Basically the instant after Donald Trump issued his intent to backpedal out of the Paris climate accord, salvation emerged in the likeliest of places. Mega-billionaire and former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg barely missed a beat, offering to personally foot the $15-million bill accounting for the U.S.’s financial commitment to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
It’s the sort of widely publicized, good Samaritan selflessness that wealthy benefactors such as Bloomberg excel at. And, on paper, it seems to address the climate calamity Trump is inviting in ducking out of the Paris agreement. Where the state fails, private capital succeeds – like a smiling, self-sufficient firefighter saving a cat that has been marooned in a tall tree by some feckless government bureaucrat.
And yet Bloomberg’s ostensible do-goodery suggests an emerging future of billionaire versus billionaire, vying for the hearts and minds of the American people, and the fate of the planet itself. It’s like a scene out of one of those old Japanese monster movies: two towering behemoths clobbering each other with pointy-edged briefcases full of money, while way down below, normal, everyday people dash around in a blind panic, watching helplessly as their homes, places of business and their very livelihoods are pitilessly stomped on.
Author and activist Naomi Klein disparages the Bloombergian “billionaire-as-saviour complex” midway through No Is Not Enough, her new, pamphlet-sized (by the standards of Klein’s previous tomes, anyway) analysis of the early days of the Trump administration. “Elite liberals have been looking to the billionaire class to solve the problems we used to address with collective action and a strong public sector,” she writes. “Trump’s assertion that he knows how to fix America because he’s rich is nothing more than an uncouth, vulgar echo of a dangerous idea we have been hearing for years: that Bill Gates can fix Africa. Or that Richard Branson and Michael Bloomberg can solve climate change.”
Klein has no use for such champions: the philanthrocapitalists, the Davos Class, the green messiahs (a term she deployed in her previous book, This Changes Everything). Her focus in No Is Not Enough remains the vociferous advocacy for grassroots, popular political movements that can meaningfully push back against Donald Trump, and the governing political-economic logic of neo-liberalism more generally.
Weighed against her back catalogue of contemporary progressive-leftie doctrine – 2000’s No Logo, 2007’s The Shock Doctrine and 2014’s This Changes Everything constitute a kind of holy trinity of popular 21st-century leftism – No Is Not Enough is a slight, seemingly rushed-to-market book, birthed from a sense of expectation and obligation, a feeling that Naomi Klein should weigh in on Trump. “I’ve come to realize,” she writes in her introduction, “that the research I’ve done over the years can help shed some light on crucial aspects of Trumpism.”
No Is Not Enough constitutes a greatest hits compilation for Klein, which grinds Trump’s presidency (and the larger phenomenon around it) through any number of the author’s ideas: branding, shock, disaster capitalism, culture jamming, etc. For anyone familiar with Klein’s work, such connections may seem patently obvious, and maybe even a little boring (a dissection of Trump’s hollow branding of his name and persona feels a bit academic in the present moment of crisis). But anyone struggling for a place to even start making sense of Trump, and Trumpism, will find a book abounding in insight.
As Klein puts it, her driving thesis is “that Trump, extreme as he is, is less an aberration than a logical conclusion – a pastiche of pretty much all the worst trends of the past half century.” Like any serious socialist thinker, Klein knows that to meaningfully understand Trump, one needs to understand his emergence from a material-historical tangle of politics, economics and celebrity culture. To this last point, Klein develops an image of Donald Trump as an embodiment of “capitalist burlesque,” manifested on his hit reality show The Apprentice, and even his appearances as himself in pro wrestling broadcasts. She is shrewd and savvy enough to understand that Trump is a product of a system, that a “billionaire president who boasts he can grab women by their genitals while calling Mexicans ‘rapists’ and jeering at the disabled is the logical expression of a culture that grants indecent levels of impunity to the ultrarich, that is consumed with winner-take-all competition, and that is grounded in dominance-based logic at every level.”
As far as how to reorient such a culture, and jam up this system, Klein has a few handy prescriptions. Among them: undermining Trump’s boss-man brand by making him look like a puppet (she talks specifically about Trump’s fury at being trolled with the #PresidentBannon hashtag, resulting in alt-right strategist Steve Bannon being canned from his National Security Council post), moving toward energy-efficiency and universal basic income, and devoting more time to “face-to-face relationships,” as a way of encouraging political mobilization among the left by fostering a sense of common interests/goals. (No Is Not Enough also reprints 2015’s “Leap Manifesto,” a practical, ends-oriented guide to shifting the “political zeitgeist.”)
Despite the horrific realities of modern political life, in America and around the world, Klein retains a certain optimism. Per her thesis that major crises precipitate political change (whether good or bad), she seizes on the shock of Trump as such an opportunity. For her, Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, the ascent of galvanizing also-rans such as Bernie Sanders or even the widespread demystifying of the word “neo-liberalism” in the media mark “the first tremors of a profound ideological realignment from which the progressive majority could well emerge – just as geopolitically significant as the rise of authoritarianism and neo-fascism on the right side of the spectrum.”
Without lapsing into corny cheeriness or the puffed-up cant of centrist political cliché (“Love Trumps Hate!”), Naomi Klein holds out a cautious hope for the despairing age: an honest, prescriptive belief that people can unite in their opposition to Trumpism to build a better world.
In her closing chapter, Klein cites Belgian cartoonist Jean-Claude Servais, in what stands as a meaningful mission statement for No Is Not Enough and the oppositional movement it hopes to marshal: “The hour calls for optimism; we’ll save pessimism for better times.”
John Semley is the author of This is a Book About the Kids in the Hall and a regular contributor to Globe Books.Report Typo/Error
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