Noam Chomsky sees Donald Trump’s win as part of a worldwide movement toward “ultranationalist” right-wing parties, which he can’t help but to compare to Adolf Hitler.
“A look at the polls in Austria and Germany cannot fail to evoke unpleasant memories for those familiar with the 1930s, even more so for those who watched directly, as I did as a child,” Chomsky told Alternet. “I can still recall listening to Hitler’s speeches, not understanding the words, though the tone and audience reaction were chilling enough.”
Trump lacks the ideology to predict how he’ll govern, but Chomsky has seen enough to worry.
“A good deal depends on his appointments and circle of advisers,” he said. “Early indications are unattractive, to put it mildly.”
Trump has already “unleashed” dark forces in American politics, but Chomsky said Democrats bore some responsibility by abandoning the working class in the 1970s.
Decades of neoliberal economic policies, which Chomsky said relies on “growing worker insecurity” to stagnate wages and fuel profits, had created an angry population of voters who backed Trump as an agent of change.
“The ‘change’ that Trump is likely to bring will be harmful or worse, but it is understandable that the consequences are not clear to isolated people in an atomized society lacking the kinds of associations (like unions) that can educate and organize,” he said. “That is a crucial difference between today’s despair and the generally hopeful attitudes of many working people under much greater economic duress during the Great Depression of the 1930s.”
Trump appealed to voters who are legitimately angry at the government, he said, which imposes rules intended to help them but failed to properly articulate how or why.
“Sometimes failure to explain, itself a form of contempt, plays a role in fostering hatred of government,” Chomsky said.
He recalled meeting a house painter in Boston whose business was destroyed when federal rules banned lead paint — “the only kind that works” — and a Louisiana man profiled recently in Mother Jones.
“(Sociologist Arlie) Hochschild describes a man whose family and friends are suffering bitterly from the lethal effects of chemical pollution but who despises the government and the ‘liberal elites,’ because for him, the EPA means some ignorant guy who tells him he can’t fish, but does nothing about the chemical plants,” Chomsky said.
The voters Hochschild profiled believed they worked hard and deserved to succeed, but they watched as their social position stalled while “undeserving people” moved ahead of them.
“They believe that ‘undeserving people’ who do not ‘follow the rules’ are being moved in front of them by federal government programs they erroneously see as designed to benefit African-Americans, immigrants and others they often regard with contempt,” Chomsky said.
He said white supremacy was more deeply rooted in the U.S. than even South Africa, which he said had fueled Trump’s rise.
“The traditional conservative culture is also perceived as under attack by the successes of identity politics, regarded as the province of elites who have only contempt for the ‘hard-working, patriotic, church-going [white] Americans with real family values’ who see their familiar country as disappearing before their eyes,” Chomsky said.
Corporations were as much to blame as the government for policies that hurt Americans, but Chomsky said business elites had done a better job of hiding their role.
“With all its flaws, the government is, to some extent, under popular influence and control, unlike the corporate sector,” Chomsky said. “It is highly advantageous for the business world to foster hatred for pointy-headed government bureaucrats and to drive out of people’s minds the subversive idea that the government might become an instrument of popular will, a government of, by and for the people.”