By C.J. Polychroniou
The first 100 days are considered to be a benchmark for presidential performance. This is part of the legacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who managed to reshape the U.S. government’s role in the economy within the first 100 days of his administration. However, the fact of the matter is that usually, a first-time president doesn’t have the slightest inkling of what governing from the Oval Office is all about. There’s no better proof of that than the early records of the most recent U.S. presidents, from Nixon to Obama. Nonetheless, no recent U.S. president has demonstrated such an overwhelming ignorance about governing as the current occupant of the White House.
But is Trump’s apparent inability to govern and conduct himself in a remotely conventional manner an innate character flaw or part of a well-conceived strategy aimed at a society that loves reality TV? Is Trump’s fondness for Putin simply an “infatuation” with a strongman and admiration for autocratic rule or something of a more political and strategic nature? And what does Trump mean when he says “jobs?” In this exclusive Truthout interview, world-revered public intellectual Noam Chomsky shares for the first time his views about the first 100 days of the Trump administration.
C. J. Polychroniou: The first 100 days of Donald Trump in the White House are characterized by complete disrespect for the truth and the freedom of the press and, overall, a style of political leadership that is not merely authoritarian but also smacks of fascism. In your view, is all this part of a preconceived strategy or simply a reflection of the whims of a person with a very fragile ego?
Noam Chomsky: I don’t pretend to have any special insight into the mind of this strange person, though the people around him have been fairly coherent, in particular Steve Bannon, who seems to be the shadowed figure behind the throne.
What is happening before our eyes appears to be a two-pronged operation, I presume planned.
Bannon/Trump (and the pathetic Sean Spicer, who has to defend the latest shenanigans in public) have the task of dominating TV and headlines with one wild performance after another, the assumption apparently being that his fabrications will quickly be forgotten as the next episode displaces them and the base will be satisfied for a time, believing that their champion is standing up for them. So, who remembers the millions of undocumented immigrants who “voted for Clinton” or the charge that that really bad guy Obama (“sad!”) literally wiretapped poor Trump—a claim now downgraded to irrelevance, but not withdrawn—and so on? Look how well the birther tales played for many years, ending hilariously with Trump blaming Clinton for initiating the farce.
— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch) March 27, 2017
Meanwhile, the real work is going on more quietly, spearheaded by Paul Ryan, a different and more malicious kind of posturer, who represents the most brutal fringe of the Republican establishment and somehow manages to present himself as a man of ideas, maybe because—as Paul Krugman argues—he rolls up his sleeves and uses PowerPoint. The ideas are quite familiar. They are the standard fare of the component of the Republican establishment dedicated with unusual ferocity to enriching the rich and powerful—bankers, CEOs and other types who matter—while kicking in the face the vulnerable, the poor and Trump’s rural and working-class constituency. All of this abetted by the ultra-right billionaire cabinet and other appointees, selected very carefully to destroy whatever within their domains might be helpful to mere humans, but not to the chosen few of extreme wealth and power.
The consistency is impressive, if not breathtaking.
With the collapse of the shameful GOP health care proposals, we are likely to see this scenario enacted with real passion. The White House and its congressional allies have many ways to undermine the current health care system, which, with all its flaws, is a considerable improvement over what preceded it though still well behind comparable societies, let alone what the population wants and deserves, as polls continue to show: a rational single-payer universal health care system. That is a fairly resilient phenomenon over many years, with some variation, quite remarkable in that there is virtually no articulate elite advocacy of this sane and popular position.
Of course, undermining the system will harm a great many people, but that cannot be a consideration. After all, Ryancare was going to add some 24 million to the ranks of uninsured, which might kill more than 40,000 people annually according to an analysis by health care specialists Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein. If the health system can be substantially damaged and people really do suffer sufficiently, then the propaganda drumbeat can proceed to blame the disaster on the political opposition and maybe even get away with it. A good deal is possible in the era of “alternative facts.” We are already witnessing the early stages.
The lead character in the show does indeed present himself as a thin-skinned megalomaniac whose only ideology is Me. But his appointments, and the policies for which all of this is a cover, are too systematic to be merely random shots.
As I mentioned, the policies being formulated and enacted are drawn from the playbook of the most reactionary fringe of the Republican establishment. The abject service to private wealth and power is accompanied with an authoritarian and fundamentalist program to transform U.S. society. The project is driven by the Bannon-Sessions vision of a society devoted to Judeo-Christian roots and white supremacy, eliminating such pernicious and threatening nonsense as arts and humanities, upholding the Betsy DeVos doctrine that public education has to be dismantled, while if science conflicts with religion, then too bad for science. Meanwhile, we are to wave a mailed fist at the world while cowering behind walls and rebuilding the “depleted military” that is the most powerful force in human history, dwarfing any collection of competitors. All of this resonates with at least parts of a society that has long been the safest and most terrified in the world.
The fundamentalist project goes well beyond getting rid of arts and humanities. Science is also in the crosshairs. Trump’s budget cuts medical research. There’s been considerable attention to his dismantling of the EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency], now pretty much in the hands of associates of James Inhofe, the Senate’s leading climate denier, who has explained that if God has decided to warm the Earth, so be it. But that’s the least of it. For action and research on climate, EPA is a small actor. Far more important is the Department of Energy. Its Office of Science is scheduled to lose $900 million, nearly 20 percent of its budget. DOE’s $300 million ARPA-Energy program is eliminated completely. That’s in addition to deep cuts to the research programs at the EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a 5 percent cut to NASA’s earth science budget.
— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch) March 17, 2017
In Congress, the science-deniers can scarcely contain their glee now that the wrecking ball has opened the path for demolition of the heresies of the modern world. Lamar Smith, who for years has used his position as chair of the House science committee to harass scientists, now feels free to openly acknowledge that “the committee is now a tool to advance his political agenda rather than a forum to examine important issues facing the U.S. research community.”
An appropriate comment on all of this was made by Stephen Colbert, when the Republican-run legislature in North Carolina responded to a scientific study predicting rapid sea level rise by barring state and local agencies from developing regulations or planning documents anticipating a rise in sea level. “This is a brilliant solution,” Colbert said. “If your science gives you a result that you don’t like, pass a law saying the result is illegal. Problem solved.”
Most important of everything that is happening is the attack against future generations, in fact even against those coming of age today, as Trump and allies, departing from the world, cheerily lead the race to environmental destruction while the rest take at least halting steps toward averting a looming catastrophe—which doesn’t weigh in the balance against fabulous profits tomorrow for the select few.
A few years ago Republican governor of Louisiana Bobby Jindal took a little time off from his campaign to drive the state even deeper into the abyss to warn that Republicans are becoming “the stupid party.” The respected conservative analyst Norman J. Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute described the current party as a “radical insurgency” that has abandoned parliamentary politics… Has any other organization dedicated itself with such enthusiasm to undermining our prospects for decent survival? And not in the distant future.
Click here to read additional interview questions with Chomsky.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Truthout.