Naomi Klein’s latest book, No Is Not Enough, looks at Donald Trump and the circumstances that lead to his victory in last year’s U.S. presidential election. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Naomi Klein normally takes about five years to write a book; she wrote No Is Not Enough, a response to the election of Donald Trump, from a standing start after his inauguration. Subtitled Resisting the New Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, the book is a natural outgrowth from The Shock Doctrine, Klein’s 2007 tome that chronicled how corporations and governments use disasters to push extreme agendas. She spoke with The Globe late last week.
Instabooks like this are normally reserved for accounts of sports championships or criminal trials. Granted, some people might liken Trump’s election to those events. But why did you want to turn this book around so quickly?
I know that it doesn’t sound good to say I was a woman possessed, and I really shouldn’t say that in interviews. But in this case, I really just felt this urgency of, I want this book out before there’s a major crisis in the U.S.
Because of the ways in which crises are exploited?
I certainly was concerned from the start about how this administration would exploit a very real shock – a shock beyond just the shock of them. Just the shocks they generate, in a kind of rolling way, every day, through Trump’s showmanship, the fact that he likes to have drama around him.
People say many of his wounds are self-inflicted, but I’m not sure he cares as long as he’s grabbing headlines. After all, they often help distract from other things going on: While everyone was busy watching Comey’s testimony, the House quietly voted to repeal the Dodd-Frank Act.
I think Trump is very useful and his chaos is very useful, and this idea that he’s completely incompetent is very useful, because it allows this very methodical, organized redistribution of wealth that is the connective tissue between his budget, his tax plan, his medicare plan, his infrastructure plan.
The appearance of chaos also means that, if he holds it together for five minutes at a press conference, critics are impressed.
Right. So long as that methodical work is happening on the economic front, Paul Ryan is not going to want to get rid of him. But what worries me is the kind of thing we saw with the London attack and the Manchester attack. Immediately after London, Trump says, This is why we need the travel ban. With Manchester, he immediately said, This is about immigrants flooding across our borders. Never mind that the bomber was [born in Britain].
The new book reads as something of a Naomi Klein’s Greatest Hits.
I prefer Mixtape. Do kids know what those are any more? I think it’s a retro thing.
You’ve got the central elements of all of your books – from the calls for jamming Trump’s brand, which evokes No Logo, up to the climate concerns of This Changes Everything. And of course you conclude with the Leap Manifesto.
You know, I’m trying to look to Trump and the resistance to Trump and the response to Trump through the lens of the things I know, in the hopes that it may be helpful. Because one of the things that worries me most is, because Trump is so bizarre and so unlike any U.S. president we’ve seen before, there is this narrative that takes him out of the context of history, you know? And I think that’s incredibly harmful and destabilizing, because when we’re a blank sheet – when everything we knew before doesn’t apply to this new, bizarre reality –
Even science –
Right. That’s when we’re particularly vulnerable to these tactics. So I just wanted to say, Well, actually, you know, Trump’s products may all be made in China, but this guy is made in America.
You call for people to jam Trump’s brand, to take away some of his power.
One thing I would say with jamming the Trump brand is that it’s important to understand that his relationship with his voters is more like a relationship between a brand and its consumers, and this sort of very tribal team-based identity, to understand what will hurt his brand, and what won’t. Because if your brand is wealth and power – and impunity, in fact, that he can get away with it, that’s a big part of his brand – then proving that he treats people like garbage and that he lies is not going to hurt his brand in any way, shape or form.
As you note, consistency is the key to branding.
And he created an amoral brand, right? So I do think there are better and worse ways of going after him, in a way that may erode his strength as a politician the next time he goes out, right? Which interests me more I think than pretty much anything else. Because I think there’s a lot of people putting all of their eggs in this basket, this idea that he’s not even going to make the first term. But what if he does run again?
Do you consider what Merkel and Macron and Trudeau are doing to be jamming Trump’s brand?
I think Trudeau has actively helped Ivanka’s brand. I mean, that little picture next to Ivanka in the Oval Office was branding gold for Ivanka’s brand, and well beyond what Trudeau needed to do to keep relations civil. I think it was shameful, to be honest. I think Trudeau has flirted with it, with his memes – putting out the “Refugees Welcome” the night of the travel ban – but really jamming Trump’s brand would have been to actually welcome refugees and lift the Safe Third Country Agreement, and introduce some meaningful policy.
You acknowledge in the book that you don’t have all of the answers. At one point you invoke Samuel Beckett and you say, We’re not going to be perfect, we’ll fail, but we need to do better.
I like the quote Alicia Garza uses. One of the founders of Black Lives Matter, she says we should make new mistakes. It’s not about never making mistakes, but it would be nice if we didn’t keep making the same mistakes over and over again.
You say “No is not enough.” But what does Yes mean? Is it the Leap Manifesto?
Well, that’s one example of coalitions coming together to map out a Yes, a vision for the future that doesn’t pit issues against each other, but says, “Okay, how do we solve multiple problems at once? We’re not going to play my crisis is bigger than your crisis. We’re going to try to design responses to climate change that are in line with the science, that fight for Indigenous rights, that fight economic inequality.”
Everybody understands that it has been a huge problem that we’re in this age of siloed politics.
And then layered on top of that, you have social media that encourages simple asks: “Here’s a campaign. Click. Fix.” And that encourages you to aim low.
Speaking of social media, late in the book you talk about the need for each of us to kill our ‘Inner Trump.’ Which part of your Inner Trump would you most like to kill?
(Pause) The way that my own attention span has been steadily fracturing in the age of social media. And putting me in a more reactive space than I want to be. But I’ve always tried to kill my own brand. This has been an ongoing attempt.
Let me ask about that brand. Because when you were at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference in February, the novelist Merilyn Simonds introduced you and called you “the Joan of Arc of our time.” Which frankly sounds ominous: She was burned at the stake at 19.
Hey, thank Merilyn Simonds. But what do you do with something like that?
Um. Ah. It was a extremely lovely, over-the-top introduction that I haven’t thought much about.
Okay, but she went on. She also said you were “Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhart – ”
I can’t be held accountable for this! Ahhh!
“ – Rachel Carson, Nancy Drew, Mary Richards, Dorothea Lange, Jane Jacobs, and Annie Oakley, all wrapped into one.’
All I can say is, the tequila in San Miguel is really good.
Simon, a lot of people say really mean things about me, too! (Laughs) You should read my [social media] mentions! You just went and cherry-picked the nicest thing that’s ever been said about me!
Okay, but what do you think it says – perhaps about the state of the disparate liberal movements, or the state of your brand – that someone like her says things like that about you?
I think there is something in the moment we’re in where, if our current systems could produce something as extreme as a Trump presidency, then a lot of people are more open to systemic change. To a deeper kind of change.
And I think that has nothing to do with what someone said, introducing me at a speech. But I do think it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.