- Noam Chomsky
world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author. He is institute professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he has taught for more than 50 years. His new book comes out today, titled Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power.
Full 70-minute interview with Noam Chomsky on Democracy Now! today talking about Donald Trump’s first 75 days in the White House and much more.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I’m Juan González. Welcome to all of our listeners and viewers around the country and around the world.
Seventy-five days ago today, Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. On the international front, Trump has expanded U.S. military operations in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Somalia, while resuming arms sales to Bahrain. On Monday, he welcomed Egyptian leader General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi at the White House as thousands of activists remain locked up in Egypt. At the United Nations, the Trump administration led a boycott of U.N. talks to ban nuclear weapons, while pushing for the United States to expand its own nuclear arsenal. Trump has also threatened to unilaterally act against North Korea.
On the environmental front, Trump picked climate deniers to head the Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Department, while slashing the EPA’s programs to combat climate change. Trump’s budget calls for an unprecedented $54 billion increase in military spending, while ending dozens of environmental, housing, diplomatic and educational programs. Trump is also requesting a nearly $3 billion increase in funding for the Department of Homeland Security, largely to pay for expanding the border wall and hiring 1,500 new Border Patrol and ICE agents.
AMY GOODMAN: However, the Trump agenda has faced some judicial and legislative setbacks. Federal courts have blocked the implementation of two travel bans targeting residents from six majority-Muslim nations. And in Congress, Trump failed in his attempt to repeal Obamacare, which would have stripped up to 24 million people of health insurance while giving the rich a massive tax break. Meanwhile, his administration is facing an FBI probe over its dealings with Russia before the election. This all comes as a resistance movement is growing throughout the country.
To help make sense of where the country stands 75 days into the Trump administration, we’re joined by one of the world’s best-known dissidents, the linguist and activist Noam Chomsky, institute professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he taught for more than 50 years. He is the author of more than a hundred books. His latest book comes out today. It’s titled Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power.
Noam Chomsky, welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Glad to be with you again.
AMY GOODMAN: So, why don’t we start, on this 75th day, by your assessment of what has happened in these first few months?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, I think it was captured pretty well by a Los Angeles Times editorial, which simply called it a “train wreck.” But it’s very consistent, very systematic. Anything that can be of assistance to ordinary people, working people, middle-class people, people on the street—any such program has to be decimated. Anything that adds to wealth and power or that increases the use of force, that we carry forward.
And it’s done with—there’s kind of a two-tiered system working—I presume, consciously, so systematic it’s hard to question. The Bannon-Trump team wants to make sure that they dominate the headlines. So, whatever they do, that’s what people look at, and one crazy thing after another, the assumption apparently being you’ll forget the old ones by the time the new ones come in. So, no one talks anymore about the 3 million illegal immigrants who voted for Clinton. That one, we’ve forgotten. We’re on to the next one, and we’ll go on to the next one. While this is going on in front, the Paul Ryan-style budgetary and planning operations are going on quietly in the back, ripping to shreds any element of government that can help people either today or tomorrow. That’s the point of the destruction of the environmental system. It’s not just the EPA which was slashed. Most of the environmental programs were actually in the Energy Department. Their research and activist programs were slashed very seriously.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what do you make in terms of—when you’re talking about decimation, clearly, one of the big failures was their inability to end Obamacare. Could you talk about the—what you’re seeing now as the potential in terms of the healthcare system in the country, what they will try to do and what the potential is there?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Actually, there was a pretty interesting poll about it that came out a couple of days ago, simply asking people what they preferred. The Republican proposal was the lowest of the choices available. I think about 15 percent of the population were willing to accept it. Somewhat higher was the existing system, so-called Obamacare. And on that, it’s worth bearing in mind that a lot of people don’t know that Obamacare is the Affordable Care Act. So you have negative attitudes towards Obamacare, thanks to lots of propaganda, but more positive attitudes towards the Affordable Care Act, because of what people see.
Most popular of all—over half—was the so-called public option, a government-guaranteed healthcare program, which is pretty remarkable because no one publicly advocates that. But it’s been a consistent polling result for decades, that when people are asked what they want, they say that’s their choice. And, in fact, that’s about the only proposal that makes any sense. The U.S. healthcare system is an international scandal. It’s roughly twice the per capita costs of comparable countries, and some of the worst outcomes, mainly because it’s privatized, extremely inefficient, bureaucratized, lots of bill paying, lots of officials, tons of money wasted, healthcare in the hands of profit-seeking institutions, which are not health institutions, of course. And for decades people have preferred what every other country has, in some fashion: either straight national healthcare or heavily government-regulated healthcare like, say, Switzerland. Sometimes the support is astonishingly high. So, in the late Reagan years, for example, about 70 percent of the population thought that guaranteed healthcare should be a constitutional guarantee, because it’s such an obvious desideratum. And about 40 percent thought it already was in the Constitution. The Constitution is just this holy collection of anything reasonable, so it must be there.
But it just doesn’t matter what people think. When Obama put through his own program, I think support for the public option was almost two-thirds, but it was simply dismantled. When this is—occasionally, this is discussed in the press, New York Times, others. And they mention it. They say it’s a possibility, but it’s called politically impossible, which is correct, which means you can’t pass it through the pharmaceutical corporations and financial institutions. That’s politically possible in what’s called democracy. Sometimes they say “lacking political support,” meaning from the institutions that really matter. There’s kind of this population on the side, but we can dismiss them, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think there could be a kind of “Nixon in China” moment with Trump? He has, in the past, expressed support for single payer. He’s extremely angry right now at the Freedom Caucus. He can’t decide which more—which are the villains in this more, the Freedom Caucus or the Democrats. He goes back and forth. Do you think he could sort of throw it all out? Or is it going to just go as we’re seeing in these past few days, where it looks like they’re going to revive it to what the Freedom—so-called Freedom Caucus wants?
NOAM CHOMSKY: I think they’ll probably revise it. Trump is all over the place. You don’t know what he believes. He says almost anything that comes to his mind at 3:00 a.m. But the people who are really setting the policy in the background—essentially, the Ryan ultra-right Republicans—they understand what they’re doing. And they want to destroy the—any—the aspects of the healthcare system that are beneficial to the general public, that’s systematic policies. Probably what will happen is the kind of compromise that’s already being discussed, with states having the right to opt out of whatever the federal program is, which might satisfy the ultra-right Freedom Caucus, make it even worse than the current Republican proposal.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to turn to—
NOAM CHOMSKY: Just today, incidentally, one—I think Kansas—turned down expansion of Medicaid. I mean, anything that’s going to help people in need has got to be wiped out.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Noam Chomsky, I’d like to ask you about something that’s been in the news a lot lately. Obviously, all the cable channels, that’s all they talk about these days, is the whole situation of Russia’s supposed intervention in American elections. For a country that’s intervened in so many governments and so many elections around the world, that’s kind of a strange topic. But I know you’ve referred to this as a joke. Could you give us your view on what’s happening and why there’s so much emphasis on this particular issue?
NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s a pretty remarkable fact that—first of all, it is a joke. Half the world is cracking up in laughter. The United States doesn’t just interfere in elections. It overthrows governments it doesn’t like, institutes military dictatorships. Simply in the case of Russia alone—it’s the least of it—the U.S. government, under Clinton, intervened quite blatantly and openly, then tried to conceal it, to get their man Yeltsin in, in all sorts of ways. So, this, as I say, it’s considered—it’s turning the United States, again, into a laughingstock in the world.
So why are the Democrats focusing on this? In fact, why are they focusing so much attention on the one element of Trump’s programs which is fairly reasonable, the one ray of light in this gloom: trying to reduce tensions with Russia? That’s—the tensions on the Russian border are extremely serious. They could escalate to a major terminal war. Efforts to try to reduce them should be welcomed. Just a couple of days ago, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Jack Matlock, came out and said he just can’t believe that so much attention is being paid to apparent efforts by the incoming administration to establish connections with Russia. He said, “Sure, that’s just what they ought to be doing.”
So, meanwhile, this one topic is the primary locus of concern and critique, while, meanwhile, the policies are proceeding step by step, which are extremely destructive and harmful. So, you know, yeah, maybe the Russians tried to interfere in the election. That’s not a major issue. Maybe the people in the Trump campaign were talking to the Russians. Well, OK, not a major point, certainly less than is being done constantly. And it is a kind of a paradox, I think, that the one issue that seems to inflame the Democratic opposition is the one thing that has some justification and reasonable aspects to it.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, of course, because the Democrats feel that that’s the reason, somehow, that they lost the election. Interesting that James Comey this week said he is investigating Trump campaign collusion with Russia, when it was Comey himself who could have—might well have been partly responsible for Hillary Clinton’s defeat, when he said that he was investigating her, while, we now have learned, at the same time he was investigating Donald Trump, but never actually said that.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, you can understand why the Democratic Party managers want to try to find some blame for the fact—for the way they utterly mishandled the election and blew a perfect opportunity to win, handed it over to the opposition. But that’s hardly a justification for allowing the Trump policies to slide by quietly, many of them not only harmful to the population, but extremely destructive, like the climate change policies, and meanwhile focus on one thing that could become a step forward, if it was adjusted to move towards serious efforts to reduce growing and dangerous tensions right on the Russian border, where they could blow up. NATO maneuvers are taking place hundreds of yards from the Russian border. The Russian jet planes are buzzing American planes. This—something could get out of hand very easily. Both sides, meanwhile, are building up their military forces, adding—the U.S. is—one thing that the Russians are very much concerned about is the so-called anti-ballistic missile installation that the U.S. is establishing near the Russian border, allegedly to protect Europe from nonexistent Iranian missiles. Nobody seriously believes that. This is understood to be a first strike threat. These are serious issues. People like William Perry, who has a distinguished career and is a nuclear strategist and is no alarmist at all, is saying that we’re back to the—this is one of the worst moments of the Cold War, if not worse. That’s really serious. And efforts to try to calm that down would be very welcome. And we should bear in mind it’s the Russian border. It’s not the Mexican border. There’s no Warsaw Pact maneuvers going on in Mexico. And that’s a border that the Russians are quite reasonably sensitive about. They’ve practically been destroyed several times the last century right through that region.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In line with your concern about the growing threat in terms of nuclear weapons, there are also maneuvers going on off the coast of Korea, and the words that we’ve heard from President Trump in the last few days, that if China doesn’t deal with North Korea, the U.S. will. Can you talk about his policies already, his developing policies toward Korea and toward China?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, it’s kind of interesting to look at the record. The claim is “Well, we’ve tried everything. Nothing works. Therefore, we have to use force.” Is it true that nothing’s worked? I mean, there is a record, after all. And if you look at the record, it’s interesting.
1994, Clinton made—established what was called the Framework Agreement with North Korea. North Korea would terminate its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. The U.S. would reduce hostile acts. It more or less worked, and neither side lived up to it totally, but, by 2000, North Korea had not proceeded with its nuclear weapons programs. George W. Bush came in and immediately launched an assault on North Korea—you know, “axis of evil,” sanctions and so on. North Korea turned to producing nuclear weapons. In 2005, there was an agreement between North Korea and the United States, a pretty sensible agreement. North Korea agreed to terminate its development of nuclear weapons. In return, it called for a nonaggression pact. So, stop making hostile threats, relief from harsh sanctions, and provision of a system to provide North Korea with low-enriched uranium for medical and other purposes—that was the proposal. George Bush instantly tore it to shreds. Within days, the U.S. was imposing—trying to disrupt North Korean financial transactions with other countries through Macau and elsewhere. North Korea backed off, started building nuclear weapons again. I mean, maybe you can say it’s the worst regime in history, whatever you like, but they have been following a pretty rational tit-for-tat policy.
And why are they developing nuclear weapons altogether? I mean, the economy is in bad shape. They could certainly use the resources. Everyone understands that it’s a deterrent. And they have a proposal, actually. There’s a proposal on the table. China and North Korea proposed that North Korea should terminate its further development of nuclear weapons. In return, the United States should stop carrying out threatening military maneuvers with South Korea right on its border. Not an unreasonable proposal. It’s simply dismissed. Actually, Obama dismissed it, too. There are possible steps that could be taken to alleviate which could be an extremely serious crisis. I mean, if the U.S. did decide to use force against North Korea, one immediate reaction, according to the military sources available to us, is that Seoul, the city of Seoul, would simply be wiped out by mass North Korean artillery aimed at it. And who knows where we’d go from there? But the opportunity to produce—to move towards a negotiated diplomatic settlement does not seem outlandish. I mean, this Chinese-North Korean proposal is certainly worth serious consideration, I would think.
And it’s worth bearing in mind that North Korea has some memories. They were practically destroyed by some of the most intensive bombing in history. The bombing—you should—it’s worth reading. Maybe you should read, people, the official Air Force history of the bombing of North Korea. It’s shattering. I mean, they had flattened the country. There were no targets left. So, therefore, they decided, well, we’ll attack the dams—which is a war crime, of course. And the description of the attack on the dams is—without the exact wording, I hate to paraphrase it. You should really read the—they were simply exalting, in the official histories, Air Force Quarterly and others, about the—how magnificent it will be to see this massive flood of water coursing through North Korea, wiping out crops. For Asians, the rice crops is their life. This will destroy them. It will be magnificent. The North Koreans lived through that. And having nuclear-capable B-52s flying on their border is not a joke.
But, most significantly, there’s a record of partial success in diplomatic initiatives, total failure with sanctions and harsh moves, and options that are on the table which could be pursued. Now, instead of concern about whether somebody talked to the Russians, this is the kind of thing that should be—that should be pursued very seriously. That’s what the Democrats or anyone hoping for some form of peace and justice should be working for.
AMY GOODMAN: Which brings us to China. President Trump said, “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will.” Are you concerned that with Trump at an all-time low for presidents, when it comes to popularity, with suffering defeat after defeat, lashing out and trying to focus on a foreign enemy? But at the same time, you have China coming to the United States, this meeting that he’s going to have with the Chinese leader, Xi, in Mar-a-Lago—also very interesting, considering it’s a golf course, right? He hates golf and forbade Communist Party members to play golf. Is it more about Trump feeling he has more access to shut down press coverage or any information about who’s meeting with him, when it’s in his private resort? But more importantly, what the agenda is there and what our relationship is with China?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, as you recall, one of the interesting incidents was a public discussion of significant security issues in the resort with people sitting around drinking coffee and having drinks. Maybe they keep the press out, but they didn’t seem to keep the guests out.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, not if you pay $200,000 a year and you’re a member of Mar-a-Lago.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Right. Then you pass the filter.
AMY GOODMAN: And then you get to take photos, selfies, with the man carrying the nuclear codes.
NOAM CHOMSKY: The “football.”
AMY GOODMAN: The “football.”
NOAM CHOMSKY: He’s extremely unpredictable. But this—the relations with China are an extremely serious issue. China is not going to back down on its fundamental demands, concerning Taiwan, for example. And if Trump—a lot of what China is demanding, I think, is—it shouldn’t be—is not acceptable. It shouldn’t—it’s not internationally acceptable. But the reaction through use of force is just extraordinarily dangerous. I mean, you cannot play that game in international affairs. We are too close to destroying ourselves. You take a look at the record of—through the nuclear age, of near—of accidental—sometimes accidental, sometimes kind of irrational actions. It’s almost miraculous that we’ve survived.
And anything that—to get a good estimate of this, of the danger, take a look at the best monitor of the global security situation that we have as a simple measure—namely, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock. This is set every year, since the beginning of the nuclear age, 1947, by a group of serious specialists, scientists, political analysts and others, who try to give a measure of the danger that the human species faces. Midnight means we’re finished. In 1947, the clock was set at seven minutes to midnight. In 1953, right after the U.S. and Russia tested hydrogen bombs, thermonuclear weapons, it went to two minutes to midnight. That’s the closest it’s been to total disaster. Right now, as soon as Trump came in, it was moved to two-and-a-half minutes to midnight, both because of the nuclear threat, recognized to be serious, and the threat of environmental catastrophe, which was not considered in the earlier years, now is.
Now, those are, overwhelmingly, the most crucial issues that face us. Everything else fades into insignificance in comparison to them. Those are literally questions of survival. And two-and-a-half minutes to midnight means extraordinary danger. These should be the major focus of attention. And it’s kind of astonishing to see the way they’re ignored. Throughout the whole electoral campaign, practically no mention of them. Every Republican candidate, every single one, either—with regard to the climate, either denied what is happening or else said—the moderates, like Jeb Bush, Kasich, said, “Well, maybe it’s happening, but doesn’t matter. We shouldn’t do anything about it.”
AMY GOODMAN: Well, the U.S. just led the boycott at the U.N. of the nuclear ban talks.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Of the nuclear ban. It joined with the other nuclear powers, unfortunately. There are—there’s also the question of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. There are now three nuclear powers which have refused to ratify it: China, the United States and Israel. And if tests begin again, it’s an extremely serious danger. As I mentioned, it was when the first tests were carried out that the Doomsday Clock went to two minutes to midnight.
There’s the problem of the New START Treaty, a treaty—there has been inadequate, but significant, reduction in nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War. The New START Treaty is supposed to carry it forward. Russia and the United States have the overwhelming mass of the nuclear weapons. And this would cut down the number, but also the more threatening ones, would reduce it. Trump has indicated—I don’t know—nobody knows what he means, but he’s indicated that is what he calls a bad deal for the United States, suggesting maybe we should pull out of it, which would be a disaster. I mean, these are major issues. And the fact that they’re barely being discussed is a shattering commentary on the level of contemporary civilization.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Noam Chomsky, I wanted to ask you—those on the left are accustomed to looking at the American government basically as in the service of the capitalist class, the politicians. Occasionally, you had a Rockefeller or an actual member of the capitalist class who went into government. But now, with this Trump administration, it’s an extraordinary number of extremely wealthy people have actually moved directly into government. And yet you’re seeing this narrative that they are attracting support from the white working class of the country. Could you talk about this, the capitalists directly taking over the running of government?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, as you say, they’ve run it all the time. The simple measures, like campaign funding alone, simple measure like that, is a very close predictor, not only of electoral victory, but even of policies. That’s been true for a century. And if you take a look at the analysis of public attitude—a major topic in academic political science is comparing popular attitudes with public policy. It’s pretty straightforward. Public policy, you can see. Popular attitudes, we know a lot about from extensive polling. And the results are pretty startling. Turns out that about 70 percent of voters, which is maybe half the electorate—about 70 percent of voters are literally disenfranchised, the lower 70 percent on the income scale, meaning that their own representatives pay no attention to their—to their attitudes and preferences. If you move up the income scale, you get a little more correlation, more—a little more influence. The very top, which is probably a fraction of 1 percent, if you could get the data, it’s where policy is set. Now, the Trump administration is kind of a caricature of this. It’s always pretty much true. But here they’re—it’s as if they’re kind of purposely trying to flaunt the fact that this country is run by Goldman Sachs and billionaires, and nobody else counts.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Wilbur Ross, Betsy DeVos.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Right, all of them. I mean, it’s almost like a shocking parody, as if they’re trying to show, “Yeah, what we all know is true is dramatically true, and we’re going to show it to you.”
The interesting—an interesting question, the one you raise, is: How are they maintaining support among the people they’re kicking in the face? That’s not uninteresting. And if you look into it, there’s a number of factors. One—first of all, many of the Trump voters, white working-class voters, quite a few of them voted for Obama in 2008. You go back to the Obama campaign, the exciting words were “hope” and “change.” I don’t usually agree with Sarah Palin, but when she asked, “Where’s this hopey-changey stuff?” she wasn’t talking nonsense. It quickly became clear there’s no hope and there’s no change. And the working people were significantly disillusioned. You could see it right in Massachusetts, where—when Kennedy died, you know, the “liberal lion.” There was going to be a vote for—to replace him, 2010. Amazingly, a Republican won, in Democratic Massachusetts, Kennedy’s seat. And union voters didn’t vote for the Democrats. They were very upset by the fact that they had been cheated, they felt, rightly, by the Obama campaign of promises. And they turned to their bitter class enemy, who at least talks the words. The Republicans have mastered the technique of talking words as if you’re sort of an ordinary guy, you know, kind of guy you’d meet in a bar, that sort of thing. It goes back to Reagan and his jellybeans, and Bush, you know, mispronouncing words, and so on and so forth. It’s a game that’s played. And it’s a con game. But in the absence of any opposition, it works.
And what happens when there is an opposition? That’s very striking. The most astonishing fact about the last election, which is the Sanders achievements, that’s a break from a century of American political history. As I said, you can pretty well predict electoral outcomes simply by campaign funding alone. There’s other factors that intensify it. Here comes Sanders, somebody nobody ever heard of. No support from the wealthy, no support from corporations. The media ignored or disparaged him. He even used a scare word, “socialist.” Came from nowhere. He would have won the Democratic Party nomination if it hadn’t been for the shenanigans of the Obama-Clinton party managers who kept him out. Might have been president. From nothing. That’s an incredible break. It shows what can happen when policies are proposed that do meet the general, just concerns of much of the population.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think he could still win if he ran again?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, there was a Fox News poll, couple of days ago—Fox News—asking who’s the—trying to ask who’s your favorite political figure. Sanders was way ahead, far ahead of anybody else, with no vocal, articulate support among the concentrations of power—media, corporations, elsewhere. In fact, if you look at policy preferences, you see something similar. We already mentioned the health issue. That’s—and on issue after issue, much of the public that is actually voting for their bitter class enemy, if you look at the policies, actually favor social democratic policies, even environmental policies.
AMY GOODMAN: We’ve had hundreds of questions come in from every means to ask you. One of them is Ty Williams, who asks via Twitter about Trump exploiting fear. Ty asked, when you—”[Can] you please expand on your comments in AlterNet that Trump admin could stage attack? What historical parallel do you have in mind?”
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, actually, the statement I made was pretty muted. It wasn’t quite as strong as the headlines indicated. What I pointed out—and what everyone, I think, is aware of—is that sooner or later this con game is not going to work. People will understand he’s not bringing back jobs. He’s not going to recreate the partly illusory, partly real picture of what life was like in the past, with manufacturing jobs and a functioning society, and you could get ahead, and so on and so forth. He’s not going to create that.
What happens at that point? Something has to be done to maintain control. The obvious technique is scapegoating. So blame it on immigrants, on Muslims, on somebody. But that can only go so far. The next step would be, as I said, an alleged terrorist attack, which is quite easy. It’s, in fact, almost normal to—like Condoleezza Rice’s mushroom clouds. That’s easy to construct, alleged attacks. The other possibility is a staged attack of a minor kind. And how hard would that be? Take the FBI technique, which they’re using constantly, of creating situations of entrapment. Well, suppose one of them goes a little too far, that you don’t stop it right in time. That wouldn’t be hard to work out. I don’t particularly anticipate it, but it’s a possibility. And this is a very frightened country. For years, this has been probably the most frightened country in the world. It’s also the safest country in the world. It’s very easy to terrify people.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you another question that came in, from Melbourne, Australia, Aaron Bryla. He said, “Defense Secretary James Mattis this week described Iran as the greatest threat to the United States. My question: Why does the U.S. insist on setting the potential grounds for war with Iran?”
NOAM CHOMSKY: That’s been going on for years. Right through the Obama years, Iran was regarded as the greatest threat to world peace. And that’s repeated over and over. “All options are open,” Obama’s phrase, meaning, if we want to use nuclear weapons, we can, because of this terrible danger to peace.
Actually, we have—there’s a few interesting comments that should be made about this. One is, there also is something called world opinion. What does the world think is the greatest threat to world peace? Well, we know that, from U.S.-run polls, Gallup polls: United States. Nobody even close, far ahead of any other threat. Pakistan, second, much lower. Iran, hardly mentioned.
Why is Iran regarded here as the greatest threat to world peace? Well, we have an authoritative answer to that from the intelligence community, which provides regular assessments to Congress on the global strategic situation. And a couple of years ago, their report—of course, they always discuss Iran. And the reports are pretty consistent. They say Iran has very low military spending, even by the standards of the region, much lower than Saudi Arabia, Israel, others. Its strategy is defensive. They want to deter attacks long enough for diplomacy to be entertained. The conclusion, intelligence conclusion—this is a couple years ago—is: If they are developing nuclear weapons, which we don’t know, but if they are, it would be part of their deterrent strategy. Now, why is the United States and Israel even more so concerned about a deterrent? Who’s concerned about a deterrent? Those who want to use force. Those who want to be free to use force are deeply concerned about a potential deterrent. So, yes, Iran is the greatest threat to world peace, might deter our use of force.
AMY GOODMAN: Today is the 50th anniversary of Dr. King giving his “Beyond Vietnam” speech at Riverside Church, where he said the United States is “the greatest purveyor of violence on Earth.” Your thoughts today, as we wrap up, and if—in the last 30 seconds?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, that speech by King was very important, also other speeches he gave at the same time, which have, at the time, seriously harmed his reputation among liberal Northerners. He sharply condemned the war in Vietnam, which was the worst crime since the Second World War.
AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds.
NOAM CHOMSKY: The other thing he was doing was trying to create a poor people’s movement, a non-racially separated poor people’s movement.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: You were talking about Martin Luther King and the Poor People’s Campaign. I wanted to take a—ask you to talk about a section of your book, Requiem for the American Dream, where you talk about this famous Powell Memorandum that Justice Powell sent to the Chamber of Commerce and to others, major business groups, in 1971, where he said that business is losing control over the society and that something has to be done to counter these forces. Now, this is a Supreme Court justice issuing something like this. Could you talk about this effort by the business community basically to beat back the movement of the ’60s?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Actually, he was appointed Supreme Court justice a little bit after that. He was then a corporate lawyer, I think, working for tobacco firms or something. And he wrote an interesting memorandum. It went to the American Chamber of Commerce. It was supposed to be an internal memorandum, basically, to the business community. It leaked, and—as things usually do, and it’s quite interesting.
He didn’t actually say that business is losing control. What he said is, business is the—is being beaten down by the massive forces of the left, which have taken over everything, the—even mentioned the devils who are leading the campaign: Ralph Nader, with his consumer safety efforts, Herbert Marcuse, who’s mobilizing the students to carry out a revolution. And he says they’ve taken over the media, they’ve taken over the universities, they’re practically in control of the whole country. And meanwhile, the poor, embattled business community can barely survive under this incredible assault. It’s a very interesting picture. The rhetoric should be paid—you should pay attention to the rhetoric. It’s kind of like a spoiled 3-year-old who expects to have everything, and somebody takes a piece of candy away from him, and they have a tantrum. The world’s ending. That’s pretty much the picture. Of course, business was essentially running everything, but not totally. There was—there were democratizing tendencies in the '60s. The public became more engaged in public affairs and was considered a serious threat. So he calls on the business community to defend theirselves from this monstrous attack. And he says, “Look, after all, we're the ones who have the resources. We have the funds. You know, we’re the trustees of the universities. We should be able to protect ourselves from this assault that’s wiping out the American way, business and so on.” That’s the Powell Memorandum. And indeed, it—the lesson was understood, not just listening to him. There was a reaction to the activism of the '60s. The ’60s are often called “the time of troubles.” They were civilizing the country. That's extremely dangerous.
But no less interesting than the Powell Memorandum is another publication that came out from the opposite side of the mainstream political spectrum, the book called The Crisis of Democracy, published around the same time by the Trilateral Commission. That’s liberal internationalists from the three major capitalist centers—Europe, the United States and Japan. The political complexion of this group is illustrated by the fact that they almost entirely staffed the Carter administration. That’s where they’re coming from. The American rapporteur Samuel Huntington, professor at Harvard, the well-known liberal intellectual. What’s the crisis of democracy? Pretty much the same as the Powell Memorandum. They said there’s too much democracy. People who are usually passive and apathetic, the way they’re supposed to be, are pressing their demands in the public arena, and it’s too much for the state to accommodate. They didn’t mention one group: corporate interests. That’s the national interest. These are the special interests, and they called for more moderation and democracy. Now, they were particularly concerned with what they called—this is their phrase—”the institutions responsible for the indoctrination of the young”—universities, schools, churches. They’re supposed to be indoctrinating the young, and they’re not doing their job, as you can see from all these kids running around calling for women’s rights and ending the war and so on and so forth. So we have to have better indoctrination of the young. They were also concerned about the media. They said the media are becoming too adversarial. If you look at what was happening, that’s about as much of a joke as Powell. They said, if the media don’t control themselves and discipline themselves, maybe the state will have to move in and do something about it. This was the liberals. This is the liberal end of the spectrum.
You take these two publications side by side. They differ rhetorically. The Powell Memorandum is literally a tantrum. The Crisis of Democracy is big words, moderate, you know, intellectuals and so on. But the message is not that very different. It’s saying we—that democracy is simply a threat. The population has to be restored to passivity, then everything will be fine. In fact, Huntington, the American rapporteur, says, kind of nostalgically, that Truman had been able to run the country with the cooperation of a few corporate executives and Wall Street lawyers. That was the good old days, when democracy was functioning. You didn’t have all these demands and so on. And remember, this is the liberal end of the spectrum. Then you get the Powell Memorandum, which is the harsher end and rhetorically, literally, kind of like a tantrum.
It’s within that framework of thinking—which they didn’t initiate, they articulated—that you get the neoliberal reaction of the past generation, which, on every front, including education, economy, undermining of the functioning of political democracy—all the factors that have led to the disillusionment and anger of the people who end up being Trump voters, voting for their class enemy. It’s worth remembering that these people have just concerns, very serious concerns. It’s revealed by some pretty remarkable recent revelations. You’ve seen them, probably reported on the quite remarkable fact that mortality is increasing among middle-class, lower-middle-class, working-class white Americans, middle-aged white Americans. That’s something unknown in developed societies. Mortality keeps declining. Here it’s increasing. And the roots of it are what are called diseases of despair. People don’t have hope for the future—and for pretty good reasons, if you look at the facts of the matter. Real male wages today are pretty much at the level of the '60s. In 2007, at the time when there was a good deal of euphoria about the economy, how wonderful it's doing, great moderation and so on, economists praising Alan Greenspan as the greatest figure since Moses or something—”Saint Alan,” he was called—right at the peak of euphoria, right before the crash, real wages for American workers were lower than they were in 1979, when the neoliberal experiments were just beginning. These affect people’s lives seriously. They’re not starving. These are not the poorest people. You know, they’re kind of surviving, but without the hope for—without a sense of dignity, of worth, of hope for the future, of some meaning in your life, and so on. So they’re reacting in often very self-destructive ways.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam, I wanted to ask you about the Middle East, this latest news we have out of Idlib, a rebel-held area, that, according to reports, has been hit by some kind of gas attack, chemical attack, 11 children under the age of eight killed, scores of other people, hundreds wounded. This is in northwest Syria. Can you comment on what has taken place? The U.S., the—Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, the U.N.—the U.S. secretary—the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, saying on Friday the U.S. is changing its position: While it thinks the people don’t want Assad, it’s not going to try to get Assad out. And then you have this attack. What are your thoughts on Syria, Russia, the United States?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Syria is a horrible catastrophe. The Assad regime is a moral disgrace. They’re carrying out horrendous acts, the Russians with them.
AMY GOODMAN: Why the Russians with them?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, pretty simple reason: Syria is their one ally in the whole region. Not a close ally, but they do have—their one Mediterranean base is in Syria. It’s the one country that’s more or less cooperated with them. And they don’t want to lose their one ally. It’s very ugly, but that’s what’s happening.
Meanwhile, there have been—it’s kind of like the North Korean case we were discussing. There have been possible opportunities to terminate the horrors. In 2012, there was an initiative from the Russians, which was not pursued, so we don’t know how serious it was, but it was a proposal to—for a negotiated settlement, in which Assad would be phased out, not immediately. You know, you can’t tell them, “We’re going to murder you. Please negotiate.” That’s not going to work. But some system in which, in the course of negotiations, he would be removed, and some kind of settlement would be made. The West would not accept it, not just the United States. France, England, the United States simply refused to even consider it. At the time, they believed they could overthrow Assad, so they didn’t want to do this, so the war went on. Could it have worked? You never know for sure. But it could have been pursued. Meanwhile, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are supporting jihadi groups, which are not all that different from ISIS. So you have a horror story on all sides. The Syrian people are being decimated.
AMY GOODMAN: And the U.S. now sending 400 more troops to Syria. But if the U.S. has a better relationship with Russia, could that change everything?
NOAM CHOMSKY: It could lead to some kind of accommodation in which a negotiated diplomatic settlement would be implemented, which would by no means be lovely, but it would at least cut down the level of violence, which is critical, because the country is simply being destroyed. It’s descending to suicide.
AMY GOODMAN: President Trump met with Sisi on Monday, meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan on Wednesday at the White House, saying they’re not raising the issue of human rights anymore. Your thoughts on this, and then also, of course, Israel-Palestine?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, raising the issue of human rights is—it means something, but not very much, because—take, say, Saudi Arabia, one of the worst human rights violators in the world. It’s our darling. You know, they pour weapons in. Obama sold them more weapons than, I think, any predecessor. Sisi is particularly disgraceful. His dictatorship has driven Egypt into some of its worst days. The United States kind of supported him, but not openly and vigorously the way Trump is doing. Trump is—it’s a little bit like what you said about the Cabinet. It’s kind of like a parody of what goes on all the time. Usual thing is to support brutal dictators, but not with enthusiasm, and with some tapping on the wrist, saying, “Look, what you’re doing is not very nice,” and so on. Here, it’s saying, “You’re great. We love you. You know, go ahead and torture and murder people.” That’s—it’s a terrible blow to the people of Egypt. But Jordan is sort of a mixed story. But these steps are very regressive.
With regard to Israel-Palestine, actually, Trump has pulled back from his original position. But his original position that—he and his administration—was that there’s nothing wrong with the settlements. They’re not an obstacle to peace. If you look at the way the settlements have been treated over the years—of course, they’re totally illegal. They’re destroying any hope for Palestinian rights. There’s a systematic Israeli program, very systematic. It’s been going on since 1967. It’s to try to quietly take over every part of the West Bank that is of any value to them, while excluding the areas of Palestinian population concentration. So they’re not going to take over Nablus or Tulkarm, but take over everything that’s of significance and value, leave dozens, maybe even hundreds, of isolated enclaves and Palestinian population concentrations, which can kind of rot on the vine. Maybe the people will leave. Whatever happens, we don’t care. That’s been going on consistently. Now, if you go back to about 1980, the U.S. joined the world not only in calling them illegal, but in demanding that they be dismantled. Go back to the U.N. Security Council resolutions, I think 465, approximately. So, you have to dismantle the illegal settlements. That has been weakened over the years. So, under Reagan, they stop—
AMY GOODMAN: Now you have David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, who’s been approved—right?—who raised money for the settlements. And you have Jared Kushner in charge of the policy.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah, it’s been step by step. Reagan weakened it. Clinton weakened it. Obama cut it back to not help—obstacles to peace. Trump, it’s not helpful to peace. Meanwhile, we fund—Jared—the Kushner Foundation and, of course, this new ambassador are strong supporters of the ultra-right far right, way to the right of Netanyahu. The Beit El, the community that they’re pouring their money into, is run by an Orthodox rabbi whose position is that the army shouldn’t follow orders, has to follow the rabbi’s orders. This is way at the right end of the Israeli spectrum. Originally, they said they were going to move the embassy to Jerusalem. They’re kind of backing off on that. At first, their position was there’s nothing wrong with settlements. Now there’s a mild “they’re not helpful to peace.” But, meanwhile, the U.S. continues to pour money and support into fulfilling this project of constructing a Greater Israel.
I should say that the general discussions about this, I think, are extremely misleading. What’s said on all sides, actually—Israel, Palestinians, international commentary—is that there are two options: either a two-state settlement, in accord with the long-standing international consensus, or else one state, which would be an apartheid state, in which Palestinians wouldn’t have rights, and you could have an anti-apartheid struggle, and Israel would face what’s called the demographic problem—too many non-Jews in a Jewish state. But those are not the two options.
There’s a third option, the one that is actually being implemented—namely, construction of a Greater Israel, which will not have a demographic problem, because they’re excluding the areas of dense Palestinian population, and they’re removing Palestinians slowly from the areas they expect to take over. So you’ll get a—what’s called Jerusalem as maybe five times as big as it ever has been, goes all the way into the West Bank. There are corridors going to the east, which break up the remaining territory, one to Ma’ale Adumim, a town which was built mostly during the Clinton years, which pretty much bifurcates the West Bank. There’s others to the north. The so-called Area C, where Israel has total control, about 60 percent of the West Bank, is slowly being incorporated into Israel with big infrastructure programs and so on. And this program is just taking place right before our eyes. The United States is providing diplomatic, economic and military support for it. It will leave the Palestinians with essentially nothing. There will be a Greater Israel, which will have—which will not face the dread demographic problem.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’d like to, if we can, shift focus to another part of the world. I wanted to ask you about Latin America. We had a period, for about 10 years, of enormous social progress in Latin America—all these socially minded governments, reduction of income inequality, the only part of the world where there are no nuclear weapons. And yet, now we’ve seen, in the last few years, real steps backwards. Quite a few of the popular governments, with the exception of Ecuador, recently have been thrown out of office, and a deepening crisis in Venezuela. Your sense of what has happened, in that, after so much promise, all of a sudden it seems that the region is going backward?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, there were—there were real achievements. But the left governments failed to use the opportunity available to them to try to create sustainable, viable economies. Almost every one—Venezuela, Brazil, others, Argentina—relied on the rise in commodity prices, which is a temporary phenomenon. Commodity prices did rise, mainly because of the growth of China. So there was a rise in the oil price, of soy, and so on and so forth. And instead of trying to develop a sustainable economy with manufacturing, agriculture and so on—like Venezuela is potentially a rich agricultural country, but they didn’t develop it—they simply relied on the commodity—raw materials commodities they could export. That’s a very harmful—it’s not only not a successful, it’s a harmful development model, because when you export grain to China, let’s say, they export manufacturing goods to you, and that undermines your manufacturing industries. And that’s pretty much what’s been happening.
On top of that, there was just enormous corruption. It’s just—it’s painful to see the Workers’ Party in Brazil, which did carry out significant measures, just—they just couldn’t keep their hands out of the till. They joined the extremely corrupt elite, which is robbing all the time, and took part in it, as well, and discredited themselves. And there’s a reaction. I don’t think the game is over by any means. There were real successes achieved, and I think a lot of those will be sustained. But there is a regression. They’ll have to pick up again with, one hopes, more honest forces that won’t be—that will, first of all, recognize the need to develop the economy in a way which has a solid foundation, not just based on raw material exports, and, secondly, honest enough to carry out decent programs without robbing the public at the same time.
AMY GOODMAN: What about Venezuela?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Venezuela is really a disaster situation. The economy relies on oil as to a great—probably a greater extent than ever in the past, certainly very high. And the corruption, the robbery and so on, has been extreme, under the—especially after Chávez’s death. So, it’s a—I mean, if you look at it, it still has—if you look at, say, the U.N. Human Development Index, Venezuela still ranks, say, above Brazil. So it’s the—there are hopes and possibilities for reconstruction and development. But the promise of the earlier years has been significantly lost.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, your first article, you wrote when? In February of 19—was it 39? How old were you?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Ten.
AMY GOODMAN: Ten years old. So I want to go back to this first article. It was on the fall of—
NOAM CHOMSKY: First one I remember. There maybe have been others.
AMY GOODMAN: The fall of Barcelona to Franco.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: So you were talking about fascism and fascist forces.
NOAM CHOMSKY: [inaudible] fascism. I remember—I’m sure it was not a very memorable article. I hope it’s been destroyed. But—
AMY GOODMAN: Do you see—
NOAM CHOMSKY: But if I remember, the part of it—it began by concern about the apparently inexorable spread of fascism—Austria, Czechoslovakia, Toledo in Spain, Barcelona, which was quite significant. That’s the end of the Spanish Revolution. That took place in February 1939. And it looked like it was just going to go on. It was very frightening at the time.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think it’s accurate to use the word “fascism” or talk about the rise of fascism in the United States?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, you know, “fascism” has become a kind of a scare word. But many of the aspects of fascism are not far below the surface. You go back to, say, the 1940s. Robert Brady, great political economist, Veblenite political economist, wrote a book called Business as a System of Power, in which he argued that in all of the state capitalist economies—so-called capitalist economies, really state capitalist—there were developments towards some of the institutional structures of fascism. He was not thinking of concentration camps and crematoria, just the nature of the institutional structures. And that was not entirely false. Could you move towards what Bertram Gross, around 1980, called “friendly fascism”? So, fascist-type structures without the crematoria, which is not a core, necessary part of fascism. It could happen.
We should recall that through the 1930s the fascist regimes had pretty favorable attitudes towards them in the West. Mussolini was called, by Roosevelt, “that admirable Italian gentleman,” and who was maybe misled by Hitler. In 1932, one of the main business magazines—I think Forbes—had an article with the headline—front-page story where the headline was “The wops are unwopping themselves.” Finally the Italians are getting their act together under Mussolini. The trains were running on time, that sort of thing. The business community was quite supportive. As late as the late 1930s, the U.S. State Department was—can’t actually say “supporting” Hitler, but saying we ought to tolerate Hitler, because he’s a moderate standing between the extremes of right and left. We’ve heard that before. He’s destroying the labor movement, which is a good thing; getting rid of the communists, the socialists, fine. There’s right-wing elements, ultranationalist elements at the other extreme. He’s kind of controlling them. So we should have a kind of a tolerant attitude toward him. Actually, the most interesting case is George Kennan, great, revered diplomat. He was the American consul in Berlin. And as late as 1941, he was still writing pretty favorable comments about Hitler, saying you shouldn’t be too severe, there are some good things there. We associate fascism now with the real horror stories of the Holocaust and so on. But that’s not the way fascism was regarded. It was even more strongly supported by the British business community. They could do business with them. There was a—largely business-run regimes, which were—there was a lot of support in Germany, because of the—it did create something like full employment through indebtedness and military spending, and it was winning victories.
Could we move in that direction? It’s been recognized. You can read it right now in mainstream journals, asking, “Will the—will the elements of Gross’s friendly fascism be instituted in a country like the United States?” And it’s not new. Maybe 10 years ago, there was an interesting article in Foreign Affairs, main establishment journal, by Fritz Stern, one of the major German historians of Germany. It was called “Descent into Barbarism.” And he was discussing the way Germany deteriorated from what was, in fact, maybe the peak of Western civilization in the 1920s into the utter depths of history 10 years later. And his article was written with an eye on the United States. This was the Bush administration, not today. He was saying—he didn’t say we’re—Bush is Hitler, wasn’t saying that. But he was saying there were signs that we should pay attention to. He said, “I sometimes have concern for the country that rescued me from fascism, when I see what’s happening.”
AMY GOODMAN: And do you see the—Donald Trump’s attack on the press as part of that trend toward fascism, his calling the press the enemy of the people?
NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s dangerous, but Nixon did the same thing. You remember the—Agnew and so on. Yes, it’s dangerous, but I think it’s well short of what we regard as fascism. But it’s not to be dismissed. And I think we can easily see how a—if there had been a charismatic figure in the United States who could mobilize fears, anger, racism, a sense of loss of the future that belongs to us, this country could be in real danger. We’re lucky that there never has been an honest, charismatic figure. McCarthy was too much of a thug, you know? Nixon was too crooked. Trump, I think, is too much of a clown. So, we’ve been lucky. But we’re not going to be lucky forever necessarily.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Noam Chomsky, we want to thank you so much for being with us. We’re going to let you fly out now, as you head off to the airport. I’ll see you on April 24th at the First Parish church in Cambridge. Noam Chomsky, world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author, institute professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he has taught for more than 50 years. His latest book—he’s written over a hundred—comes out today, Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power.