Author: Naomi Klein
Reviewed by: David Towell
Naomi Klein is an outstanding journalist, investigating the central public policy issues of our time. Her three previous books: No Logo (exploring the rise of brand marketing in the modern economy), The Shock Doctrine (detailing how politicians exploit major crises to advance right-wing policies which would not be possible in normal times) and This Changes Everything (showing how serious efforts to tackle global warming require an end to neo-liberal economics) each took several years of research and analysis. This, her latest book, was written and published in only a few months - driven by a sense of urgency about the global crises we are now in.
There are many dimensions to these crises but two in particular define the need for urgency. First, time is fast running out for our generation to halt climate change before global catastrophe, although for many people and vital elements of the biosphere, this catastrophe is already happening. Second, given the huge global impact of the USA, the corporate coup there associated with the arrival of Donald Trump as President threatens to make everything worse. Indeed, these two threats are inter-related: Trump and his team have lost no time in withdrawing from the essential (if so far insufficient) Paris climate treaty and are rushing to trash the environment in all the ways that they can.
Drawing heavily on her previous books, Klein sets out to address three key questions:
There is unlikely to be a more important book published this summer.
Let's look at these three questions in turn. Klein goes a long way in making sense of the current madness in Washington and shows that however crazy it seems day-to-day, this madness has purpose. She is also clear that, while Trump may be the worst President ever, his Presidency is only the culmination of trends which go back at least to Ronald Reagan (and his UK partner in crime, Margaret Thatcher): deregulation and globalisation in business, political corruption and denigration of the public sphere. In the USA of course, these trends are part of a much longer history in a country created through colonialism and war, built on the oppression and exploitation of the Indigenous peoples and enriched through farming stolen land with the labour of black slaves.
Trump 'won' - actually on a minority of votes in an election where half the people didn't participate - through playing to his distinctly unflattering 'strengths'. No Logo tells the story of the rise of super brands in business where what is sold is an idea, an identity, rather than a product or set of products. The Trump brand seems to be the entirely hollow claim that with money (preferably lots of it) you can do what you like with impunity. Moreover, as a star of '(un)reality TV', Trump was well-placed to make politics a branch of entertainment in which truth is not a consideration. Most depressingly, he proved talented in exploiting the power of hate: the very economic trends he supports have greatly contributed to insecurity and loss of status, especially among white men. His offer, 'Make America Great Again', is to put white men back on top. As the Black Eyed Peas sing, 'Where is the love?' .
That the Clinton Democrats failed to defeat this campaign is at least in part because they too had bought into the neoliberal agenda and so were poorly placed to offer a coherent progressive alternative (unlike Bernie Sanders).
So, the USA has a President who sees the highest public office as just an extension of his brand: a for-profit family business. He has surrounded himself by super-rich global vandals including an Environment Secretary who doesn't believe in environmental protection, an Education Secretary hostile to public education and a Secretary of State who has learnt about foreign policy from his lifetime as an oil company executive. What could possibly go wrong?
Lots! In The Shock Doctrine, Klein examines, for example, the disaster in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Contrary to news reports, this was not a 'natural disaster' (any more than the recent terrible fire at Grenfell Tower in West London). In New Orleans the flooding (especially in the poorest areas) was a consequence of rundown infrastructure and the immediate response from the authorities was entirely inadequate, especially in relation to these poor people, mostly black. Subsequent government intervention, informed by an agenda in which the (now) Vice President was influential, relied mostly on the private sector, permitted widespread corruption (money to help citizens going into private pockets), invested in regeneration to benefit the better-off and pacified resistance through militarised policing and a massive expansion in private security. Something similar happened in Iraq when the American administration took power after the invasion.
Klein offers a glimpse into a dystopian future where the Trump administration uses or manufactures major crises so as to provide the conditions to advance their pro-corporate and anti-democratic agenda. Worst case scenario: war is a very effective way of distracting attention from other troubles and pushing up fuel prices so that all that oil still in the ground (which Exxon-Mobil and others include in their financial assets) becomes valuable again. President Putin may also find a big oil price rise to his liking. We have been warned.
Of course these dangers are not confined to the USA. Among the supposed democracies (for example Turkey, Hungary and Brazil) we can see the exploitation of crises and similar trends towards inward looking nationalism, increasing authoritarianism and the scapegoating of minorities.
But we also see all kinds of popular resistance. The day after Trump's inauguration, women mounted the largest ever Washington march in protest at misogyny. In many jurisdictions people are taking direct action against oil pipelines and the expansion of fracking. Cities are making their own climate plans to reinforce the Paris treaty. Some places are actively welcoming refugees.
In strengthening this resistance, Klein argues powerfully that we need to go further in two main ways. We need to figure out what connects the different elements in these crises (climate change, migration, conflict, oppression etc.) and build a common agenda across movements, grounded in clear values and a positive vision of a better future. No is not enough!
As concrete illustration Klein uses a Canadian example. Before the 2015 national elections there, she and many others representing different social movements and community interests came together to agree a 'people's platform', published as The Leap Manifesto sub-title, A Call for a Canada Based on Caring for the Earth and One Another. This manifesto sets out a programme which is both greener (shifting wholly to community-owned power generation through renewables) and fairer (starting with investment in reparation to the communities most damaged by capitalism and colonialism) and shows how this can be paid for through new taxation and cuts to military expenditure. As we saw in the UK's recent national elections, progressive transformational change can be popular and offer a real alternative to right-wing populism.
It's too late to rely on incremental change: now, locally and globally, is the time to leap together.
The publisher is Allen Lane.
No Is Not Enough © Naomi Klein 2017.
Review: No Is Not Enough © David Towell 2017.
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