Andy Stowe reviews Naomi Klein’s new book “No Is Not Enough” on Trump’s rise and her plan for defeating him.
The first thing that hits you reading this very useful summary of the reasons behind Trump’s rise is just how current it is. Klein is writing in the heat of very recent events and her narrative takes us up to May of this year, which in a political period measured in turbo-accelerated Trump time feels like a couple of centuries ago. And she turns out to be pretty prescient, even if it didn’t take much imagination to work out that he’d want to go to war with someone pretty quickly.
She also takes him very seriously. His aides may be briefing that they don’t give him documents written at an adult level and his military advisors use pictures when explaining things to him, but he self-evidently has some sort of populist intuition. In Klein’s persuasive telling Trump is the embodiment of a model of capitalism which creates nothing of intrinsic value but relies on the power of brand imagery. His is a rejection of the idea of the paternalistic capitalist companies which offer pensions, some level of job security and protected working conditions for a transfer of production to low wage, largely unregulated factories in poor countries. Instead he whips up his supporters with a toxic nationalism which persuades him that they can be winners like him because they are white Americans. His racism is longstanding and lightly enough hidden for it to have been a major factor in his election.
Of course the other factor was the uselessness of the Clinton campaign which she excoriates for all the right reasons. The poster family of the global elite which Trump voters held accountable for austerity may have won the popular vote, but in an electoral system originally designed to protect slave owners, it didn’t mobilise enough support to win. Klein is forthright in her support for Bernie Sanders and makes the case that he could have won.
As is customary with Klein’s books it’s her approach to the politics of social transformation which is weakest. She devotes the last section to what’s effectively a manifesto for an ecosocialist transformation of society called The Leap. It emerged from a 2015 meeting in Canada which pulled together “heads of labor federations and unions, directors of major green groups, iconic Indigenous and feminist leaders” and all sorts of other people. Despite the fact that it seems to have been a rather top down few days it addressed the main issues of our time – destructive capitalist hyper-consumption, energy sources, green jobs, women in the economy and war. Klein describes it as moving from an economy based on destruction to one based on love.
Klein’s principal interest is in movements, not parties and she never addresses the obvious problem that political and economic programmes are implemented by states and governments. Her only references to Britain are occasional comments on Brexit. The Corbyn movement isn’t mentioned once even though it demonstrates that hundreds of thousands of people have understood that while movements can put pressure on governments, a party with a programme for a shift from neo-liberalism can put it into practice. And it seems that this message is now finding a resonance in the United States where the Democratic Socialists of America have gained thousands of new members, voted to leave the Socialist International and develop a mass anti-austerity party.
No Is Not Enough is a useful primer for DSA and Labour Party members on how we got to where we are and it has lots of useful ideas for future manifestos, but love is not enough for standing up to Trump and the Tories. You need to be in something that allows you to challenge them for political power too.
No Is Not Enough is published by Allen Lane, June 2017.