Even for Donald Trump, the remarks were almost staggering in their density. Last month, in an exclusive interview with the Financial Times, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that Western liberalism has “outlived its purpose,” adding that “it has come into conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population.” When asked during the G20 summit in Osaka if he agreed, Trump offered this gleaming ruby: “[Putin] sees what’s going on—I guess if you look at what’s happening in Los Angeles, where it’s so sad to look, and what’s happening in San Francisco and a couple of other cities, which are run by an extraordinary group of liberal people. I don’t know what they’re thinking.”
Trying to deduce any kind of grand strategy from a president who confuses the West with California and believes the moon is part of Mars can feel like a fool’s errand, if not “the purest acid satire.” But as Noam Chomsky argues in an interview with Truthout this week, “there is a strategy”—one that has empowered the far right across the globe and ultimately endangers human life on earth. If Ronald Reagan’s presidency was a tragedy, he speculates, then Trump’s is history repeating itself as farce.
“It’s understandable that the farce elicits ridicule, and no doubt some are relishing the coming photo-op of Trump and Boris Johnson upholding Anglo-American civilization,” claims the celebrated linguist and philosopher. “But for the world, it’s dead serious, from the destruction of the environment and the growing threats of terminal nuclear war to a long list of other crimes and horrors.”
That list includes the administration’s escalating brinksmanship with Iran. While he acknowledges the president does not appear to share his cabinet’s lust for war, Chomsky contends that Trump’s hawkishness is nonetheless hugely destructive. “In the real world, the U.S. unilaterally decided to destroy the well-functioning nuclear agreement (JCPOA), with ludicrous charges accepted by virtually no one with the slightest credibility, and to impose extremely harsh sanctions designed to punish the Iranian people and undermine the economy,” he observes. “The [U.S. government] also uses its enormous economic power, including virtual control of the international financial system, to compel others to obey Washington’s dictates. None of this has even minimal legitimacy; the same is true of Cuba and other cases.”
On the domestic front, Chomsky points out that America has largely borne the brunt of Trump’s trade wars, despite the president’s claims that money is now pouring in from China. Citing a study with Princeton and Columbia universities by the New York Fed, he notes U.S. companies and consumers have paid billions more per month as a result of the president’s tariffs on Chinese goods, as well as aluminum and steel. (Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has written these tariffs are “tantamount to one of the biggest tax hikes on Americans in recent history.”) “Trump’s trick is to wave a big club and threaten others with dire consequences unless they stop torturing poor America and agree to ‘play fair,’” Chomsky continues. “When we take all this apart, a different picture emerges, much as in the case of the ominous threat of Iran. But what matters for the con game is the ‘alternative reality’ that the conjurers are concocting.”
For Chomsky, Trump’s presidency poses an existential threat, and the evidence is in his embrace of the worst actors in the Middle East. He also cites adviser Jared Kushner’s “Deal of the Century,” which calls for nothing less than the complete capitulation of Palestine.
“These objectives fall within a broader strategy of forming a global reactionary alliance under the U.S. aegis, including the ‘illiberal democracies’ of Eastern Europe [Hungary’s Orbán, etc.] and Brazil’s grotesque Jair Bolsonaro, who among other virtues, shares with Trump the dedication to undermine prospects for a livable environment by opening up the Amazon—’the lungs of the earth’—to exploitation by his friends in mining and agribusiness,” he concludes. “That’s a natural strategy for today’s Trump-McConnell Republican party, well ensconced to the far right of the international spectrum, even beyond the European ‘populist’ parties that were not long ago considered a contemptible fringe.”
Read the interview in its entirety at Truthout.