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Excerpt: "Under Barack Obama, the Democratic Party pretty much collapsed at the crucial local and state levels, but it can be rebuilt and turned into a progressive force. That would mean reviving the New Deal legacy and moving well beyond, instead of abandoning, the working class and turning into Clintonite New Democrats, which more or less resemble what used to be called moderate Republicans, a category that has largely disappeared with the shift of both parties to the right during the neoliberal period."

Noam Chomsky at an Occupy protest. (photo: Andrew Rusk/Flickr)
Noam Chomsky at an Occupy protest. (photo: Andrew Rusk/Flickr)

Noam Chomsky: Activists Must Rebuild the Democratic Party Into a Progressive Force

By George Yancy, The Dallas Morning News

11 August 17

Over the past few months, as the disturbing prospect of a Trump administration became a disturbing reality, I decided to reach out to Noam Chomsky, the philosopher whose writing, speaking and activism have for more than 50 years provided unparalleled insight and challenges to the American and global political systems. Our conversation took place in a series of email exchanges over two months.

iven our "post-truth" political moment and the growing authoritarianism we are witnessing under President Trump, what role do you think professional philosophy might play in critically addressing this situation?

We have to be a little cautious about not trying to kill a gnat with an atom bomb. The performances are so utterly absurd regarding the "post-truth" moment that the proper response might best be ridicule. For example, Stephen Colbert's recent comment is apropos: When the Republican legislature of North Carolina responded to a scientific study predicting a threatening rise in sea level by barring state and local agencies from developing regulations or planning documents to address the problem, Colbert responded: "This is a brilliant solution. If your science gives you a result that you don't like, pass a law saying the result is illegal. Problem solved."

Generally, that's how the Trump administration deals with a truly existential threat to survival of organized human life: ban regulations and even research and discussion of environmental threats and race to the precipice as quickly as possible (in the interests of short-term profit and power).

In this regard, I find Trumpism to be a bit suicidal.

Of course, ridicule is not enough. It's necessary to address the concerns and beliefs of those who are taken in by the fraud, or who don't recognize the nature and significance of the issues for other reasons. If by philosophy we mean reasoned and thoughtful analysis, then it can address the moment, though not by confronting the "alternative facts" but by analyzing and clarifying what is at stake, whatever the issue is. Beyond that, what is needed is action: urgent and dedicated, in the many ways that are open to us.

If you had to list two or three forms of political action that are necessary under the Trump regime, what would they be? I ask because our moment feels so incredibly hopeless and repressive.

I don't think things are quite that bleak. Take the success of the Bernie Sanders campaign, the most remarkable feature of the 2016 election. Extensive political science research, notably the work of Thomas Ferguson, has shown convincingly that elections are pretty much bought. The Sanders campaign showed that a candidate with mildly progressive (basically New Deal) programs could win the nomination, maybe the election, even without the backing of the major funders or any media support. There's good reason to suppose that Sanders would have won the nomination had it not been for shenanigans of the Obama-Clinton party managers. He is now the most popular political figure in the country by a large margin.

Activism spawned by the campaign is beginning to make inroads into electoral politics. Under Barack Obama, the Democratic Party pretty much collapsed at the crucial local and state levels, but it can be rebuilt and turned into a progressive force. That would mean reviving the New Deal legacy and moving well beyond, instead of abandoning, the working class and turning into Clintonite New Democrats, which more or less resemble what used to be called moderate Republicans, a category that has largely disappeared with the shift of both parties to the right during the neoliberal period.

What are the weightiest issues facing us?

The most important issues to address are the truly existential threats we face: climate change and nuclear war. On the former, the Republican leadership, in splendid isolation from the world, is almost unanimously dedicated to destroying the chances for decent survival; strong words, but no exaggeration.

On nuclear war, actions in Syria and at the Russian border raise very serious threats of confrontation that might trigger war, an unthinkable prospect. Furthermore, Trump's pursuit of Obama's programs of modernization of the nuclear forces poses extraordinary dangers. As we have recently learned, the modernized U.S. nuclear force is seriously fraying the slender thread on which survival is suspended. The matter is discussed in detail in a critically important article in "Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists" in March, which should have been, and remained, front-page news. The authors, highly respected analysts, observe that the nuclear weapons modernization program has increased "the overall killing power of existing U.S. ballistic missile forces by a factor of roughly three — and it creates exactly what one would expect to see, if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike."

The significance is clear. It means that in a moment of crisis, of which there are all too many, Russian military planners may conclude that lacking a deterrent, the only hope of survival is a first strike — which means the end for all of us.

Frightening to the bone.

In these cases, citizen action can reverse highly dangerous programs. It can also press Washington to explore diplomatic options — which are available — instead of the near reflexive resort to force and coercion in other areas, including North Korea and Iran.

I take it that you view Trump as fundamentally unpredictable. I certainly do. Should we fear a nuclear exchange of any sort in our contemporary moment?

I do, and I'm hardly the only person to have such fears. Perhaps the most prominent figure to express such concerns is William Perry, one of the leading contemporary nuclear strategists, with many years of experience at the highest level of war planning. He is reserved and cautious, not given to overstatement. He has come out of semiretirement to declare forcefully and repeatedly that he is terrified both at the extreme and mounting threats and by the failure to be concerned about them. In his words, "Today, the danger of some sort of a nuclear catastrophe is greater than it was during the Cold War, and most people are blissfully unaware of this danger."

In 1947, "Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists" established its famous Doomsday Clock, estimating how far we are from midnight: termination. In 1947, the analysts set the clock at seven minutes to midnight. In 1953, they moved the hand to two minutes to midnight after the U.S. and the USSR exploded hydrogen bombs. Since then it has oscillated, never again reaching this danger point. In January, shortly after Trump's inauguration, the hand was moved to 2 1/2 minutes to midnight, the closest to terminal disaster since 1953. By this time analysts were considering not only the rising threat of nuclear war but also the firm dedication of the Republican organization to accelerate the race to environmental catastrophe.

Perry is right to be terrified. And so should we all be, not least because of the person with his finger on the button and his surreal associates.

How does the lack of critical intelligence operate here, that is, the sort that philosopher John Dewey saw as essential for a democratic citizenry?

We might ask other questions about critical intelligence. For liberal opinion, the political crime of the century, as it is sometimes called, is Russian interference in American elections. The effects of the crime are undetectable, unlike the massive effects of interference by corporate power and private wealth, not considered a crime but the normal workings of democracy. That's even putting aside the record of U.S. "interference" in foreign elections, Russia included; the word "interference" in quotes because it is so laughably inadequate, as anyone with the slightest familiarity with recent history must be aware.

That certainly speaks to our nation's contradictions.

Is Russian hacking really more significant than what we have discussed, for example, the Republican campaign to destroy the conditions for organized social existence, in defiance of the entire world? Or to enhance the already dire threat of terminal nuclear war? Or even such real but lesser crimes such as the Republican initiative to deprive tens of millions of health care and to drive helpless people out of nursing homes in order to enrich their actual constituency of corporate power and wealth even further? Or to dismantle the limited regulatory system set up to mitigate the impact of the financial crisis that their favorites are likely to bring about once again? And on and on.

It's easy to condemn those we place on the other side of some divide, but more important, commonly, to explore what we take to be nearby. your social media marketing partner


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For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

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Founder, Reader Supported News

+38 # Moxa 2017-08-11 13:17
It has been pointed out that Trump is not the problem, but a symptom of the problem. This is true as far as his attaining the presidency is concerned. But as the one person who could single-handedly end us up in nuclear war, he is definitely THE PROBLEM.

An article I read yesterday said that should Trump decide he wants to use a nuclear weapon, there is no one who can stop him. The only way to avoid it is for all the military personnel who could implement its use to resign.

We are in very bad times.
-12 # Jaax88 2017-08-11 20:08
A news story said today that trump could not start war with N Korea and I take it a number of other countries, not including countries covered by AUMF, without new Congressional authorization. I think that puts a hold on trump's unilateral use of his trigger finger.
+9 # economagic 2017-08-11 21:22
The past two presidents both stretched that AUMF far beyond its ostensible original limits.
+14 # librarian1984 2017-08-12 06:55
We are in bad times but they are also a time of opportunity. Only Congress can declare war but presidents usurped that power long ago and each one has made sure to reaffirm this claimed authority.

Senators Ed Markey (D-OR) and Ted Lieu (D-CA) have introduced the "Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017" which would require Congressional approval for a first strike. What a great development.

A silver lining to Trump is that GOP and DP must work together to limit him, and I believe they will. I'll be interested to see how this legislation goes.

What's also interesting about this act is that it was introduced last year -- when everyone thought Hillary Clinton would be president.
+2 # librarian1984 2017-08-14 07:40
Correction: The Senate bill, S.200, was introduced by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA). The House bill, H.R. 669, was introduced by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA).
+27 # wantrealdemocracy 2017-08-11 19:17
"Rebuild the Democratic Party into a Progressive force"? Get real. They are corrupt to the core. 85% of the American people want Single Payer for all---but not the Democrats. No one I know wants these ghastly wars to go on killing people all over the world. We are no longer the only 'super power', we are a bunch of has beens.

Forget the two major parties. There is no lesser evil between them. We need to get rid of political parties and vote for people who will promise to vote as directed by their constituents--- and not their major 'donors'.
We know those 'donations' are BRIBES.
-15 # ericlipps 2017-08-11 19:58
Get rid of political parties? Dream on. The Framers actively abhorred political parties, and yet sure enough, they appeared before George Washington's second term ended.

And if 85% of the American people want "single payer for all," it's a miracle, since I'd bet a lot fewer than that have ever heard of it. As for those who have, most don't have a clue how to pay for it beyond "tax the rich," which will never be enough, and "drastically cut military spending," which will never happen. The only realistic way to pay for it is the way the British and Canadians do: with high taxes on ordinary citizens. Trying to sell that here can get you shot.
+11 # economagic 2017-08-11 21:36
That is precisely the attitude that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You say some very sensible things and make some important points, but all within a framework that is essentially a fatalistic or nihilstic worldview. For a brilliant example of a standpoint just barely on the other side from nihilism, that even largely rejects the notion of "hope," see Robert Jensen's review and critique of Naomi Klein's latest, originally from "YES!" Magazine and republished by RSN on August 4.
+15 # librarian1984 2017-08-12 07:07
eric, you seem to be happiest when telling us why nothing can ever improve, so let's not bother trying. Has nothing ever been accomplished that surprised you?

How do you, a psychologist, not get that the struggle might be as important as the result -- and the struggle often yields surprising benefits, wins allies, sets up for possible future victory?

If it were up to you we'd still be apes, refusing to evolve.
+15 # JayaVII 2017-08-12 11:37
Yes, how wonderful that "ordinary citizens" pay so little for healthcare now in the USA. If we socialized medicine, we could control costs as well as make it universally available. We could also claim to be civilized human beings.
+7 # vicnada 2017-08-13 20:53
eeYORE comments, perpetually clouded by eeYORE cynicism, leave little room for hope. What Chomsky said is true: Were it not for the machinations of the DNC, We-the-People might well have proven that we could win against big money in politics. I'm for building on what we began. If Bernie's involved, I'm on-board.
+8 # Inspired Citizen 2017-08-12 07:08
Remember #BernieOrBust? That was a handful of people organizing a national movement.

In the midterms, 468 mini-movements are needed to ask candidates for office to become a CFAR candidates "or else" they will lose the election.

Check out the activists website we're using to tutor volunteers on how to ask candidates to sign the contract and build a district-wide list of voters.
+17 # librarian1984 2017-08-12 07:27
"The success of the Bernie Sanders campaign, the most remarkable feature of the 2016 campaign .. Sanders would have won the nomination had it not been for shenanigans of the Obama-Clinton party managers"

C'mon, eric, tell us how bitter and stupid Chomsky is.

"Instead of abandoning the working class and turning into Clintonite New Democrats .. what used to be called moderate Republicans"

This is not just a figurative statement. We are getting news of several organizations forming that are collusions between neocons like Bill Kristol with Clinton Democrats, operating in the currency of Washington, forming think tanks and getting funding together.

No progressive can support these Democrats without supporting militarism, privatization and austerity because that is what those groups are working toward.

"The shift of both parties to the right during the neoliberal period"

This is why we MUST move to the left and anyone who argues against it has another agenda. Moving to the left will NOT alienate potential allies and voters. It will draw Independents and those who've abandoned politics altogether because we'll have economic plans that help people instead of corporations.

Chomsky concludes by saying, basically, that Russian interference in our elections IS THE LEAST OF OUR PROBLEMS because there are closer, more imminent threats. Yet the msm devotes 75% of its time to Russia because it boosts ratings.

We need real journalism.
+1 # WYThomas 2017-08-13 22:43
@librarian1984 Isn't Sen. Ed Markey a Democrat from Massachusetts?
0 # librarian1984 2017-08-14 17:50
You're right, thanks! I've posted a correction. Not sure when it will appear. Sorry for the mistake.
-4 # Depressionborn 2017-08-14 08:57
"Revolutions come from the left because that is where dictators are born with the desire to rule people. The right fosters the drive to freedom and the desire to be left alone."
+1 # Jaax88 2017-08-14 14:54
Was Hitler a leftist dictator? I thought it was Hitler's Brown Shirts that fought the communists in Germany in the 1920s and 30s and rightist capitalists including some Americans who provided financial support and encouragement to dictator Hitler and his Nazis
+3 # librarian1984 2017-08-14 17:54
Two words: D!ck Cheney

Also, we've had the Reagan revolution, the Gingrich revolution, the Religious Right and the Tea Party revolutions -- all of which greatly affected the political landscape.

What has there been on the keft since the '60s? Even the peace movements are ineffectual. There is a powerful meme that says the DP's mission is to kill any left-leaning revolution -- and so far it's worked.

+3 # Montanan 2017-08-14 18:27
Quoting Depressionborn:
"Revolutions come from the left because that is where dictators are born with the desire to rule people. The right fosters the drive to freedom and the desire to be left alone."

Depressionborn, this quote is from hedge fund manager Martin Armstrong, who was once jailed for fraud. He once said, "Inside every liberal is a totalitarian screaming to get out." He's also said a lot of other really, really stupid things.

The right wants to be free and left alone? Ask women, people of color, students, the elderly, the middle class, the chronically ill or the poor if the right is letting *them* be free or leaving *them* alone.

The left produces dictators? What, like that famous "leftist," Adolf Hitler? Or that other famous "leftist," Benito Mussolini? Sorry, Depressionborn, fascism and nazism are products of the extreme right. Don't believe me? Ask any Klansman or neo-Nazi if they're on the left.

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