Cornel West on Donald Trump: This Is What Neo-Fascism Looks Like

President-elect Donald Trump has announced a handful of new cabinet picks with deep ties to Wall Street. On Tuesday, he named Steven Mnuchin to be Treasury Secretary. Mnuchin is a former executive for Goldman Sachs, where his father also worked. Mnuchin’s hedge fund also played a role in the housing crisis, after it scooped up the failing California bank IndyMac in 2008. Under Mnuchin’s ownership, IndyMac foreclosed on 36,000 families, particularly elderly residents trapped in reverse mortgages. Mnuchin was accused of running a "foreclosure machine." Trump has also picked billionaire private-equity investor Wilbur Ross to be Commerce Secretary. Ross specializes in flipping bankrupt companies for profit, often buying the U.S. companies at low prices and then selling them to overseas investors. He and his companies have sometimes engaged in the very practices Donald Trump rails against: shipping jobs and factories overseas. For more on these picks, we speak with Cornel West, Professor Emeritus at Princeton University. During the Democratic primary he endorsed Bernie Sanders. After Hillary Clinton won the nomination West made headlines when he endorsed Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.


 This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: "Wall Street Wins Again as Trump Chooses Bankers and Billionaires." That was the headline in piece by Bloomberg, on Wednesday, shortly after Donald Trump tapped former Goldman Sachs executive Steven Mnuchin to be his Treasury secretary and billionaire investor Wilbur Ross to head the Commerce Department. This comes as Politico is reporting Trump is also considering Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn for a top post. The two met at Trump Tower on Tuesday. Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon is also a former Goldman Sachs Vice President who went on to head the right-wing Breitbart news site.

AMY GOODMAN: Wall Street has celebrated the news. On Wednesday, Goldman Sachs stock jumped 3.6% to an eight-year high. This all comes after Donald Trump campaigned on an anti-establishment message often publicly criticizing his opponents for their ties to Goldman Sachs. Here’s Trump speaking about Ted Cruz 10 months ago. DONALD TRUMP: What he wanted to do is say, I will protect you from Goldman Sachs. I will protect you from Citibank. And I will protect you from the banks, because I’m Robin Hood and I’m this wonderful senator and I’m going to protect you from these banks, and then he’s borrowing from the banks. And by the way, he’s got personal guarantees. And he got-low interest loans. He got low-interest loans. They’re low interest. And now he’s going to go after Goldman Sachs? It doesn’t work that way. Goldman Sachs owns him. Remember that, folks. They own him.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: On Wednesday, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, criticized Donald Trump for picking former Goldman Sachs executive Steven Mnuchin to be Treasury secretary. Brown said, "President-elect Trump campaigned against big money’s power in Washington and accused Wall Street and hedge funds of getting away with murder. But now he’s picked a hedge-fund manager whose Wall Street ties couldn’t run deeper to lead the Treasury Department, which is exactly what this election showed the American people don’t want. This isn’t draining the swamp, it’s stocking it with alligators." The words of Senator Sherrod Brown.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, to talk more about the election of Donald Trump, his cabinet picks, and much more, we’re joined by Cornel West, Professor Emeritus at Princeton University. During the Democratic primary, he endorsed Bernie Sanders. After Hillary Clinton won the nomination, West made headlines when he endorsed Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. Welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us.

CORNEL WEST: I just thank God for Democracy Now! because journalism is almost dead as we move into this neofascist age. And thank god you all are still willing to tell the truth.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, your response to the election of Donald Trump and now the cabinet he is appointing around him?

CORNEL WEST: Well, I think he’s already betrayed working people in terms of making sure, in his view, that Wall Street is in the driver’s seat. And what I mean by that is that in an emerging neofascist moment, you have the rule of big business, which is big banks and big corporations. You scapegoat the most vulnerable. It could be Muslims, Mexicans, gay brothers, lesbian sisters, indigenous peoples, black peoples, jews, and so on. And then you also have militaristic orientations around the world. And so, you see the extension of the repressive apparatus, as those of us who hit the streets, those of us who will be — are willing to go to jail, we’ve had to recognize we’ll have more coming at us under Trump administration. But, the crucial thing is, is that he had talked about his connection with working people. And it’s clear that the one percent are still running things.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: But, you’ve also said, Dr. West, you just said that his administration will be neofascist. Could you explain? What do you mean by that, neofascist as opposed to fascist, and what the two mean?

CORNEL WEST: What neofascist — it’s an American style form of fascism. What I mean by that is we’ve had neoliberal rule from Carter to Obama. That neoliberal rule left in place a national security state. It left in place massive surveillance. It left in place the ability of the president to kill an American citizen with no due process. That’s Obama. That was the culmination of the neoliberal era. Now you get someone who is narcissistic — which is to say out of control psychologically — who is ideologically confused — which is to say, in over his head — and who does he choose? The most right wing reactionary zealots which lead toward the arbitrary deployment of law, which is what neofascism is, but to reinforce corporate interests, big bank interest, and to keep track of those of us who are cast as peoples of color, women, jews, Arabs, Muslims, Mexicans, and so forth, and so — So, this is one of the most frightening moments in the history of this very fragile empire and fragile republic.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to talk about some of the picks of Donald Trump, like President-elect Donald Trump’s treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, deep ties to Wall Street including working as a partner for Goldman Sachs, where his father also worked. Mnuchin’s hedge fund also played a role in the housing crisis after it scooped up the failing California bank IndyMac in 2008. Under Mnuchin’s ownership, IndyMac foreclosed on 36,000 families, particularly elderly residents trapped in reverse mortgages. People would go to Mnuchin’s home to protest outside as they were foreclosed out of their own homes. Mnuchin was accused of running a foreclosure machine. The bank, which was renamed One West, was also accused of racially discriminatory lending practices. In 2015 Mnuchin sold a bank for $3.4 billion, $1.8 billion more than he bought it for.

CORNEL WEST: This is what you call spiritual blackout. There is a level of callousness. There’s a level of indifference toward poor and working people. Preoccupation with greed and most importantly, lack of accountability. Doing anything they can do unless, in the end, they get caught by the law, and of course, oftentimes they have already disproportionately influenced those who apply the laws, those who supposed to be regulating them. And so, this is another instance of Wall Street run amok. I mean, I, and some of us were very critical [indiscernible] and others, very critical of Geithner, Summers, the Ruben crowd straight out of Wall Street when brother Barack Obama moved into the White House.

AMY GOODMAN: Summers, who you knew well because he was president of Harvard when you were there a professor there —

CORNEL WEST: Absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: — and got in a bit of an altercation with him.

CORNEL WEST: Bless his soul. But — so that you can see on the neoliberal rule, Wall Street’s still in the driver seat. We were hoping, with brother Bernie Sanders, that we could bring the neoliberal era to a close. And by neoliberal, what I mean is, when you see a social problem, you financialize, you privatize, and militarize. You get mass incarceration on the one hand, privatize schools — I know sister Diane Ravitch, on of the great prophetic voices of our time, in this regard will talk about this later — and then you militarize, which is to say drop bombs on seven Muslim countries and then wonder why Muslims are upset. Or you drop bombs on innocent children with U.S. drones and then wonder why the gangsters, the fascists coming out of the Muslim world, are organizing. And of course, we’ve got to be anti-fascist across the board. But this is going to be the most trying of times in our lifetime. There’s no doubt about it. And at 63 years old, I am thoroughly fortified for this fight. I will tell you that.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, given that people who voted for Trump and continuing with what you said, many have questioned how Trump, who after all is a billionaire born into a wealthy family, how did he become a working class hero so widely perceived among the people who voted for him as someone outside of the American economic and political elite class?

CORNEL WEST: Well, a significant number of those who voted for Trump were actually working people, middle-class people, who are looking for a way out given the fact they’re losers under neoliberal globalization. And they tilted toward Bernie Sanders, but the Democratic Party and its neoliberal regime marginalized him and us. And so, the only alternative is this pseudo-populist billionaire with these narcissistic sensibilities and fascist — neofascist proclivities. And he presented himself as caring for their situation. And so, that economic insecurity, that economic neglect is very real. There’s no doubt about that. And it’s disproportionate white brothers and sisters, but they are suffering. And it was a cry of the heart. Unfortunately, given the right-wing populist and the authoritarian orientation of Trump, he uses that kind of anguish to scapegoat Mexicans, Muslims, and others rather than confront the most powerful — 21 percent of those who voted for Trump do not like him, but they feel as if they had no alternative. And we have to keep in mind 42 percent of our fellow citizens didn’t go to the polls at all. Already given up on the system, you see. And so, the system itself is, now, is in such a chronic crisis. And we said before the election that Trump would be a neofascist catastrophe. And it’s very clear from his picks that he is moving in that direction.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Bernie Sanders. We had the first extensive hour with Bernie after the election. I spoke to him Monday night at the Free Library. We played it Tuesday. He spoke about how he hopes to reform the Democratic Party as the new chair. Well, it’s a new position called the outreach position. He’s now in the Senate Democratic leadership. Even if he is an independent socialist. This is Bernie Sanders.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: The new approach, I think, is to, a, create a fifty state strategy. That means we start playing ball in states that the Democrats have conceded decades ago. But, more importantly, we create a kind of grassroots party where the most important people in the party are not just wealthy campaign contributors, but working people, young people, people in the middle class who are going to come in and going to start telling us what their needs are and give us some ideas as to how we go forward. And I accept this responsibility as outreach chair with a lot of trepidation, but also with excitement. I’m going to be going around the country to try to do everything that I can to create a party which represents working people and not just the one percent. 

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