No Is Not Enough, by Naomi Klein
Review by Dave Gamrath
One-liner: a fascinating examination of the dynamics in our society that allowed Donald Trump to get elected President, describes what we can continue to expect from the Trump Administration, and provides a a manifesto detailing what we need to do to not only beat Trump, but to truly change our society.
The election of Trump is not just a US phenomenon; it is part of a global contagion, with recent success (and near misses) of far-right parties in multiple countries. Trump’s naked corporate takeover of our government has been years in the making. Up until now, in US politics there’s been a mask on the corporate state’s White House proxies; now the mask is gone. Trump should not be viewed as just one dangerous person, but as a ferocious corporate backlash to protect their wealth against overlapping societal and political movements demanding a safer and just world Trump and his cabinet of former executives are remaking government to serve the interests of their own businesses, their former businesses and their tax bracket as a whole.
The main pillars of Trump’s political and economic project are:
· The deconstruction of the regulatory state
· A full-bore attack on the welfare state and social services
· The unleashing of a fossil fuel frenzy
· A civilization war against immigrants and Muslims
In the book, Klein describes how Trump is the culmination – the logical end point – of a great many dangerous stories our culture has been telling for a very long time, including: greed is good; the market rules; money is what matters in life; white men are better than the rest; the natural world is there for us to pillage; the vulnerable deserve their fate; the one-percent deserve their golden towers; that anything public or commonly held is sinister and not worth protecting; and that we are surrounded by danger and should only look after our own. And that there is no alternative to any of this. We have to question not only Trump, but also these stories that produced him. We have to confront these deep-seated values that have been sold to us.
No matter how bad things seem right now, things will likely get a lot worse in the short term. Klein goes into detail about “the shock doctrine” and how Trump will likely exploit it to enhance his power and continue his rule.
The Trump “Superbrand” – Naomi Klein’s first book, No Logo, focused on the key moment in corporate history when behemoths like Apple and Nike stopped thinking of themselves primarily as companies that make stuff, and started thinking of themselves as, first and foremost, manufacturers of brands. This Superbrand model sought to connect with consumers and craft shared values, and then charge a premium for products that are less about the objects themselves then about the profound human desire to be part of a tribe, a circle of belonging. The true product was the brand, and thus it could be projected onto any number of seemingly unconnected commodities. The Superbrand goal is to own little, but brand everything. Trump built an empire by following this formula precisely. And then, as a candidate, he figured out how to profit from the rage and despair the offshoring of jobs left behind in communities that used to be well-paid manufacturing towns, I.E., the places companies like Trump’s long ago abandoned. It’s quite the con to have convinced so many to support someone who has crushed their interests.
The reality TV show The Apprentice offered Trump the chance to leap into the stratosphere of Superbrands and to solidify his mission to equate the name Trump with material success. On the show, Trump was paid a fortune for priceless free advertising. After you pull this off, what’s your next trick? Merge your brand with the ultimate symbol of power and authority: the White House. And the ultimate branding tool: the US presidency. Every minute Trump is president, his brand value and the value of his businesses are increasing, and he is therefore directly profiting from being in public office. You can’t disentangle Trump the man from Trump the brand. Trump sees public office as a short-term investment to swell the value of his brand. Example: Mar-a-Lago has already doubled its membership fees to $200,000. More importantly, who’s to say what services are being purchased when a private company pays millions to lease the Trump brand? Whether its sales at his hotels, golf courses or with his merchandise, it will be extremely difficult to prove that Trump increased sales are due to his presidency. Trump smirks at charges of conflicts of interest. “Prove it!” Very hard to do.
Impunity: why scandals don’t stick – Trump carries a near-impenetrable sense of impunity. In the world he has created, he’s just a “winner”; if someone gets stepped on, they are obviously a loser. Every traditional scandal bounces off Trump, because he didn’t just enter politics as an outsider who doesn’t play by the rules, but as someone that plays with a completely different set of rules, the rules of branding. According to branding rules, you don’t need to be good or decent, you only need to be true and consistent to the brand you have created. If you stay focused, very little can touch you. Trump created a brand that is entirely amoral. Trump’s Superbrand as the mega-rich boss allows him to do whatever he wants, and people shrug it off with “he’s such a winner, of course he can do that!” In his world, even more than endless wealth, impunity is the ultimate signifier of success.
A one man “megabrand” – Trump is a product of powerful systems of thought that rank human life based on race, religion, gender, sexuality, physical appearance and physical ability, and that systematically uses race as a weapon. Trump is the personification of the merger of humans and corporations – a one-man megabrand. Trump is the embodiment of the belief that money and power provide license to impose one’s will on others. Trump is the product of a business culture that fetishizes “disruptors” who make their fortunes by flagrantly ignoring both laws and regulatory standards. Most importantly, Trump is the incarnation of powerful free-market ideals that wage wars on everything public and commonly held, and imagine CEOs as superheroes that will save humanity. All this is represented in his Administration; Trump has collected a team of individuals who made their personal fortune by knowingly causing harm to some of the most vulnerable people on the planet, often in the midst of a crisis.
Trump’s campaign premise – when people are living in a nightmare, dreams sell. Trump’s primary political pitch was “I’m a winner, and I will turn you into a winner, and together we can crush the losers.” After decades of hawking get rich quick manuals, Trump understands exactly how little needs to be behind his promises. If people’s desperation is great enough, people will believe his unfounded promises, such as bringing back manufacturing or that he is the master negotiator and will renegotiate all our trade deals to support US workers (as opposed to himself).
Well before Trump, elections had already crossed into ratings-driven infotainment. What Trump did was exponentially increase the entertainment factor, and therefor ratings. The biggest gift from the media to Trump wasn’t just all the free airtime, but the entire infotainment model of covering elections which plays up interpersonal nonsense and bickering, at the expense of policy specifics. Trump didn’t create the problem; he exploited it, taking this game to a new level.
World Wrestling Entertainment – Klein points out that Trumps entire campaign had an entire WWE quality to it. Trump has been connected with the WWE for years. In the campaign, Trump carefully nurtured feuds with other candidates, like his opponents in a wrestling ring. Trump played ringmaster at his rallies, complete with over-the-top insults (“lock her up!”) and directing the crowd’s rage at the designated villains in the room: journalists and demonstrators. What reality TV (The Apprentice) and WWE have in common is a curious relationship with reality – one that is fake and both genuine at the same time. They both thrive on the spectacle of extreme emotion, conflict and suffering. But at the same time, as you’re watching it, you don’t have to care, because you know it’s not real, and you get to be part of the drama without having to feel empathy. It makes it ok to laugh at suffering. And now Trump has grafted this same warped relationship to reality onto his administration. Let’s crush political correctness! Bring on the nastiness! Ain’t this just fun?!! We’ll show “those people”!!!
Draining the swamp – Trump supporters claim they elected him to “drain the swamp”; to go to Washington and break things, and by doing so that will make things better. Honestly, US federal government is a mess! Klein states that our system is corrupt; it is a swamp. But it’s become a swamp largely due to attacks on government by the Right and supported by Corporate America. This mess never have happened without decades of deregulation that essentially legalized political bribery, with money now legalized as free speech in our political process. Trump’s political career would not have been possible without the degradation of the whole idea of the public sphere, that government is the problem (thank you Ronald Reagan). The fundamental premise of Trump’s campaign was that government is not just a swamp, it’s a burden. That’s why voters are willing to put up with a reality TV show for our government – what have we got to lose?! But Trump is dramatically enhancing the swamp, not draining it. And even if Trump got impeached, that would be proof of the claim that our political system doesn’t work. Hey, another President just failed!
Deregulation – Trump’s primary actions are, in short, a great unmaking, what Steve Bannon calls “deconstructing our regulatory state”. Regulations are hurting businesses and killing jobs! We not only need to reduce them, we need to eliminate them! Let the free market rule! But how did regulations get established in the first place? It wasn’t that someone in power thought “hey, let’s just add some regulations!” Regulations were responses to real problems that needed fixing, to dynamics that were hurting the masses for the benefit of the few. Trump has vowed to cut regulations by 75% and to lower taxes for the wealthy and corporations. It’s workers who will pay the price for this. Without regulations, their jobs become more unsafe with more injuries and our environment (water, air and natural places) will be, once again, trashed. And what about massive corporate tax cuts and tax cuts on the wealthy? Government services will have to be cut, the same services that lower and middle-class workers use. As history has shown, deregulation will further enrich the wealthiest at the expense of the masses.
Which is why Trump’s cabinet is laughing at the feeble objections over public claims of conflicts of interest by Trump and his Administration. This whole thing is a conflict, and that’s the point. All this deregulation is designed to further enrich them at the expense of society, under the guise of more jobs. To actually bring manufacturing back to America, you need to make manufacturing in America cheap again, hurting workers and destroying the environment. For a corporation to bring jobs back to Texas from China, they need to see lower labor costs in Texas than they get in China…just do the math on that!
Trade deals – Trump is not planning on removing the parts of trade deals that are the most damaging to workers – the parts, E.G., that prohibit policies designed to favor local production. Or the parts that allow corporations to sue national governments if they introduce laws that “unfairly cut into corporate profits.” Trump’s plan seems to be to expand corporate protections, not workers. Yet many US trade unions showed support for Trump, making a deal with the devil by buying into Trump’s false claims.
Climate change – in a previous book, This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein details what Conservatives understand about global warming, and what Liberals don’t get: to truly and effectively combat climate change we need to end what Klein calls “neoliberalism”. Klein describes neoliberalism as the idea that holds that the market is always right, that regulation is always wrong, that private is good and public is bad, and that taxes that support public services are worst of all. Neoliberalism is an extreme form of capitalism that became dominant in the 1980s under Reagan and Thatcher, and its strongest adherent is the US Right. Because climate change, especially at this late date, can only be dealt with through collective action that curtails the behavior of corporations (such as Exxon and Goldman Sachs), and because it demands investment in the public sphere on a scale not seen since World War 2, and since this can only happen with raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations, then to admit that the climate crises is real and true action needs to be taken is to admit that we need to see the end of neoliberalism. That’s why the Right is in rebellion against the physical world and against science. In No Is Not Enough, Klein provides data and examples to support how we now need extensive, urgent action on climate change. The clock is now at midnight. Yet Trump has moved us dramatically in the opposite direction. With this trajectory, we are set to warm the planet by 4 to 6 degrees Celsius as opposed to the Paris goal of less than 2 degrees. Climate scientists project that four degrees of warming is “incompatible with any reasonable characterization of an organized, equitable and civilized global community.” Trump is trying to make climate change disappear with his slew of deregulations and his elimination of climate efforts in government, as well as his prohibition of government officials even mentioning it. Trump’s thorough plan to kill all US response to climate change is “fully baked”, as will be the rest of us.
Trump supporters – Klein noted that Trump’s base isn’t mostly poor white men; it is solidly middle-income, with most of his voters earning between $50,000 and $200,000 a year (albeit with more at the $50K end). Klein describes the economic woes that the middle class in America have encountered over the past 35 years, and there are many. Losing job security, loss of healthcare, flat and/or low wages, etc. She noted the high rise of addiction, overdoses and suicides: “deaths of despair”, due to the failure of life to turn out as expected. As the US becomes more ethnically diverse, white men are losing their economic security AND their sense of a superior status. Trump has promised to make them “real men” again, and has promised to remove competition from brown people, who will be deported or banned, and from Black people, who will be locked up. One cannot vote for a person who is openly riling up hatred based on race, religion and gender unless one believes, at some level, you don’t think those issues are important. Trump supporters show troubling indifference here. And there is no more effective way to convince white voters to support defunding schools, bus systems, welfare and other services then to tell them it’s those dark skin people that benefit for these services, not you poor white folks (who actually use these services quite extensively).
Why Hilary lost – Klein takes a critical look at the Clinton campaign. Klein was a Bernie supporter and notes how the Left specializes not in working together, but rather in turning one each other and firing away in a circular hail of blame. Klein states the single, overarching lesson of the election is that we should never underestimate the power of hate. Also, never underestimate the appeal of wielding power over “the other”, be they migrants, Muslims, Blacks, women or any other group, especially during times of economic hardship. Klein believes Clinton’s failure was not one of messaging but one of her track record, specifically her economics of neoliberalism. Trump supporters saw more of the same with Clinton and had no belief she would change things to help them.
Lying – Trump tells blatant, outrageous lies. With Trump, it’s not so much the Big Lie as it is the Constant Lies. Yes, he does tell big ones, but it’s the continuous stream of lies, offered to us as “alternative facts”, that is most dizzying. This is quite deliberate. Lying with impunity is part of being the boss; being tethered to boring facts is for losers. But Trump’s lies, in time, will be shown for what they are. For example, Trump’s selling his white working-class voters on the dream of a US manufacturing comeback will eventually come crashing down. His voters won’t like this. But what is most worrying is what Trump will then do: falling back on the only other tools he has, pitting white workers against immigrants, do more to rile up fears about Black crime, and whip people up with attacks on reproductive rights and on the press. And then, of course, when you’re looking for a real shock to society there’s always war. There’s little reason to hope Trump will be able to resist putting on the show of shows – the televised violence of a full-blown war, complete with blockbuster ratings. North Korea anyone?
Trump’s implementation of the shock doctrine – Naomi Klein previously wrote a book, The Shock Doctrine, describing the intentional use of “shock” by governments to enable governments to force upon us pro-corporate policies while citizens are too overwhelmed to resist (or even understand what is really happening). Shock happens when something big and bad happens, that we don’t yet understand. Without our moorings, a great many people become vulnerable to authority figures telling us to fear one another and relinquish our rights for the greater good. Speed is of the essence here since periods of shock are temporary by nature. The hope by the “shockers” is that populations will rapidly become exhausted and overwhelmed, and will ultimately swallow their bitter medicine. The shock doctrine seeks to capitalize on the vulnerability of others in order to maximize wealth and advantage for a few. Klein described the use of shock around the world by many governments, including in the US. Klein detailed how many on Trump’s cabinet have personally profited from exploiting shocks.
Trump’s constant bombardment of us with wave after wave of shocking actions/statements is intentional; overwhelming us is a key goal to distract attention from the true goals of his Administration. Nothing has the ability to change the topic quite like a large-scale shock. Trump’s actions can be counted on to generate wave after wave of continued crisis. Not just Trump’s manufactured “shock of the day” from his tweets. But real shocks, such as economic and financial shocks (from deregulation), security shocks (blowback from anti-Islam rhetoric/policies, weather shocks (denying climate change) and industrial shocks (pipeline spills, oil rig disasters, etc.). Trump can be relied upon to exploit any and all of these shocks to push through his radical agenda. A large-scale crisis would provide pretext to declare a state of emergency, and provide cover to push through Trump agenda items that require suspension of democratic norms, such as a Muslim ban, restrictions on the free press and/or to dismantle programs like social security. And Trump doesn’t necessarily have to plan a shock; he can take advantage of any old shock that happens his way.
Resisting and overcoming these shocks – it can happen; we can resist. To do so, Klein states that two critical things need to happen. First, we need a firm grasp on how shock politics work and whose interest they serve (thanks for reading!). Second, we need to tell a different story from the one the shock doctors are peddling, a vision of the world compelling enough to compete head-to-head with the “shock vision”. A better values-based vision must offer a different path, away from serial shocks to one based on coming together across racial, ethnic, religious and gender divides, rather than being wrenched further apart. Most of all the vision needs to offer those being hurt – lack of jobs, health care, peace or hope – to a tangible better life. The firmest of NO’s has to be accompanied by a bold and forward looking YES – a plan for the future that is credible and captivating enough that a great many people will fight to see it realized no matter the multitude of shocks thrown their way.
Any opposition that is serious about taking on Trump must embrace the task of telling a new story about how we ended up in this position. They must describe our history that details the politics of division and separation. Our history of racial, class, gender and citizen divisions. And the false division between humans and the natural world. No liberal billionaire is going to come save us from Trump. The ultrarich won’t save us. We need to be careful here: Trump supporters accepted the idea of a billionaire to save them; liberals don’t want to fall in the same trap. Klein states that progressive “politics as usual”, the establishment option, won’t work. It doesn’t have nearly enough to offer.
Defeating Trump and pro-corporate America is not just a matter of a new Democrat’s electoral strategy and not just about finding the right candidates to run. It’s about being willing to engage in the battle of ideas that will take on our wealth-worshiping world that created the backlash that got Trump elected in the first place. Progressives are going to have to come together as never before. Klein states that only a bold and genuinely redistributive progressive agenda can offer real answers to inequality, and the crisis in our democracy, while directing rage at where it belongs: at those who have benefited so extravagantly from the auctioning off of public wealth. Klein states that we need to remain optimistic, and points out how Trump has made so many people active that have never gotten politically involved before.
We can only defeat Trumpism by cooperating with one another – no one movement can win on its own. We need to stick together. We can’t get caught up in “my issue is more important than yours.” We need to show the connections, connect the dots, between all of our issues, including climate/environment, healthcare, jobs, racism, inequality, education, housing, affordable transportation, safety…ALL of them are connected and important.
Leap Manifesto – Klein closes with a discussion of her work with a large group of other progressive leaders to create a new progressive platform, which they named the Leap Manifesto. They attempted to write a people’s platform to reflect not just the needs of one platform, but of a great many at once. It focuses on values not policies. It describes the need for a shift from a system based on ENDLESS TAKING – from the earth and one another – to a culture based on caretaking. Klein details how the money to make this shift is out there; we just need the guts to go after it. This manifesto is the opposite of the art of the deal (Trump’s book); instead of “how can I screw you” it is based on a call for caring for the earth and one another. You can read The Leap Manifesto here.
Well done. Very worth the read. Sometimes hard to remain optimistic during these desperate times, but this book, by providing clarity on many of the dynamics we’ve been seeing over the past year, and by providing a map forward, certainly does help.