In the run-up to the U.S. midterm elections, we speak with world-renowned linguist, dissident and author Noam Chomsky. “What are the domestic policies of the Trump administration?” Chomsky says. “Very straightforward: lavish gifts on the rich, powerful corporate sector and try to undermine and destroy anything that might be of benefit to the general population.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. With the U.S. midterm elections a day away, we continue our conversation with the world-renowned linguist, dissident, author Noam Chomsky. Democracy Now!‘s Nermeen Shaikh and I interviewed him from Tucson, Arizona, where he now teaches at the University of Arizona. Noam Chomsky is also institute professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he’s taught for more than 50 years.
During Part 1 of the conversation, that we played on Friday, Noam Chomsky talked about what’s at stake in tomorrow’s midterm elections.
NOAM CHOMSKY: So, is it the most gravest moment in my life? Yes. But also in all of human history. And things like the election will have an impact on this.
AMY GOODMAN: During our conversation on Thursday, I asked Professor Chomsky to outline some of the issues he thinks should be followed most closely.
NOAM CHOMSKY: What are the domestic policies of the Trump administration? They’re very straightforward: lavish gifts on the rich, powerful corporate sector and try to undermine and destroy anything that might be of benefit to the general population. That’s quite explicitly what’s happening before our eyes.
So, take the legislative achievement that the Republican Party is most proud of: their tax bill—as economist Joseph Stiglitz described it, the donor relief plan of 2017. It’s an enormous gift to wealth, corporate power, including real estate interests, incidentally. Enormous gift, frankly. And it has the secondary advantage—as the Republican leadership was quick to point out, it has the advantage of creating a huge deficit, which can be used as a pretext for getting rid of social spending. U.S. social spending is already very meager by world standards. We’re down at the bottom of the OECD, the 30 rich countries, along with Greece and Turkey, in social benefits spendings. But there’s something there, so let’s get rid of it. Let’s undermine Medicaid, which goes to the undeserving poor; let’s undermine Social Security, which working people just rely on for survival—all because we have to lavish gifts on the super-rich and ensure that the corporations have profits bulging out of their ears. The claim of the pretext for the tax scam was that it was going to sharply increase investment. That was pretty outlandish. To start with, corporations already have—are just overflowing with profits and wealth. And predictably, it did nothing of the sort.
Those are the domestic programs. Then come all of these international horrors that we’re talking about. I shouldn’t—don’t want to suggest that the mainstream Democrats are all that better in these respects. Somewhat. And there is a progressive wave among the sectors of the Democratic Party that could lead in a much more constructive direction. But the midterms next week are going to have a critical impact on how the country goes and, given the enormous power and wealth of this country, what happens to the world.
AMY GOODMAN: And on that issue, you have been extremely critical of Democrats. But with this whole discussion of whether the House will turn Democrat, and possibly the Senate, do you think it matters?
NOAM CHOMSKY: I think it matters. Yes, we have every reason to be critical of the Democrats. These policies of the last generation, the neoliberal policies that have led to these conditions we’ve been talking about, the so-called New Democrats, the Clinton Democrats, have been right at the forefront. Say, deregulation of financial institutions, one of Clinton’s great achievements, which led directly to the financial crisis, along with—one of the factors that led to it—his attack on the welfare program. Lots that we can blame them for.
In fact, I should say that some of the things that Trump has done, which are—which merit praise, are bitterly attacked by the Democrats and by the Republican hawks, in particular, with regard to Korea. In April, last April, the two Koreas, North and South, issued a historic declaration, Panmunjom Declaration, in which they laid out for the first time fairly detailed plans and moves towards a reduction of tension, reconciliation, a reduction of weaponry, denuclearization. Very sensible, detailed plans. And they virtually pleaded with the outside world, meaning the United States, not to interfere. What they said is, the two Koreas will proceed with these plans on their own accord—crucially. In other words, let us do it. Trump, to his credit, has not interfered. The Singapore summit, for which he was lambasted, was one of his more—one of his very few admirable achievements. He not only did not intervene, but he even withdrew what he correctly described as provocative U.S.-South Korean military operations. Well, all of that should be supported. I don’t know what his reasons were, maybe ridiculous reasons, but doesn’t matter. These are moves that should be supported. Those are the things for which he’s being bitterly attacked. So, it’s not an entirely, you know, sort of clear issue.
Nevertheless, overwhelmingly, the Republican Party is simply a major threat to—not only to the country, but to human survival. I’ve said in the past that I think they’re the most dangerous organization in human history, on the issue of climate change alone, and I think that’s worth repeating.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, as we continue our conversation with the world-renowned linguist and dissident Noam Chomsky. We interviewed him Thursday in Tucson, Arizona, where he now teaches at the University of Arizona. I asked him to respond to President Trump’s recent decision to pull out of the INF, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, that landmark nuclear arms pact signed in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, the INF treaty was a very important development. You may recall that in that period, in the early and mid-’80s, the short—this has to do with short-range nuclear missiles. They were being installed in Western Europe, Pershing II missiles in Western Europe, which had a few minutes’ flight time to Moscow. If you think what that means, the Russian detection systems are, first of all, far more primitive than ours, but even sophisticated—if they had had sophisticated detection systems, it would have given them barely a few minutes’ warning before a possible heavy nuclear strike, even a decapitation strike, against Moscow. And the Russians were doing the same. They were building short-term missiles aimed at Western Europe. Notice the—not at the United States. This was internal to Europe, short-term—short-range missiles. Well, the 1987 INF treaty ended that extreme peril, sharply reduced it. Missiles were reduced and so on. This was an important step forward. Breaking the treaty reinstates that system.
Now, there’s an obvious way to deal with the problem. Namely, it’s called—it’s kind of a bad word; maybe I ought to spell it—it’s called diplomacy. There have been—the way to deal with the problem is quite straightforward: Do what has not been done as yet—have technical experts from both sides, and neutral ones, investigate the claims that are being made by both sides, and determine if they’re valid. And to the extent that there are, negotiate a way to overcome these violations of the treaty, and then enforce the treaty even further. Carry it further. We should be moving towards eliminating nuclear weapons. Remember that the New START treaty is coming up for renewal. That’s a very important one. START has led to the sharp reduction of nuclear weapons—by no means anywhere near far enough, but nevertheless quite significant.
We should also recall that Trump’s pulling out of the INF treaty has a precursor, namely, the Nuclear Posture Review of the Trump administration, which already called for developing new weapons, tactical nuclear weapons, which themselves greatly increase the threat of a possible war. A target of these missiles can’t know whether they’re conventional or nuclear, or whether they’re short-range or much more powerful missiles. You have a few minutes’ warning time to make these decisions. You look over the history of the nuclear age, and it is practically miraculous that we’ve survived this far. There’s been case after case where we came very—both sides came very close to making a decision to launch nuclear weapons, which means basically terminating human civilization. And miracles like that can’t go on forever. And enhancing the threat is just beyond insanity. Ending the INF treaty not only opens the door for the United States and Russia to develop more dangerous lethal weapons, but, of course, for others to join in, as well, greatly increasing the hazard to all of us. And there are diplomatic options that have not been pursued. And they are the ones that—they are the ones that should be uppermost, not vastly endangering ourselves and everyone else.
Trump also brought up the fact that China is not a partner to the INF. Yeah, they’re not. Well, the way that—that’s because of their particular geostrategic position and their defensive posture in the western Eurasia—eastern Eurasia. Eastern Eurasia. So, the way to deal with that problem is to bring them into the treaty, not to break the treaty and greatly increase the danger to the world.
We should bear in mind that the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which has established, since 1947, beginning of the nuclear age—it’s established the Doomsday Clock, where the minute hand is a certain distance from midnight. Midnight means goodbye, termination of all of us. At the beginning, 1947, it was seven minutes to midnight. It’s oscillated up and back since. In last January, after a year of the Trump administration, it moved to two minutes to midnight. That’s the closest it’s been to terminal disaster ever, with one exception, 1953. The United States, then the Soviet Union, exploded thermonuclear weapons, demonstrating that, in our ingenuity, we had devised the means to destroy everything. At that point, the clock did move to two minutes to midnight. Hasn’t gone that close to disaster since. But it did last January.
And now it’s worse. The Nuclear Posture Review, the revelation, since that time, that the U.S. actually has developed a first-strike potential, which could prevent—could eliminate any deterrent to a first strike, then Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review, which calls for extending the nuclear threat, and now this latest step—this is a march to disaster, which is only paralleled by the moves of the administration to race towards the cliff of environmental destruction with eyes open. They know exactly what they’re doing. Trump himself is a firm believer in global warming; the others, as well. But just in order to fill a couple of overstuffed pockets with more dollars, they’re willing to threaten the existence of organized human life. There’s just no words to describe these two drives to destruction in parallel, or, in fact, to describe the fact that they’re barely discussed in the electoral season, as, surely, these are the two most important issues.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam, we want to turn to an issue that you have written about, that so many are so deeply concerned about, that hardly gets any play in this country, even in this critical midterm election. It’s the issue of climate change. Noam Chomsky, a new study has found that the world has massively underestimated the amount of heat absorbed by our oceans. The paper, published in the journal Nature, has concluded that for the past quarter of a century about 150 times the amount of energy used to generate electricity globally has been deposited into the seas, 60 percent more than previous estimates.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: This comes days after leading meteorologist Eric Holthaus issued a dire warning following Jair Bolsonaro’s election win in Brazil. He tweeted, quote, “This is worth repeating over and over. The most horrific thing Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, has planned is privatization of the Amazon rainforest. With just 12yr remaining to remake the global economy and prevent catastrophic climate change, this is planetary suicide,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, in a report issued earlier this week, the World Wildlife Fund found that human beings have wiped out 60 percent of all mammals, birds, fish and reptiles on Earth since 1970. This is WWF executive director of science and conservation Mike Barrett.
MIKE BARRETT: What’s absolutely clear at the moment, looking at the declines of nature that we’re currently seeing, is that the planet does need to be put on life support. And frankly, the solutions we’re coming up with at the moment are merely sticking plasters. So, this is now at the point where, as people, we’ve got to take a choice: Are we going to let this continue? Are we going to do something about it? Globally, at the moment, we are completely failing to tackle the loss of nature on the planet. And that’s got to stop now.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Mike Barrett of the World Wildlife Fund. Noam, you are deeply concerned about this issue—and, of course, you’re not alone—climate change, the issue of climate change.
NOAM CHOMSKY: We can add to the list of your dire warnings, as if it weren’t horrendous enough, a few more examples. A couple of weeks ago, the IPCC, the international group of scientists monitoring climate change, came out with a very ominous report warning that the world has maybe a decade or two to basically end its reliance on fossil fuels if we’re to have any hope of controlling global warming below the level of utter disaster. And that, incidentally, is a conservative estimate. It’s a consensus view. There are—repeatedly, over the years, it has been shown that the IPCC analyses are much less alarmist than they should be.
Now comes this report in Nature that you mentioned, a couple of days ago, which shows that there has been a serious underestimate of the warming of the oceans. And they conclude that if these results hold up, the so-called carbon budget, the amount of carbon that we can spew into the atmosphere and still have a survival environment, has to be reduced by about 25 percent. That’s over and above the IPCC report. And the opening up of the Amazon to further exploitation will be another serious blow at the prospects of survival of organized human society.
I should—at the same time, the Trump administration, right now, is opening up new areas of the West for fracking, for increasing the use of fossil fuels. You’ve probably seen maybe discussed one of the most amazing documents I have ever seen. The Trump department of highway standards, whatever it’s called, just issued a long report, hundred-page report, urging that all regulations on automotive emissions should be ended. And they had a very logical argument. They said if we extrapolate current trends by the end of the century, the climate will have warmed several degrees centigrade, meaning a huge rise in sea level, which they underestimate. So, basically, we’re going over the cliff anyway, and automotive emissions really don’t add much to this, so there’s no point cutting them back. The assumption of the department is that everyone in the world is as criminally insane as we are, and isn’t going to do anything about it. And since—on that assumption, yeah, let’s just rob while the planet burns, putting Nero into the shade—he only fiddled while Rome burned. I can’t think of anything like this in human history. You just can’t find words to describe it. And at the peak of the monstrosity is, in fact, the Trump administration.
We should recall that Trump himself, as I mentioned, is a firm believer in global warming. Recently, he applied to the government of Ireland for permission to build a huge wall, one of his famous walls, this one to protect a golf course of his in Ireland, which, as his plea indicates, is threatened by sea level rise as a result of global warming. You take a look at the big banks, JPMorgan Chase and the others. They’re increasing their investments in fossil fuel development. The energy corporations are working all over the world to try to find new resources that destroy the environment.
The media are focusing on real outrages, like the ludicrous military preparation for this wave of mothers and children planning to invade us and destroy us—you know, they’re concentrating on that, but take a look at their coverage of these things. So, there was a big report, long front-page report, in The New York Times a couple days ago about the opening up of the West to further fossil fuel extraction. Discussed everything you can think of. Did mention some of the negative consequences, like it might harm water resources. It might make things harder for ranchers. Not one phrase, one phrase in this long report, on the effect on the environment. In the political campaign going on, every—all kinds of issues are not discussed, but not the two existential threats that human beings face, threats that have never arisen in human history.
We have to make decisions now which will literally determine whether organized human life can survive in any decent form. You can just imagine what the world would be like if the sea level rises, say, 10 or 20 feet or even higher, which is within the range—easily within the range of predictions. I mean, the consequences are unimaginable. But it’s as if we’re kind of like the proverbial lemmings just happily marching off the cliff, led by leaders who understand very well what they’re doing, but are so dedicated to enriching themselves and their friends in the near future that it simply doesn’t matter what happens to the human species. There’s nothing like this in all of human history. There have been plenty of monsters in the past, plenty of them. But you can’t find one who was dedicated, with passion, to destroying the prospects for organized human life. Hitler was horrible enough, but not that.