He began by reminding us that the covid-19 crisis is not the main issue we are facing; that it will pass, whereas the destruction of the planet through climate change is far more serious and long term. However, both can be seen as aspects of the class struggle between the “Masters of the Universe” and the rest of us.
Chomsky noted that inequality today is worse now than it has ever been, and that this has been increasing for the last fifty years under neo-liberalism. However, it is not revolutionary to believe that we can return to a better place.
Discussing the Trump administration, he suggested that Mitch McConnell is the “thinker” of the government. The McConnell stimulus bills ensure that States — who have “wasted” their money on foolishness like pensions and welfare — get little or nothing, while corporations — already fattened with excess profit that they spend on executive salaries and dividends — get billions. He related these current events to the recent neo-liberal history of subsidies to fossil fuel companies, combined with the elimination of regulation and control
He noted that the GOP’s “sadism” is now openly transparent. They are happy to see the “end of organized human society” for the masses while maximizing the retention of wealth by the few.
He broadened the argument to include the scrapping of the INF Treaty, the desire to end the Open Skies agreements, and their refusal to renegotiate the START talks. These international treaties are of no importance to them as it hampers the growth of the arms industry. Under Trump, arms control is dead.
Chomsky said that when the Great Depression hit, there were two options available: fascism, and a “regimented capitalism”. America chose the latter and it proved of benefit to most. However, since Reagan, the regulated system has been torn up by the neo-liberals in favour of corporate “freedom”, creating the vast abyss between rich and poor that we see today, and leading directly to the destruction of the environment. He believes that Trump and the McConnell are unconcerned about the current pandemic and will re-open the economy rapidly because most victims will be the masses rather than the rich, and their deaths are inconsequential when compared to the profits to be made.
As an aside, he noted that Trump is personally disliked by most of the Davos crowd because he is vulgar. However, he is forgiven because he is so good at feeding dollars to the rich.
Chomsky was clear, however, that not all is lost. He pointed to Greta Thurnburg and the youth movement on climate change. He also said he was encouraged by the mutual aid self-help groups that the pandemic has spawned. There are moves to initiate a Progressive International to oppose what he called the Reactionary International of Trump, Egypt, Brazil (where Bolsonaro is even more evil than Trump), Israel (“harsh and brutal”), the Gulf states, India (where secular democracy is being replaced by a religious ideology), and Hungary etc.
In the Q & A session, he said that public pressure is working. The Reactionaries have heard the peasants and their pitchforks, and are working hard to sell the idea that modern corporations can be “soulful” as he puts it. As an example, he notes that just a few years ago the idea of a Green New Deal was considered a joke by the the rulers but will probably be co-opted by them.
Whatever happens after the pandemic can be our decision. As a start, we must insist that stimulus funds come with conditions that at least bring us back to the situation pre-Reagan. Such hopes, he insists, are not utopian.
Having spent weeks watching the dangerous buffoonery of Trump’s briefings, it was a delight to listen to someone speak so calmly and with so much obvious erudition. Thanks to the National Observer for organizing the event.