Noam Chomsky: Speculation of course, but I’ll indulge in a bad dream — which could become reality if we are not on guard, and if we fail to recognize that elections should be a brief interlude in a life of engaged activism, not a time to go home and leave matters in the hands of the victors.
I suspect that Trump and associates regard their legal challenges as a success in what seems a plausible strategy: keep the pot boiling and keep the loyal base at fever pitch, furious about the “stolen” election and the efforts of the insidious elites and the “deep state” to remove their saviour from office.
That strategy seems to be working well. According to recent polls, “Three-quarters (77%) of Trump backers say Biden’s win was due to fraud” and “The anger among Trump’s base is tied to a belief that the election was stolen.” Rejection of the legal challenges with ridicule may please liberal circles, but for the base, it may be simply more proof of the Trump thesis: the hated elites will stop at nothing in their machinations.
Meanwhile, this strategy requires keeping the wrecking ball — Trump’s symbol — actively at work. Do nothing to deal with the pandemic, even delay in providing data to Biden’s team while a top nurse’s union warns of “catastrophic death” in the growing chaos while “our hospitals are knowingly still not prepared” and the government is on vacation.
Viewed through the lens of this vile strategy, if the pandemic gets worse, so much the better. Then local officials will try to impose restrictions and even lockdowns to control patriotic Americans — in line with the plans of the supposed “Communist-run deep state” — leading to economic harm and intrusions on normal life. Meanwhile, Trump and his associates could abandon other normal governmental activities so that when Biden establishes what they describe as a “fake government” on inauguration day, the immediate problems will be severe and failure likely.
On that day, which will live in infamy among the faithful, Trump might set up what he claims is an authentic government in Mar-a-Lago, with Mitch McConnell’s Senate in his pocket and a furious popular base. The next step would be to make the country ungovernable, a specialty that McConnell has been perfecting for a decade and that an accomplished demagogue like Trump can manage reflexively. Everything that goes wrong can be blamed on the treacherous “elites.”
Trump and associates might, as some have speculated, set up an alternative media empire, incorporating talk radio and other far right outlets but perhaps not Fox, which has shown occasional signs of disobedience. They could come roaring back into power in 2022-2024, feeding on growing discontent.
They would then be free to destroy the environment with abandon and maximize short-term profit for their primary constituency, impose discipline on what remains of government, tame the media, institute harsh authoritarian measures elsewhere, and continue with their abject service to their masters — the real elites, the very rich and the corporate sector, the decision-makers, as recent academic research once again establishes very clearly.
It’s of no little interest that we have to turn to the world’s leading business journal, the very respectable London Financial Times, to read some elementary truths about what could once claim to be a leading democracy: “Anyone with a pulse,” Financial Times Associate Editor Rana Foroohar writes, “knows that in the US today the system is rigged in favour of the wealthy and powerful.” Foroohar adds:
One particularly illuminating paper [just cited] found that considering the opinions of anyone outside that top 10 percent was a far less accurate predictor of what happened to government policy. The numbers showed that: ‘not only do ordinary citizens not have uniquely substantial power over policy decisions; they have little or no independent influence on policy at all’. We have had decades of legislative tweaks to everything from tax policy to corporate governance and accounting standards that have favoured capital over labour. Supreme Court decisions such as the Citizens United case have also dramatically increased the amount of money funneled into political campaigning. This has left the nature of America’s political economy perilously close to an oligopoly.
If the Trump strategy is anything like the speculation outlined above, the prevailing oligopoly might look like a fond memory.
Anger and contempt for “elites” is not a mistake, even if the real elites are effectively concealed by the propaganda machine.
The masters do not much like Trump. His vulgar antics undermine their preferred image as humane and benign figures who labour tirelessly for the common good, directing “soulful corporations,” trustworthy guardians in whose hands our future is safe. But they may find it hard to fault someone whose major legislative achievement is a tax scam designed to enrich the very rich while imposing a heavier tax burden on the undeserving (and unwitting) majority.
Whatever the validity of my speculation about the goals and success of the Trump strategy, the whole election reveals the extreme fragility of American democracy. It is amazing enough that someone whose malevolent decision to provoke an out-of-control pandemic has just killed tens of thousands of Americans can even run for office, even carry much of the country with him, and that the political party that virtually shines his shoes can win a resounding victory at every level apart from the White House. That’s putting aside Trump’s major “achievements”: driving to near-term environmental catastrophe and sharply increasing the threat of terminal war, crimes that scarcely registered in the electoral process.
Trump’s rejection of the election results is just the coda to his quite impressive campaign to accomplish an authoritarian takeover, with the executive purged while his close associate Mitch McConnell converts the Senate into a joke, functioning almost entirely to enrich the rich and stack the judiciary with young, far right justices whose task will be to impose the ultra-reactionary Trump-McConnell agenda for a generation.
We have just endured 40 years of regression, the neoliberal regime, a bitter assault against democracy and on the kind of society that can sustain it. An estimate of the monetary cost to the general population was recently given by the Rand Corporation: $47 trillion transferred from the working and middle classes (90 percent of the population) to the super-rich; the top 0.1 percent doubled their share of wealth to 20 percent of the total since Ronald Reagan.
The Rand figures are a considerable underestimate. Tens of trillions more were “transferred” after Reagan opened the spigots for tax havens, shell companies and other devices to rob the public. More were developed under Clinton’s deregulatory mania. Reagan and his partner Margaret Thatcher moved at once to undermine the labour movement, setting in motion the campaigns to deprive working people of the primary means to resist the assault. The serious decline of functioning democracy is a virtual corollary of the radical concentration of wealth and dispatch of much of the general population to stagnation and precarity.
From American democracy is extremely fragile
Extract from interview by CJ Polychroniou