnerable than on Russia. There is almost no issue-based reporting, which is exactly what was missing from the campaign. They have spent almost no time unpacking what policy means to people’s lived experience. This is a basic job of journalism. Yet, it’s still not happening in favor of following the same formula of reality TV, which is great for ratings and terrible for democracy.

At times it feels like years have gone by since the inauguration when we’re still in the early days of this administration. How can people stay grounded and emotionally healthy so they don’t burn out?

Part of the reason why it is so important to save some space to carve out a forward-looking agenda that is really about the world that we deeply want and need is that vision is deeply healing and sustaining in these very difficult and unavoidable battles.

Every sturdy revolutionary social movement has had that forward-looking vision — the dream as Martin Luther King said. In South Africa, the vision laid out by the Freedom Charter sustained the anti-apartheid struggle all those years, that utopian imagination of the world beyond the nightmare. I think that it sustains us in these long struggles that, if we are to be honest, are going to take our lifetimes. This is not just a four-year battle. Not when we’re talking about the level of deep change that is required. The finish line isn’t in sight. So we have to find a way to sustain ourselves. And I think when we have that vision in sight, it also, to some extent, informs how we treat each other in struggle. It forces us to think long-term about the planet, about future generations, but also about our relationships with one another. We’re in this for the long haul and we have to act like it. your social media marketing partner


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+19 # librarian1984 2017-07-15 11:44
Joe Manchin (WV) has a progressive challenger. After the primary, when Sanders won all 55 counties of WV, a voter asked Manchin if he would change his stance on various policies, seeing that his constituents are so progressive. Manchin said: "What you ought to do is vote me out. I'm not changing. Find somebody else who can beat me and vote me out."

Well, Paula Jean Swearengin, a coal miner's daughter and environmental activist sponsored by Justice Democrats, is now running against him. (JD supports progressives who agree not to take PAC or corporate money.) Swearengin is also endorsed by Brand New Congress, an organization founded after the election by Sanders campaigners.

Manchin's response? He's initiated a pledge that says senators will not campaign against a sitting colleague -- so Sanders would not be allowed to endorse his challenger, or have a rally for her.

Manchin has voted with Trump more than any other Democratic senator.

Sure, let's keep trying to take over the party. Let's see if we can make some inroads in 2018. Then I'll be more optimistic. But look at what just happened in CA. Progressives got active, worked hard, GOTV -- and superdelegates made a pharmaceutical lobbyist chair of the state party.

How long do we give this? How do we measure success? If only 3/4 of progressive candidates get cheated in the primaries --- is that good enough?

If they keep sh!tting on Sanders, do we keep quiet? What is the plan?
+7 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2017-07-16 05:49
lib -- thanks for this. Very interesting. The pledge that says senators can't campaign against a sitting colleague needs to be publicized. Actually, the party does this all the time. It threatens members with funding a challenger if they don't stay in line.

You raise the major problem. The party can't be challenged by individual efforts. There needs to be an organized revolt within party members. Why isn't this something the Congressional Progressive Caucus would take up. Why can't it support more candidates who will join it as a sub-group of democrats.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus has only one Senate member -- Sanders. But there are about 50 members in the House. The Clinton/Podesta faction is organized, funded, and throws its weight around. Why should the Progressive Caucus do the same?

Individuals just get marginalized and ignored.
+3 # Robbee 2017-07-16 10:44
Quoting librarian1984:
What is the plan?

- "this is the moment to be putting forward a vision of single-payer health insurance, it is also the moment of putting forward a vision of a truly democratic, non-commerciall y driven independent media"

"when we have that vision in sight, it also, to some extent, informs how we treat each other in struggle"
+1 # 2017-07-15 14:01
So who blew up the wtc & pentagon And anthraxed congress & the press in sept of 2001? First, stop false flag terror!
+13 # REDPILLED 2017-07-15 15:34
At what point will it become clear that the [corporate] Democrats have NO intention to have THEIR gold mine of a party taken over by alleged 'progressives'?

And when will the 'Berniecrats' and other such alleged 'progressives' realize that TRUE progressives OPPOSE imperialism, instead of mostly ignoring the imperial, illegal U.S. foreign policy and all its wars of aggression, as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Nina Turner, and Our Revolution are ignoring it?

See ‘Berniecrats’ Support Jackson Movement but Continue to Ignore War and U.S. Empire - Truthdig
+9 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2017-07-16 05:50
Red -- I'm definitely with you. I often wonder why Sanders is so silent on the wasteful and immoral wars. He must know that the key to funding the new social programs he wants and are needed in the US can only come from reductions in the money going into the M-I-C.
+1 # Robbee 2017-07-16 11:30
Quoting REDPILLED 2017-07-15 15:34:
At what point will it become clear that the [corporate] Democrats have NO intention to have THEIR gold mine of a party taken over by alleged 'progressives'?

- the function of every party is to win elections, period!

years ago a very fine dem progressive - mcgovern - lost by a landslide!

the "point at which it will become clear that the [corporate] Democrats have NO intention to have THEIR gold mine of a party taken over by alleged 'progressives'" is the day after a bill clinton or al gore or barak obama or hillary clinton loses to a conservative candidate by a landslide, and, then dems refuse to run more progressive candidates! - so far the dem party is more worried about mcgovern-type landslide losses than about centrists, who tend to fare well! - what do you think?

the only challenge to fear of a bernie losing by a landslide is bernie's enormous popularity! and his drive to progress the issues!

us progressives need to run candidates and win elections until it gets clear that our berries have a better chance of winning than dem centrists! "at that point" the den party is ours, we own it!

ps - don't throw the baby (the dem party) out with the bath water!
+11 # banichi 2017-07-15 22:02
I watched the Democratic Party establishment, aligned with the DNC under DWS and her successor, commit election fraud. Their lawyers defend themselves in court saying that they are not bound by their own rules. I will never trust them to represent the people who vote for them again. I voted for Bernie Sanders after a 50 years of voting Democratic, but after seeing how the primary was rigged from even before the campaign started, I quit the Democratic Party and will not return.

I respect Naomi Klein a great deal, but I can not agree with any attempt to 'take over' the Democratic Party. It is a waste of time. The Party powers did not learn any lessons from losing the election, they are continuing to try to use the same old tactics as before, proving to me that they have no intention of changing since it would require them to give up power - and that isn't going to happen.

Nancy Pelosi, the SF House member in my state of California, has made it clear she intends to keep on trying to sell the idea that 'Healthcare for everyone, single payer is not what people want.' Yet we had a bill in California that would have started the single payer system going, but the Democrats have halted it in committee and it may well die there.

This is the real Democratic party, too entrenched in their corruption to consider changing in favor of citizens' needs. JFK pointed at the moon and said we will go there. What is lacking is the commitment to change, not the ability.
+15 # grandlakeguy 2017-07-15 22:09
First and foremost the obscenity of American stolen elections must be exposed and addressed!
The massive disenfranchisem ent of non Republican voters coupled with electronic votes that are "counted" by the Republicans is a hurdle that cannot be overcome.

THAT is the first and most important fight to win if we ever expect actual representative government.
-3 # Trumpistheswamp 2017-07-15 23:12
What a snooze of an article! But this paragraph is great: "the Democratic party establishment is entirely enmeshed wth the culture and interests of the billionaire class......" WHAT OTHER VIABLE ALTERNATIVE IS THERE BESIDES JOINING THE GREEN PARTY? IT CAN GROW BY LEAPS AND BOUNDS NOW.
0 # politicfix 2017-07-18 07:30
Stop electing only lawyers, muti-millionair es & bilionaires into political office. Representatives are supposed to be composed of a wide sector of Americans. Once they get into the cesspool of Washington politics, they all turn into greedy career robots who are controlled by the corporate financiers. We were never supposed have career politicians. They were supposed to serve their term, and be infiltrated back into society. The Constitution advocates term limits. It's the career politicians that won't implement that clause in the Constitution. We need to clean the swamp but not in the way Trump implies it, but the way the Constitution advocates it. It is the law of the land and not just a GD sheet of paper as GWBush referred to it.
+11 # relegn 2017-07-16 06:07 democracy with higher taxes on the rich to finance generous public social programs...
I wonder what J. Tarleton would consider "generous"in the realm of public social programs? Basic health care, a place to live or the ability to feed yourself and your children.Are such programs "generous" or are they required by any democratic government?
0 # theVirus 2017-07-16 15:43
"Compeating?" I hope this is self-effacing humor. If not, spell check seems advisable.
0 # dusty 2017-07-17 16:11
In general I think there is much good thinking in this article. However it seems from the text that the author is not aware that after the McCarthyism time communists tried to save and change the Democratic Party. They worked by organizing within the Democratic Party, by organizing Democratic Clubs composed of leftists and regular democrats with with the energy and the hope to halt the rightward movement of the Democratic Party leadership who were abandoning the strengths of the FDR period. It didn't work. By about 1972 the Dems all but abandoned Labor, Civil/Human Rights, Peace, the Social Agenda and on and on, (the Progressive Platform) in an effort to become the popular capitalists who could save the US from radical social change. It "worked" and has given us Trumpism, after Clintonism, after Bushism, after Reaganism, ... and the war hawks of Obama. Not mentioned are JFK and LBJ who gave us Vietnam, agent orange, 4000000 murdered Vietnamese and PTSD for lots of our own troops. No, we have to look elsewhere to create a party to get rid of the neo-liberal capitalist destruction of our nation.
+1 # politicfix 2017-07-18 07:16
The progressives should take over the Democratic Party and oust the multi-millionai res and billionaires who say they work for the people but who belong to the wealthiest class in America. The Clinton's became abominably rich as touts for the wealthiest. For as long as they have been in the political area, very little changed except their own personal wealth. They professed to help the people who actually got only crumbs while they accumulated millions. Getting the lawyers, multi-millionai res, and billionaires out of our Congress is paramount Then we can work on restoring out Constitution to it's premium status.

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