In addition to the obvious terrors — gutting our social safety net, near-wars with North Korea and Iran, the family separations, and the everyday racism and xenophobia — the Trump era has been threaded with two subtler but no less damaging afflictions: confusion and paranoia. Not knowing on any given day whether President Donald Trump and his sycophants are serious about such critical matters as sending bombs into North Korea or the Middle East, say, or planning to take away our health care is nearly as damaging as the actions themselves.
It wears us down, even weakening our resolve to fight back. Amidst this confusion and stress, Noam Chomsky, linguist, historian, activist, and philosopher, has been a bracing force of clarity; his writing and interviews cut through the endless noise of opinions, punditry and argument, distilling the perils of our current moment in the most direct way. He’s 90 years old, and despite decades of being a critical progressive voice, he shows no signs of slowing down.
Sometimes that clarity is frightening. Chomsky is not here to soothe your fears. In a November interview he told Truthout’s C.J. Polychroniou, regarding the prospect of four more years of Trump, that such an outcome “may spell the end of much of life on earth, including organized human society in any recognizable form.”
Regarding the 2020 election as a whole, Chomsky told Polychroniou that he finds it “psychologically impossible to discuss the 2020 election without emphasizing, as strongly as possible, what is at stake: survival, nothing less.”
Even as Democratic debate moderators devote little time to climate change, Chomsky is sounding the alarm. In an interview with Jacobin in July, he explained the extent of the crisis:
We are approaching ominously close to the level of global warming 125,000 years ago when sea levels were 6 to 9 meters higher than today, and the rapid melting of Antarctic sea ice threatens to narrow the gap, possibly by nonlinear acceleration, some recent studies suggest. …
The challenge would be great even if states were committed to overcoming it. Some are. But it is impossible to overlook the fact that the most powerful state in human history is under the leadership of what can only be accurately described as a gang of arch-criminals who are dedicated to racing to the cliff with abandon.
Chomsky is also very concerned about surveillance, in particular as illustrated by developments in China. As he told Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer in a recent interview, “The kind of model toward which society is moving is already illustrated to a substantial extent in China, where they have very heavy surveillance systems and … what they call a social credit system,” he explained on Scheer Intelligence, the KCRW radio show.
Chomsky added, “This is going to expand enormously as we move to what’s called the internet of things, meaning every device around you — your refrigerator, your toothbrush and so on — is picking up information about what you’re doing, predicting what you’re going to do next, trying to control what you’re going to do next, advise what you do next.”
America’s interventions abroad have also not escaped Chomsky’s wrath. Of Trump’s sanctions on Venezuela, he told Jacobin, “The Trump sanctions have turned a severe crisis into a catastrophe, as recognized by the opposition’s leading economist, the well-informed Francisco Rodriguez — the usual impact of sanctions on civilian societies.”
In Part Two of the recent Scheer Intelligence interview, Chomsky grapples with the actions of Israel, providing necessary historical context, and a warning about the perils of blindly ignoring the government’s atrocities, including its treatment of Palestinians. He tells Scheer, “If you care about Israel, what you tell them is you’re sacrificing security for expansion,” Chomsky argues. “And it’s going to have a consequence. It’s going to lead to moral deterioration internally, and decline in status internationally, which is exactly what happened. […] You go back to the 1970s, Israel was one of the most admired states in the world. […] Now it’s a pariah state.”
Rather than practicing unquestioning allegiance, Chomsky recommends active questioning, telling Scheer, “You don’t love a state and follow its policies. … You criticize what’s wrong, try to change the policies, expose them; criticize it, change it.”
Chomsky was referring to Israel, but he could just as easily be talking about America, or even Americans’ attitude toward their preferred candidates. For his clear-eyed analysis of America under Trump, his decades-strong willingness to challenge authority and admit uncomfortable truths, and boundless intellectual energy, Noam Chomsky is our Truthdigger of the month.