Biden’s $1.9 Trillion Stimulus Is A Vital Beginning For A New New Deal

President Joe Biden

In his first three days in office, President Joe Biden signed no less than 30 executive orders and memorandums, many of which dismantle Trump’s policies. This is an impressive achievement by any standard, but only so much can be done with executive orders and it is all but certain that most legislation will be blocked by Republican senators, thanks to filibuster, and with the possible help of some Democrats. In the meantime, Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion stimulus for the coronavirus-hit economy which includes, among other things, a third relief check, extending unemployment benefits, setting aside $400 billion for a nationwide vaccine program, expanding the child tax credit and raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour. One could say that Biden’s economic plan is inspired by FDR’s New Deal because nothing like it has ever been introduced during peacetime. But what exactly does this economic plan mean for households, for business and for climate change? What will be the impact of the stimulus on public debt? And what about reforms for the financial sector, which continues to reap huge profits when millions of Americans are struggling? Two progressive economists, Robert Pollin and Gerald Epstein, co-directors of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, address some of these questions in an exclusive interview for Truthout.

C.J. Polychroniou: Bob, the pandemic, in addition to having killed more than 400,000 Americans so far, thanks to Trump’s reckless response, has had a severe impact on the U.S. economy: business closures, massive unemployment, huge decline in the gross domestic product, increase in multiple kinds of inequality. Obviously, with those disturbing realities in mind, Joe Biden has released an economic plan to combat COVID-19 and get the country back on track which, according to many analysts, is inspired by FDR’s New Deal. Can you talk a bit about Biden’s economic plan and offer your assessment with specific reference to how it will support individuals, households and business through the pandemic?

Prof.dr. Robert Pollin

Robert Pollin: The Biden administration has introduced a $1.9 trillion short-term economic stimulus program. It targets six main areas of spending: $1,400 in cash payments for people whose income is less than $75,000; $400 per week in supplemental unemployment insurance for laid-off workers; major support for state and local governments that are right now staring, collectively, at budget deficits of $500 billion or more; a major increase in spending on distributing COVID vaccines; and expanding the tax credit for families with children.

The total package amounts to about 9 percent of the economy’s overall level of activity — i.e., gross domestic product (GDP). This proposed Biden stimulus would also be on top of the $900 billion measure — equal to about 4 percent of GDP — that Congress and the Trump administration passed in December, as well as the $2 trillion package — equal to 10 percent of GDP — that was implemented last March. So, if the Biden proposal passes, it would mean that over the past 10 months, the federal government stimulus would add up to roughly 23 percent of GDP. And on top of that, since March, the Federal Reserve has purchased over $3 trillion in bonds — a 74 percent increase over their holdings as of last February — from Wall Street firms to bail them out and to keep pushing interest rates down on home mortgages, business loans and government bonds.

Overall, this level of economic stimulus since the COVID pandemic spread last March — which would amount to more than one-third of total GDP if the Biden proposal passes — has been historically unprecedented during peacetime. The only comparable level of government intervention was during World War II, when government deficit spending reached as high as 25 percent of GDP. But, of course, that spending was focused on fighting a world war.

The point, however, is that this level of public spending included in the current Biden proposal is absolutely necessary and, for that matter, will not be sufficient given the severity of the current economic crisis. Over the past nine months, 74 million people have filed to receive unemployment insurance. This is equal to fully 45 percent of the U.S. labor force. Meanwhile, as of the most recent data, nearly 20 percent of all U.S. households with children report that their families didn’t have enough to eat over the past week. That figure rises to 24 percent for African American households. Similarly, 26 percent of households with children report that they are unable to keep up with their rent. Amid all this, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average stock market index is up an incredible 68 percent since the initial stimulus program passed in March, thanks to both the stimulus and the Fed bailout having successfully propped up Wall Street.

Combating climate change seems to be one of the central objectives of Biden’s administration. How does Biden’s plan compare to the Green New Deal, especially the version of a “green economy” you have been fighting for over a decade now?

Pollin: The combined government spending injections since last March — totaling to roughly one-third of all spending in the economy if the current Biden proposal passes — don’t include a single dime to address the climate crisis. This is while we now know that 2020 was the second-hottest year on record. Biden has emphasized that he is going to take major action to address the climate crisis. Specifically, he has said that he will introduce a huge public investment-led program soon, that will be over and above the short-term stimulus measure to fight COVID and the ongoing recession.

On Wednesday, Biden signed a series of executive orders that will, among other things, suspend oil and gas leasing on federal government lands, transition the federal government’s stock of automobiles and trucks to an all-electric fleet, and create an Environmental Justice commitment in federal policies that will “address the disproportionate health, environmental, economic and climate impacts on disadvantaged communities.” Most broadly, Biden’s climate directive commits his administration to move the U.S. onto “an irreversible path to a net-zero economy by 2050.”

Nevertheless, for the most part, Biden has still not laid out his full-scale program for achieving the net-zero emissions goal. For now, we still need to look at what Biden proposed during the presidential campaign as a guide. That included both some positive as well as some seriously negative points. On the positive side, first, the overall level of investment spending that Biden proposed to deliver a zero-emissions economy by 2050 is in broad alignment with what I, as well as other researchers, have suggested is necessary. That is about 2-3 percent of GDP every year until we have built a clean energy infrastructure in the U.S., as well as contributed in a major way to building it throughout the rest of the world. For the next couple of years, that would mean about $400 billion per year in investments in the U.S. alone, including from both private as well as public sources.

Biden’s campaign proposal did also recognize the fact that building a clean energy economy will be a major new source of job creation throughout the economy, for people working in all kinds of jobs. Within this framework, Biden emphasized that labor unions will need to play a major role in ensuring that the jobs that are generated — upwards of about 4 million new jobs in total in the initial years — will be good-quality jobs, with decent wages, benefits and working conditions, and that women and people of color are included in getting their fair share of these newly generated opportunities. Finally, Biden’s campaign proposal did include just transition policies to support the workers, as well as their families and communities, who are now dependent on the oil, coal and gas industries for their livelihoods. Biden did also reemphasize this focus on creating good-quality union jobs in Wednesday’s directive. So far, so good.

On the down side, the Biden campaign proposal gives high priority to so-called carbon-capture technology and nuclear energy as major new sources of zero-emissions energy supply. Under carbon-capture technology, we keep burning coal, oil and natural gas to provide energy, but the technology entails literally capturing the carbon before it enters the atmosphere, and transporting it into gigantic underground storage areas, to presumably remain there for all time. The fossil fuel companies love this idea, since it keeps them in business. But at best, the technology remains unproven at commercial scale, despite decades of trying by the companies who desperately want it to work. Nuclear energy also presents huge public safety problems as well as being very expensive, despite having operated as an electricity source for 60 years now.

We need to insist that the centerpiece of the Biden climate program be investments to dramatically expand the supply of clean renewable energy sources — including solar, wind, geothermal, small-scale hydro and low-emissions bioenergy — along with investments to dramatically raise energy efficiency standards with public transportation, electric vehicles running on renewable energy and net zero energy buildings. That is the cleanest, cheapest and safest way to deliver a zero-emissions economy, and to do so in a way that greatly expands job opportunities.

Jerry, Biden’s plan for sparking the economy has some folks concerned because it will obviously increase the public debt, although Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen played down the debt issue in her confirmation hearings. Is there a need to be worried about deficits and a public debt surge when the economy is weak and millions of Americans are struggling? Moreover, how would you assess the Federal Reserve’s response to the COVID-19 crisis so far, and what else can the Fed do to revive the U.S. economy?

Prof.dr. Gerald Epstein

Gerald Epstein: Rich countries, especially those like the United States that can easily borrow at home and abroad in its own currency (the U.S. dollar is the main global currency), have a great deal of capacity to borrow for public spending. This is especially true when the cost of borrowing (interest rate) is well below the likely return on investment, as measured, for example, by the rate of growth of the economy. And now, U.S. interest rates on government debt is at historically low levels, below 1 percent in many cases. Keynesian and progressive economists have long understood this fact, but it has taken two major economic crises in the span of little more than a decade to convince even centrist and liberal economists and Democratic policy makers of this truth. Of course, Republicans, at least since Reagan, have understood that, when they are in power, they should have the government borrow a lot to fund tax cuts for the wealthy and subsidies for their pet constituencies, and then they should become austerity hawks when the Democrats are in power to block their initiatives and popularity. And of course, true to form, that is exactly what Mitch McConnell and the Republicans are doing now with respect to Biden’s spending initiatives. And, as usual, some of the right-wing Democrats are parroting these Republican talking points.

It is important to note that this capacity to run deficits and borrow is not absolute; it is best to be used to help achieve full employment, to deal with national health and other emergencies, to invest in green transformation and the positive support for the poor, people of color and working class. And it is many of these targets that the Biden administration and Democratic leadership in Congress are trying to reach with their spending initiatives. (Of course, they continue to propose spending excessive amounts on the military, as well.)

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Chomsky: Coup Attempt Hit Closer To Centers Of Power Than Hitler’s 1923 Putsch

Noam Chomsky

Even as the Biden administration takes the reins of power, the fact remains that authoritarianism and a fascist strain of political thinking have taken firm root on U.S. soil among a large proportion of its citizens. This utterly disturbing development will, according to Noam Chomsky in this exclusive interview for Truthout, be hard to contain. A recent poll shows that the overwhelming majority of Republicans continues to give a thumbs up to Donald Trump, even after the storming of the Capitol. In the wake of the attempted coup, and on the cusp of a new administration, what do the current political currents mean for the future?

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, you had been warning all along of a potential coup in the event that Trump would lose the 2020 election. In thiscontext, are you surprised at all by what took place on Capitol Hill on the Electoral College vote count?

Noam Chomsky: Surprised, yes. I’d expected a strong reaction from Trump’s voting base, raised to a fever pitch by his latest antics. But hadn’t expected the attempted coup to reach this level of violence, and I suspect most of the participants didn’t either. Many seemed to have been caught up in the excitement of the moment when the leaders of the crowd surged into the hated Capitol to drive out the demons who were not just stealing the election but stealing their country from them: their white Christian country.

That it was an attempted coup is not in question. It was openly and proudly proclaimed as just that. It was an attempt to overturn an elected government. That’s a coup. True, what was attempted was not the kind of coup regularly backed by Washington in its dependencies, a military takeover with ample bloodshed, torture, “disappearance.” But,nevertheless, it was an attempted coup. True, the perpetrators regarded themselves as defending the legitimate government, but that’s the norm, even for the most vicious and murderous coups, like the U.S.-backed coup in Chile on the first 9/11which was actually much worse in virtually every dimension than the second one, the one that we remember and commemorate. The first one is best forgotten on the principle of “wrong agents”: Us, not some radical Islamic fundamentalists.

The emotions of those attempting the [Capitol] coup were apparent.Belief that the election was stolen was plainly held with real fervor. And itis understandable among people who live in passionately pro-Trump areas where he is revered as their savior, and for some, even chosen by God, as he once declared. Many may scarcely have seen a Biden sign, or heard anything from Fox News or Rush Limbaugh to suggest some possible flaw in their beliefs.

In some respects, these beliefs are not as bizarre as they may look at first. A shift of tens of thousands of votes in a few counties might have swung the election the other way in a deeply undemocratic system such as ours,where 7 million votes can be swept aside along with an unknown number of others eliminated by purging, gerrymandering, and the many other devices that have been devised to steal the election from the “wrong people, effectively authorized by the Supreme Court in its shameful 2013 decision nullifying the Voting Rights Act (Shelby County v Holder).

As we’ve discussed before, the malevolent figure in charge deserves credit for his talent in tapping the poisonous streams that run not far below the surface of American society, with sources that are deep in U.S.history and culture.

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White Freedom: An Interview With Tyler Stovall

Professor Tyler Stovall. Photo: UC Santa Cruz

The idea of freedom has a contradictory legacy in the modern western world: it’s all about whiteness mixed with practices of racial inequality and discrimination, argues Tyler Stovall, Distinguished Professor of History, Emeritus, at the University of California at Santa Cruz, in his newly published work White Freedom: The Racial History of an Idea (Princeton University Press, 2021). In the interview that follows, Tyler Stovall discusses the main thesis of his book, highlights the difference in the way conservatives and progressives view freedom, and talks the return of white supremacy in American politics.

C. J. Polychroniou: You have just published a new book, titled White Freedom: The Racial History of an Idea, in which you argue that freedom has been defined in the western political tradition in racial terms. Can you elaborate a bit on this thesis?

Tyler Stovall: I argue that in America, France, and other Western societies in the modern era freedom is central to white racial identity and that whiteness is an essential component of freedom. To be free is to be white, and to be white is to be free. The book explores how societies based on liberty, like the French and American republics, could without contradiction also practice racism against peoples of color because those who were not white by definition could not be free.
It also shows how the clarion call of liberty in these societies derived its force in part from its appeal to race.

CJP: Didn’t gender and class also play key roles in the social construction of freedom?

TS: Since those are not the primary subjects of this book my answer to this question is necessarily limited, but class and gender certainly also played an important role. One need only consider the history of voting as a political right in the modern era. In many Western democracies the franchise was only gradually granted to people without property, and until the twentieth century it was almost universally reserved for men. The right to property, a key component of freedom in capitalist societies, was also highly gendered, and more generally if one did not have property (the case of most working people in the modern era) one could not truly be free.

CJP: Isn’t it also the case that freedom has always meant something different to conservatives and progressives?

TS: To a certain extent, yes: conservatives have traditionally focused on individual liberty and negative ideas of freedom, freedom from, whereas progressives have tended to emphasize the freedom of groups from oppression based on class, race, gender, and other identities. I would say, however, that in many ways the conservative, individualistic interpretation of freedom has been dominant during the modern era, and that conservatives are more likely than progressives to foreground ideas of freedom in their politics. Many progressives give greater importance to equality than freedom, for example. Also, if you consider the very idea of liberal democracy, which I consider a kind of compromise between these two approaches, conservatives stress liberalism and progressives stress democracy.

CJP: Racism not only remains a major problem in American society, but race relations seem to have gotten worse over the last few years. In fact, we have seen the return of white supremacy in U.S. politics during Donald Trump’s reign of rage and destruction. What’s your explanation for this unsettling socio-political development which threatens the very fabric of American democracy?

TS: I’m not sure I agree with the basic premise of this question, because I don’t think that white supremacy ever went anywhere, and I don’t think it’s necessarily worse now than in the past. For example, what strikes me most about the Black Lives Matter movement is how many whites support it, in a way that would have been hard to imagine ten years ago. That said, there certainly remains lots of racism in American society, and I think it is due to the combination of two factors.
First, American society and culture are growing more multicultural and diverse, and second the living standards of many Americans, including working class whites, have declined significantly since the 1970s. Traditionally in American society lower class whites who had very little property or social status could take comfort in their whiteness and white privilege, but now that seems to many to be increasingly jeopardized. Those whites who invaded the Capitol building on January 6, 2001 felt that their communities and their futures were threatened by the new contours of American life, and as we have seen in such situations people react violently.

CJP: Given the thesis of your book, namely, that racism and freedom are intertwined in the western political tradition, isn’t there a need therefore to redefine freedom?

TS: I would say rather that it is important to reinforce universal ideas of freedom that have also existed in the West, and bolster their rejection of white freedom. For example, in my book I discuss the ways in which the Statue of Liberty has been an icon of white freedom, symbolizing the ability of European immigrants to achieve white privilege in America. My preferred solution to that would not be to take down Lady Liberty, but rather to underscore other kinds of liberty. The Statue of Liberty and the myths around it tend to obscure the fact that New York was one of America’s great slave ports, so why not have another statue in New York harbor that commemorates slave rebellions in New York as symbols of liberty? Many people in America and throughout the world have rejected white freedom and fought for liberty for all, and it’s important to honor their struggles.

C.J. Polychroniou is a political economist/political scientist who has taught and worked in universities and research centers in Europe and the United States. His main research interests are in European economic integration, globalization, the political economy of the United States and the deconstruction of neoliberalism’s politico-economic project. He is a regular contributor to Truthout as well as a member of Truthout’s Public Intellectual Project. He has published several books and his articles have appeared in a variety of journals, magazines, newspapers and popular news websites. Many of his publications have been translated into several foreign languages, including Croatian, French, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish. He is the author of Optimism Over Despair: Noam Chomsky On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change, an anthology of interviews with Chomsky originally published at Truthout and collected by Haymarket Books.

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Chomsky And Pollin: A Global Green New Deal Is The Only Way To Avert Disaster

Robert Pollin

Global warming is the biggest challenge facing humanity today. Yet, climate change has yet to become our number one priority even though, as the World Meteorological Organization warned back in March 2020, “time is fast running out” on averting an acute environmental catastrophe.

In this context, a comprehensive Green New Deal is urgently needed to be put into action. A Global Green New Deal. And, hopefully, the incoming Biden administration will not squander the opportunity to have the U.S. take the lead on climate emergency now that the Senate is under Democratic control.

In the interview that follows, Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin explain the urgency of undertaking ambitious efforts to respond globally to the existential crisis of climate change within the context of a just transition to a green economy. Chomsky and Pollin are joint recipients of the 2020 Climate Courage Award granted by the Climate Change Leadership Institute for their book Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal and its articulation of “a global solution that is not only bold and viable but also replete with the need for a just transition.”

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, the outgoing Trump administration was the worst thing that could have happened for the environment. Trump rolled out dozens of deregulation policies. His administration reversed the Obama-rule on methane emissions, even though methane, the natural ingredient in natural gas, is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Meanwhile he denied the science of climate change and withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement. What can we expect from the Biden administration on climate emergency, especially now that the Senate is under Democratic control, and why is it so important that the U.S. should rejoin the Paris Agreement?

Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky: Rejoining the Paris Agreement is imperative, but only a bare beginning. The Agreement was an important step forward. It is, however, very weak, not even close to what has to be done. It also has no teeth: it is voluntary, no binding commitments. The primary reason for the weakness is the U.S. Republican Party, which would not permit anything that went much beyond symbolism. The Party is still there. In fact, it just achieved overwhelming success in the November 2020 elections, winning at every level except for the White House, where distaste for Trump’s antics prevailed. That victory is quite astonishing if only in light of the fact that the Party’s leaders were responsible for killing tens if not hundreds of thousands of Americans in the preceding months — not to speak of racing to the abyss of environmental catastrophe, a fact that scarcely registered.

The Party is still there, a dominating force, poised to ensure that the country is ungovernable, a specialty of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell as he proclaimed with pride during the Obama years and demonstrated with considerable success.

And Trump is not gone, far from it. A large majority of the Republican voting base regards him as their leader, if not savior. They can be whipped up to threaten any Republican office holder who dares to depart from Trump-McConnell malevolence, much as the Tea Party was organized and used for that purpose, with plenty of funding from powerful concentrations of capital. It may be recalled that as recently as 2008, during the McCain campaign, Republicans were willing to entertain the thought that there might be some problem about destroying the climate that sustains life. With virtual unanimity, they succumbed to a juggernaut launched by David Koch to extirpate that heresy, a victory that remains in place. With Trump setting himself up as the “true victor” in the elections, stirring up poisons in the ways he masters very well, there will be serious barriers to returning the country to a moderately civilized course.

How serious the barriers are we saw right before our eyes on January 6, a fateful day.

Ever since he gained office, Trump has been working hard to turn the country into a tin-pot dictatorship under his rule, a process we have been discussing regularly in this forum as it has unfolded.

To repeat briefly, there have been three prongs to the assault against the world by this miserable creature:
1. Destroying the environment that sustains life
2. Sharply increasing the threat of terminal nuclear war;
3. Dismantling formal democracy.

The first one alone suffices to establish him as arguably the most dangerous political figure in human history, a truism that has been hard for many to contemplate.

Right now we are witnessing the next step in his dedication to destroy American democracy. He has been bragging for years about the “Tough Guys for Trump” — his Black and Brown Shirts.

On January 6, he unleashed them, encouraging their violence and destruction as they broke into the Capitol Building to prevent formal ratification of his electoral defeat, which, it seems, he will never acknowledge no matter how much destruction is caused by his malevolence.

In his disgraceful performance calling on his tough guys to go home — for now — he could not refrain from stirring up more poisons with brazen lies about how his “landslide victory” was stolen by evil forces, doing what he can to ensure maximum damage to the country to which he intends to return triumphantly to complete the wreckage.

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Green Social Democracy Offers The Most Viable Path Toward A Sustainable Future

The coronavirus pandemic has created both a public health and an economic crisis in the United States. More than 300,000 people have died of COVID-19, with excess deaths highest among Black and Latinx populations. Hospitals across the country have passed the breaking point. And millions are struggling to eat and pay the rent. Yet, the stock market is hitting record highs and the super-rich are getting even richer in the midst of the pandemic. Yet, there is no talk among the elites of meaningful reforms, even while the climate change is driving the planet to tipping points.

In the interview that follows, David Kotz, economics professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, argues that radical change is the only hope for a sustainable future and advocates a blueprint based on the vision of a “green social democracy.” Kotz is the author of scores of articles and books, including The Rise and Fall of Neoliberal Capitalism (Harvard University Press).

C.J. Polychroniou: David, we are again in the midst of yet another capitalist crisis, yet the stock market is at a record high. How could this be when the economy is weakening and so many Americans are struggling?

David Kotz: The performance of the stock market is not a good indicator of the health of the economy. It is driven by expected future profits of corporations and future dividend payouts, which cannot be known with any certainty. At times the stock market is affected by purely speculative factors; that is, the belief that if stock prices have been rising recently then they will continue to rise in the future, which can lead to a self-sustaining upward spiral in stock prices.

On March 1, 2020, just before the pandemic began to shut down the U.S. economy, the ratio of price to corporate earnings for the Standard and Poor’s 500 corporations was 22.80, yet after some nine months of pandemic economic crisis, it had risen to 37.08 on December 11, 2020. While the majority of the population has suffered financially during this period, the rich, who do most of the stock market investing, have been doing fine. Large corporations have been taking actions that boost their stock price, such as buying back their own shares at a historically high rate and making large dividend payouts — actions that do not indicate economic health of the economy. While U.S. corporate profits fell by 20 percent in the second quarter of 2020 compared to six months earlier, dividends fell by only 5 percent.

The United States is the richest country in the world, but its distribution of wealth is more unequal than in any other country in the advanced industrialized world. Why is that?

An unmodified capitalist economy generates a very high degree of inequality of income and wealth, as the owners of companies and other forms of property are able to take most of what is produced by working people. However, inequality can be reduced when workers have strong trade unions through which they can claim a larger share of what they produce. Inequality can also be reduced by several kinds of government interventions, including income maintenance programs, progressive tax systems, minimum wage regulations, provision of essential goods and services for free or at reduced cost, and not least, fiscal and monetary policies that promote a low rate of unemployment. A low unemployment rate increases labor’s bargaining power and particularly benefits workers who are at the low-wage end of the working class.

The labor movement in the U.S. historically has been weaker than in other developed capitalist countries. Among the reasons for this are the following: 1) the ethnic and racial diversity of the U.S. working class, which has made it more difficult for all workers to combine in struggle against employers; 2) the rapid population growth in the U.S. in the period when capitalism was developing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which created significant opportunity for workers and their children to rise in the class structure; 3) the U.S. capitalist class put up very determined resistance to labor unions, including the use of violence; and 4) American culture is relatively individualistic, which makes it more difficult for workers to engage in collective action.

For the same reasons cited above, the U.S. is the only developed capitalist country in which a working class-based socialist political party has never achieved major party status. In other countries such parties have played the major role in the enactment of government programs that reduce inequality. In the U.S., the Democratic Party has in some periods played a somewhat similar role, but that party is not a workers’ party but rather represents parts of big business and parts of small business as well as working people. The result has been much weaker government programs that reduce inequality.

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Noam Chomsky: Trump Has Revealed The Extreme Fragility Of American Democracy

Noam Chomsky

Even after Trump-appointed bureaucrat Emily W. Murphy of the General Services Administration signed a letter enabling Biden to start working with federal agencies and prepare for a transition of power, Donald Trump has personally continued to resist conceding, thus breaking the tradition of a peaceful transition to power.

What is he after with his bogus legal challenges of a “rigged and stolen” election? Can he really hope for a legislative coup? Is the contemporary United States a country divided not merely on political and ideological issues among its body politic, but, more frighteningly, along different conceptions of reality? And will Trumpism continue after Trump has left office? Revered public intellectual Noam Chomsky sheds light on these questions with groundbreaking insights in this exclusive interview for Truthout.

C.J. Polychroniou: U.S. election officials have declared the 2020 election “the most secure in American history.” Yet, the Trump campaign continues to mount legal challenges to the electoral process, pushing outrageous falsehoods, while Rudy Giuliani has gone so far as to make outlandish claims of a vast global conspiracy to steal the election from the Great Leader. In your view, what is really behind Trump’s legal challenges?

Noam Chomsky: Speculation of course, but I’ll indulge in a bad dream — which could become reality if we are not on guard, and if we fail to recognize that elections should be a brief interlude in a life of engaged activism, not a time to go home and leave matters in the hands of the victors.

I suspect that Trump and associates regard their legal challenges as a success in what seems a plausible strategy: keep the pot boiling and keep the loyal base at fever pitch, furious about the “stolen” election and the efforts of the insidious elites and the “deep state” to remove their savior from office.

That strategy seems to be working well. According to recent polls, “Three-quarters (77%) of Trump backers say Biden’s win was due to fraud” and “The anger among Trump’s base is tied to a belief that the election was stolen.” Rejection of the legal challenges with ridicule may please liberal circles, but for the base, it may be simply more proof of the Trump thesis: the hated elites will stop at nothing in their machinations.

Meanwhile, this strategy requires keeping the wrecking ball — Trump’s symbol — actively at work. Do nothing to deal with the pandemic, even delay in providing data to Biden’s team while a top nurse’s union warns of “catastrophic death” in the growing chaos while “our hospitals are knowingly still not prepared” and the government is on vacation.

Viewed through the lens of this vile strategy, if the pandemic gets worse, so much the better. Then local officials will try to impose restrictions and even lockdowns to control patriotic Americans — in line with the plans of the supposed “Communist-run deep state” — leading to economic harm and intrusions on normal life. Meanwhile, Trump and his associates could abandon other normal governmental activities so that when Biden establishes what they describe as a “fake government” on inauguration day, the immediate problems will be severe and failure likely.

On that day, which will live in infamy among the faithful, Trump might set up what he claims is an authentic government in Mar-a-Lago, with Mitch McConnell’s Senate in his pocket and a furious popular base. The next step would be to make the country ungovernable, a specialty that McConnell has been perfecting for a decade and that an accomplished demagogue like Trump can manage reflexively. Everything that goes wrong can be blamed on the treacherous “elites.”

Trump and associates might, as some have speculated, set up an alternative media empire, incorporating talk radio and other far right outlets but perhaps not Fox, which has shown occasional signs of disobedience. Then they could come roaring back into power in 2022-2024, feeding on growing discontent.

They would then be free to destroy the environment with abandon and maximize short-term profit for their primary constituency, impose discipline on what remains of government, tame the media, institute harsh authoritarian measures elsewhere, and continue with their abject service to their masters — the real elites, the very rich and the corporate sector, the decision-makers, as recent academic research once again establishes very clearly.

It’s of no little interest that we have to turn to the world’s leading business journal, the very respectable London Financial Times, to read some elementary truths about what could once claim to be a leading democracy: “Anyone with a pulse,” Financial Times Associate Editor Rana Foroohar writes, “knows that in the US today the system is rigged in favour of the wealthy and powerful.” Foroohar adds:
One particularly illuminating paper [just cited] found that considering the opinions of anyone outside that top 10 per cent was a far less accurate predictor of what happened to government policy. The numbers showed that: ‘not only do ordinary citizens not have uniquely substantial power over policy decisions; they have little or no independent influence on policy at all’. We have had decades of legislative tweaks to everything from tax policy to corporate governance and accounting standards that have favoured capital over labour. Supreme Court decisions such as the Citizens United case have also dramatically increased the amount of money funneled into political campaigning. This has left the nature of America’s political economy perilously close to an oligopoly.

If the Trump strategy is anything like the speculation outlined above, the prevailing oligopoly might look like a fond memory.

Anger and contempt for “elites” is not a mistake, even if the real elites are effectively concealed by the propaganda machine.

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    Rozenberg Quarterly aims to be a platform for academics, scientists, journalists, authors and artists, in order to offer background information and scholarly reflections that contribute to mutual understanding and dialogue in a seemingly divided world. By offering this platform, the Quarterly wants to be part of the public debate because we believe mutual understanding and the acceptance of diversity are vital conditions for universal progress. Read more...
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