Saturday, May 21, 2016

Adam Gopnik - THE DANGEROUS ACCEPTANCE OF DONALD TRUMP // Noam Chomsky on Donald Trump: 'Almost a death knell for the human species'

The American Republic stands threatened by the first overtly anti-democratic leader of a large party in its modern history—an authoritarian with no grasp of history, no impulse control, and no apparent barriers on his will to power.

Vice is a monster of so frightful mien, / As, to be hated, needs but to be seen,” the poet Alexander Pope wrote, in lines that were once, as they said back in the day, imprinted on the mind of every schoolboy. Pope continued, “Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face, / we first endure, then pity, then embrace.” The three-part process by which the gross becomes the taken for granted has been on matchlessly grim view this past week in the ascent of Donald Trump. First merely endured by those in the Republican Party, with pained grimaces and faint bleats of reluctance, bare toleration passed quickly over into blind, partisan allegiance—he’s going to be the nominee, after all, and so is our boy. Then a weird kind of pity arose, directed not so much at him (he supplies his own self-pity) as at his supporters, on the premise that their existence somehow makes him a champion for the dispossessed, although the evidence indicates that his followers are mostly stirred by familiar racial and cultural resentments, of which Trump has been a single-minded spokesperson.

Now for the embrace. One by one, people who had not merely resisted him before but called him by his proper name—who, until a month ago, were determined to oppose a man they rightly described as a con artist and a pathological liar—are suddenly getting on board. Columnists and magazines that a month ago were saying #NeverTrump are now vibrating with the frisson of his audacity, fawning over him or at least thrilling to his rising poll numbers and telling one another, “We can control him.’

No, you can’t. One can argue about whether to call him a fascist or an authoritarian populist or a grotesque joke made in a nightmare shared between Philip K. Dick and Tom Wolfe, but under any label Trump is a declared enemy of the liberal constitutional order of the United States—the order that has made it, in fact, the great and plural country that it already is. He announces his enmity to America by word and action every day. It is articulated in his insistence on the rightness of torture and the acceptable murder of noncombatants. It is self-evident in the threats he makes daily to destroy his political enemies, made only worse by the frivolity and transience of the tone of those threats. He makes his enmity to American values clear when he suggests that the Presidency holds absolute power, through which he will be able to end opposition—whether by questioning the ownership of newspapers or talking about changing libel laws or threatening to take away F.C.C. licenses. 

To say “Well, he would not really have the power to accomplish that” is to misunderstand the nature of thin-skinned authoritarians in power. They do not arrive in office and discover, as constitutionalists do, that their capabilities are more limited than they imagined. They arrive, and then make their power as large as they can. And Trump announces his enmity in the choice of his companions.... read more:

Noam Chomsky on Donald Trump: 'Almost a death knell for the human species'
What effect would electing Donald Trump have? It’s hard to say because we don’t really know what he thinks. And I’m not sure he knows what he thinks. He’s perfectly capable of saying contradictory things at the same time. But there are some pretty stable elements of his ideology, if you can even grant him that concept. One of them is: “Climate change is not taking place.” As he puts it: “Forget it.” And that’s almost a death knell for the species – not tomorrow, but the decisions we take now are going to affect things in a couple of decades, and in a couple of generations it could be catastrophic.

If it were between Trump and Hillary Clinton, would you vote for Clinton? If I were in a swing state, a state that matters, and the choice were Clinton or Trump, I would vote against Trump. And by arithmetic that means hold your nose and vote for Clinton.

You talk about capitalism, politics and inequality a lot. Do you ever tire of it? Do you ever wish someone would ask you about something else? Well, from my point of view, there are two major categories of issues. There are the kind that are humanly important but intellectually pretty shallow. There are the kind that are intellectually quite deep and challenging, but don’t have the immediate human significance. If I had my choice, I’d rather stay on the second, but unfortunately the world won’t go away.

Do you not feel you’ve had enough sometimes? It’s like seeing a child in the street and a truck coming rapidly. Do you say, “Look, I’m too busy thinking about interesting questions, so I’ll let the truck kill the child”? Or do you go out into the street and pull the child back?

But if it was another child, every day, for decades? It doesn’t matter. I remember the philosopher Bertrand Russell was asked why he spent his time protesting against nuclear war and getting arrested on demonstrations. Why didn’t he continue to work on the serious philosophical and logical problems which have major intellectual significance? And his answer was pretty good. He said: “Look, if I and others like me only work on those problems, there won’t be anybody around to appreciate it or be interested.”

What would you like to see happen, in that case? I would like to see serious and significant steps made to put an end to the use of fossil fuels, to create sustainable energy systems and to save the world – as much as we can – from likely environmental catastrophe. I would move very quickly towards de-escalating military confrontations, which are quite serious, and move towards fulfilling our legal obligation to rid the world of nuclear weapons. I would like countries to become democracies, not plutocracies.

How do you turn a plutocracy into a democracy? It’s not very hard. In the US, it simply means going back to mainstream ideas. To quote John Dewey, the leading US social philosopher of the 20th century, until all institutions – industrial, commercial, media, others – are under democratic control, or in the hands of what we now call stakeholders, politics will be the shadow cast by big business over society. That’s elementary and it can be done.