The journalist and author discusses her latest book, No is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need. Part 1 of 2.
Journalist and Author Naomi Klein – Part 1 of 2
Tavis Smiley: Good evening from Los Angeles. I’m Tavis Smiley.
Tonight, a conversation with journalist and activist, Naomi Klein. Since the election of Donald Trump, the world has seen various forms of resistance to this presidency. Klein has been following the anti-Trump movement and has laid out a concrete plan for resisting his politics and winning the world we need in her new book, “No is Not Enough”.
We’re glad you’ve joined us. A conversation with Naomi Klein coming up in just a moment.
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Tavis: So pleased to welcome Naomi Klein back to this program. The bestselling author and activist is out with a new book called “No is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need”. Naomi, good to have you back on this program.
Naomi Klein: Great to be with you, Tavis.
Tavis: Good to see you. You regard Trump’s election in November not as a peaceful transition of power, but as a corporate takeover. Unpack that for me.
Klein: Well, look, he ran in this campaign promising to be the savior of the white working class, promising to take on Wall Street, said he was so rich he didn’t need anybody’s money. He attacked his rivals in the Republican Party and Hillary Clinton for being in the pocket of Goldman Sachs. He was going to drain the swamp, take the lobbyists out, and what has he done?
Five Goldman Sachs executives in his Cabinet, which is incredible. He’s not the first president to spin that revolving door, but never to this degree, and appointed the CEO of Exxon to be his Secretary of State. You know, there’s so many shocking events in the Trump presidency, we can forget just how shocking that is.
The largest private oil company, accompany that with under investigation by three States Attorneys General in the United States for knowing about climate change, doing its research into climate change and then deceiving the public, deceiving their shareholders, and on and on.
There are many examples of this where it’s just almost like they cut out the middle man. You know, the mask is off and it’s just kind of like that idea if you want something done right, do it yourself.
And that’s sort of what’s happening with Trump’s Cabinet of millionaires and billionaires and they’re pushing through the wish list, or they’re trying to, on tax policy, health policy, this transfer of wealth systematic from lower and middle income people to the 1% of the 1%.
Tavis: I was just about to ask this question. I think you’re starting to go there now, so let me ask anyway. It’s one thing to define a corporate takeover by the personnel that one chooses. That can be different than the policies they advance.
Just because one set of personnel doesn’t mean they have to advance a certain set of policies, but I hear you starting to make the argument that this personnel group is advancing policies that you would expect in a corporate takeover.
Klein: Once again, very different from how Trump campaigned because he did promise to renegotiate trade deals in the interest of workers, and now it turns out that his idea for renegotiating NAFTA is to make it even better for corporations and worse for workers. He promised to protect peoples’ healthcare, their Social Security.
He’s attacking it and, frankly, I don’t think we’ve seen the worst because if they get their tax cuts through, then they’re going to create a budget crisis, right? They’re going to run out of money and then that will become the pretext for going after Social Security, I think, an even more radical agenda.
Tavis: Let me detour and I’ll come back to the text in a second. What do you make of the fact that, given that everything you’ve just laid out now is true, by that I mean that he is in fact governing somewhat differently than he campaigned, and not just governing differently than he campaigned, but he’s governing in a way that’s going to hurt the people ultimately who he said he wanted to help?
Yet every poll, every survey, every study that I read continues to underscore the fact that none of those persons as yet with any significance has turned against Donald Trump. I see this all the time and I’m kind of baffled by the fact that, again, somebody can get in office and do a 180.
You fully expect that at some point the people you’ve turned against will turn against you, but there are no signs of that right now. That base that got behind him, those persons who supported him, have not as yet turned against him. How do you read that? What do you make of that?
Klein: So I think there’s a couple of things going on. One is that Trump’s relationship with his base is not the traditional relationship of a politician and the people who elected him, and the constituency, which is a relationship of some accountability, right? The idea is that the politicians are working for the people. They’re public servants.
Trump did not enter politics playing by those rules. He entered politics playing by the rules of celebrity and the rules of branding. And the rules of branding are you have to stay true to your brand and Trump’s brand is impunity through wealth, living the dream.
This is what he has been selling on the “The Apprentice”, through his self-help books, how to — you know, “Trump 101” or the “Art of the Deal” or really back to “Art of the Deal”. So almost the more he gets away with, the more he is reinforcing his brand.
But the other issue, I think, is that he is vulnerable on these economic questions, but it’s receiving really scant coverage. If you turn on cable news, most of what you will hear about is, you know, Russia — and I’m not saying it shouldn’t be covered. Of course, it should be covered. Of course, it should be investigated.
You’ll hear about a Tweet, you’ll hear about a gasp on the international world stage, but you will not see that kind of probing investigation applied to these economic appointments or his economic policies on the whole. You won’t hear it either from the leadership in the Democratic Party or the experts on many of the news networks.
So I don’t think his base fully understands what he has done and the reinforcing of the Russian narrative at the exclusion of everything else, I think makes people who voted for Trump who identify with his brand, who have this relationship of celebrity with him, it makes them feel under attack, right?
Because it’s kind of like they’re Team Trump and then there is Team Democrats who are attacking their team and they’re protected against it.
And Trump is constantly reinforcing this with, you know, the memes he sends out pounding CNN and all of this. It’s one team against another team and, if you’re not also peeling back what his economic project is, how he has betrayed the promises and also offering solutions — this is where the Democrats come in.
It’s not about media. This is a job of the Democrats to say, okay, well, this is how we really create jobs and this is how we really build a fair economy and have a plan for that, then I think they will stay loyal to him.
Tavis: You’ve said a lot just now and let me tell you part…
Klein: Probably too much.
Tavis: No, no, never too much out of your mouth. I appreciate having you here. But let me tell you a particular piece of what I heard you say and I’m just curious whether or not you intended to say it. What I heard you say in that response is that the media wittingly were complicit in helping him get elected by giving him all that free media coverage.
Bernie couldn’t get that, so they were wittingly complicit in helping him get elected. And now they may very well be unwittingly complicit in helping him stay there. Because what I heard you say was that the media is not covering stuff that they ought to be covering in the way that they ought to be covering it.
So if they’re not getting at the truth and disseminating that truth to his base and all the rest of us, for that matter, they may be unwittingly complicit in helping him stay there. Did I hear you correctly?
Klein: Well, you know way more about TV than I do. But it seems to me that there’s almost an addiction to Trump particularly in television news. Ratings have never been this high. So I think there is a kind of continuum from what we saw in the campaign trail where it was just the same thing. I mean, ratings were just boffo. You’d have the locked camera on an empty podium just waiting for Trump.
Tavis: Waiting for him, sure, sure.
Klein: And then after the election, all of this sort of handwringing, yeah, maybe we did give him too much attention. We didn’t really think he’d win and that was wrong. And now, though, I don’t think the lessons have been learned because there is still this addiction.
And I’ve talked to friends who work in TV news and they say, “Well, what are we supposed to do? Obviously, we have to cover it when Comey gets fired and…
Tavis: Not to cut you off, Naomi, but I’m going deeper than the addiction. We agree on that. I’m going a little deeper than that. The addiction is one thing, which we’ll come back to and I’m happy to talk about that. What I’m talking about is the point that you made which I think is even more salient, which is that the media in their addiction to him is still covering the wrong stuff…
Klein: They’re helping him.
Tavis: I ain’t got a problem with you being addicted. That’s what I mean by being complicit. I ain’t got a problem if you want to — he’s the president. I ain’t got a problem with you covering him 24/7. That’s your job to your friends in the media who offer that as a defense. I get that.
But the question is, what are you covering and how are you covering it and what are you uncovering, quite frankly? And if you’re not doing that in an effort to get at the truth, then all these persons who are being duped by this guy will never know they’re being duped, to your point…
Klein: Well, how are they supposed to know?
Tavis: That’s precisely my point.
Klein: Yeah. It takes work. You’ve got to unpack it. It takes time. You know, you can’t just turn away. I call it the Trump — Trump called it the Trump Show actually in the 80s when he was creating his celebrity by turning his extramarital affair into a live action soap opera, right? The affair with Marla Maples.
He said the show is Trump and it sold out everywhere, right? He’s always understood the power of distraction, right? Now we’ve got the Trump Show and Trump is directing some of it and he’s not directing some of it.
Some of it is being imposed on him and being directed by others, but all of it is this sort of reality TV show. You know, who’s going to be voted out of the administration next? Comey, maybe Mueller, maybe Steve Bannon. Maybe Trump himself will be voted out through impeachment, right?
So this is — you know, you can’t compete with that. That’s the argument is that this is so dramatic that how could we possibly spend 10 minutes really unpacking the influence of Goldman Sachs on the administration and what his tax policy is going to mean to peoples’ daily lives?
That requires education. You know, that’s not something that you can just do very easily just with punditry. It really does require digging in and that wasn’t done during the election in terms of explaining the stakes of policy and it is still not being done and it s all helping Trump. Because so long as it’s a reality TV show, Trump knows that game. He knows it better than anybody else.
Tavis: And that’s what I meant when I said, you know, being wittingly complicit or, in this instance, unwittingly complicit. You don’t like the guy, so you tell us. And yet the way you cover him by not getting at the truth is going to help the guy stick around a little bit longer because, again, you’re not uncovering what you ought to be focusing on, which raises two questions. Let me ask both and shut up and let you respond. I’ll violate my own rule to ask two questions at once.
One is — and I asked this question to some friends in a conversation the other day somewhat rhetorically, but not really, but I want to ask you seriously now on this program, which is how the media can get away with dissing the president and disseminating the Tweets at the same time. I don’t know how you do both of those.
My point is, you can’t act like you’re mad at this guy for calling you fake news 24/7 and you’re acting like you’re really upset with this guy for dissing you, but you keep disseminating the Tweets. How do you diss and disseminate at the same time? And the second thing is, is the media really that upset with Trump?
I mean, again, they act like they’re really upset with this guy for dissing them and calling them names, etc., etc. and going after Joe and Mika and going after CNN. We’re all so upset with the president going after the media. Are they really that upset, to your point, if they keep covering him and if their ratings stay up, how mad are they really?
Klein: I think this is a really reciprocal relationship. And I think that, look, I mean, this idea that they are standing up for the truth in the face of this president who’s attacking the press, well, then show us, you know. Let’s really dig into some truth here and see some really powerful investigative reporting.
And this is why it matters. I think, honestly, we are seeing the fallout from treating news as a commercial business. Because if it is a commercial business — and it is, you know…
Tavis: It is.
Klein: Then they’re following their business imperative. They’re following the ratings because — and we’re all complicit in this, right? Everybody who turns it on, who feeds this addiction, who clicks on that click bait instead of maybe a little bit of a less sexy story like the implications of Trump pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, we’re all part of this.
And we need to send feedback through our viewing and reading habits that show that we actually do care about this. But I do think that the greater responsibility lies with the media, but the real issue in terms of whether the media is pro-Trump or anti-Trump, one of the major issues is that the leadership in the Democratic Party is fueling this.
Like if they wanted to turn the focus to the economic betrayals, say, and some of the polling really shows that when you put to Trump voters these basic facts about how many Goldman Sachs executives he’s appointed, they really don’t like it, right? Well, why aren’t the Democrats making more hay out of this?
Well, maybe that has something to do with their own proximity to Wall Street and an unwillingness to really seize back some of the economic populist ground and build a genuinely multiracial coalition around a promise of redistributing some of the wealth that is so stuck at the top and using it to pay for universal healthcare and upping the minimum wage and these things that will really be resonant?
Tavis: I suspect if Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and others were here, Steny Hoyer and others, they might be saying, “Well, Naomi and Tavis, we agree with you all, but if the media doesn’t cover the agenda that we’re trying to advance because they are stuck covering the Trump Show, then how do we get our message out anyway?
We don’t own these networks. We’re just politicians. We’re just elected officials. So if the media doesn’t cover our stuff, how do we get it out?” So I suspect that might be their pushback. Having said that, let me go back to the point you raised, which is how the Democrats would do that even if they had media support.
How would the Democrats get that message out? How could they do that truthfully when they were behind a candidate who was giving speeches to Goldman Sachs, etc., etc., making a bunch of money? So I hear your point and I think you’re right about that, but how do you with a straight face advance that agenda now when the person you were behind was taking the same money?
Klein: Well, I think that this is about what the next step is, you know.
Klein: And getting ready and this is why, you know, I called it “No is Not Enough” because it isn’t enough to just expose Trump as a fraud, as a hypocrite, whatever it is. That’s part of it, but the other part of it is making an offer that says this is the real thing. This is how we address the urgent needs that Trump was tapping into for jobs, right?
Tavis: But that’s the Bernie Sanders agenda which they rejected. They didn’t want Bernie as their nominee.
Klein: They did. They did reject it last time, yeah.
Tavis: Yeah. So that’s my question. So how now — you see what I’m getting at, right?
Klein: Luckily, it’s not only up to them. There are voters who get to intervene at a certain point. I just came back from a week in the U.K. Spent some time with Jeremy Corbyn and people around him. They’ve just come out of this election cycle where they didn’t win the election, but they won a historic number of seats and they did much, much better than was expected.
The whole idea of calling this snap election in the U.K. was to wipe out Jeremy Corbyn. What turned it around for him was putting forward a manifesto, as they call it in the U.K., that did that, that put workers front and center, major investments in the universal public healthcare system that has been starved, better wages, taking climate change seriously, welcoming refugees, ending wars.
Really a transformative agenda that spoke to peoples’ better selves, and it turned out that you can lead with ideas, but you do need a trusted messenger. Not anybody can carry that message.
Tavis: Now you’re hitting the nail on the head. You need a trusted messenger. And, again, this is not about Bernie Sanders per se, but it is unapologetically about the agenda that Bernie laid out. How do Democrats now with the same leadership, how do they make that pivot? How do you pivot?
Klein: Well, you know, I don’t know if they will. I mean, this is what’s so heartbreaking and I think it is interesting that Jeremy Corbyn had to fight a fierce battle within his own party, including resisting attempts to overthrow him as leader, right? People fight for this to protect this model because it’s a very profitable model.
You know, this brings us to campaign finance and the fact that one of the reasons why Democrats are so close to these corporate interests that get in the way of putting forward a transformative agenda whether it’s on healthcare, on infrastructure is because they are too close to the corporations that benefit from this very flawed model.
So we are talking about transformation. We’re talking about how elections are paid for in this country as well.
Tavis: So I believe at some point — this is unpopular to say, but I believe at some point this intraparty fight inside the Democratic Party is going to have to happen. If it doesn’t happen, the Democratic Party is doomed because you’re right.
At the end of the day, what you’re going to have to have is a trusted messenger. And this is the difficult question. The Democratic Party as an institution has not as yet decided that they need new leadership.
Klein: No. They still think that they just need Hillary without the baggage.
Tavis: Precisely. So the question is, if the Democratic Party never gets around to having that real intraparty fight and even when they have it — I love Tom Perez. Tom Perez comes out on top, not Keith Ellison. So if that fight is never really had in earnest, what hope does the Democratic Party have?
Because I’m going to wreck it right now as saying that, if people think that Trump is going — if you think the answer is Trump imploding, you’re stuck on stupid. You’re going to have to have a new messenger. It’s going to have to be a trusted messenger.
But if the party never has that sort of come to Jesus meeting and decides it’s time to change leadership and goes in search of that trusted leader, I got bad news for you come the next presidential election. I’m not sure that this guy’s going to be a one-term president if you’re not willing to have that fight and go a different way.
Klein: And it’s incredibly dangerous to go all in on this one impeachment narrative, right? Because what if you’re wrong?
Klein: And also, the two things are related, right? Because the Republicans are never going to turn on Trump so long as he still has his base, and he will continue to have his base so long as this idea that he is standing up for workers, it remains intact. And the only way that that gets eroded is if it isn’t just about Russia all the time, but is also about those economic betrayals.
But not just the no. It also has to be “and we have the real plan.” And you’re not going to get all of Trump’s voters, right? But you get some of them and, what’s more importantly, activate and energize people who didn’t vote.
The staggering numbers of people, 90 million eligible voters in this country, decided not to vote. That’s who we have to be focusing on much less about just peeling away Trump voters.
Tavis: So you said Republicans are not going to turn on Trump. There is one argument I want to just get your theory on. There is one argument where one could see the Republicans, maybe not en masse, but certainly a significant number, starting to turn on him.
There have been a number of articles of late and I’ve been reading about this. That is this notion that Trump, being true to his brand, as you said earlier, and given who he was in New York City, may start to do a few things here or there to placate the Democrats to tone down the hatred against him just a little bit because it is about brand Trump.
But he might be doing some things to placate Democrats that might upset Republicans and thereby end up getting some pushback from his own party.
Klein: He might.
Klein: He might, and then, what? We end up with Pence [laugh]? I mean, I agree with you that we cannot take for granted that he’s one term, but we also can’t take for granted that they can’t recover from losing Trump, you know.
Yeah, so I think it’s an extremely reckless plan to just focus on this idea that either the Republicans would turn on him or that the public would be so horrified by whatever is coming out that they are going to vote for Democrats so that they impeach Donald Trump as opposed to because they represent a vision for the economy that meets peoples’ most urgent daily needs.
Tavis: So I’m going to ask you — I got two minutes left. I’m going to ask you to stick around a few minutes longer. We can do a little bit more of this tomorrow night and talk about what the agenda is. We’ve been spending — we spent this conversation talking about the what-ifs. Now I want to talk tomorrow night about what the agenda is. If no is not enough, then what is the agenda? We’ll talk about that tomorrow night.
Before I let you go now, though, let me close with this question, I think, which is what is your greatest fear or what are your greatest fears of what is to come, given the corporate takeover that we’ve seen from the White House? What are your greatest fears? I mean, just go all out for me.
Klein: Right. Well, Tavis, I sort of always feel like when I’m giving speeches that we should end on a note of hope, but you’re messing with that a little bit here [laugh].
Tavis: We got tomorrow night. You can bring the hope tomorrow night. Let’s close with some fear tonight and we’ll go to hope tomorrow night.
Klein: You know, 10 years ago, I wrote a book called “The Shock Doctrine”…
Klein: And it’s about how in times of national crises, that is when we have seen a very radical regressive agenda get pushed through. Saw it after 9/11, saw it after Hurricane Katrina when the school system was privatized while people weren’t even there to be able to protect their schools. Parents and teachers and students scattered across the country. We’ve seen it after wars, we’ve seen it in the midst of economic crises.
It’s what I call the shock doctrine. What scares me most is an external shock. So not the shocks that Trump is generating every minute with his Tweets, but a shock that comes at this country whether it is a terrorist attack, whether it is a financial meltdown.
These are events that this administration is making more likely, not in some grand conspiracy, but just through their recklessness, right? Deregulate the financial markets, he makes a market crash like 2008 more likely. Antagonize the world, you make a terrorist attack more likely.
And what terrifies me is when I look at the people who he’s surrounded himself with. Mike Pence, who is at the heart of that reengineering of New Orleans after Katrina. Steve Bannon. I could go on and on.
And also the Goldman Sachs guys, right, who were so good at profiting from the 2008 crisis. There is what I call in the book a toxic to-do list and these are policies that are much more radical than anything they’ve tried to introduce yet.
And what I would worry about particularly in the wake of a major security crisis, using that to say, well, protests are banned, it’s a state of emergency, war on protests, and just ramming through that agenda in that state of crisis. That’s what scares me most and I really want to prepare people for that.
Tavis: Okay. I can still tell you to keep the faith [laugh].
Klein: You asked! [laugh]
Tavis: I asked and I can still tell you to keep the faith as I do every night. Because tomorrow night, we’ll get to the hope. There’s always hope. I’m not an optimist, but I am eternally a prisoner of hope. And tomorrow night, we’ll talk about what that hope is all about as we focus more on the agenda since no is not enough to resist Trump’s shock politics and win the world that we need.
We’ll continue this tomorrow night with bestselling author, Naomi Klein. Until then, thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.
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