Supporters of the Green New Deal are launching a nationwide tour Thursday to build support for the congressional resolution to transform the U.S. economy through funding renewable energy while ending U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by 2030. Democracy Now! spoke with Noam Chomsky about the Green New Deal and the lessons of the old New Deal in Boston last week.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. We end today’s show with the world-renowned linguist, political dissident Noam Chomsky. I spoke to him last week at the Old South Church in Boston. In a moment, we’ll hear Noam Chomsky talk about Russian meddling in the 2016 election and what the Mueller report found and didn’t find, which is being released today. But first, I asked Noam Chomsky to talk about the Green New Deal and the lessons of the old New Deal.
NOAM CHOMSKY: First of all, I think the Green New Deal is exactly the right idea. You can raise questions about the specific form in which Ocasio-Cortez and Markey introduced it: Maybe it shouldn’t be exactly this way; it should be a little bit differently. But the general idea is quite right. And there’s very solid work explaining, developing in detail, exactly how it could work. So, a very fine economist at UMass Amherst, Robert Pollin, has written extensively on, in extensive detail, with close analysis of how you could implement policies of this kind in a very effective way, which would actually make a better society. It wouldn’t be that you’d lose from it; you’d gain from it. The costs of renewable energy are declining very sharply. If you eliminate the massive subsidies that are given to fossil fuels, they probably already surpass them. There are many means that can be implemented and carried out to overcome, certainly to mitigate, maybe to overcome, this serious crisis. So the basic idea is, I think, completely defensible—in fact, essential. A lot of the media commentary ridiculing this and that aspect of it are essentially beside the point. You can change the dates from 2030 to 2040, you can do a couple of other manipulations, but the basic idea is correct.
Well, what’s the difference from the 1930s? Several things. One thing that’s different is large-scale labor action. The 1930s were the period of the organization of the CIO. In the 1920s, the U.S. labor movement had been virtually destroyed. Remember, this is very much a business-run society. American labor history is very violent, quite unlike comparable countries. And by the 1920s, the quite effective, militant labor movement had been pretty much crushed. One of the great works of labor history, by David Montgomery, one of the great labor historians, is called The Rise and Fall of the American Labor Movement [The Fall of the House of Labor: The Workplace, the State, and American Labor Activism, 1865-1925]. He was talking about the 1920s, when it had essentially been destroyed. The 1930s, it revived. It revived with large-scale organizing activities. The CIO organizing began. The strike actions were quite militant. They led to sitdown strikes. A sitdown strike is a real sign of warning to the business classes, because there’s a step beyond a sitdown strike. The next step beyond a sitdown strike is: “Let’s start the factory by running it by ourselves. We don’t need the bosses. We can run it ourselves. So, get rid of them.” OK? That’s a real revolution, the kind that should take place. The participants in an enterprise would own and run it by themselves, instead of being the slaves of the private owners who control their lives. And a sitdown strike is a bare step away from that. That aroused real fear among the ownership classes.
Second element was there was a sympathetic administration, which is very critical. You look at the history of labor actions over the centuries—there’s a very good book on this, incidentally, by Erik Loomis, who studies—has a book called American History in Ten Strikes, or some similar name [A History of America in Ten Strikes], where he runs through the militant labor actions ever since the early 19th century. And he makes an interesting point. He says every successful labor action has had at least tacit support of the government. If the government and the ownership classes are unified in crushing labor action, they’ve always succeeded. OK? Very significant observation. And in the 1930s, there was a sympathetic administration, for many reasons. But that combination of militant labor action—it was a very lively political period in many ways—and a sympathetic administration did lead to the New Deal, which greatly changed people’s lives.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you share your analysis of President Trump? You have lived through so many presidents. Explain President Trump to us and assess the massive response to him.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, Trump is—you know, I think there are a number of illusions about Trump. If you take a look at the Trump phenomenon, it’s not very surprising. Think back for the last 10 or 15 years over Republican Party primaries, and remember what happened during the primaries. Each primary, when some candidate rose from the base, they were so outlandish that the Republican establishment tried to crush them and succeeded in doing it—Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum. Anyone who was coming out of the base was totally unacceptable to the establishment. The change in 2016 is they couldn’t crush him.
But the interesting question is: Why was this happening? Why, in election after election, was the voting base producing a candidate utterly intolerable to the establishment? And the answer to that is—if you think about that, the answer is not very hard to discover. During the—since the 1970s, during this neoliberal period, both of the political parties have shifted to the right. The Democrats, by the 1970s, had pretty much abandoned the working class. I mean, the last gasp of more or less progressive Democratic Party legislative proposals was the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act in 1978, which Carter watered down so that it had no teeth, just became voluntary. But the Democrats had pretty much abandoned the working class. They became pretty much what used to be called moderate Republicans. Meanwhile, the Republicans shifted so far to the right that they went completely off the spectrum. Two of the leading political analysts of the American Enterprise Institute, Thomas Mann, Norman Ornstein, about five or 10 years ago, described the Republican Party as what they called a “radical insurgency” that has abandoned parliamentary politics.
Well, why did that happen? It happened because the Republicans face a difficult problem. They have a primary constituency, a real constituency: extreme wealth and corporate power. That’s who they have to serve. That’s their constituency. You can’t get votes that way, so you have to do something else to get votes. What do you do to get votes? This was begun by Richard Nixon with the Southern strategy: try to pick up racists in the South. The mid-1970s, Paul Weyrich, one of the Republican strategists, hit on a brilliant idea. Northern Catholics voted Democratic, tended to vote Democratic, a lot of them working-class. The Republicans could pick up that vote by pretending—crucially, “pretending”—to be opposed to abortion. By the same pretense, they could pick up the evangelical vote. Those are big votes—evangelicals, northern Catholics. Notice the word “pretense.” It’s crucial. You go back to the 1960s, every leading Republican figure was strongly, what we call now, pro-choice. The Republican Party position was—that’s Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, all the leadership—their position was: Abortion is not the government’s business; it’s private business—government has nothing to say about it. They turned almost on a dime in order to try to pick up a voting base on what are called cultural issues. Same with gun rights. Gun rights become a matter of holy writ because you can pick up part of the population that way. In fact, what they’ve done is put together a coalition of voters based on issues that are basically, you know, tolerable to the establishment, but they don’t like it. OK? And they’ve got to hold that, those two constituencies, together. The real constituency of wealth and corporate power, they’re taken care of by the actual legislation.
So, if you look at the legislation under Trump, it’s just lavish gifts to the wealth and the corporate sector—the tax bill, the deregulation, you know, every case in point. That’s kind of the job of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, those guys. They serve the real constituency. Meanwhile, Trump has to maintain the voting constituency, with one outrageous position after another that appeals to some sector of the voting base. And he’s doing it very skillfully. As just as a political manipulation, it’s skillful. Work for the rich and the powerful, shaft everybody else, but get their votes—that’s not an easy trick. And he’s carrying it off.
And, I should say, the Democrats are helping him. They are. Take the focus on Russiagate. What’s that all about? I mean, it was pretty obvious at the beginning that you’re not going to find anything very serious about Russian interference in elections. I mean, for one thing, it’s undetectable. I mean, in the 2016 election, the Senate and the House went the same way as the executive, but nobody claims there was Russian interference there. In fact, you know, Russian interference in the election, if it existed, was very slight, much less, say, than interference by, say, Israel. Israel, the prime minister, Netanyahu, goes to Congress and talks to a joint session of Congress, without even informing the White House, to attack Obama’s policies. I mean, that’s dramatic interference with elections. Whatever the Russians tried, it’s not going to be anything like that. And, in fact, there’s no interference in elections that begins to compare with campaign funding. Remember that campaign funding alone gives you a very high prediction of electoral outcome. It’s, again, Tom Ferguson’s major work which has shown this very persuasively. That’s massive interference in elections. Anything the Russians might have done is going to be, you know, peanuts in comparison. As far as Trump collusion with the Russians, that was never going to amount to anything more than minor corruption, maybe building a Trump hotel in Red Square or something like that, but nothing of any significance.
The Democrats invested everything in this issue. Well, turned out there was nothing much there. They gave Trump a huge gift. In fact, they may have handed him the next election. That’s just a—that’s a matter of being so unwilling to deal with fundamental issues, that they’re looking for something on the side that will somehow give political success. The real issues are different things. They’re things like climate change, like global warming, like the Nuclear Posture Review, deregulation. These are real issues. But the Democrats aren’t going after those. They’re looking for something else—the Democratic establishment. I’m not talking about the young cohort that’s coming in, which is quite different. Just all of that has to be shifted significantly, if there’s going to be a legitimate political opposition to the right-wing drift that’s taking place. And it can happen, can definitely happen, but it’s going to take work.
AMY GOODMAN: The world-renowned linguist and political dissident Noam Chomsky, speaking at the Old South Church in Boston last Thursday night. Go to democracynow.org to see more of the interview and to see his speech. You can go to democracynow.org for our video and audio podcasts, as well as transcripts of all of our shows.