(Editor’s note: This review comes from Ben Terrall, a freelance writer based in San Francisco, California, whose work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Francisco Bay View, In These Times, CounterPunch, and Noir City. The youngest child of crime novelist Robert Terrall, aka Robert Kyle [1914-2009], Ben Terrall last wrote for January Magazine about Noam Chomsky’s Requiem for the American Dream).
The oligarchy now perched in the White House has inspired scores of opposition groups. It has also helped create a new genre of political books asking what the hell we are to do about said oligarchy. Older books about right-wing takeovers are also now back in vogue, including classic dystopian novels such as George Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here.
I’ve read a lot of such fiction and non-fiction since November 8, 2016, and one of the most useful books so far has been Naomi Klein’s No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need (Haymarket). It was written quickly and with a clear sense of urgency, but it is mercifully free of typos or clunky sentences; Klein is an ace investigative reporter whose years of graceful, intelligent writing under newspaper and magazine deadlines (for The Nation, The Guardian, Harper’s, The New York Times, and other publications) have paid off in this broadside.
Klein’s past projects have given her the intellectual background to be perfectly positioned to take on the Trump phenomenon. Those earlier books are more dense than No Is Not Enough, though that is in no way a dig at her penetrating new work. Their titles are indicative of their current relevance: No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies; The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism; This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. In the course of composing No Is Not Enough, Klein drew extensively from these earlier books. She shows how Donald Trump is the ultimate “brand bully,” having insinuated himself into the spotlight for years, ultimately climbing to the top of the mountain of garbage we call reality television. She writes, “He reflects all the worst trends I wrote about in No Logo, from shrugging off responsibility for the workers who make your products via a web of often abusive contractors to the insatiable colonial need to mark every available space with your name.”
In The Shock Doctrine, Klein covered corporate profiteering in the wake of crises extending from the 2003 invasion of Iraq to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In U.S.-occupied Iraq, the chief American envoy, Paul Bremer—wearing business suits with combat boots—issued decrees about how that Middle Eastern nation was to be transformed into a free-market paradise perfect for multinational corporate plundering. The parallels between Bremer’s edicts and Trump’s policy commands are striking. Klein writes, “Bremer ordered, for instance, that Iraq should have a 15 percent flat tax (quite similar to what Trump has proposed), that its state-owned assets should be rapidly auctioned off (under consideration by Trump), and that government should be drastically downsized (Trump again).” Bremer and the coalition forces kept the economic and military assaults coming fast and furious, another aspect of the occupation echoed by Team Trump: The Donald’s blitzkrieg of executive orders and presidential memoranda targeting social programs and regulations on corporations has left liberals and the radical left reeling like a bantamweight boxer being pummeled by Mike Tyson.
In one of his ghostwritten quasi-memoirs, Trump lays out how much he is willing to compromise: “You hear a lot of people say that a great deal is when both sides win. That is a bunch of crap. In a great deal you win—not the other side. You crush the opponent and come away with something better.” The first months of the Trump presidency have been characterized by multiple frontal assaults which follow that maxim. Virtually every U.S. federal agency is now headed by a wealthy opportunist committed to ruining their assigned department. Global-warming deniers run rampant, while positive social programs are targeted for annihilation. Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Education are all under siege by vultures out to rip off anything they can get their hands on.
In Klein’s view, the systemic problems which have given rise to the rightist domination of our government are rooted in decades of unchecked neoliberalism, which she defines as “an entire ideological project … which holds that the market is always right, regulation is always wrong, private is good and public is bad, and taxes that support public services are the worst of all.” This worldview gave birth to “trickle-down” economics, under which tax breaks and other subsidies for the rich theoretically wind up helping everyone (eventually). The basis for rapacious late-stage capitalism, this ideology also assumes the need for unlimited growth, with destruction of the natural world an inevitable consequence to be ignored or soft-pedaled with assurances that Big Capital will engineer solutions to impending environmental catastrophes.
So how does Klein advise “The Resistance” to fight the current tsunami of white male supremacy and corporate power grabs? She begins by focusing on grassroots groups organizing in opposition to the Trump agenda. One of the organizations that gives Klein hope in the short term is Indivisible, whose thousands of chapters across the country use the approaches outlined in the Indivisible Guide, written by former Democratic congressional staffers, which focuses on methods of pushing members of Congress leftward. Drawing on successful approaches employed by the right-wing Tea Party movement, this guide lays out the most effective tactics for exerting pressure on elected representatives.
In the longer term, Klein doesn’t think much of the Democratic Party as it is currently constituted. Although she supports former presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, she views the party as dominated by Goldman Sachs, Big Oil, the military-industrial complex, and other ruling elites. She finds hope in the emerging tendency of organizers to reach outside their comfort zones and align with different communities dealing with a wide range of issues. Examples are white activists providing solidarity to Black Lives Matter and affiliated African-American organizations and mainstream environmentalists waking up to the importance of indigenous activism (exemplified in No Is Not Enough by direct action by Native Americans against the Dakota Access pipeline).
Klein stresses that, given the severity of the climate crisis already upon us, the politics of incrementalism and its “growth is always good” worldview is inadequate to the challenges at hand. She describes her participation in marathon meetings between a diverse array of Canadian activists (Klein works in both Canada, where she lives, and the United States), including trade unionists, indigenous leaders, migrant rights campaigners and many others, to hammer out “The Leap Manifesto,” which calls for a transition to a green economy that maintains social and economic justice as key priorities. Klein is now championing this manifesto (featured as a postscript at the end of her book) and encouraging other coalitions to use it as a template.
No Is Not Enough convincingly argues that to be prepared for crackdowns by Trump & Company in the wake of future economic shocks or terrorist attacks, people in the United States need to be as politically engaged and wise to the powers that be as possible: “[F]aced with a common grave threat, we can choose to come together and make an evolutionary leap … We can, in other words, surprise the hell out of ourselves—by being united, focused, and determined.” To realize such an optimal outcome, though, more people will have to unplug from non-stop internet distractions and take time to study history, and to act. This book is an excellent tool for helping to achieve such a transformation. ◊