In a wide-ranging interview published on Truthout, the legendary political activist and social critic Noam Chomsky explains the multi-fold factors that propelled Donald Trump to victory in 2016 and what progressives can do to beat the fascistic elements that fuel his popularity.
Chomsky refuses to offer up easy answers or let Democrats off the hook. In fact, he starts with a critique of President Barack Obama, who failed to deliver on policy on many issues despite the lofty rhetoric of his campaign.
"Many were seduced by the rhetoric of “hope” and “change,” and deeply disillusioned by the very early discovery that the words had little substance," Chomsky observes. "I don’t usually agree with Sarah Palin, but she had a point when she ridiculed this hopey-changey stuff. A fair number of Obama voters, mostly working people, switched to Trump."
But Chomsky also acknowledges the visceral rage of racist whites triggered by Obama's election.
"Quite apart from Obama’s disappointing policies, he and the [Democratic] Party were victims of the intense racism that is deeply rooted in large parts of American society. The visceral hatred of Obama cannot be explained in other terms."
On the Republican end, Chomsky notes that the party establishment tried to suppress—or exploit—the fringe candidates on the right as they pursued their pro-corporate agenda. But they could only do that for so long.
"The establishment was able to suppress them and gain their own candidate, but that didn’t change the basis for their support," he says. Furthermore, the GOP establishment's policy platform is so antithetical to what most Americans want that they made themselves largely irrelevant.
"For years, both parties have drifted to the right — the Republicans off the spectrum of normal parliamentary politics. Their dedication to wealth and corporate power is so extreme that they cannot get votes on their actual policies — which are now being revealed to us daily — and so have had to mobilize a voting base on issues unrelated to their service to their actual constituency."
Chomsky fears that Donald Trump's high approval rating among Republicans, while not totally surprising at this stage of his presidency, shows America is in a very dangerous place.
"Trump’s roughly 90 percent support among Republicans is actually not unusual for an incumbent party at this stage in office — about the same as Obama among Democrats, though the fervor and passion are different, presumably reflecting the general atmosphere of anger, hatred and fear. And frightening. Recognizing the great differences, I still can’t repress childhood memories of hearing Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies on the radio, not understanding the words, though the mood was unmistakable."
Chomsky points out that Trump regularly delivers to his base, so liberals shouldn't assume they're in the clear. He also seems to be having "the time of his life" in the limelight.
Lastly, Chomsky cautions Democrats to avoid smugness, and just presume there's a blue wave on the horizon just because Trump is loathed by their base
"The barriers are not insuperable, but to overcome them will require large-scale and effective organization based on popular mass movements."