Noam Chomsky: The World Looks ‘Very Dangerous’

Noam Chomsky

“There are two major issues that we must deal with, or else, nothing else matters. One of them is the threat of nuclear war, which is increasing. Second is the imminent destruction of an environment that can sustain life. We’re proceeding towards both catastrophes. “

There are two major issues that we must deal with, or else, nothing else matters. One of them is the threat of nuclear war, which is increasing. Second is the imminent destruction of an environment that can sustain life. We’re proceeding towards both catastrophes.

Academics like Thomas Homer Dixon have speculated that the United States could succumb to dictatorship as early as the end of this decade. What contingency plan should, or could Canada have in place to prepare for a future in which our closest ally is potentially an existential threat to our very sovereignty and security?

Canada could try to move to some part of the world that’s not subject to U.S policies, if you can find one. There’s not much you can do. Canadian foreign policy, like Australia’s or New Zealand’s, is what has been called sub imperialism. You basically go along with the United States, whether you like it or not, because you don’t have a lot of choices. You may remember a statement by a Canadian diplomat, I think it was John Holmes, who described what he called the Canadian idea of standing up for our principles and finding ways around them. Okay, well, everyone else’s idea too. We talk about your principles, but don’t believe a word. You can demonstrate that so easily in statecraft, it’s hardly worth wasting time on it.

The United States, Europe, and Canada are very outraged by Putin’s effort to occupy another country. We can’t allow occupation, except when we endorse it, then you can do it. Like, say, U.S endorsement of the Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights, Greater Jerusalem—in violation of Security Council orders, which we supported. We can somehow find a way around our principles when it’s convenient on just about every other issue. We can’t tolerate autocracy, unless we can send a lot of arms over and make a tonne of money, like Saudi Arabia—then we can tolerate it just fine. Canada of course, is in a very vulnerable position. There’s a famous comment about Mexico: Mexico’s problem is that it’s too close to the United States and too far from God. Same is true in Canada. There aren’t a lot of options.

I think there are things Canada could do, which would be meaningful. You could, for example, join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which already has 120 or so members. Its enforcement would not put an end to the stockpiling of nuclear weapons, but it would be a step of no little significance. We have to get rid of nuclear weapons or else we will destroy ourselves. It is just a miracle that we have survived this far, if only by accident. You can’t get rid of them in one shot, but you can reduce the possibility of their use.

One way is to restore the arms control regime that had been virtually eviscerated by the Republican administrations of this century, primarily by Trump. That can be restored and expanded. You can expand nuclear weapons free zones. They exist in many parts of the world. None of them can be enforced, because the U.S blocks all of them. There’s a nuclear weapons free zone in Africa, but it’s blocked by the U.S and Britain. Contrary to United Nations orders, Britain insists on keeping British control of an African island so the U.S can use it as a base for bombing Central Asia. There are things that can be done, even if they don’t explicitly change policy.

I’d like to stress two issues which are of such overwhelming importance, that unless we keep them front and centre, nothing else is going to matter. One is ending the threat of nuclear war. There cannot be a nuclear war, it will be essentially terminal. The other is immediately, without delay, address the existential problem of destruction of the environment. We don’t have a lot of time. We know how to do it. There are means that would accomplish it. The longer we delay, the more the windows close. We have to move expeditiously. Everything else has to be subordinated to that or else nothing else is going to matter.

What has the impact of the Jan 6th insurrection been on American politics? What are some of the factors responsible for the current perceived crisis of American Democracy?

The crisis goes back a long way, to the 1970s. Back in the 1960s, you couldn’t tell a moderate Republican from a moderate Democrat. They were almost interchangeable. I voted for Republicans back in the 1960s—it’s inconceivable now. Starting in the 1960s, both parties underwent a change. This was part of larger factors taking place in the global economy. The Republicans simply went off the rails. They’re not a political party anymore in any ordinary sense. That’s been well recognised by leading political commentators. Ten years ago, two major political analysts of the American Enterprise Institute, Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, wrote that the Republicans had become a radical insurgency, rejecting the methods of parliamentary democracy to become much more extreme.

It started with Nixon. Nixon was a serious politician, whatever you think about him. He understood that Republicans couldn’t win votes by approaching their electorate with their actual policies, which amounted to: We want to screw you. We want to support the extreme rich, and the corporate sector. You can’t get votes that way. You must try to divert attention to other matters, not actual policy positions. The Trump administration doesn’t approach voters by saying, our one legislative achievement has been to rob you blind—namely the highly regressive tax cuts. You can’t approach voters that way. So, you turn to other issues. Well, for Nixon, it was what was called the Southern strategy. The Democrats had supported civil rights legislation in the 1960s. Nixon and his strategists understood that if the Republicans came across with a not too hidden racist message they could win southern democratic votes, which worked.

By the mid 1970s, Republican strategists recognized that if the Republicans pretended—I stress pretended—to be opposed to abortion, they could pick up the huge evangelical vote, and the northern Catholics. They all switched on a dime. Reagan, the then governor of California, was staunchly pro-choice, and then, suddenly, became passionately anti abortion. H.W Bush — all the rest of them. Later, they recognized that if they started yelling about guns, they could pick up more seats, and it continues that way. We have seen this turn to so called cultural issues, and a move away from actual policies. Well, that’s the Republicans. They have now just totally gone crazy. You see it in the January 6th hearings.

What about the Democrats? In the 1970s, they abandoned the working class. Democrats became a party of wealthy professionals, lawyers, doctors and academics. Mostly socially liberal, but no class orientation, they weren’t interested—the kind of people who show up at Obama’s fancy parties. That’s the Democrats. The wall street orientation, Clinton Democrats, etc. The working classes were left on their own. no support. They’re easy prey to the cultural issues. They are under severe attack. Look at the neoliberal programmes that have taken off since Reagan. They’ve had an impact.

RAND Corporation tried to provide a measure of it. They estimated that in the past 40 years, the transfer of wealth from the middle class and working class to the very top 1% is about $50 trillion. The impact of that shows in many ways. People are now susceptible to ideas that are so outlandish that I can hardly repeat them. Half of Republicans think that the Democratic Party is run by sex perverts who are trying to groom children for sexual abuse. 70% think the election was stolen. These people who rioted on January 6th were honest. They believed they were defending democracy from a crazed cabal that had stolen the election. When people have beliefs like that, rational discussion is almost impossible. The Democrats have offered nothing. There actually were progressive proposals that could have met people’s needs. They were mostly coming out of Bernie Sanders’ office in the Senate Budget Committee—all shut down 100% rock-ribbed Republican opposition, a couple of right-wing Democrats, so nothing could pass. The results, which are very harmful, are blamed on the Democrats, unreasonably, but you can understand why. You want to know where the country’s going? They’re taking over. They already have the Supreme Court, which is a throwback to the 19th century. They’ll presumably take Congress. The next president will either be somebody like Trump or maybe Trump himself. For Canada, it is a very serious problem. You can’t escape the effects of what happens in the United States. 

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Noam Chomsky 

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