David Masciotra

Noam Chomsky: 'If you don't push the lever for the Democrats, you are assisting Trump'

Noam Chomsky, one of the world's foremost public intellectuals, has provided the international left with wisdom, guidance and inspiration for nearly 60 years. Proving that he operates at the locus where argumentation and activism meet, he demonstrates indispensable intellectual leadership on issues of foreign policy, democratic socialism and rejection of corporate media bromides.

One of the founders of linguistics, he is also an American dissident who has wrestled with systems of power on matters no less important than genocide, war and poverty, creating a corpus of classics, ranging from his manifesto against the Vietnam War, "American Power and the New Mandarins," to his amplification of reason against a jingoistic cacophony following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, "9-11." "Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media," which he co-authored with Edward S. Herman, is essential reading for anyone interested in the real biases against democracy in the commercial press. His more recent book "What Kind of Creatures Are We?" provides a deft and provocative exploration of human purpose and the common good.

At 91, he is still committed to seeking and sharing the truth, and showing little patience for the foolishness and selfishness of the powerful.

With dozens of books, and countless lectures and articles, Chomsky has addressed nearly every major topic of politics and economics with an orientation toward democracy, peace, and justice, but his new book is possibly his most urgent. "Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal," co-authored with progressive economist Robert Pollin, measures the stakes of climate change as threatening the survival of the human species, and offers a bold and ambitious solution that can not only stave off disaster, but create a more beautiful, hospitable and just world.

I recently interviewed Chomsky over the phone about climate change, the Green New Deal, and the 2020 presidential election.

We can, perhaps, begin by spotlighting Amy Coney Barrett's remarks at her nomination hearings calling climate change a "controversial and contentious issue." One of the realities you and your co-author, Robert Pollin, identify in this book, which seems to elude most other analysts, is that while our mainstream discourse often presents a "debate" surrounding climate change, there is no debate at all – not just among scientists, but among the institutions that are actively making the problem worse. They know they are courting catastrophe.

Not just "courting," but causing catastrophe. She not only said that it is "contentious." She said, "I'm not a scientist. I don't really know about it." Unless she is a hermit living in Montana without any contact with the outside world, it is inconceivable that anyone could even be considered for a Supreme Court position who doesn't know about the most significant environmental issue.

In the case of the major institutions, let's start with the Pentagon. They are open about it. They acknowledge that climate change is a serious threat. They've argued we should prepare for it. They've published documents about it. Certainly, they know about it.

In the case of ExxonMobil, their scientists were among the first to discover the nature of the problem back in the 1970s. We have the full record, and it's quite extensive. Their scientists provided detailed reports on the threat of global warming – on the threat it will have on the business of fossil fuels. They knew and know about everything. What actually happened with ExxonMobil is – when James Hansen made a speech about global warming in 1988, which received a lot of publicity, at that point management moved to a new position. It wasn't outright detail, because that would have been too easy to expose. They said, "Well, it's uncertain." This was a strategy to shed doubt. In other words, "we really don't know yet. So, we better not do anything precipitous." That was an effective strategy, and that's the Barret strategy: "It's contentious." Meanwhile, the scientific evidence is accumulating beyond any question. ExxonMobil knows all of this, and they've said straight out that, unlike other companies, they won't put aside funds to develop sustainable energy. They've committed to keeping to their business model of doing what is most profitable, and that is developing as many fossil fuels as possible.

Then, there is JPMorgan Chase. They know, and they've conceded. They were one of the world's leading financiers of fossil fuels. Recently, their CEO, Jamie Dimon, announced [they] have to do something about fossil fuels, because of the reputational risks. "Reputational risks" translates into "it is harming our business, because consumers are upset." In fact, an interesting memo leaked from JPMorgan Chase that said [the company is] pursuing policies that place the survival of humanity at risk, and [the company has] to be careful about [its] reputational risks. The "survival of humanity."

There is an interesting question about people like Jamie Dimon. They know exactly what is happening, but they are willing to proceed knowing that it is going to cause a cataclysm — a total disaster that will be irreversible. What is in the mind of somebody like that? Maybe we can say that Mike Pence listens to his preacher, and actually believes there is no need to worry, because God will take care of it. But not the executives of ExxonMobil or JPMorgan Chase.

JPMorgan Chase used the phrase, "survival of humanity," and you are quoting it. All of your books deal with serious issues, to put it mildly. It seems, though, that the new book is the most urgent. Is that a fair characterization?

Let's take seriously the publication of the Department of Transportation — their document on climate change and emission standards. It was an astonishing document, and it is shocking that it didn't get more coverage.

It is a careful environmental assessment from the Trump administration. It concluded that on our present course we will reach four degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. What is that? Total cataclysm. No one can even estimate the effects. Organized human life as we know it will be over. Of course, it will build up over the years, getting worse and worse with sea levels rising, extreme weather events, and so on. So, after describing this, they offer a prescription, and here it is: Let's reduce emission regulations on cars and trucks.

This is the most extraordinary document in human history. I can't think of anything like this. The thing that comes closest is the Nazi Wannsee declaration in 1942, which was the formal decision of the Nazi party to wipe out all the Jews of Europe. Not even that said, "Let's race ahead to make some money while destroying the prospects of all human life on Earth." Why isn't this the headline everywhere?

You've asked two questions, I assume rhetorically, but I'm curious if you can offer an answer to either. First, what kind of people have an awareness that they are threatening all livable ecology and proceed along the same course? Second, why isn't this the headline everywhere?

I have no independent evidence about what is inside people's minds. In the case of the Trump administration, I simply think that they don't care. They are sociopaths. We see this constantly with the president, from the pandemic to hurting the World Health Organization, because it improves his election prospects. If that means kill people in Africa and Yemen who depend upon the WHO for survival, that's fine. The Palestinians didn't treat him nicely? Good. Cut off money for their hospitals. I think it is the mentality that all of us have when we walk down the street and realize that we might crush a lot of ants. We don't think, "I'll take all kinds of precautions to avoid crushing ants." That is the Trump administration's attitude toward the human species. I'm sure it isn't everybody, but it is the mentality that comes from the top down.

There is also the idea, "We have force. Therefore, we can compel anyone else to surrender to it." We see that constantly in the most remarkable ways. A couple of weeks ago the administration approached the United Nations Security Council, requesting that they reinstitute the sanctions against Iran, which were torturing and killing Iranians. The Security Council flatly rejected it. Well, they didn't say no. They abstained, because you don't want to irritate the master too much. So what did the U.S. do? Mike Pompeo returned to the Security Council, and said, sorry children, we're reinstituting the sanctions, because we say so. Has that ever happened in the history of the Security Council? I don't know everything, but I don't think so. What country acts that way? This one does.

There's a major biodiversity conference going on right now at the UN. It is of crucial significance not only for the many species that are being crushed, but for human survival. For example, one of the issues they are addressing is how to prepare for the next pandemic. There is one major country that is not attending. The usual one. The United States. Take a look for coverage. I did, and all I could find was approximately two minutes on NPR.

The New York Times: Great newspaper, right? A couple of days ago, they ran an article on Chevron buying Noble, which gives them entry into the Eastern Mediterranean – huge natural gas fields. Good article on how it will expand production. It will be very good for Israel and Egypt. It didn't say one word about how this is another stab in the heart of the possibility of human survival. It isn't something they really think about. They don't see it as their task to think about it. They write about gas markets, very little about climate change, because it is good for Israel-Egypt relations. There is a biodiversity conference happening, but the U.S. isn't attending. So, who cares?

Now, what about the banks? They know what is happening, and this is my best guess. Let's see if it is plausible. I put myself in the position of Jamie Dimon. I'm sure he knows all about global warming. He cares about it. He probably contributes to the Sierra Club is his spare time. He has two choices. He can say, "What we are doing is horrible. I refuse to participate." He does that, and the board of directors throws him out. They bring someone else in who will do it. So, then he says to himself, "I'm as humane as that next guy they would bring in to destroy the planet. So, I might as well be the one to do it."

ExxonMobil has shareholders. They do what is best for them. The only other way to explain it is sociopathy, but I don't think they are all sociopaths. I think they are the same as people like us.

If the profit at the center of the system incentives sociopathy, is it possible to proceed with something like the Global Green New Deal, on the level that is necessary, without addressing the profit motive?

That's a question that Robert Pollin and I discuss. First of all, there is the simple question of timescale. The timescale needed to deal with this urgent problem is a decade or two. Major institutional changes, which I think are very much in order, have a totally different timescale. It is a much longer process. The fact of the matter is that in order to survive we have to deal with the problem within the framework of the existing institutions. Then, comes the question, can it be done?

We think so. Without radical modification of the existing institutions, which on the side, we can continue to pursue – it is a parallel project – but without that happening, there are adjustments possible. This is mainly Pollin's work – looking at how we can proceed within the timescale and within the existing institutions.

Take fossil fuels. One thing that could be done is simply to take them over – socialize them. It isn't even that expensive. With the oil prices, they aren't worth that much right now. Then, we can put the institutions in the hands of the workforce and the community, and have them do what has to be done. What has to be done? Cut back annually – say 5 percent – on the use of fossil fuels. That would be enough to bring us to net zero emissions by the midcentury. Set the workforce to do things that they know how to do. Let's have them work on developing sustainable energy. They know how to do it. Outside of ExxonMobil, every major company has a division on this.

We might recall that one of the leading early environmentalists was Tony Mazzocchi, the head of the Oil, Chemical, Atomic International Workers Union. Those are the guys on the front line. They're the ones being poisoned. Mazzocchi and his union pushed for safety regulations, and the reduction of fossil fuels. That can be picked up. That's within the framework of institutions.

Take the carbon tax. In itself, it is destructive. It leads to what happened in France. You're telling poor, working people, "You will have to pay more to get to work, because I care about the environment." The way that a carbon tax ought to work is redistribution of the income. Tax the fossil fuels, but then redistribute the profits to the people who need it. The rich guys aren't going to like that, but there's a lot of things that they don't like. They don't like Social Security, but we ram it down their throats through popular pressure.

All of this is within a range of expenses that is not very high. We have Robert Pollin's model. We have a different model from Jeffery Sachs, which reaches pretty much the same conclusion. It can probably all be done within 2-3% of GDP. It is important to note that this doesn't only end fossil fuel production. It creates a better world.

The small number of workers in the fossil fuel industry can get a much better job doing something else. If they need help during the transition period, we can do it for peanuts. Pollin points out that the amount that is needed annually is a fraction of what the Treasury recently poured out to save Wall Street. These things are not out of sight.

Now, there are plenty of barriers. Plenty of fighting back. Amy Coney Barrett saying, "I don't know what's happening. I'm too remote from all of this." The people behind her, getting her to say it, they are going to try to block it.

But there are popular forces who pressing for this, because they know it has to happen quickly. Most of them are young. Greta Thunberg, for example, saying eloquently, "You betrayed us." We should listen to her. Yes, we've betrayed them. Now, we have to change course.

Too often the issue is presented as dichotomous, meaning working class economics versus environmentalism. Why is that wrong?

There will be better jobs and more jobs for working people with a Green New Deal. Jobs ranging from construction to retrofitting houses to mass transportation to installing solar panels and wind turbines to research and development. That whole range presents many more opportunities than there are in fossil fuels, and it makes for a better world.

I don't know where you live. I live in Arizona right now, but I lived outside Boston most of my life. It isn't much fun sitting in a traffic jam for over an hour to get to work.

I live near Chicago. I can relate.

Same thing. It would be much nicer to have a highly efficient mass transit system. You step inside, read a newspaper, enjoy a cup of coffee, and get to where you need to go in no time. It is a better world. In Arizona, I know people who pay $1,000 over the summer for air conditioning. I pay $10 a month, because we've installed solar panels on the roof. It is a better life. Furthermore, I don't have to feel guilty about using so much electricity. The sun is up there, and it is just giving it to me. Insulate your home. You are more comfortable, you are saving money, and you are saving the environment.

It isn't 100 percent. The coal miners, for example. It is a rotten job, but it does pay well. They are on their way out anyway, though. So, we better begin to think about how we can ease the transition. They can do constructive things. In Germany, they are phasing out coal mines, and turning them into ways to produce sustainable energy. These are good jobs, cleaner jobs, and less dangerous. Where there are people who are going to be harmed, we can help them ease the transition.

And again, let's remember that the fossil fuel workers are the ones suffering directly. They experience the worst health consequences – the workers and the people who live near the plants. So, it is in their interest more than anyone. It isn't a hard sell if you break through the propaganda.

You are using the simple, but profound phrase, "It's a better life." It seems that the Global Green New Deal presents the left with a great opportunity to offer to people a large-scale, ambitious project for reimagining human life and society that leads to dramatic improvements.

Absolutely. These two questions that you presented earlier — environmentalism or changing the institutions. This is where they coincide.

Let's take the auto industry. It is a huge industry; the core of American production. In 2009, after the financial collapse, the auto industry was nationalized. There were choices at the time, and if the left had been up to it, we could have made a better choice. The first choice, which is what the Obama administration did, was to pay off the executives and the shareholders, and then return the industry to its original owners, and have them go back to what they were doing — make traffic jams in Chicago and Boston.

Another possibility was to take the industry that we owned, and hand it over to the workforce and the community, and ask them to alter it in ways that were more beneficial. They might have developed an efficient mass transit system. If we start doing that, we undercut the institutions that work for profit, and transform them into democratic institutions that work for public needs. This isn't nationalization, putting it into the hands of unaccountable bureaucrats. It is giving it to workers and community members who can use it for their own needs. That is radically undermining capitalist institutions.

I'm sure you know the Next System Project. One of their proposals that makes great sense is to expand the postal service into general services for people, like banking. It is a perfect way to do banking — not commercial banking, JPMorgan Chase giving someone $2 billion — but the kind of banking we all do. It would be easy to do it through the post office. There are post offices everywhere, the staff is already there, the infrastructure is there. Much of what we do can happen through socialized institutions, which people are surprisingly favorable to. And it would improve our lives. It is a good part of life to have a postal carrier who you get to know. You trust him. You can ask him to feed your dog when you are away. It makes life better.

This is one of the reasons why the rich and powerful want to destroy public institutions, like the Post Office. Public institutions show people that there is an alternative to individualism and consumerism that is possible.

There is so much that it is possible if we only escape the rigid doctrinal assumptions that say, to quote Ronald Reagan, "government is the problem." It is a problem for the rich. It isn't a problem for the rest of us.

Forgive me for closing with what is by now an obligatory and predictable question, but I think I am forever banished from journalism if I don't ask. How do you respond to the irresponsible leftist purity that discourages voting for Biden because of his limitations as a candidate, and the troubling aspects of his record?

My position is to vote against Trump. In our two-party system, there is a technical fact that if you want to vote against Trump, you have to push the lever for the Democrats. If you don't push the lever for the Democrats, you are assisting Trump. We can argue about a lot of things, but not arithmetic. You have a choice on Nov. 3. Do I vote against Trump or help Trump?

It is a simple choice. He's the worst malignancy ever to appear in our political system. He is extremely dangerous.

All of this for the left shouldn't even be discussed. It takes a few minutes. Politics means constant activism. An election comes along every once in awhile, and you have to decide if it is worth participating. Sometimes not — there were cases when I didn't even bother voting. There were cases when I voted Republican, because the Republican congressional candidate in my district was slightly better. It should take roughly a few minutes to decide, then you go back to activism, which is real politics.

There is a new phenomenon on the left. I had never even heard of it before 2016, which is to focus, laser-like, on elections. That's where you get these crazy ideas like condemnation of "lesser-evil voting." Of course, you vote against someone dangerous if it is necessary, but that is not serious political activity. Serious political activity comes out of commitment to educational and organizational work.

Somehow parts of the left within the past few years have unconsciously accepted establishment propaganda. The establishment view of politics is that the public are spectators, not participants in action. Your function is to show up every few years, push a lever, go back home, leave the rest to us. You shouldn't have "democratic dogmatisms about people judging what's in their best interest" — I'm quoting Harold Lasswell, one of the founders of political science. The establishment view is that we have to provide people with, to quote Reinhold Niebuhr, "necessary illusions" and "emotionally potent simplifications." We'll handle the real work.

To see the left buy into this is astonishing. If you don't buy into the establishment picture, you don't talk about "lesser-evil voting." You talk about activism and strategy. Every once in awhile, you decide whether or not it is worth the effort to push a lever. Sometimes it is so obvious, as it is now, that it shouldn't take two minutes to decide.

There's only one political party in the US — the other one has descended into madness

There is only one political party in the United States.

The first presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump demonstrated with hideous clarity that the Democratic Party is currently running against not a conservative public policy agenda or a coherent philosophy of governance, but a collective psychotic episode, channeled through an authoritarian demagogue who is equally propelled and crippled by his own neuroses.Gore Vidal, one of America's best chroniclers of empire, once provided instruction to a British interviewer expressing confusion over the radical hostility Republicans showed toward Barack Obama, and the former president's inability to react with equal aggression: "Obama believes the Republican Party is a political party when in fact it's a mindset, like Hitler Youth, based on hatred — religious hatred, racial hatred. When you foreigners hear the word 'conservative' you think of kindly old men hunting foxes. They're not, they're fascists."

That mindset is now threatening to devour everything in its path, while its current figurehead, Donald Trump, provides encouragement to violent extremists, giving the Proud Boys — a militant far-right organization whose members have committed hate crimes — the chilling order, "Stand back and stand by."

The president's refusal to reject white supremacist movements elicited almost no clear condemnation from Republican commentators in the immediate aftermath of the debate. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only Black Republican in the Senate (and one of only two in Congress), pathetically speculated that Trump "misspoke," and the few Republican members of Congress who spoke out against Trump's dangerous remarks equivocated by drawing comparisons to antifa, the right wing's favorite phantom hallucination.

Observers of political debate can now expect journalists and analysts to fall into the familiar pattern of throwing their arms in the air, articulating incredulity at Trump's malevolence and the Republican refusal to object, and conclude they are merely making a "political calculation," proceeding with caution so as not to alienate Trump's rabid base.

This is wrong.

It's certainly true that Republican officials are afraid of the bloodlust of the Trump cult. But it is also true, and more important to recognize, that Trump's hatred for democracy — which critics and commentators view as a liability is largely an asset for his supporters. Many of those who hold office at the national level, as evident from the ghoulish statements of Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and others, along with the voters who applaud Trump's every act of cruelty, are glad to see him waging war on a system designed to give representation and power to a diverse group of citizens.

If Trump, Attorney General Bill Barr, and their enablers in Congress can succeed in subverting the presidential election, and "making America great again" by enshrining the minority rule of white Christians, the average Republican will celebrate. There is no other reasonable conclusion to draw from the fact that between 80 and 90 percent of Republicans approve of Trump's performance in office.

Among Democrats, there is an ongoing, interesting and important argument between moderate figures like Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg, and progressives like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez regarding the expansion of the social welfare state, federal regulation of economic activity and the extent of measures necessary to curb inequality and climate change.

The Republican Party offers nothing to the American people. They have no policy agenda. Despite Trump's meaningless and inane boasting of nonexistent "plans," they articulate no agenda to address the converging crises of American life.

An American without health insurance, or who pays a high monthly premium for inadequate coverage, can expect nothing from the Republican Party. Working parents who cannot afford child care and have no disposable income after paying each month's bills can expect nothing from the Republican Party. A young college graduate unable to qualify for a mortgage because he has tens of thousands of dollars in student debt can expect nothing from the Republican Party. Poor children suffering through hunger and struggling to learn basic skills in a dysfunctional school can expect nothing from the Republican Party.

Finally, no one on planet Earth can expect anything from a Republican Party that is still in denial about climate change, even as it threatens to end all livable ecology within the next hundred years.

The Republican Party is actively anti-human. It does not qualify as a political party according to any definition of politics, no matter how elementary or esoteric.

In ancient Greece, politics roughly translated into "matters pertaining to the city." Aristotle wrote about the city as synonymous with "community," and posited that all communities are established for the sake of the good life. The ultimate end and ambition of the community is for happiness. It was this Aristotelian conception of politics that influenced the American founders to write the words "the pursuit of happiness," in the Declaration of Independence.

Absent from the Republican National Convention was any mention of anything — save for occasional references to the mysterious issue conservatives call "school choice" — that might remotely assist people to live happier or better lives. To the contrary, much of the Republican agenda is the obliteration of potential for happiness and the imposition of suffering on masses of immigrants, the poor, the sick, the disabled and anyone in a position outside the ownership class.

Even to the overwhelming majority of white Americans, the Republican Party offers nothing with the sole exception of rhetorical massages for their atrophied egos — the ignorant insistence that they are the "real Americans." Only white Republicans are satisfied with this sad recognition in place of an actual politics that might actually give them more opportunities for security, prosperity and dignity. Beyond the myth of white supremacy, Republican politicians on the national level give America various keys in which to scream the word "freedom," and instructions on how to fit as many flags as possible on one small stage.

The Democratic Party should accelerate its drive toward progressive policies, and champion candidates and officials who are fighting to pull their country into the more humane and civilized world, alongside the countries of Western Europe, Canada, Japan and other social democracies, which for all of their current struggles with xenophobia, escalating inequality and populist revolt still provide their citizens with basic social services. Even the moderates, while too meek in their advocacy for fairness and equality, and too cozy with multinational corporations, offer a political program responsive to the problems of ordinary citizens. The Affordable Care Act, as an example, provided 18 million Americans with health coverage for the first time, and protects anyone with a pre-existing condition.

For all their disappointments, the moderates in the Democratic Party are committed to the laws and norms of the democratic system of governance. Studies show that the Republican Party, on the other hand, is far off the spectrum of mainstream conservative parties in comparable countries. The Trump and McConnell-led GOP is more extreme, more authoritarian and more hostile toward democracy than any right-leaning party with significant power in other free societies, even as anti-immigrant nationalist parties gain popularity in Italy, France and other European countries.

It isn't as if there are no longer competing ideologies of governance. One could easily imagine George Will debating an advocate of progressive economics. It is that national Republicans have abandoned any connection to previous notions of "conservative" politics, as Will himself has argued in recent columns.

Trump was unable to debate Joe Biden, and could only interrupt, mock and descend into a tantrum familiar to anyone with teaching experience at a middle school, because the Republicans have nothing to debate. Through their multi-decade commitment to shrinking government down so small that it can "drown in a bathtub," to use the words of Grover Norquist, what was once a reasonably coherent pro-business conservative party has arrived at its logical endpoint — a fascist power grab under the guise of an incoherent personality cult.

The late Stanley Crouch warned Republicans of their trouble in the late 1990s, explaining to Charlie Rose that you "cannot assemble a group of lunatics" to follow you without eventually following them into lunacy.

Welcome to America in 2020.

The president wants you dead

The president of the United States wants you dead.

Throughout the dystopian horror of the past four years, critics of the Trump administration have speculated, with persuasive evidence and analysis, that Donald Trump and his gaggle of ghouls — Jared Kushner, Bill Barr, Stephen Miller, et al. — are both incompetent to prevent death and indifferent to the onslaught of death if the victims, whether they lose their lives in a largely preventable pandemic, a natural disaster caused by climate change, or at the hands of police or right-wing terrorists, are not white, rich and Republican.

Recent revelations should force Americans to consider an even darker reality, and gather insight into the malevolence of humanity that is typically accessible only in barbaric episodes of history and frightening stories of literature. The most powerful man in the federal government delights in the infliction of pain, misery and grief.

To understand Trump as a sadist, it is helpful to use Occam's razor. The 14th-century Franciscan friar William of Ockham submitted that in order to solve problems, a theorist should begin by cutting away the hypotheses that contain unnecessary complications. The fewer assumptions against reason one makes, the likelier one will stumble upon the truth. (He didn't actually invent this principle, but used it so often his name was attached to it.)

Bob Woodward recently released recordings and his new book have demolished Trump's last remaining defense of ignorance or delusion regarding COVID-19. As Trump made clear to Woodward in numerous conversations over a period of months, he always understood that the virus was easily transmissible and, in his own words, "deadly stuff."

Mike Lofgren, a longtime Republican congressional aide who worked as a staffer on both the House and Senate budget committees, recently wrote, "The stupidest leader imaginable randomly might have gotten something right; Trump's one hundred-percent record of failure was carefully calculated to achieve a specific result: mass death and a ready-made scapegoat."

Jared Kushner, according to a recent story in Vanity Fair, made the evil calculation early in the pandemic that it would only hurt Democratic states, and thereby cause more political harm to Democratic candidates for office than to Trump. It is now inarguable, as polls show Trump failing to gain on Joe Biden in the presidential race, with senior citizens moving toward the former vice president, that Trump has exacted no benefit from the ongoing failure to impose widespread testing and tracing measures, or to fully supply health care workers with personal protective equipment.

Sharpening Occam's razor, it is important to note that Trump's cruelty surpasses indifference. He is not only refusing to help — he is actively promoting the spread of the virus with his mockery of masks and packed indoor rallies.

Any biographer of Trump will explain that he is a hedonist. This is a man born into wealth and luxury who rarely, if ever, does anything that does not satisfy his ego, bring him pleasure or enhance his profits. As hundreds of thousands of Americans die, and the pandemic causes considerable damage to Trump's re-election campaign, what hypothesis remains other than the horror that Trump derives gratification from presiding over widespread death and chaos?

Perhaps it is the single most satisfying stroke of his ego to realize that he has the ability to save people's lives, but chooses not to do so. It is by now common to compare Trump to a cult leader. As Jonestown, Heaven's Gate, the Order of the Solar Temple and many other cults have demonstrated, the leaders of especially destructive cult movements eventually turn on their own people, ordering mass suicide as the ultimate exercise of power.

Before Trump's recent indoor rally in Nevada, a television reporter asked whether he was concerned about the event increasing infections of COVID-19. The president laughed, explaining that he wasn't worried because he'd be on a stage, standing "very far away" from his unmasked supporters. Trump voters are willing to risk their lives for the glorification of their leader, and that is thrilling — even fun — for him to watch.

Trump's tendency to laugh at inappropriate moments is particularly chilling and revealing.

He has shown little or no concern for the Pacific Northwest, where the worst wildfires in the history of the country are destroying countless homes, incinerating ecosystems and wildlife, and have killed more than 30 people.

When Wade Crowfoot, head of California's Natural Resources Agency, challenged Trump on his refusal to act on climate change during a meeting to discuss the fires, the president turned his head and began to laugh. He chuckled again when he told Crowfoot, in reference to irrefutable evidence that the planet is warming due to human activity, "The science doesn't know."

It's all fun and games for Trump.

Americans can gain similar insight into Trump's homicidal philosophy of political power by observing him defend Kyle Rittenhouse, a self-deputized right wing vigilante who shot three Black Lives Matter protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last month, killing two of them. Trump also brazenly calls for extrajudicial assassinations from law enforcement, recently declaring in an interview that "There has to be retribution" when reacting to the news that federal forces had killed Michael Reinoehl, the left-wing activist accused of shooting a member of the far-right group Patriot Prayer in Portland, Oregon.

Edgar Allan Poe has a story about a man under the spell of the "imp of the perverse." He kills only for the rush of doing something he knows he should not. Poe writes that when "we peer into the abyss, we grow sick and dizzy." The normal human instinct is to turn away in retreat of danger and evil. There are those, however, who "unaccountably remain," guided by a thought that "chills the very marrow of our bones with the fierceness of the delight of its horror. It is merely the idea of what would be our sensations during the sweeping precipitancy of a fall from such a height."

Donald Trump has descended into the abyss. He is attempting to take America with him. It is for us to decide whether we will follow.

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America has no welfare state — but we sure have a warfare state

The animating force of American government is war. Every year, the United States bombs multiple countries, conducts special forces raids across several continents and spends hundreds of billions of dollars to maintain a military presence in 70-plus countries, either in the form of occupying armies or large bases. Now that the U.S. is widely seen as a bungling, belligerent pariah, even allied nations no longer want American troops on their territory. The Japanese complain that U.S. military personnel sexually assault women without consequences and spread the coronavirus, while Italian villagers object to the aesthetic and sonic assault of a foreign military installation on their otherwise quiet country lifestyle.

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Donald Trump's 'base' isn't even living Americans: It's a morbid mythology of the past -- and meaningless monuments

There are few morbid topics subject to greater speculation than the religious loyalty of President Donald Trump's "base." Why an alarmingly large amount of Americans refuse even to entertain any criticism of Trump deserves scrutiny from political scientists, psychologists and perhaps horror novelists working in the school of Edgar Allan Poe.

What is abundantly clear is that no matter who votes for Trump, he and the Republican Party on the national level have no interest in governing on the behalf of living human beings — with the exception of ensuring that a tiny minority of billionaires and multimillionaires enlarge their investment portfolios. Trump evinces no concern for Americans dying of the coronavirus, racist violence or any other malady or injustice. He demonstrates no regard for health care professionals courageously trying to save their patients from dying, and appears cruelly indifferent to the struggles of millions of workers whose livelihoods have been destroyed by COVID-19. Needless to say, Trump also shows contempt for Black Lives Matter, immigrants and anyone who opposes his re-election, which at this moment (and throughout his presidency) is more than half of the American public.

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'Freedom from barbarism is not social justice': Jesse Jackson on protests and police reform

Jesse Jackson has the rare gift of communicating in aphorism. One of his many memorable linguistic coinages is, “We never lost a battle we fought. We never won a battle unless we fought.”

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'Law and order' is a debased concept used to cover up right-wing crime and depravity — here's why

Mark Twain's instruction to curious residents of Freedom Central is, by now, familiar: "If you want to see the dregs of society, go down to the jail and watch the changing of the guard." There is little doubt that the corrections officer who beats and torments the inmates under his supervision would use the phrase "law and order" as a defense for his own lawlessness. Almost any usage of that loaded term in American civic discourse serves as qualification for membership in a diner's club of hell.

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Anti-intellectualism is back -- because it never went away. And it's killing Americans

The late Gore Vidal once confessed, with characteristic rapier wit, "I love stupidity. It excites me." But the excitement and hilarity of human foibles and failures diminish rapidly when the consequences include more than 100,000 corpses.

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