Naomi Klein: ‘Irish leaders drank the Kool Aid’

The writer and activist on Trump, Brexit and the risks in Ireland’s economic policies

 Naomi Klein’s new book,  ‘No is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics’, examines  Donald Trump’s election. File photograph: Ed Kashi

Naomi Klein’s new book, ‘No is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics’, examines Donald Trump’s election. File photograph: Ed Kashi


Last month’s general election turned British politics upside-down, leaving the victorious Conservatives in despair and Labour joyful in defeat. Jeremy Corbyn’s unexpected success in increasing Labour’s vote share and winning more seats has encouraged his supporters to believe that Britain is just one electoral step from a decisive turn to the left.

Corbyn’s achievement in gaining ground on the basis of an unashamedly left-wing manifesto has cheered progressives across the world, following the shock of Donald Trump’s election. For the Canadian writer and activist Naomi Klein, Corbyn has shown that parties of the left can succeed if they offer more than a protest against the status quo.

“I think it does show that when you put a positive vision of the world forward, a plan, a picture of how life can be different, not just rejecting what the other guy is doing but putting forward a plan that’s very different from how it was even when Labour was in power, [it] can be a game-changer, because people engage with it,” she told The Irish Times.

“I think the most significant part of what we’re seeing from Corbyn and Bernie Sanders as well is that the spell of ‘there is no alternative’ is breaking and there is an appetite for bold policy change.”

Trump is the Frankenstein’s monster of the political and corporate establishment

Klein’s latest book, No is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics (Allen Lane) was written in response to the shock of Trump’s election. She sees Trump as the product of phenomena she examined in her earlier books No Logo, about the rise of branding, and The Shock Doctrine, about how the powerful exploit shock events such as 9/11.

Describing Trump as the Frankenstein’s monster of the political and corporate establishment, Klein argues that his daily gaffes and distractions, what she calls “the Trump show”, offer useful cover for his radical economic policies.

“I mean, how much attention has been paid to what the Goldman Sachs team that is running economic policy in the US are doing? It barely gets any coverage because it can’t compete with [attorney general Jeff] Sessions and [special counsel Robert] Mueller and this sort of reality show of who’s going to get voted off the island this week, or today. This is just cable-news crack and you cannot compete with it,” she says.

Russian interference

Much of the drama surrounding the first months of Trump’s presidency has focused on the role of the Russian government in supporting his election campaign. Klein agrees that the story of the relationship between Trump and Russia is an important one that should be reported, but suggests that the extent of the coverage on it is excessive.

“I don’t think it needs to be covered like a reality show, and at the expense of everything else he’s doing. I think it’s incredibly dangerous for the coverage of the Trump show to come at the expense of his evisceration of the Environmental Protection Agency and a lot of stuff that is happening. There’s this narrative that he’s not getting anything done and it’s really not true,” she says.

“There’s a lot that they can do without going to Congress because there’s a lot that Obama did through executive orders and that’s just all being undone. And what they’re doing at the Environmental Protection Agency is more radical than at any point in the agency’s history and it receives almost no coverage. I think Russia’s getting way more coverage than it should, which is not to say that it shouldn’t get a lot, but it’s getting almost around the clock coverage.”

Klein believes that, despite the populist rhetoric that brought him to power, Trump is a product and a servant of the American corporate elite. As the creature of corporate power, Trump is also at its mercy and he will only survive for as long as he remains useful.

“I do think that they’ll throw Trump under the bus when the costs outweigh the benefits. I think that will probably happen before his term is up. The Republican Party can get rid of him whenever they want. They have a majority. And they’re not doing it because he’s still useful to them,” she says.

Klein supported Sanders in the Democratic primary and she declined to endorse Hillary Clinton in last November’s presidential election, although she said people should vote against Trump. She says she seldom endorses candidates and only does so if she finds an exceptional candidate who comes close to reflecting her values.

“I can count on one hand how many times I’ve done it in Canada and the US and I won’t do it unless I really believe in the candidate. And I did not believe in Hillary Clinton, sorry,” she says.

EU’s failings

Klein has been an outspoken critic of the EU, particularly for its conduct of bailouts of indebted countries following the financial crash in 2008. She declined to take sides on Brexit, although she is highly critical of the Leave campaign in last year’s referendum, which she describes as ugly.

“The way the Brexit side won was, as I think everyone knows, incredibly dishonest and also actively racist in some cases. And I think that, in a moment of extreme nationalism, I’m more interested in trying to figure out how we build better co-operation across borders and engage with these institutions and change them rather than just abandoning them,” she says.

There is the threat that if you do what is fair and just, capital is just going to flee

Klein admires Yanis Varoufakis’s DiEM25, which aims to reform the EU and to make it more democratic. She believes it is especially important for small countries like the Republic that transnational institutions such as the EU should be strong and accountable.

“I think there are some areas where countries can still carve out sovereign policy, but obviously on a lot of economic matters [there is] the threat that if you do what is fair and just, capital is just going to flee. And in Ireland, I think that’s a particularly powerful argument because I think Irish leaders drank the Kool Aid in terms of attracting foreign investment with a deregulation frenzy. That makes you vulnerable,” she says.

“And I think the further a country has gone down that path, the more vulnerable it is. Because if people are looking for the tax breaks, it’s going to make you vulnerable. So it does require being part of an international strategy to close those loopholes.”

Despite Trump’s election, the threat of climate change and the rise of extreme nationalism across the world, Klein is excited about the current political moment, although she stops short of describing herself as optimistic.

“I think we’re at a moment that is extremely malleable, more malleable than at any point in my lifetime, where things are both more likely to get a hell of a lot worse but the possibility of them getting a hell of a lot better is also greater than at any point in my lifetime. It’s just an extremely live moment,” she says.