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

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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.

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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 percent 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, got low-interest loans. They’re low-interest. And now he’s going to go after Goldman Sachs? 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, quote, “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 has 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!, Cornel. It’s great to have you with us.

CORNEL WEST: Always a pleasure to be here. 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, 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 people, 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 have been willing to go to jail, we’ve had to recognize we’ll have more coming at us under a Trump administration. But the crucial thing is, is that he had talked about his connection with working people, and it’s clear that the 1 percent are still running things.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: But you’ve also said—Dr. West, you just said that his administration will be neofascist.

CORNEL WEST: That’s right.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Could you explain? What do you mean by that, neofascist as opposed to fascist, and what the two mean?

CORNEL WEST: Well, neofascist, it’s an American-style form of fascism. And what I mean by that is we’ve had a 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’s 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 interest, big bank interest, and to keep track of those of us who are cast as other—peoples of color, women, Jews, Arabs, Muslims, Mexicans and so forth and so on. 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, oh, 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 OneWest, was also accused of racially discriminatory lending practices. In 2015, Mnuchin sold the bank for $3.4 billion, $1.8 billion more than he bought it for.

CORNEL WEST: This is what you call a 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’ve already disproportionately influenced those who apply the law, those who are 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, the Adolph Reeds and others, very critical of Geithner, Summers, the Rubin 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 then got in a bit of an altercation with him.

CORNEL WEST: God bless his soul. But—so that you can see, under neoliberal rule, Wall Street’s still in the driver’s 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 have mass incarceration on the one hand, privatized schools—I know Sister Diane Ravitch, one 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 antifascist 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’ll tell you that.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, given the 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 that 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 disproportionately white brothers and sisters, but they are suffering. And it was a cry of the heart.

Unfortunately, given the right-wing populist and authoritarian orientation of Trump, he uses that kind of anguish to scapegoat Mexicans, Muslims and others, rather than confront the most powerful. Twenty-one 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 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’s moving in that direction.

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