Naomi Klein in Montreal: “Trump’s trademark is impunity”


“Trump’s trademark is impunity”
Naomi Klein in Montreal
Nicolas Bérubé, La Presse, 20th October 2017
(Translated from French by Gilles Forget)



In her most recent book No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump's Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, the Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein talks about the danger facing all progressive activists wanting to throw back Donald Trump. Nicolas Bérubé, of the Montreal (Canada) newspaper La Presse interviewed her on the recent revelations of sexual harassment made by powerful men in the show business industry and the #Metoo campaign.


Q: You are in the province of Quebec when men from the showbiz industry are being accused of sexual harassment. What are your thoughts on that issue?

NK: This is all about impunity. The idea that if you are rich, if you have enough power, you are above the rules. What unites those cases is that it’s about people intoxicated by power. What I have written about Trump is that impunity is his trademark. We have seen it in the “Access Hollywood” video. It’s the dream of absolute freedom, where you can do what you want to whom you want. It is not only Republicans. It is a cancer within our culture. It concerns sexual abuse, but at the same time, it goes beyond it. It is a way to imagine the world.

In some ways, the United States of America embodies impunity. Its message is: “We are so rich, and we have so many war materials that we do not have to follow the same rules as others.” They exclude themselves from the International Criminal Court as they exclude themselves from the international agreement on climate. It is always risky to do analogies, but it seems to me that this is all part of the same problem.

Q: In your most recent book, you say that it is tempting but risky for progressives to unite around the idea of “impeaching Trump” or “to elect democrats”. Why is it risky?

NK: It reminds me of what we have seen in the George W. Bush era. In the 90s, the progressives started to criticise the system, the ways that corporate globalization was giving us the same policies whatever politician came into power. Then Bush was elected. Everybody was talking of his incompetence, of the risk he presented, etc. Overnight, in many respects, progressives lost sight of the bigger issues. We were saying no to Bush and to war, but without looking at the system enabling this. I’m worried to see that happening again under Trump. When things move swiftly, it is important to remind ourselves of what we know, and this is what I am trying to do in this book.

Q: In your book, you say that Trump’s arrival at the White House was prepared by… Bill Gates and Bill Clinton.

NK: One of the paths that made Trump is the idea that we must look at billionaires to solve complex crises, crises we were solving together previously, within a democratic process. Bill Clinton started the ball rolling with the annual meeting of the Clinton Foundation, where the oligarchs from Mexico, Russia, Kazakhstan or Saudi Arabia, met to solve all the planet’s problems, without having to be accountable to anybody. 


For the last 15 years, there has been the idea that billionaires have magical powers when the time comes to solve complex problems, and I believe that Trump would not have been elected without that notion.


Bill Gates is the ultimate expression of this. He knows very well a very specific angle of society, but as he became the richest man on earth, he now has almost magical powers to understand all of the things for which he does not have any experience, like agriculture in Africa, pandemics or education systems in low socio-economic neighborhoods. Whoever works at the United Nations will say that Bill Gates has more power than the World Health Organisation because of his wealth. The same thing goes for the Clinton Foundation which has a course scattered with horror stories. For the last fifteen years, there has been this idea that billionaires have magical powers when comes to solving complex problems, and I do not believe that Trump would have been elected without this notion.

Q: You say that one of the errors of the progressives was to believe that Barack Obama’s election in 2008 would profoundly change the system.

NK: Yes, and it is a model that is being repeated: we spend a lot of political energy to get rid of a dangerous rightwing politician. We must replace him by someone better. Then comes the feeling that we can relax, we can rest. People who were passionately against war and torture suddenly do not look at those issues anymore, even if wars with drones are increasing, even if Guantanamo is still open. The country’s image has just changed, they’re happy to be beloved on the international scene, then they stop being activists.

Many Canadians are living this situation with their new prime minister, Justin Trudeau. I believe we are repeating the same errors as that of our American friends. The irony is that progressives have very little chance to influence policies of people like Harper, Bush or Trump. On the other hand, one Obama or one Trudeau can be sensitive to these ideas because these people are part of their political base. We are wasting the influence we could have.