Building a smarter resistance

  • by Erin Blackwell
  • Tuesday July 25, 2017
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Building a smarter resistance

Many people are very upset that Donald Trump won the presidential election last year, but few know what to do about it. There are three possible responses, not mutually exclusive: actively hate Trump and focus on his impeachment, ignore Trump's existence and focus on the simple joys left to us, or get in touch with your inner activist and take steps to thwart not the Trump brand per se but the forces that brought us this Trump moment. Okay, sure, but where to start? Tune into best-selling political thinker and activist Naomi Klein's wavelength via her latest book, "No Is Not Enough," published by Haymarket Books at $16.95.

Klein is easily mistaken for an "American" in the U.S.-centric sense of the word. Currently a resident of Toronto, she was actually born in Montreal, which is of course in North America, of USA parents who'd deserted the homeland during the Vietnam War. Growing up, she got tired of being dragged to demonstrations, but two things shocked her into taking up the activist torch she was born to. First, her mother had a series of strokes, and Klein experienced the hardship of dealing with crisis. Then, on Dec. 6, 1989, an anti-feminist maniac massacred 14 women at Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique. That horror flipped Klein's political activist feminist switch to "on."

Her new book's subtitle, "Resisting Trump's Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need," refers back to Klein's 2007 book, "The Shock Doctrine," an extremely useful analysis of the way profiteers exploit natural disaster to push their own selfish agendas to the detriment of communities already victimized by shock. It's basically smash-and-grab by neoliberals. She pointed the finger at 1976 Nobel Laureate Economist Milton Friedman of the University of Chicago, beloved advisor to USA President Ronald Reagan and UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who did what they could to scupper the safety nets of their respective countries.

Klein's first chapter, "How Trump Won By Becoming the Ultimate Brand," opens with an anecdote about where she was when she heard who won the 2016 presidential election. She was in Australia, meeting with heads of environmental, labor, and social justice organizations, seeking a way to combine their efforts. Everyone thought Trump would lose. Then they got the results. "I can't shake the feeling that there is something important to learn from the way Trump's win was able to cut short our conversation, how it severed plans for a forward-looking agenda without so much as a debate."

Trump as the ultimate shockmeister: "He keeps everyone all the time in a reactive state," Klein told the Guardian. "It's not like he's taking advantage of an external shock, he is the shock." To better understand the man-brand Donald, Klein reaches back to her anti-brand treatise "No Logo" (2000). That breakthrough book focused, she now writes, on the "seemingly innocuous idea developed by management theorists in the mid-1980s: that to be successful, corporations must primarily produce brands as opposed to products." She revisits her analysis, then applies it to Trump's evolution, continuing in Chapter 2, "The First Family of Brands," to explain exactly what the whole parasitic clan is up to in the White House.

Klein is a journalist, not an academic, and her prose is designed to go down easily. She doesn't waste the reader's time, in 266 pages, with arcane theories or personal obsessions. She's extremely skillful at wrapping the hotdog of radical political thought in the bacon of pop-cultural savvy, media-critical, current-event reporting, with some personal anecdotes on the side. That doesn't make her message any less scary. "Acknowledging that Trump's presidency is being produced like a reality show in no way diminishes the danger it represents," Klein writes in Chapter 3, "The Mar-a-Lago Hunger Games." She cites Trump's use of USA's largest non-nuclear munitions on a cave in Afghanistan last April as a chilling indicator of just where this show might be headed.

After Part One's history lesson, Klein describes the present "Climate of Inequality," opening with a quote from James Baldwin: "I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will forced to deal with pain." Part Three forecasts "How It Could Get Worse: The Shocks to Come," before the final part describes "How Things Could Get Better." The hardest work for the political thinker or social visionary is to get creative with solutions. Klein appends "The Leap Manifesto," a collaborative statement calling for "a Canada based on caring for the Earth and one another," which practices "energy democracy" within a "non-polluting economy." These goals, applicable here and now, must underpin any hopes for advancing the social justice we crave.