Trump and the Enablers of American Authoritarianism (2/2)
Scholar Henry Giroux in conversation with Paul Jay says 'lesser evilism' is the wrong way to frame the elections - it's about what's better for the strategic interests of an independent people's struggle
Scholar Henry Giroux in conversation with Paul Jay says 'lesser evilism' is the wrong way to frame the elections - it's about what's better for the strategic interests of an independent people's struggle
PAUL JAY, TRNN: Welcome back to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
We’re continuing our discussion with Henry Giroux, who joins us again from Hamilton, Ontario. He’s a Professor for Scholarship in the Public Interest of McMaster University, an author of his most recent book, Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of Spectacle, and a new book about to come out, America at War with Itself. He’s a regular contributor at Truthout as well. Thanks for joining us again Henry.
HENRY GIROUX: It’s a pleasure to be here, Paul.
JAY: So in part one, we had a discussion about the rise of neofascism and whether or not Trump represents that, and whether that’s what’s on display at the Republican Convention. And we both came to the conclusion that it does and if you haven’t watched part one–if you’re watching live now, this, you’ll come down our website. You’ll see part one. I suggest you do watch part one because we’re going to kind of pick up where that left off.
In the first part we showed a clip from Rudy Giuliani and Sheriff David Clarke, calling for defense of the social order and everyone’s in fear. The worst kind of rhetoric we’ve heard since perhaps, well, I guess we heard it after 9/11, and we heard it during the McCarthy period. And of course what we need is a stronger police force and a stronger military. The big lies in Giuliani’s speech, especially about Saudi Arabia and Iran, and again I say, go watch part one.
So the ability of Trump and his allies to look in the camera and just outright lie–I quoted this thing in a piece I did recently which goes like this: “I reserve emotion for the many and reason for the few.” And that’s a quote from Adolf Hitler, and that’s clearly what we’re seeing on display in Cleveland. These guys know better.
Giuliani knows it’s not Iran funding this kind of terrorism. He knows it’s been the Saudis and Qataris, and maybe perhaps in some ways the Americans themselves. Certainly during the Afghan War, they did directly millions of dollars, perhaps billions went through Pakistan. to Afghanistan, which helped nurture Al-Qaeda and the Taliban and so on. And these guys know that history.
There was a small lie which everybody’s talking about, and while it seems kind of minor, I think it actually has a little more meaning to it. And that’s Trump’s wife Melania. Here’s a little clip from her speech Monday night.
MELANIA TRUMP: From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond, and you do what you say and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect. They taught and showed me values and morals in their daily lives. That is a lesson that I continue to pass along to our son. And we need to pass those lessons.
JAY: So I think everyone knows about this all for now. The language she used is almost word for word what Michelle Obama used at the Democratic Party Convention about her husband Barack Obama and everyone, it’s so obvious its direct plagiarism. Yet the Trump campaign this morning, Tuesday morning, denies that its plagiarism was lifted. As I say, it’s word for word. I’m sure everyone has seen the comparisons by now. I thought it was worth talking about, Henry, because it’s such an obvious lie, and yet they’ll probably get away with just saying it’s not. And their base of voters will simply move on and say blame it on the liberal media again.
GIROUX: I mean, what I find interesting about that example is that just one of many, as you’ve said many times, in which lying has become so normalized for Trump and his cohorts, that the question of reality, the question of argument, the question of evidence, the question of thoughtfulness, the question of in some way trying to engage reason at its best, has become utterly superfluous. I think that what this seems to suggest is that you have an administration that will create its own history by basically creating its own facts because they don’t care, and I think that what I find disturbing about that is that they don’t care because they can get away with it. That the media doesn’t hold them up in the way that it should. That people aren’t asking the hard questions.
I mean, what Trump buys into–and we all know this–is that celebrity culture confers authority and that you don’t have to take people seriously who are a part of that culture because we assume that they’re not serious in the first place. He’s now relegated that or elevated that assumption into a kind of central dimension of politics. And I think it’s very dangerous. I think when you give up on the enlightenment and you sort of suggest any form of thinking is an act of stupidity, then what that suggests in the long run on questions of policy or on questions of governance around questions of how identities are being shaped, it’s that the truth doesn’t matter. And basically what we’re going to do is we’re going to create a scenario where you’ll never hold us accountable because all the kind of things that make people comparable from evidence to serious arguments to important dialogue to matters of accountability now don’t matter anymore. Truly that’s the mark of a fascist regime.
JAY: And of course he can get away with this, and he’s likely to get away with–and he’s likely to get away with this, partly because he’s going to say, well, even if that’s true and maybe she did it, maybe a speechwriter did it, how does that compare with lying about these emails? And it’s very likely that the reason Hillary Clinton had this server is to avoid the Freedom of Information Act, which shows some intent at the very least to circumvent the law.
Maybe it wasn’t outright illegal, but who knows. But much bigger lies in terms of the defense of what happened in Libya–I mean, Trump might even go there, I don’t know. He certainly critiqued Clinton on Libya. Even though he himself, and this is where his own big lie is, at the time of the Libya intervention he called for American troops to invade Libya to overthrow Gaddafi.
So this supposed opposition of his to regime change in Libya is another big lie. But on the other hand, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama–but if we understand it correctly, Clinton was the sort of [impotence] here. They committed war crimes in Libya. Even if one accepts the UN resolution in defense of Benghazi, and a lot of people don’t, but even if you do, the overthrow of Gaddafi was a war crime because it was not authorized by the UN.
It was supposed to be simply defense of Benghazi. Clinton’s been involved in targeting Assad and helping create the conditions for the terrorism in Syria, and so on. She supports the Iraq War; I mean go on. Then the even bigger arching, overarching issue–and this is what I wanted to talk a bit more about in this segment–is the massive transfer of wealth from most ordinary working people to this tiny fraction.
People say 1 percent. It’s probably more like 10 percent. Even though most of it went to the 1 percent. This massive transfer of wealth, particularly during the time of the Obama administration, has helped create the conditions for all this. So the–how do you deal with this issue, Henry, of the enablers of this rise of neofascism? Because they–so many people’s lives have been ruined over the last decade and a half. And the phenomena itself of Trump?
GIROUX: I think that what you’re suggesting, and what I believe is actually quite true, is that Trump and the Democrats really represent two different elements of the same coin. I mean, what you have is a savage form of neoliberalism that now dominates most of the globe, in which questions of power and questions of justice are completely removed from any sense of accountability. And you have a system that basically consolidates in the interest of basically a financial lead. What you’re witnessing is kind of a class war with two different discourses. Two different modes of legitimacy.
One is very outright and very savage in its endorsement of the kind of [grudishness] and what we’d call the bleeding group for violence and injustice. And the other sort of takes, I think, a softer side. It doesn’t call for eliminating 12 million, 11 million Mexicans in the United States. But at the same time you have a president who has an assassination list. You have a candidate on your Democratic Party who’s basically a war monger. I mean, both of these positions share, it seems to me, in a political economic system that basically is injustice, it is brutal. And I think what we need to do is be able to understand what they have in common.
When we talk about the lying as you just did, it is very interesting where politics become unaccountable, people lie and they think that can get away from it. We see this both in the Republican and Democratic Party. Both are now parties of extremists because they’re basically governed by the financial we. We no longer have a sovereign state. We have an economic state. And I think that when economics drives politics, at one level you get the most rabid representations of that, of course in the Republican party, and then near the hand you get representations that try to downplay what it does in the name of democracy.
Trump doesn’t about democracy. He’s unapologetic about democracy. He doesn’t need it. He doesn’t want it. He doesn’t think it works. On the other hand, you have the Democratic Party that hides what it does in the false language of democracy. But they both share something in common. They both share in a system that is as savage as it is brutal. That produces enormous inequities. That has ruined the social state and has basically celebrated and expanded the punishing state. I don’t just talk about militarization. To me I’m more concerned about a society that it increasing criminalizes and militarizes all aspects of foreign and domestic policy and they both share in that.
JAY: They both share in being forms, political representation and alliances of sections of the elites, of the billionaires. They both–their, really, underlying economic policies not different. And most represent hyper-capitalism. They both represent defense of this sort of parasitical Wall Street. There is some difference, I believe, and they debate in the elite just how intense can the exploitation of American workers get?
I think that the Democrats have represented here represented over the last decades, even including Roosevelt in this about he represented a kind of more rational sector of the elites. But there’s a fight over how intense you can get and the–Reagan, I think, represents the coming to consciousness of a section of the elites that the working class is actually quite weak now. The Soviet Union is no longer a model anyone believes in. It’s starting to fall apart.
Globalization is taking off. You’re going to be able to play workers around the world against each other. You can up the ante on actually now targeting especially the upper echelons of the American working class so you don’t have to pay auto workers $26 to start. Now you can pay them $14 an hour, which is what came out of the Obama saving of the auto industry.
But there is still a difference here, and I think it’s an important one. The constituency of the far right, of the Trump Republican Party, and as we talk about in the first segment it’s a constituency of the American public willing to accept a level of kind of overt fascism. A rhetoric that would support rounding up Black Lives Matter and putting them all in jail and charging them with conspiracy for terrorism.
That’s certainly the language we’re hearing already. And from Sheriff David Clarke that speaks and others that directly try to connect the language of Black Lives Matter with the assassination of cops. Even though there’s not a shred of evidence of any of that, quite the contrary. Black Lives Matter made it clear that they have nothing to do and don’t support anything like that. You know we know that it wasn’t that long ago that the amendment to the NDAA, the act that authorizes the financing of the military, where there’s an amendment where the army itself could round people up and put them in detention camps.
In fact, again here’s the enablers of this sort of thing. Barack Obama signs off on that to even include US citizens. But this you can see this regime–if it’s a Trump regime surrounded by a David Clarke and Rudy Giuliani. I mean, these are the guys that would use that legislation to round people up. What I’m getting at is there is more danger here, and this language of greater evil and lesser evil, I think it’s a mistake to even frame it that way. It’s not a moral question and evil’s a moral category.
This is a strategic tactical question for people that are organizing to defend whatever democracy is left, and to try to move society forward to something new. That if these guys are in power there is going to be far less room to move. Because these are the guys that will make dissent illegal. The Clinton type forces, Obama type forces, they depend on a black folk. They depend on a Hispanic vote, they depend on educated voters, they depend on urban workers who don’t fall for this kind of stuff. So as long as there’s still electoral politics for the foreseeable future, there is. We don’t know how long that last. I actually think strategically it is better to have a Clintonesque presidency–I mean a Clinton, not -esque, a Clinton presidency. But be truthful with everybody what this all means.
GIROUX: I completely agree with you. I think that Trump is a real immediate danger to the planet and to human existence. And I think any vote for him is far more dangerous than, let’s say, a vote for Clinton. There were two things you could have recognized here. At one level, you’ve got a system where power is now separated from politics. The social contract is basically all but dead. Certainly on the extreme right. Meaning that power is global and politics is local. The people who now control the states, who control the nation states are basically global international organizations.
We’re talking about the IMF, the World Trade Organization. I think that in Clinton at least strategically there was an attempt to sort of waive the idea that Clinton give lip service to against the reality of the politics that she produces. That’s an opening. I think that in short term and long term strategies. I think you’ve pointed to this. One level on the short term, I think we have to put somebody in power at the moment that is not going to destroy the planet and end up putting everybody in a concentration camp or in a prison.
I mean that’s a real danger. To think that what he can do to the Supreme Court and to claim that Clinton is just as bad as she is because she’s a warmonger, I think is nonsense. I mean as bad as she is, she’s not Trump. She’s not the extreme right. But is she acceptable as a [carry on] for what it might mean to expand the possibilities of democracy? Absolutely not.
I think in the long run what we have to do is we have to organize people to basically participate in the short term in strategic kinds of elections. For instance, where school boards will not be turned over to the right. Or make sure that social provisions are being put into place that benefit the working class. But do everything we can do defend public schools. Do everything that we can do defend public goods.
But in the long run we need a third party. More when system is utterly corrupt. It’s going to be changed. But that doesn’t mean we simply drop out of the system entirely and turn it over to the lunatics and the warmongers. I think that’s completely [inaud.]. I don’t buy that left argument. I think that the left doesn’t sense the most immediate danger that we face with these fascists who are about to unfortunately potentially come to power.
JAY: Yeah, and I don’t think in doing that you need to create illusions about Clinton.
GIROUX: We don’t need to apologize for Clinton to recognize we’re in a state of crisis so severe that it’s unlike anything we’re facing in probably the history of this nation since the Civil War.
JAY: The critical thing we have to keep saying, it’s not about Hillary Clinton and it’s not about the Democratic Party. It’s about hyper-capitalism. It’s about how hyper-capitalism has become so parasitical that finance and the preponderance of the elites, they make more money out of this gambling casino capitalism, not very interested in what actually goes on in the economy. They’ve become so short sighted they’re such con men and snake oil salesmen as I was saying, that Trump is really a legitimate face of them. Whether even though they–I would say the majority of them trust Clinton to manage capitalism more than they trust Trump to do it–a couple of things I think are for sure.
One is either one of two things is going to happen over the long run, because we know there’s going to be another economic meltdown. There’s going to be another situation where there’s going to be a tremendous impetus to go to war. And we know about the coming climate disaster. And one of only two things are going to happen, which is the Democratic Party as representative of parasitical hyper-capitalism is either going to create the conditions for another Trump, or Trump himself, to come to power.
Or two, the Democratic party will give rise to their own Trump, and they’ll morph into this type of [huge] right populism and win over enough sections of society so that they can play that card. So in the longer run we better get organized independent of these elite parties and tell people all of this. But in the shorter run to say there’s no difference between a Trump and Clinton to ordinary people in terms of their ability to get organized, it’s an illusion. I mean just go think about organizing under the dictators we know about from Latin America to–you don’t even have to go to the extremes of Hitler. You can find much more modern examples.
GIROUX: Paul, you and I under Trump will be put in jail.
JAY: No doubt.
GIROUX: I think under Clinton we’ll be ignored. But it seems to me that there’s also another issue. There’s also the possibility that the Democratic Party basically will recognize in some ways that the demographics and the mobilizations that are taking place all over the country have to somehow be addressed. And that might make it a party that’s a little more–actually less parasitic than we’ve assumed that we’ve–and predatory that it might become. I don’t know.
I don’t know if they’ll embrace that New Deal sort of logic. But the Democratic Party, unlike the Republican Party of extremists, has to find ways to legitimate itself. That means that it has to somehow create ideologies that give the impression that it’s truly about furthering democracy rather than destroying it.
On the other hand, Trump doesn’t care about ideology. He doesn’t need an ideological justification for what he does, in ways that suggests he has something to do with democracy itself. He’s just simply saying hey, look, the country’s in crisis. I’m going to mobilize fear, I’m going to get rid of people who dissent, and I’m going to be a warmonger. And I’ll do everything that I can to make sure that financial class is happy. because basically they’re going to fund my campaign. And I think that as you say, the third way is to basically begin to mobilize people in ways that recognize that the real enemy here is not the Republican or Democratic Party.
The real enemy here is finance capital. The real enemy here is a savage form of neoliberalism that has–that breeds nothing but misery, intolerance, inequality, and massive degrees of human suffering. I mean, look, 70 thousand people die a year because of poverty. I mean, you have young people that have been completely written out of the script of democracy, burdened with debts. Sort of told that all the problems that they face, they’re responsible for. We’ve lost the ability to translate private issues into public concerns and we need to mobilize in ways in which matters of education become central to politics itself.
We need to convince people. The left needs to convince people that the problems that they’re talking about are problems that people can identify and recognize themselves in. That’s going to take a long time. That’s not going to happen tomorrow.
JAY: And what’s your take on what many people are turning to, the Green Party and Jill Stein’s candidacy?
GIROUX: I think the Green Party is one possibility. I think that we need a broader social movement. We need a movement that basically brings all factions of the left together. Those are the concerns of our economic domination. Those are the concerns about the theological domination. Those are the concerns about the environment. We need as you said, a broad-based social movement. And I think the Green Party’s fabulous and important. I don’t think its reaches lie enough. I don’t think that the banner under which it operates speaks to what I would call the emergence of the necessity for discourse for radical democracy.
JAY: Okay. Well, we’ll talk about that more another time, and perhaps we’ll get somebody from the Green Party on to discuss it. Thanks very much for joining us, Henry.
GIROUX: Okay. Thank you Paul.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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