This is What Neo-Fascism Looks Like

President-elect Donald Trump has announced a handful of new cabinet picks with deep ties to Wall Street. On Tuesday, he named Steven Mnuchin to be Treasury Secretary. Mnuchin is a former executive for Goldman Sachs, where his father also worked. Mnuchin’s hedge fund also played a role in the housing crisis, after it scooped up the failing California bank IndyMac in 2008. Under Mnuchin’s ownership, IndyMac foreclosed on 36,000 families, particularly elderly residents trapped in reverse mortgages. Mnuchin was accused of running a “foreclosure machine.” Trump has also picked billionaire private-equity investor Wilbur Ross to be Commerce Secretary. Ross specializes in flipping bankrupt companies for profit, often buying the U.S. companies at low prices and then selling them to overseas investors. He and his companies have sometimes engaged in the very practices Donald Trump rails against: shipping jobs and factories overseas. For more on these picks, we speak with Cornel West, Professor Emeritus at Princeton University. During the Democratic primary he endorsed Bernie Sanders. After Hillary Clinton won the nomination West made headlines when he endorsed Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: “Wall Street Wins Again as Trump Chooses Bankers and Billionaires.” That was the headline in piece by Bloomberg, on Wednesday, shortly after Donald Trump tapped former Goldman Sachs executive Steven Mnuchin to be his Treasury secretary and billionaire investor Wilbur Ross to head the Commerce Department. This comes as Politico is reporting Trump is also considering Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn for a top post. The two met at Trump Tower on Tuesday. Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon is also a former Goldman Sachs Vice President who went on to head the right-wing Breitbart news site.

AMY GOODMAN: Wall Street has celebrated the news. On Wednesday, Goldman Sachs stock jumped 3.6% to an eight-year high. This all comes after Donald Trump campaigned on an anti-establishment message often publicly criticizing his opponents for their ties to Goldman Sachs. Here’s Trump speaking about Ted Cruz 10 months ago.

DONALD TRUMP: What he wanted to do is say, I will protect you from Goldman Sachs. I will protect you from Citibank. And I will protect you from the banks, because I’m Robin Hood and I’m this wonderful senator and I’m going to protect you from these banks, and then he’s borrowing from the banks. And by the way, he’s got personal guarantees. And he got-low interest loans. He got low-interest loans. They’re low interest. And now he’s going to go after Goldman Sachs? It doesn’t work that way. Goldman Sachs owns him. Remember that, folks. They own him.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: On Wednesday, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, criticized Donald Trump for picking former Goldman Sachs executive Steven Mnuchin to be Treasury secretary. Brown said, “President-elect Trump campaigned against big money’s power in Washington and accused Wall Street and hedge funds of getting away with murder. But now he’s picked a hedge-fund manager whose Wall Street ties couldn’t run deeper to lead the Treasury Department, which is exactly what this election showed the American people don’t want. This isn’t draining the swamp, it’s stocking it with alligators.” The words of Senator Sherrod Brown.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, to talk more about the election of Donald Trump, his cabinet picks, and much more, we’re joined by Cornel West, Professor Emeritus at Princeton University. During the Democratic primary, he endorsed Bernie Sanders. After Hillary Clinton won the nomination, West made headlines when he endorsed Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. Welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us.

CORNEL WEST: I just thank God for Democracy Now! because journalism is almost dead as we move into this neofascist age. And thank god you all are still willing to tell the truth.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, your response to the election of Donald Trump and now the cabinet he is appointing around him?

CORNEL WEST: Well, I think he’s already betrayed working people in terms of making sure, in his view, that Wall Street is in the driver’s seat. And what I mean by that is that in an emerging neofascist moment, you have the rule of big business, which is big banks and big corporations. You scapegoat the most vulnerable. It could be Muslims, Mexicans, gay brothers, lesbian sisters, indigenous peoples, black peoples, jews, and so on. And then you also have militaristic orientations around the world. And so, you see the extension of the repressive apparatus, as those of us who hit the streets, those of us who will be — are willing to go to jail, we’ve had to recognize we’ll have more coming at us under Trump administration. But, the crucial thing is, is that he had talked about his connection with working people. And it’s clear that the one percent are still running things.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: But, you’ve also said, Dr. West, you just said that his administration will be neofascist. Could you explain? What do you mean by that, neofascist as opposed to fascist, and what the two mean?

CORNEL WEST: What neofascist — it’s an American style form of fascism. What I mean by that is we’ve had neoliberal rule from Carter to Obama. That neoliberal rule left in place a national security state. It left in place massive surveillance. It left in place the ability of the president to kill an American citizen with no due process. That’s Obama. That was the culmination of the neoliberal era. Now you get someone who is narcissistic — which is to say out of control psychologically — who is ideologically confused — which is to say, in over his head — and who does he choose? The most right wing reactionary zealots which lead toward the arbitrary deployment of law, which is what neofascism is, but to reinforce corporate interests, big bank interest, and to keep track of those of us who are cast as peoples of color, women, jews, Arabs, Muslims, Mexicans, and so forth, and so — So, this is one of the most frightening moments in the history of this very fragile empire and fragile republic.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to talk about some of the picks of Donald Trump, like President-elect Donald Trump’s treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, deep ties to Wall Street including working as a partner for Goldman Sachs, where his father also worked. Mnuchin’s hedge fund also played a role in the housing crisis after it scooped up the failing California bank IndyMac in 2008. Under Mnuchin’s ownership, IndyMac foreclosed on 36,000 families, particularly elderly residents trapped in reverse mortgages. People would go to Mnuchin’s home to protest outside as they were foreclosed out of their own homes. Mnuchin was accused of running a foreclosure machine. The bank, which was renamed One West, was also accused of racially discriminatory lending practices. In 2015 Mnuchin sold a bank for $3.4 billion, $1.8 billion more than he bought it for.

CORNEL WEST: This is what you call spiritual blackout. There is a level of callousness. There’s a level of indifference toward poor and working people. Preoccupation with greed and most importantly, lack of accountability. Doing anything they can do unless, in the end, they get caught by the law, and of course, oftentimes they have already disproportionately influenced those who apply the laws, those who supposed to be regulating them. And so, this is another instance of Wall Street run amok. I mean, I, and some of us were very critical [indiscernible] and others, very critical of Geithner, Summers, the Ruben crowd straight out of Wall Street when brother Barack Obama moved into the White House.

AMY GOODMAN: Summers, who you knew well because he was president of Harvard when you were there a professor there —

CORNEL WEST: Absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: — and got in a bit of an altercation with him.

CORNEL WEST: Bless his soul. But — so that you can see on the neoliberal rule, Wall Street’s still in the driver seat. We were hoping, with brother Bernie Sanders, that we could bring the neoliberal era to a close. And by neoliberal, what I mean is, when you see a social problem, you financialize, you privatize, and militarize. You get mass incarceration on the one hand, privatize schools — I know sister Diane Ravitch, on of the great prophetic voices of our time, in this regard will talk about this later — and then you militarize, which is to say drop bombs on seven Muslim countries and then wonder why Muslims are upset. Or you drop bombs on innocent children with U.S. drones and then wonder why the gangsters, the fascists coming out of the Muslim world, are organizing. And of course, we’ve got to be anti-fascist across the board. But this is going to be the most trying of times in our lifetime. There’s no doubt about it. And at 63 years old, I am thoroughly fortified for this fight. I will tell you that.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, given that people who voted for Trump and continuing with what you said, many have questioned how Trump, who after all is a billionaire born into a wealthy family, how did he become a working class hero so widely perceived among the people who voted for him as someone outside of the American economic and political elite class?

CORNEL WEST: Well, a significant number of those who voted for Trump were actually working people, middle-class people, who are looking for a way out given the fact they’re losers under neoliberal globalization. And they tilted toward Bernie Sanders, but the Democratic Party and its neoliberal regime marginalized him and us. And so, the only alternative is this pseudo-populist billionaire with these narcissistic sensibilities and fascist — neofascist proclivities. And he presented himself as caring for their situation. And so, that economic insecurity, that economic neglect is very real. There’s no doubt about that. And it’s disproportionate white brothers and sisters, but they are suffering. And it was a cry of the heart.

Unfortunately, given the right-wing populist and the authoritarian orientation of Trump, he uses that kind of anguish to scapegoat Mexicans, Muslims, and others rather than confront the most powerful — 21 percent of those who voted for Trump do not like him, but they feel as if they had no alternative. And we have to keep in mind 42 percent of our fellow citizens didn’t go to the polls at all. Already given up on the system, you see. And so, the system itself is, now, is in such a chronic crisis. And we said before the election that Trump would be a neofascist catastrophe. And it’s very clear from his picks that he is moving in that direction.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Bernie Sanders. We had the first extensive hour with Bernie after the election. I spoke to him Monday night at the Free Library. We played it Tuesday. He spoke about how he hopes to reform the Democratic Party as the new chair. Well, it’s a new position called the outreach position. He’s now in the Senate Democratic leadership. Even if he is an independent socialist. This is Bernie Sanders.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: The new approach, I think, is to, a, create a fifty state strategy. That means we start playing ball in states that the Democrats have conceded decades ago. But, more importantly, we create a kind of grassroots party where the most important people in the party are not just wealthy campaign contributors, but working people, young people, people in the middle class who are going to come in and going to start telling us what their needs are and give us some ideas as to how we go forward. And I accept this responsibility as outreach chair with a lot of trepidation, but also with excitement. I’m going to be going around the country to try to do everything that I can to create a party which represents working people and not just the one percent.

AMY GOODMAN: So, a lot of questions, and I encourage people to watch the full hour at democracynow.org. You were a big supporter of Bernie Sanders. You served on the Democratic Platform Committee on behalf of Bernie Sanders. Do you think he’s right to re— work on reforming the Democrats rather than focus on building a new party? He is leading a movement called our revolution. He has said we have to work with Donald in different ways. He says to the people who supported him. Elizabeth Warren, in the last day, has said she is not so clear she’s going to be working with Donald Trump. I mean, very interesting when Barack Obama came in, Mitch McConnell made it clear they won’t work with Obama at all. But, what are your thoughts on all of this, the inside/outside strategy?

CORNEL WEST: Well, I think there’s going to be a lot of different responses. I have a deep love and respect for brother Bernie Sanders. I always will. I don’t always agree with him. I’m not convinced that the Democratic Party can be reformed. I think it still has a kind of allegiance to a neoliberal orientation. It still has allegiance to Wall Street, the very victory of Nancy Pelosi is a sign that neoliberalism is still hegemonic in the party. I hope that Keith Ellison is able to present a challenge to it. But, my hunch is —

AMY GOODMAN: — as head of — if he makes it is head of the Democratic National Committee.

CORNEL WEST: If he’s head of the DNC. But my hunch is the Democratic Party has simply run out of gas. I mean, this is a party that couldn’t even publicly oppose TPP when we debated that in the Platform Committee. And that’s just one small example. Couldn’t stop — couldn’t vote to stop Fracking, and so on. So, it’s still so tied to big money.

AMY GOODMAN: Even though Hillary Clinton had changed her position, because of the pressure of Bernie Sanders on TPP?

CORNEL WEST: Exactly, and tight there in the debates, they got the word from the White House, we didn’t want to embarrass the president. Embarrass the president? What about the poor and working people who are dealing with the suffering? Is that less important than embarrassing the president? And they were very clear about that. And I pushed and pushed and pushed. Here’s somebody — they can’t even talk about the Israeli occupation honestly. The president uses a language in 2009, they can’t use it in the platform. Why? Because they tied to the lobby, they tied to AIPAC. So that, when you have those kinds of restraints on you, these albatrosses around your neck, how are you going to be a party for the people? How you going to be a party for working people, poor people. How you going to be a party for those brothers and sisters in Yemen who are dealing with U.S.-supported troops and bombs killing them, mediated with Saudi Arabian government? How you going to deal with the Palestinians, deal with the Israeli occupation? How you going to deal with Africans, the expansion of AFRICOM, and so forth? There has to be some integrity and moral consistency. And unfortunately, the Democratic Party just strikes me as not being able to meet that challenge. But, I’ll work with brother Bernie Sanders and others both out of love and because I know in his heart he’s got a certain deep commitment to working people. But now, even as an independent socialist, he’s behaving as a New Deal liberal.

AMY GOODMAN: What does that mean?

CORNEL WEST: That means that he is a — well, a Democratic Socialist is a radical who’s critical of the system. A New Deal liberal works within the system and doesn’t want to bring massive critique for structural change. And I can understand it because he’s inside. But those of us who are outside and free, we’re going to tell the truth. We’re going to be honest. We will have certain kind of moral and spiritual integrity. And no matter how marginal that makes us, we’re not, in any way, going to become well-adjusted to this injustice out here.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: In Charlotte, North Carolina, people took to the streets, Wednesday night, to protest the announcement that police officer Brentley Vinson, will not face charges for fatally shooting African American father Keith Lamont Scott. At least four people were arrested as protesters marched with signs reading, “How to get away with murder: Become a cop.”

PROTESTER 1: Hands up!

CROWD: Don’t shoot!

PROTESTER 1: Hands up!

CROWD: Don’t shoot!

PROTESTER 2: Don’t kill us dead in the street. You incarcerate our brothers and —

AMY GOODMAN: Keith Lamont Scott’s killing by police in September sparked massive protests in Charlotte and nationwide. Scott’s family says he was reading a book in his car in the parking lot waiting to pick up his son after school when he was approached by police officers. The dashboard camera video of the interaction, which was released after the protests, shows Scott exiting his vehicle and taking steps backwards with his arms at his sides. In the video, police fire four shots at Scott as he falls to the ground. In October, an independent autopsy ruled the shooting was a homicide.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: But on Wednesday, Mecklenburg County District Attorney Andrew Murray announced the officer Brentley Vinson, who is black, will not face charges and that the shooting was justified.

DIST. ATT. ANDREW MURRAY: After a thorough review, and given the totality of the circumstances and credible evidence in this case, it is my opinion that officer Vinson acted lawfully when he shot Mr. Scott. He acted lawfully.

AMY GOODMAN: Mecklenburg County District Attorney Andrew Murray went on to say the investigation found Scott had a gun at the scene of the shooting, although he admitted there was no evidence that Scott actually raised the gun at officers. North Carolina is an open-carry state, which means it’s legal to carry a gun. In a statement, Scott’s family members said they’re profoundly disappointed by the decision not to charge officer Vinson, who’s been on paid leave during the investigation. To talk more about the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott and police brutality, we’re still joined by Cornel West, professor emeritus at Princeton University who’s headed to Harvard University because he’ll be teaching in January. Your response to the lack of an indictment?

CORNEL WEST: We see it again. We see it again. I mean, it’s harder to send a policeman who kills an innocent civilian to jail than it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. I was just in court in White Plains with my dear brother Kenneth Chambers Jr. Same thing. Sitting there watching all of the witnesses. Here comes the jury and the judge. The death of our dear brother Kenneth Chamberlain Sr., no justice.

AMY GOODMAN: And people should go to our website to see the extensive work we did on that. But that was a man who was an Army veteran, had a medic alert necklace. And somehow when he was sleeping, rolled over on it. The medical people called. This was not a police interaction. Called for support for him that woke him up when people were knocking at the door. He said he was OK he didn’t want to open the door, not to worry. And they knocked down that door and killed him.

CORNEL WEST: And killed him. And then dragged him with the bloodstains shown on the door and so forth. But, we see this over and over again. What it generates, though, and this is something that’s a sign of hope, that we have a younger generation that is on fire for justice. They’re tired of this callousness and indifference toward the vulnerable. And it’s multiracial, it’s multigendered, it’s multi-sexual orientational, it’s multireligious and non-religion. That is a very positive thing. Because what neofascist elites are counting on is conformity and complacency. Look at Mitt Romney. Trump is a fraud. He’s phony. His promises are worth a diploma from Trump University. Then yesterday, he strikes me as very wise and I think it would be an honor to work with them. Just no integrity at all. But, this is not just the Mitt Romney’s, we got to watch the Democrats. You watch these neoliberals more and more bend, you watch them start rationalizing what ought to be called into question. We’ve got to draw some lines in the sand. That doesn’t mean we demonize others, but they have to have some principles. There’s got to be some integrity, some back home. And thank God we’ve got a number of young folk who do understand that.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, you have this case in North Carolina. At the same time in Charleston, South Carolina, prosecutors made closing arguments, Wednesday, in the murder trial of the white police officer Michael Slager who was captured on video, just a bystander who happened to see this happen, shooting African American Walter Scott in the back as Scott ran away. He was stopped at an AutoZone parking lot where he was going for his car, and this police officer shot him dead. Now, he was in the same jail as Dylan Roof, who now is going on trial and supposedly representing himself.

CORNEL WEST: After he kills the precious black folk in the AME Church, is taken for a hamburger on the way to jail because he’s hungry. I mean, this is the depths of more bankruptcy and spiritual blackout that I’m talking about, you see. And of course, Breitbart, what do they do? They put the Confederate flag up after these black people are killed and act as if somehow that’s some disinterested, nonpartisan act. And we know the Confederacy is neo-Nazi in the core in terms of its hatred of black people in defense of slavery. So that we’re dealing in times in which we have to be very clear, and we have to have plain speech, Frank speech, and we have to have people who are willing to put bodies on the line. This is the kind of moment in which we live. This is not a moment for the lukewarm and the faint hearted and the half-truths and the attempts to rationalize something that they think is so complicated when it’s very clear, and yet we have to do it in such a way that John Coltrane’s “Love Supreme” is at the center. You’ve got to be full of rage because you hate the injustice, but you can’t be hating people. You got to hate the injustice and keep love at the center. And that’s very much what was wonderful about what you did at North Carolina. You were there because you’ve got a love for precious indigenous brothers and sisters —

AMY GOODMAN: North Dakota.

CORNEL WEST: I mean North Dakota. North Dakota. And the measure of American civilization has always been, how do you treat indigenous brothers and sisters? Because slavery was not the first original sin of America. The first original sin was the dispossession of our brothers and sisters of –

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re headed to North Dakota this weekend, which is a major weekend because December 5 is the date that the Army Corps of Engineers set, saying that people must leave the area — although, the state authorities, and even the local authorities, have said they are not going to move in on the land to arrest people. It’s very complicated messages that are coming out right now. Clearly, President Obama is involved with this. He visited the Standing Rock tribe in 2014 — and that’s rare for an American president to go to a reservation — so he knows his case well. He was the one to issue that unprecedented three-agency order from Interior, Justice and Army saying that they are — will hold off on granting the permit. But, where do they stand now? They have not said they will not grant this permit.

CORNEL WEST: Well, I mean President Obama, he specializes in symbolic gestures because he gives pretty speeches. He’s very brilliant, he’s very charismatic. But, when, in terms of — when in comes time to implement and execute on the ground, often times he’s — there’s a deficit there. We’ll see whether he comes through.

AMY GOODMAN: So what are you going to do there?

CORNEL WEST: I’m just going down to show my love and solidarity. I was invited by — I was honored to be invited by the elders, as you know of 200 nations. This is the biggest coming together since the 19th century for indigenous peoples’ struggles. And I just come as a brother, as a comrade to be in solidarity with them and I go there and follow instructions. I want to be a force for good there in that context.

AMY GOODMAN: And after that, January, you’re going to be teaching back at Harvard. What are you going to be teaching? What are you becoming a professor of?

CORNEL WEST: Teach a course as the professor of the practice of public philosophy. I mean, it’s amazing. It’s very kind of them to invite me back, I must say.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Explain what that means, to be a professor of public philosophy.

CORNEL WEST: Well, it means simply to engage in a truth telling and an analysis of structures and institutions, and try to shape souls and characters of young people in such a way that they are willing to take stands on issues that has as much to do with the destiny of both this nation and the world. But, it’s a robust, uninhibited dialogue, because you’ve got conservative interests, liberals, radicals, and so forth there. But I’ll be teaching with Roberto Unger at the law school. I’ll be at the divinity school teaching with Du Bois. And thank god brother Larry Bobo, and Skip Gates, and the others were kind enough to invite me back, as well. So, I look forward to being in the Boston area. It’s not my favorite part of the country. I’m from California. But, I know you know whole lot about Harvard — She’s a graduate. She’s a graduate, too.

AMY GOODMAN: In this last-minute, in this last minute, Fidel Castro?

CORNEL WEST: Yeah, brother Castro. Good God, his solidarity with struggles in Africa, with —- historically -—

AMY GOODMAN: Did you ever meet him?

CORNEL WEST: I never met him. I went to Cuba and I was characterized as a counterrevolutionary with a smile because I called for the rotation of elites. I’m a radical democrat, democratic socialist. I believe that leaders ought to rotate. So, I called for the rotation of elites, and they pulled me in the palace. What are you talking about? This is critique. Oh yeah, I’m critical, absolutely. But at the same time, I salute the health system. I salute the education. I salute the fact that he stood up in the face of American imperial power, 630 assassination attempts, fought back against the Bay of Pigs and affirmed, most importantly, the greatness of the Cuban people. They suffered under Batista. And they did suffer under Castro in terms of his repression of dissenting voices. But at the same time, they now emerge powerful again. And I think it’s a magnificent history of the Cuban people. But, Castro was always, for me, been a fascinating figure, heroic figure. But, still, I was very critical of the — of repression and not rotating, not having the kind of turnover in leadership that I would have liked to see. But, he’s one of the great revolutionary Communists of the 20th century, and, as a revolutionary Christian, I love him.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, on that note, I want to thank you for being with us. Dr. Cornel West, Professor Emeritus at Princeton University. Thanks so much for joining us. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll look at one of the cabinet picks of Donald Trump, education secretary, and what it means for public education in America. Stay with us.


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