No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump's Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need
As Donald Trump might claim, we are the largest audience to witness what is possibly the biggest ever corporate coup, the takeover of a country. Many Americans are in total shock, living in a reality show and reeling under a tsunami of executive orders, alternative facts, and hostile tweets from a new president who seems hell-bent on obliterating civil society as we know it. How can we resist this onslaught and even emerge on the other side with its antithesis—a more equitable, kind, and caring world for all?
This is the message of acclaimed author, journalist, and activist Naomi Klein’s new book No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need published barely five months into this chaotic administration. This timely production was possible because it feels like this is a book that Klein was born to write using the springboard of her previous three bestsellers No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism and This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate.
Klein splices together these three key pillars, corporate branding, neo-liberal shock politics and the endgame environmental rape on which it is predicated to explore the roots of the global shift to the right, identify the key players, set out the specific components of the corporate agenda, provide a handbook for weathering shock politics and construct a blueprint for defeating it through concerted resistance.
While Klein clearly abhors Donald Trump and the whole book is about the toxic potential of his presidency left unchecked, she takes great pains to emphasize that we must focus on the big picture of global corporate ambition behind the smoke and mirrors of his shock tactics meant to quickly disorient, disinform and deceive any opposition so that it dissolves.
“This book’s argument, in a nutshell, is that Trump, extreme as he is, is less an aberration than a logical conclusion, a pastiche of pretty much all the worst trends of the past half century. Trump is the product of powerful systems of thought that rank human life based on race, religion, gender, sexuality, physical appearance, and physical ability . . . He is also the personification of the merger of humans and corporations—a one-man megabrand, whose wife and children are spin-off brands, with all the pathologies and conflicts of interest inherent in that. He is the embodiment of the belief that money and power provide license to impose one’s will on others, whether that entitlement is expressed by grabbing women or grabbing the finite resources from a planet on the cusp of global warming.”
So why did America vote for a set-up wherein a few mega-billionaires with an eye to the main chance for themselves are the winners and the rest of us are losers? And what can we expect next in this new overtly survivalist world where economic, environmental and social crises are exploited and even deliberately deepened to divide and neutralize a demoralized population?
In the short term, Klein attributes the November 2016 poll-defying Trump victory to the rise of the superbrands. Trump’s meteoric rise from a modestly successful real estate developer to mega-billionaire to real life reality show superstar stemmed from the 1980s management theory that to be successful, corporations must produce brands rather than actual products.
Trump’s business genius lay in building a hugely successful superbrand around his brash persona in keeping with his apparently insatiable desire to see his own name splashed large pretty much everywhere—buildings, headlines, magazine covers, and, the big breakthrough, his TV show The Apprentice. His property bankruptcies became irrelevant as the Trump name and its association with the high-end living and luxurious lifestyles of celebrity culture became the golden product.
If the Trump brand equates to material success, then a Trump presidency should mean making America great again, following a leader so fabulously wealthy that he does not have to suck up to the Washington establishment and is in a prime position to “drain the swamp.” Except that Trump has already filled the swamp with the first family of brands and wealthy would-be-apprentices apparently willing to accept routine public humiliation in order to continue to promote the brand via end runs around democracy.
“If there’s one real aspect to the festival of fakery that is the Trump presidency, it’s the hunger at the heart of it. The sheer insatiability. Trump likes to talk about how he doesn’t need more money—he has more than enough. Yet he just can’t help selling his products at every opportunity, can’t stop working every angle. It’s as if he suffers from some obscure modern illness—let’s call it a brand personality disorder.”
Underpinned by neoliberal market-driven economics, this branding ethos translates into a winner-take-all resource grab unmindful of historical precedent and environmental, social and cultural costs to people and planet. The main pillars of Trump’s political-economic project are:
“. . . the deconstruction of the regulatory state; a full-bore attack on the welfare state and social services (rationalized in part through bellicose racial fearmongering and attacks on women for exercising their rights); the unleashing of a domestic fossil fuel frenzy (which requires the sweeping aside of climate science and the gagging of large parts of the government bureaucracy); and a civilizational war against immigrants and ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ (with ever-expanding domestic and foreign theaters.)”
In addition to the obvious suffering that removal of the social safety net will cause the most vulnerable in wave after wave of crises and shocks, this whole platform is underpinned by a reframing of “democracy” which removes any participatory elements in favor of an authoritarian plutocracy from which the populist veneer will soon evaporate.
An important section of the book deals presents scenarios as to how Trump’s corporate takeover of government is likely to unfold (HOW IT COULD GET WORSE: The Shocks to Come). Here, many readers will find the chapter on Masters of Disaster particularly useful as Klein provides a pocket guide to Trump’s key advisors and cabinet appointees, most of whom were hardly household names a few months ago.
In particular, Trump’s cabinet of billionaires and multimillionaires reveals much about the underlying goals of the administrative state dismantling project.
“Exxon-Mobil for secretary of state. General Dynamics and Boeing to head the department of defense. And the Goldman Sachs guys for pretty much everything that’s left. The handful of career politicians who have been put in charge of agencies seem to have been selected either because they do not believe in the agency’s mission, or do not think the agency should exist at all.”
Perhaps most scary of all are Klein’s revelations about the record of now Vice President and former governor of Indiana Mike Pence’s track record as a profiteer from human suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Pence is often portrayed as the responsible political adult in Trump’s kindergarten approach to government. If so, then heaven help us all.
But Klein underscores that it would be futile to wait for heaven, or any existing political organization on earth to act, while we merely say “no” to Trump’s tidal wave aiming to destroy civil society. That would be like the apocryphal King Canute commanding the tide to turn. The current moment requires a more inclusive and inspiring “yes” to building a coalition across grassroots activist groups. We have to embrace the fact that issues around the environment, race, gender, women, the economy and all forms of identity politics are one and the same. We can’t defeat the forces that have hijacked our country as fragmented interests claiming that my issue is more important than yours.
Klein ends on a cautiously optimistic note, citing the gains that unprecedented resistance at the grassroots have already achieved, like the lessons learned and empowerment gained from the Standing Rock pipeline protests and the new countrywide huddles of the Indivisibles. Not to mention the marches of women and scientists, the crowds flocking to airports to protest the infamous travel ban and the hordes of angry constituents jamming town hall meetings to call their representatives to account.
How we respond to this crisis is up to us. Small steps toward social justice are not enough. It’s time to leap!
Who should read this engaging, indeed compelling book? Everyone, but especially those who voted for Trump just because they wanted something different from politics as usual plus Democrats still championing the neoliberal agenda. Who will read it? The many fans of Naomi Klein, progressives, frightened voters, and youths who care about their future on this threatened planet.