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Naomi Klein, Connecting the Dots

Marty Roth
July 10, 2017

by Marty Roth

Discussed in this essay: No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, by Naomi Klein. Haymarket Books, 2017, 288 pages.

NAOMI KLEIN’S latest, No Is Not Enough, is another in a long line of books about Donald Trump that have appeared since his presidential bid began to be taken seriously. But it may be the one we most need to read. If words can inhibit or divert the Trump of doom, Klein’s would be at or near the top of the pile.

The book was put together quickly, and many of its parts will be familiar to her readers. Not a problem though, since the book is essentially a pamphlet, a call to arms like Tom Paine’s Common Sense or his Crisis papers -- not militant arms, but arms spread in concern for the planet and its populations.

Klein’s thoughts are divided between crucial alternatives: between a no and a yes, between a harsh analysis of the present state of world crisis and the affirmation of a possible salutary future, between the 1 and the 99 percent, between Green Zone and Red Zone, between single-issue and intersectional politics. And everything is played out against the imminent horizon of catastrophe, as the climate clock approaches midnight.

She uncovers the abscesses of a depraved corporate world of market rule on a severely damaged planet, where the only salvation on offer is the gracious nod of a Bill Gates or a Michael Bloomberg. We may have registered all of these issues in a piecemeal fashion before, but they are hard to take in in one setting. We need, however, to be reminded how much is already lost and how much is under threat.

She sees Trump’s presidency as a culmination of trends at work for decades, “like Frankenstein’s monster” sewn together out of many dangerous symptoms (“the rise of Superbrands, the expanding power of private wealth over the political system, the global imposition of neoliberalism . . . the damaging impact of corporate free trade, and the deep hold that climate-change denial has taken on the right side of the political spectrum”). Trump is also the avatar of “capitalist burlesque” as represented by his popular reality show The Apprentice and his mantra “that greed is good. That the market rules. That money is what matters in life.” His potential for doing harm is exacerbated by a cabinet made up of individuals “who made their personal fortunes by knowingly causing harm to some of the most vulnerable people on the planet.”

TO UNDERSTAND Trump, Klein insists, you have to understand the new face of capitalism:

1. corporate branding (the substitution of a tribal product name like Disney or Nike for the product itself), and Trump the superbrand (succeeding the original political brand Reagan) [No Logo, 1999];

2. “crisis” economics -- the way corporations and governments are enabled by catastrophic events like Hurricane Katrina (engineered by the Army Corps of Engineers and Mike Pence), the 2004 tsunami (when a coastline of former fishing villages was parceled up and sold off to global hotel chains in the name of renewal), or the Pinochet coup in Chile to hollow out relatively egalitarian spaces, even when the events seem to be liberatory, like the ANC victory in South Africa or the break-up of the Soviet Empire [Shock Doctrine, 2007]; and

3. the fact that the climate crisis cannot be addressed in a regime of market fundamentalism which encourages consumption, corporate mega-mergers and trade agreements hostile to the health of the environment [This Changes Everything, 2014].

She closes with the Leap manifesto (“a set of demands that actually acknowledges how much and how fast we need to change”), a document written in 2016 for adoption by the Canadian New Democratic Party and endorsed by a broad coalition of Canadian authors, artists, national leaders and activists.

The first part of No Is Not Enough ends with the ultimate shock effect of 9/11, which silenced progressive voices as a stupefied or outraged population accepted the imposition of a debilitating state of emergency and a war on “terror.” However, recent history has also shown us radically different responses to shock: the 2002 resistance to crisis legislation in Buenos Aires that led to the collapse of the government and the installation of neighborhood assemblies; or the aftermath of the 2004 Madrid train bombings, when popular resistance again forced the fall of a government asking for a state of emergency and special powers. Klein regards recent democratic successes -- Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, or the campaign of Bernie Sanders, which spoke directly “to the triple crises of neoliberalism, economic inequality and climate change” -- as “the first tremors of a profound ideological realignment from which the progressive majority could well emerge.” Others find these historical moments to be sporadic and ultimately disappointing. Is the glass half empty or half full?

Klein’s yes to the no of 9/11 is Standing Rock, where she saw a movement “not just resisting but modeling and teaching the way forward,” a movement whose leaders insisted they were not protesters but protectors. She strives to set up a “Yes” that would even partially balance the all-too-dominant “No” -- the world we want, as opposed to the world that we threaten and that threatens us with extinction; the yes that might go a little or a long way toward healing social and ecological wounds. She believes there is a hunger for community in our lives that is not yet swamped by an atmosphere of tweets, apps and reality TV. What we lack is the motivating “dream” of an imagined future that involves throwing out “the entire pro-corporate economic playbook.”

The key to the politics of the future is intersectionality, she believes: getting out of our silos, stopping bragging about whose crisis is bigger, and connecting the dots. “That means identifying how multiple issues -- race, gender, income, sexuality, physical ability, immigration status, language -- intersect and overlap with an individual’s life experience, and also with structures of power.” Ecological disaster is not enough to change our political and economic behavior, because it is slow and grinding like the process of boiling the frog. Klein also provides us with an exciting map of the new, young, multi-racial and multi-gendered left.

Words are where we must begin, and Naomi Klein’s are choice. I have no quarrel with this book; I think it is a timely, necessary and hopeful intervention in a world going terribly wrong. I can find no better words to end on than the ones Klein herself chose from the Belgian cartoonist and comic book writer Jean–Claude Servais: “The hour calls for optimism; we’ll save pessimism for better times.”

Marty Roth is an expatriate American who left the U.S. with the installation of George W. Bush (which seems like relatively small potatoes now). For ten years he was part of the editorial collective of Outlook: Canada’s Progressive Jewish Magazine.