How did the United States — the richest country in the world — become the worldwide epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, with one person dying of COVID-19 every 47 seconds? We spend the hour with Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author, discussing this unprecedented moment in history, and its political implications. Chomsky reflects on the significance of the Bernie Sanders campaign, calling it “an extraordinary success” that “completely shifted the arena of debate and discussion” in the United States. He also responds to President Trump’s cuts to U.S. support for the World Health Organization and the surge in deaths in the United States to another record high, and discusses conditions in Gaza, the rise of authoritarianism around the world, and the progressive response.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from New York, the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. The United States itself is the worldwide epicenter with about a third of the world’s reported infections and a quarter of the global death toll, even though the U.S. makes up less than 5% of the world’s population. This comes as the U.S. Labor Department says roughly 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits since mid-March, and the scale of U.S. job losses is set to rival the Great Depression.
Well, for more on the political implications of this unprecedented moment, we’re spending the hour with Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author, laureate professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Arizona, Tucson, professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he taught for more than half a century. His recent books include Global Discontents: Conversations on the Rising Threats to Democracy, Who Rules the World? and Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power.
Noam Chomsky joined us for a conversation in April from his home in Tucson, Arizona, where he’s sheltering in place with his wife Valeria. We spoke on the day that Senator Bernie Sanders announced he was suspending his presidential campaign, making former Vice President Joe Biden the presumptive nominee to face Donald Trump in the November election. I began by asking Professor Chomsky about what’s happening right now in the context of the 2020 elections, what he sees happening in November.
NOAM CHOMSKY: If Trump is reelected, it’s a indescribable disaster. It means that the policies of the past four years, which have been extremely destructive to the American population, to the world, will be continued and probably accelerated. What this is going to mean for health is bad enough. I just mentioned the Lancet figures. It will get worse. What this means for the environment or the threat of nuclear war, which no one is talking about but is extremely serious, is indescribable.
Suppose Biden is elected. I would anticipate it would be essentially a continuation of Obama — nothing very great, but at least not totally destructive, and opportunities for an organized public to change what is being done, to impose pressures.
It’s common to say now that the Sanders campaign failed. I think that’s a mistake. I think it was an extraordinary success, completely shifted the arena of debate and discussion. Issues that were unthinkable a couple years ago are now right in the middle of attention.
The worst crime he committed, in the eyes of the establishment, is not the policy he’s proposing; it’s the fact that he was able to inspire popular movements, which had already been developing — Occupy, Black Lives Matter, many others — and turn them into an activist movement, which doesn’t just show up every couple years to push a lever and then go home, but applies constant pressure, constant activism and so on. That could affect a Biden administration. It could also — even if it’s just a holding action, it means there’s time to deal with the major crises.
Take Medicare for All or, the other major plank in Sanders’s program, free college education. Across the whole mainstream spectrum, all the way to what’s called the left in the mainstream, this is condemned as too radical for Americans. Just think what that means. That’s an attack on American culture and society, which you would expect from some hostile enemy. What it’s saying is it’s too radical to say that we should rise to the level of comparable countries. They all have some form of national healthcare. Most of them have free higher education — the best-performing countries nationally, like Finland, free; Germany, free; right to our south, Mexico, a poor country, high-quality higher education, free. So, to say we should rise to the level of the rest of the world is considered too radical for Americans. It’s an astonishing comment. As I say, it’s a critique of America that you’d expect from some super hostile enemy.
That’s the left of the spectrum. Tells you that we have really deep problems. It’s not just Trump. He’s made it much worse, but the problems go much deeper, just like, say, the ventilator catastrophe, which I described, just based on good capitalist logic with the extra hammer blow of making the government ineffectual to deal with things. This is much deeper than Trump. And we have to face those facts. Some do. I’m sure you reported — I don’t remember — you probably reported the setting of the Doomsday Clock in January. OK?
AMY GOODMAN: Yes.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Notice what happened. All through Trump’s term, the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock, the best general assessment we have of the state of the world, moved closer to midnight — termination — reached the highest point ever. This January, it exceeded it. The analysts gave up minutes, moved to seconds: a hundred seconds to midnight, thanks to Donald Trump.
And the Republican Party, which is just monstrous, no longer qualifies as a political party. It simply sheepishly echoes everything the master says. Zero integrity. It’s just amazing to watch. He’s surrounded himself by a collection of sycophants who just repeat worshipfully everything he says. Real major attack on democracy, alongside the attack on “the survival of humanity,” to quote JPMorgan Chase again — the nuclear war, raising the threat of nuclear war, dismantling the arms control system, which has, to some extent, protected us from total disaster. It’s astonishing to watch.
The same memo that I quoted about how the policies we’re following are risking the survival of humanity ended by arguing that the banks should cut back its fossil fuel support, in part because of the reputational consequences. Their reputation is being harmed. What does that mean? That means that activists are putting pressure on them, and they have to maintain some kind of reputation. Now, that’s a good lesson.
And it works. We’ve seen some very striking examples. Take, say, the Green New Deal. A couple of years ago, that was an object of ridicule, if it was mentioned at all. Some form of Green New Deal is essential for the survival of humanity. Now it’s part of the general agenda. Why? Activist engagement. Especially Sunrise Movement, a group of young people, acted significantly, up to the point of sitting in in congressional offices. They received support from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other young legislators who came into office as part of the Sanders-inspired popular wave — another great success. Ed Markey, senator from Massachusetts joined in. Now it’s a part of the legislative agenda. The next step is to force it through in some viable form. And there are very good ideas as to how to do that. Well, that’s the way things can change.
With a Biden presidency, there would be, if not a strongly sympathetic administration, at least one that can be reached, can be pressured. And that’s very important. If you look over the very good labor historian — I’m sure you know Erik Loomis, who has studied the efforts by working people to institute changes in the society, sometimes for themselves, sometimes for the society generally. And he’s pointed out — made an interesting point. These efforts succeeded when there was a tolerant or sympathetic administration, not when there wasn’t. That’s a big — one of many enormous differences between Trump, the sociopath, and Biden, who’s kind of a pretty empty — you can push him one way or another. This is the most crucial election in human history, literally. Another four years of Trump, and we’re in deep trouble.
AMY GOODMAN: If you can talk about the enormity of this moment and the fact that the United States has become the epicenter of the pandemic in the world? Can you hold forth on this? What does this mean, the wealthiest country in the world?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, the United States is — I mean, countries have reacted to this in many ways, some very successfully, some more or less successfully. One is at the bottom of the barrel. That’s us. The United States is the only major country that cannot even provide data to the World Health Organization, because it’s so dysfunctional.
There’s a background. Part of the background is the scandalous healthcare system, which simply is not ready for anything that’s out of the normal. It simply doesn’t work. This is exacerbated by the strange collection of gangsters in Washington, who have — it’s almost as if they systematically took every possible step to make it as bad as possible. Through Trump’s term, the last four years, he has been systematically cutting back on all of the health-related aspects of the government. Pentagon goes up. Building his wall goes up. But anything — actually, anything that might benefit the general population goes down, particularly health.
Some of it is almost surreal. So, in October, for example, just very exquisite timing, he canceled completely a USAID project — Predict, it was called — that was working in Third World countries, also in China, to try to detect new viruses that might turn into the anticipated pandemic. And in fact it was anticipated since — at least since the SARS epidemic in 2003. So we have a kind of combination of factors, some of them specific to the United States.
If we want to ensure or at least hope to avoid new pandemics, which are very likely to come, more serious than this one, in part because of the enormous rising threat of global warming, we have to look at the sources of this one. And it’s very important to think them through. So, just roughly to go back, pandemics have been predicted by scientists for years. The SARS epidemic was quite serious. It was contained, but vaccines were — there was the beginning of development of vaccines. They never proceeded to the testing phase. It was clear at that time that something more was going to happen, and several epidemics did.
But it’s not enough to know that. Somebody has to pick up the ball and run with it. Who can do it? Well, the drug companies are the obvious place, but they have no interest in it. They follow good capitalist logic: You look at market signals, and there’s no profit to be made in preparing for a predicted and anticipated catastrophe. So they weren’t interested.
At that point, another possibility is the government could step in. I’m old enough to remember the terror of polio was ended by a government-initiated and -funded project that finally led to the Salk vaccine, which was free, no intellectual property rights. Jonas Salk said it should be as free as the sun. OK, that ended the polio terror, measles terror, others. But the government couldn’t step in, because there’s another particular aspect of the modern era: the neoliberal plague. Now, you remember Ronald Reagan’s sunny smile and his little maxim about how government is the problem, not the solution. So the government can’t enter.
There were some efforts, nevertheless, to try to prepare for this. Right now in New York and other places, doctors and nurses are forced to make agonizing decisions about who to kill — not a nice decision to make — because they simply don’t have equipment. And the main lack is ventilators, huge shortage of ventilators. Well, the Obama administration did make an effort to try to prepare for this. And this kind of dramatically reveals the kind of factors that are leading to catastrophe. They contracted with a small company that was producing high-quality, low-cost ventilators. The company was bought up by a larger one, Covidien, which makes fancy, expensive ventilators. And they shelved the project. Presumably, they didn’t want competition with their own costly ones. Shortly after that, they turned to the government and said they wanted the contract ended. The reason was it was not profitable enough, so therefore no ventilators.
We have the same thing in hospitals. Hospitals, under the neoliberal programs, are supposed to be efficient, meaning no spare capacity, just enough beds to get by. And in fact, plenty of people, me included, can testify that even the best hospitals caused great pain and suffering to patients even before this broke out, because of this just-on-time efficiency concept that was guiding our privatized, for-profit healthcare system. When anything hits out of the normal, it’s just tough luck. And this runs across the system.
So we have a combination of capitalist logic, which is lethal but could be controlled, but it can’t be controlled under the neoliberal programs, which also say the government can’t step in to pick up the ball when the private sector doesn’t.
On top of that — now, this becomes specific to the United States — we have a freak show in Washington, a totally dysfunctional government, which is causing enormous problems. And it’s not that nothing was known. A pandemic was anticipated all through Trump’s term, even before. His reaction was to cut back preparation for it. Astonishingly, this continued even after the pandemic hit.
So, on February 10th, when it was already serious, Trump released his budget for the coming year. Take a look at it. The budget continues the defunding of the Center for Disease Control and other government institutions responsible for health, continues to defund them. It increases funding for some things, like fossil fuel production, gives new subsidies to the fossil fuel industries. I mean, it’s as if the country is simply — maybe not “as if” — the country is simply run by sociopaths.
And the result, so, we cut back on the efforts to deal with the pandemic that’s taking shape, and we increase the efforts to destroy the environment, in which — the efforts in which the United States, under Trump, is in the lead in racing to the abyss. Now, bear in mind that that’s — I don’t have to tell you — is a far more serious threat than the coronavirus. Now, this is bad and serious, particularly in the United States, but we’ll recover somehow, at severe cost. We’re not going to recover from the melting of the polar ice sheets, which is leading to a feedback effect, well known, that increases — as they melt, there’s less reflective surface, more absorption in the dark seas. The warming that’s melting increases. That’s just one of the factors that’s leading to destruction, unless we do something about it.
And it’s not a secret. Just recently, for example, couple of weeks ago, there was a very interesting leak, a memo from JPMorgan Chase, America’s biggest bank, which warned that, in their words, “the survival of humanity” is at risk if we continue on our present course, which included the funding of fossil fuel industries by the bank itself, said we’re endangering the survival of humanity. Everyone who’s got eyes open in the Trump administration is very well aware of this. It’s difficult to find words for this.
I should say, other countries have — first of all, it was not a secret. I mean, it’s become convenient now. Trump is desperately seeking some scapegoat that he can blame for his astonishing failures and incompetence. The most recent one is the World Health Organization, the China bashing. Somebody else is responsible.
But it’s simply — the facts are very clear. China very quickly informed the World Health Organization last December that they were finding patients with pneumonia-like symptoms with unknown etiology. Didn’t know what it was. About a week later, January 7th, they made public the fact to the World Health Organization, the general scientific community in the world, that Chinese scientists had found out what the source was: a coronavirus resembling the SARS virus. They had identified the sequence, the genome. They were providing the information to the world.
U.S. intelligence was well aware of it. They spent January and February trying to get somebody in the White House to pay attention to the fact that there’s a major pandemic. Just nobody could listen. Trump was off playing golf or maybe listening — checking his TV ratings. Yesterday, we learned that one very high-level official, very close to the administration, Peter Navarro, in late January had sent a very strong message to the White House saying this is a real danger. But even he couldn’t break through.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam, you mention Peter Navarro, the trade representative, sending a memo — it just came out in The New York Times — in late January warning of the coronavirus, saying that, I think, something like up to a million people could die. And Trump took from that setting a travel ban on China, but not doing a corollary, which was ensuring that the United States had the proper tests and also had the PPE, the protective personal equipment, that doctors, that nurses, that the custodial staff in hospitals needed to stay alive, to treat patients, to help them stay alive. And the intelligence agencies, it came out, at this time, even before Navarro, they were all warning Trump. If you could go back to even two years ago, when he disbanded his pandemic unit within the National Security Council, said that when he’s at the table in China talking about spending money on bombs or a wall, they’re not saying, “Sir, you also have to look at what’s happening here”? And that unit, pandemic unit, not only is about how we deal in the United States, but also ensuring, as the CDC does and other agencies of the U.S. government, that scientists are sent out to other countries, like China, to investigate and to help other countries, because when it comes to a pandemic, we’re all in this together. So, if you could talk about these early warnings and why testing and this personal — protective personal equipment is so important?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, remember that it continued even after the pandemic was already in force. Now, the budget proposal is astonishing. This is February 10th, well into the pandemic. Trump cuts further the health-related components of the government, continuing the hit. They were under the ax, just as they were throughout his term.
Actually, the clips that you played before are part of a very clever strategy. Whether this is consciously planned or just intuitive, I don’t know. But the pattern of simply making one statement today, contradicting it tomorrow, coming out with something else the next day is really brilliant. It means he’s going to be vindicated. Whatever happens, he’ll have said it. You shoot arrows at random, some of them are going to hit the target. And his technique with the Fox echo chamber and the worshipful base simply tuned to Fox, Limbaugh, etc., they’re just going to pick whatever happened to be right, and say, “Look, our wonderful president, the greatest president we’ve ever had, our savior, knew it all along, and here was his statement.” Can’t miss.
It’s very much like the technique of producing constant lies. You know, I don’t even have to go through it. The assiduous fact-checkers tot them up. I think it’s maybe 20,000 by now or something. And he’s laughing all the way. This is perfect. You tell constant lies, what happens is the concept of truth just disappears.
AMY GOODMAN: We’ll be back with professor Noam Chomsky in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: “Shout” by the Isley Brothers. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re spending the hour with Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author, laureate professor in the Department of Linguistics at The University of Arizona, Tucson, professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he taught for more than half a century.
AMY GOODMAN: So, this is a clip, Noam, of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah called “Saluting the Heroes of the Coronavirus Pandumbic.” It’s extended, the three-minute video, highlighting members of the right-wing media, like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Tomi Lahren and others, as well as Republican members of Congress and the Trump administration, downplaying or mocking the coronavirus pandemic. It starts on February 24th and ends with Donald Trump claiming March 17th and Hannity saying March 18th that they had always taken the pandemic seriously. This is “Saluting the Heroes of the Coronavirus Pandumbic.”
SEAN HANNITY: Tonight I can report the sky is absolutely falling. We are all doomed. The end is near. The apocalypse is imminent, and you’re going to all die. Or at least that’s what the media mob would like you to think.
RUSH LIMBAUGH: Yeah, I’m dead right on this. The coronavirus is the common cold, folks. The hype of this thing as a pandemic, as the Andromeda Strain, as “oh my god, if you get it, you’re dead.”
PETE HEGSETH: This is one of those cases where the more I learn about coronavirus, the less concerned I am. There’s a lot of hyperbole.
LOU DOBBS: The national left-wing media playing up fears of the coronavirus.
TOMI LAHREN: The sky is falling because we have a few dozen cases of coronavirus on a cruise ship? I am far more concerned with stepping on a used heroin needle than I am getting the coronavirus. But maybe that’s just me.
JEANINE PIRRO: It’s a virus like the flu. All the talk about coronavirus being so much more deadly doesn’t reflect reality.
DR. MARC SIEGEL: This virus should be compared to the flu, because at worst — at worst, worst-case scenario — it could be the flu.
GERALDO RIVERA: The far more deadly, more lethal threat right now is not the coronavirus, it’s this — it’s the ordinary, old flu. People are dying right now.
STEVE DOOCY: The flu is here, everywhere.
GERALDO RIVERA: Nobody has died yet in the United States, as far as we know, from this disease.
STEVE DOOCY: That’s right.
LAURA INGRAHAM: And the facts are actually pretty reassuring. But you’d never know it, watching all this stuff.
JESSE WATTERS: You want to know how I really feel about the coronavirus, Juan? If I get it, I’ll beat it. I’m not afraid of the coronavirus, and no one else should be that afraid, either.
MATT SCHLAPP: It is very, very difficult to contract this virus.
DR. DREW PINSKY: It’s milder than we thought. The fatality rate is going to drop.
ED HENRY: When you hear the context, it’s not quite as scary.
AINSLEY EARHARDT: It’s actually the safest time to fly. Everyone I know that’s flying right now, terminals are pretty much dead. And then the planes — remember back in the day when you had a seat next to you possibly empty? You could stretch out a little more? It’s like that on every flight now.
REP. DEVIN NUNES: One of the things you can do, if you’re healthy, you and your family, it’s a great time to just go out, go to a local restaurant.
MARIA BARTIROMO: Yeah.
REP. DEVIN NUNES: Likely, you can get in, get in easily.
NEWS ANCHOR: Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz mocked concerns about the spread of the virus by wearing a gas mask on Capitol Hill.
JOHN KING: [reading] “When a reporter in the Capitol asked Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma, 85, what precautions he was taking … [he] extended his arm with confidence: ‘Wanna shake hands?’”
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: In our line of work, you shake hands. I expect the president will continue to do that. I’ll continue to do it.
LARRY KUDLOW: We have contained this. We have contained this — I won’t say airtight, but pretty close to airtight.
KELLYANNE CONWAY: It is being contained. And do you not think it’s being contained?
SEAN HANNITY: Zero people in the United States of America have died from the coronavirus. Zero.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This is a flu. This is like a flu. It’s going to disappear one day. It’s like a miracle. It will disappear. … I have felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic. I took it very seriously.
SEAN HANNITY: By the way, this program has always taken the coronavirus seriously.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Sean Hannity and Donald Trump, right before that, on March 17th and 18th, saying, “We have always taken the coronavirus pandemic seriously.” “Saluting the Heroes of the Coronavirus Pandumbic” from The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, who is now doing his show each night from home to protect against community spread. So, Noam Chomsky, world-renowned political dissident, well-known linguist, author, activist, as you listen to the Fox News — this is not just a channel; these are the people that President Trump channels. These are perhaps his senior advisers, as they continually played this down. Do you hold President Trump responsible? Would you say he has blood on his hands?
NOAM CHOMSKY: There’s no question. Trump makes some crazy statement. It’s then amplified by the Fox News echo chamber. The next day, he says the opposite. That’s echoed; the echo chamber amplifies that. Notice that the tone — the tone of the reporting is interesting. It’s all with perfect confidence, not what any sane, rational person would say — “We really don’t know. There’s a lot of uncertainty. This is the way things look today.” There’s nothing like that. Absolute confidence. No matter what the dear leader says, we amplify it. And it’s an interesting dialogue. They amplify what he says. Sean Hannity can say, “This is the greatest move that was ever made in the history of the world.” And the next morning, Trump tunes in to Fox & Friends, listens to whatever is said. That becomes his thought for the day. It’s an interaction, Murdoch and Trump moving literally to try to destroy the country and destroy the world, because in the background, we should never forget, is a far greater threat that is coming closer and closer while Trump is leading the way to destruction.
He has some assistance. So, down on the southern part of the hemisphere, there’s another madman, i.e. Jair Bolsonaro, who’s trying to vie with Trump to see who can be the worst criminal on the planet. He’s telling the Brazilians, “It’s nothing. It’s just a cold. Brazilians don’t get viruses. We’re immune to them.” His health minister and other officials are trying to butt in and say, “Look, this is really serious.” The governors, many of them, fortunately, are ignoring what he says. But Brazil is facing a terrible crisis. It’s actually gotten to the point where in the favelas, you know, these miserable slums, in Rio, where the government does nothing for the people, others have intervened to try to impose sensible restrictions, insofar as it’s possible under those miserable conditions. Who? The crime gangs. The crime gangs, that torture the population, have moved in to try to impose health standards. The indigenous population is facing a virtual genocide, which won’t bother Bolsonaro. He doesn’t think they should be there anyway. Meanwhile, while all this is going on, scientific papers are coming out warning that in 15 years the Amazon is going to shift from being a net carbon sink to a net CO2 emitter. That’s devastating for Brazil — in fact, for the whole world.
So, we have the Colossus of the North, as it’s called, in the hands of sociopaths, who are doing whatever they can to harm the country and the world. And the Colossus of the South, as it’s been called, is, in its own way, doing the same thing. I’m able to follow this pretty closely because my wife Valeria is Brazilian and keeps me up to date with the news that’s coming out in Brazil. And it’s simply shocking to see.
But meanwhile, other countries are reacting sensibly. So, as soon as the news started coming out from China — and there was plenty of news right away, contrary to what is being claimed — the countries on the Chinese periphery began to react — Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore — quite effectively. Some of them have it basically under control. New Zealand has apparently quashed the coronavirus, maybe almost completely, with a lockdown right away, an immediate lockdown for a couple of weeks, and seems to have come close to ending it. You look into Europe, and most of Europe just dithered, but some countries, the better-organized countries, did act right away. It’s very striking. It would be very useful for Americans to compare Trump’s ravings, of the kind you illustrated, with Angela Merkel’s, German chancellor, her sober, factual account and talk to the German people, describing exactly what’s happening and what has to be done.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam, we only have a minute, but I wanted to ask you, as we speak to you at your home in Tucson, Arizona, where you are sheltering at home, where you are staying at home because we are in the midst of this pandemic, to prevent community spread and to protect yourself and your family: What gives you hope?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, I should say that I’m following a strict regimen, because my wife Valeria is taking charge, and I follow her orders. So Valeria and I are in isolation.
But what gives me hope is the actions that popular groups are taking all over the world, many of them. Some of them are — there are some things happening that are truly inspiring. Take the doctors and the nurses who are working overtime under extremely dangerous conditions, lacking — especially in the United States, lacking even minimal support, being compelled to make these agonizing decisions about who to kill tomorrow. But they’re doing it. It’s just a — it’s an inspiring tribute to the resources of the human spirit, a model of what can be done, along with the popular actions, the moves to create a Progressive International. These are all very positive signs.
But you look back in recent history, there have been times where things looked really hopeless and desperate. I can go back to my early childhood, the late ’30s, early ’40s. It looked as though the rise of the Nazi plague was inexorable, victory after victory. It looked like you couldn’t stop it. It was the most horrible development in human history. Well, turns out — I didn’t know that at the time — that U.S. planners were expecting that the post-war world would be divided between a U.S.-controlled world and a German-controlled world, including all of Eurasia — a horrifying idea. Well, it was overcome. There have been other serious — the civil rights movement, Young Freedom Riders going out into Alabama to try to encourage black farmers to go to vote, despite the threat, serious threat, of being murdered, and being murdered themselves. These were some — this is examples of what humans can do and have done. And we see many signs of it today, and that’s the basis for hope.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author, speaking to us from Tucson, where he’s sheltering at home. We’ll be back with him in a moment.
AMY GOODMAN: “Diamonds & Rust” by Joan Baez. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we return to my interview with Noam Chomsky, world-renowned linguist, political dissident and author.
AMY GOODMAN: If you can talk for a moment, globally, about what’s happening on an issue that has been close to your heart for decades, and that is the Occupied Territories, Gaza and the West Bank, what it means for a place like Gaza, called by the U.N. and people around the world a kind of “open-air prison” of almost 2 million people, what the pandemic could mean there?
NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s almost impossible to think about. Gaza is 2 million people who are in the — living in a prison, open-air prison, under constant attack. Israel, which is the occupying power, recognized by everyone in the world except Israel — Israel is imposing — has been imposing very harsh sanctions ever since the Palestinians made the mistake of carrying out the first free election in the Arab world and electing the wrong people. The United States and Israel came down on them like a ton of bricks.
Israel’s policy, as was explained by Dov Weissglas, the person in charge of the withdrawal of Israeli troops, the withdrawal of the settlers and imposition of the new regime — he explained frankly, “We are putting the people of Gaza on a diet, just enough to keep them alive,” meaning wouldn’t look good if they all die, but not anything more than that. So, not a piece of chocolate or a toy for a child. That’s out. Just enough to stay alive. And if you have a serious health problem, maybe you can apply to go to the hospital in East Jerusalem. Maybe after a couple of weeks, you’ll be allowed to go. Maybe a child is allowed to go, but his mother is not allowed to come.
If the pandemic — there are now a couple of cases in Gaza. If that extends, it’s a total disaster. International institutions have pointed out that by 2020 — that’s now — Gaza will probably become barely livable. About 95% of the water is totally polluted. The place is a disaster. And Trump has made sure that it will get worse. He withdrew funding from the support systems for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank — UNRWA, killed the funding; Palestinian hospitals, killed the funding. And he had a reason. They weren’t praising him enough. They weren’t respectful of the god, so, therefore, we’ll strangle them, even when they’re barely surviving under a harsh and brutal regime.
Incidentally, this extends to Palestinians in Israel, as well. Human rights activists in Israel pointed out recently — there’s articles about it in Haaretz — that Israel finally began to set up a few drive-by testing areas only in Jewish areas, not in the areas with Palestinian population. And to make sure that the intended results would follow, they announced it only in Hebrew, not in Arabic, so Palestinians wouldn’t even know. Well, that’s within Israel. In the Occupied Territories, far worse.
And the Trump hammer came in saying, “We’re not even going to give you a penny, because you’re not respectful enough of me.” I don’t know how to describe this kind of thing. I can’t find words for it.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, what do you think is required in an international response to stop the rise of authoritarianism in response to this pandemic? For example, in the Philippines, where the authoritarian leader, Trump ally, Duterte, talks about killing people; the massive crackdown, without support of the people of India, 1.3 billion people, with Narendra Modi. President Trump was in India as the pandemic was taking off, never saying a word about it, packing a stadium of 100,000 people. You have Orbán in Hungary, who is now ruling by decree. What would it take to turn that around to be a progressive response?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, actually, what’s happening, to the extent that you can find some coherent policy in the madness in the White House, one thing does emerge with considerable clarity — namely, an effort to construct an international of the most reactionary states and oppressive states, led by the gangster in the White House. Now, this is taking shape.
I can run through it, but since you mentioned India, Modi, who is a Hindu nationalist extremist, is systematically moving to destroy Indian secular democracy and to crush the Muslim population. What’s happening in Kashmir is horrifying. It was bad enough before, now getting much worse. Same with the Muslim population, a huge population in India. The current lockdown is almost — you can almost describe it as genocidal. Modi gave, I think, a four-hour warning saying total lockdown. That’s over a billion people. Some of them have nowhere to go. People in the informal economy, which is a huge number of people, are just cast out. “Go walk back to your village,” which may be a thousand miles away. “Die on the roadside.” This is a huge catastrophe in the making, right on top of the strong efforts to impose the ultra-right Hindutva doctrines that are at the core of Modi’s thinking and background.
What’s happening in — quite apart from this, India — in fact, South Asia generally — is going to become unlivable pretty soon, if current climate policies persist. Last summer, the temperature in Rajasthan went up to 50 degrees centigrade. And it’s increasing. There’s hundreds of millions of people in India that don’t have access to water. It’s going to get much worse, could lead to a nuclear war between the two powers that basically rely on the same water resources, which are declining under global warming: Pakistan and India. I mean, the horror story that’s developing is, again, indescribable. You can’t find words for it. And some people are cheering about it, like Donald Trump and his friend Bolsonaro in Brazil, a couple of other sociopaths.
But how do you counter a reactionary international? By developing a Progressive International. And there are steps to that. They don’t get much publicity, but this — I think it’s this coming December, there will be a formal announcement of what has been in process for some time. Yanis Varoufakis, the founder and leading figure in DiEM25, the progressive movement in Europe, very important — Varoufakis and Bernie Sanders came out with a declaration calling for a Progressive International to combat and, we hope, overcome the reactionary international based in the White House.
Now, if you look at the level of states, this looks like an extremely unequal competition. But states are not the only things that exist. If you look at the level of people, it’s not impossible. It’s possible to construct a Progressive International based on people, ranging from the organized political groups that have been proliferating, that have gotten a huge shot in the arm from the Sanders campaign, ranging from them to self-help mutual aid, self-help organizations that are rising in communities all over the world, in the most impoverished areas of Brazil, for example, and even this astonishing fact that I mentioned, that the murderous crime gangs are taking responsibility for bringing some form of decent protection against the pandemic in the favelas, the miserable slums, in Rio. All of this is happening on the popular level. If it expands and develops, if people don’t just give up in despair but work to change the world, as they’ve done in the past under much worse conditions, if they do that, there’s a chance for a Progressive International.
And notice, bear in mind, that there are also striking cases of internationalism, progressive internationalism, at the state level. So, take a look at the European Union. The rich countries in Europe, like Germany, have recently given us a lesson in just what the union means. Right? Germany is managing pretty well. They probably have the lowest death rate in the world, in organized society. Right next door, northern Italy is suffering miserably. Is Germany giving them any aid? No. In fact, Germany even blocked the effort to develop euro bonds, general bonds in Europe which could be used to alleviate the suffering in the countries under the worst conditions. But fortunately for Italy, it can look across the Atlantic for aid from the superpower on the Western Hemisphere, Cuba. Cuba is, once again, as before, exhibiting extraordinary internationalism, sending doctors to Italy. Germany won’t do it, but Cuba can. China is providing material aid. So, these are steps towards progressive internationalism at the state level.
AMY GOODMAN: World-renowned political dissident, linguist and author, Noam Chomsky, laureate professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Arizona, professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he taught for more than half a century. Noam joined us from his home in Tucson, Arizona, where he is sheltering in place.
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