Monday, May 22, 2017

Nader Interview with Chomsky on the Requiem for the American Dream

Ralph Nader interviewed Noam Chomsky last Saturday about Chomsky's new book Requiem for the American Dream and film of the same title currently on Netflix. He's trying every type of media to spread this understanding of history, to "throw fact against myth."

I saw the film back in December and outlined his ten-point plan then. The interview followed that format as well, so I'll just summarize the key points here as succinctly as possible. The following is all made of direct or close to direct quotations from Chomsky with bits of Nader included. Check out the transcript if you want the whole thing verbatim to mine for quotes. This is just the idea.


After the uprisings of the 60s, both the political elites of the left and right were affected by the notorious Powell Memorandum of 1971, Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell's memo to the Chamber of Commerce. Powell leaned to the right and saw an attack beginning from left-wing extremists like Herbert Marcuse and Ralph Nader who were out to undermine the free-enterprise system. His conclusion was that businessmen really own the country and should fight back. But the liberals at the same time, affected by Samuel Huntington's Crisis of Democracy, came to a similar conclusion, albeit more muted: There's too much democracy, and passive parts of the public are starting to enter the political arena. It's creating too much pressure on the state; the pressure from the corporate sector is never mentioned, though. That's comparing national interests to special interests: the young, old, farmers, workers, women, etc. Those special interest groups need to be made to go back to being passive. Huntington called on schools and churches to better indoctrinate the young.

Coming from both sides, it couldn't avoid having an effect, and neo-liberal policies were formed starting late in the Carter administration but peaking during Reagan's time. In an effort to reduce the role of the public, they reduced the role of government and transferred it all to the market where the public doesn't have any power. The de-regulated industries and banks grew dramatically and, instead of just loaning money as needed, they started to get into predatory activities, like speculating with other people's money. The worldwide effect was a sharp increase in the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, which led to more power, which led to more concentration until we have a fraction of the 1% in charge of almost everything. This marked a sharp decline in democracy as 70% of the population is disenfranchised since their own representatives will pay no attention to their opinions. Now, under Trump, the people appointed to head the departments of state are the very people whose record has been to stifle those very agencies they've been appointed to run. These cabinet appointments would be comical if their effects weren't so awful.

We see all this is the trend towards populism: a framework of the people set against the elite. There's tremendous anger and contempt for institutions now, and some are collapsing. We could see it in the last election with Sanders rising up despite no support from the wealthy or media, and Trump becoming unstoppable. And in France we just saw an election in which the two major parties were wiped out, and two from the edges, a neo-fascist and a neo-liberal, were the popular choices. Worldwide there's disillusionment reflecting the fact that policies are in place with the explicit objective of undermining democratic participation.

The more savage fringe of the Republican Party, Paul Ryan, is undermining workers' rights, safety rights, and health programs, and increasing big tax cuts for the rich at the expense of the most vulnerable parts of the population. Industry is subsidized by the public at $80 billion per year, which is nothing compare to the subsidies to energy and agribusiness. All talk of a free market is a joke. Tax payers are forced to subsidize their own oppression. 

The focus on the people's problems is a ruse to atomize society - to pit factions against one another so they'll all be more easily controlled. It's divide and rule: people turn against one another rather than focus on the government: they argue about reproductive rights, gun control, and same-sex marriage, instead of cracking down on corporate crime. This is how it worked with Senator Inhofe who believes climate change is a hoax. He was asked how to win elections: "God, gays, and guns." Divide and rule distracts people from the most frightening issues.

Manufactured consent has a media system that deceives the people. People undermined by political decisions are voting in favour of candidates undermining them, like was explained in Strangers in Their Own Land. They have been turned against their own interests through an offer of narrow choices. Courts have persuaded the majority that there are too many frivolous lawsuits clogging up the system, but less than 2% of wrongful injuries get into the courts in the first place.

The image that comes up is of people standing in a line. Behind us are our parents and grandparents who worked hard to get the American dream. They got ahead, so they moved along in the line, but now the line has stalled or declined. Ahead of us, people are flying into the stratosphere. That doesn't bother us, though, because that's the American dream. What worries them is the people behind them. This is where scapegoating occurs. Reagan talked about welfare mothers driving in limos to the welfare office. That story. People behind us are worthless and lazy. The federal government role is to help the worthless behind us to get ahead of us with food stamps, affirmative actions, etc. So we end up hating the government for helping the poor instead of hating corporate interests. It's a very effective way to control people. Trump's promises, to bring jobs back, etc., won't be realized. The working class, many who voted for Obama before but were disillusioned, then voted for the enemy. What happens when they realize the promises' delusion again? The ruling powers will be forced to turn to more extreme scapegoating. Who's the someone else? The most vulnerable parts: foreigners, etc. It could turn out to be pretty ugly. 

This is the moment to act constructively. Sanders was remarkable. Thanks to Fox News, the most popular political figure in the country right now is Sanders. This indicates available opportunities to turn the tide.

Historically, labour unions provided the means where people could get together, act in concert, and carry forward progressive steps towards freedom and democracy. The strikes of the 1930s ushered in the New Deal, which had a beneficial effect into the 1950s. So unions are being attacked for their ability to build solidarity. People are the enemy of concentrated power, so we have to marginalize them somehow, and break up any institution that joins them together. Common beliefs are essential. Raising taxes on the rich has been a popular demand for forty year. At the polls, there's general support for having national health care. It's horrible, a pay or die situation. Drugs are more expensive in the U.S. than anywhere in the world. That goes back to the end of Reagan when 70% of people thought the right to health care should be in the constitution. The government is forbidden by law to negotiate drug prices. A poll found 85% are opposed to that, but it doesn't enter debate in congress.

Many Trump and Sanders voters have similar concerns. There's a real possibility of putting together a progressive coalition around jobs, health care, and taxing the rich, but there's an enormous struggle to prevent it from happening. By fostering extreme consumerism to drive into their heads the only thing that matters is the number of commodities they have - it takes a huge effort to create this imagery. But there are huge areas of support for civil liberties, changing the war on drugs, the corporate tax system, wars of aggression, climate change. Everyone wants their own children to have access to a good school, water, air, food - that's what we need a cutting age movement for. If it hits 75% of people, it will be politically unstoppable.

The effectiveness of a protest, like a hunger strike, is measured by the moral and cultural level of the outside population. If it's ignored (because the culture and morals are low), then it's ineffective. If it's high, and people can appreciate the reasons for the action, then it can have a huge effect. It's effective if the population appreciates the reasons and comes to support and perceive it. But, for example, there's very little reported on the current Palestinian hunger strike. The U.S. has a large share of responsibility of deprivation and suffering: We provide aid and ideological support for the pursuit of Israeli policies in occupied areas, which are brutal. The hunger strike is directed at us. The question is, do we perceive it and do we react. This is the fourth week, and it's still not in the mass media. There's a black out.

So far, Trump has been a kind of a charade at two levels. Trump makes one outrageous claim after another, then the media go after him, after the latest crazy thing. Meanwhile he uses that to strengthen his base by saying the liberals are attacking him. Support for him increases as the people see themselves attacked by the liberal elites. Meanwhile, at another level, Paul Ryan is pushing through legislation of the most extreme. But attention is focused on other things, and the Democrats are to blame for that. Maybe that outrageousness will implode on him, but so far it's working very well.

I just takes 1% in each district to be connected in order to take back congress. "We the people" is what begins the constitution. If we can band together to turn the situation around, an emerging left-right alliance would be unstoppable.


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