“Trump is not a rupture at all, but rather the culmination — the logical end point — of a great many dangerous stories our culture has been telling for a very long time,” Klein writes. “That greed is good. That the market rules. That money is what matters in life. That white men are better than the rest. That the natural world is there for us to pillage. That the vulnerable deserve their fate and the one percent deserve their golden towers. That anything public or commonly held is sinister and not worth protecting. That we are surrounded by danger and should only look after our own.”
So she’s been expecting Trump, or something like him, and now looks upon him with disdain and weary recognition. Trump the mega-brand. Trump the neoliberal standard-bearer for the entitled rich. Trump the disaster capitalist. Trump the climate-change denier. If he truly embodies the worst nightmares of the Klein oeuvre, now Trump the president has the chance to make them real. No wonder Klein wrote this book quickly.
The constant crisis mode characterizing the Trump presidency thus far may reflect the incompetence of an administration that is overreaching and underprepared, but Klein sees something more nefarious at work. Trump’s vision “can be counted on to generate wave after wave of crises and shocks,” she writes, and the administration “can be relied upon to exploit these shocks to push through the more radical planks of its agenda.”
We know, of course, that White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon has ominously called for the deconstruction of the administrative state. But when aides and agencies are constantly being undermined by the president and policy is made and unmade via tweetstorm, it’s hard to spot an underlying master plan, let alone see a 3D chess match underway. (I think it’s more like tic-tac-toe.) Whatever agenda Trump is pushing at any given moment, however, Klein argues convincingly that it is entirely self-serving — because 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is but the latest set for the Trump show.
“The presidency is in fact the crowning extension of the Trump brand,” she writes. “His brand is being the ultimate boss, the guy who is so rich he can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and to whomever he wants.” In this context, Trump’s endless conflicts of interest are not pitfalls, they are the point of it all.
“The conflicts are omnipresent and continuous, embedded in the mere fact of Trump being president,” Klein explains. “That’s because the value of lifestyle brands fluctuates wildly depending on the space they occupy in the culture. So anything that increases Donald Trump’s visibility, and the perception of him as all-powerful, actively increases the value of the Trump brand, and therefore increases how much clients will pay to be associated with it.”
His prior reality show, “The Apprentice,” capitalized on and even glamorized income and wealth inequality, so it’s little surprise that as candidate and president Trump would prey upon the financial and cultural insecurities of the American worker. But what happens, Klein wonders, when the jobs don’t come back, and when Trump’s trade deals boost corporate fortunes rather than factory wages? “In all likelihood,” she writes, “Trump will then fall back on the only other tools he has: he’ll double down on pitting white workers against immigrant workers, do more to rile up fears about Black crime, more to whip up an absurd frenzy about transgendered people and bathrooms, and launch fiercer attacks on reproductive rights and on the press.”
And if that’s not enough to stoke the base, “of course, there’s always war.”
Yes, Klein worries that Trump, obsessed with flashing his alpha male credentials to the world, will play the commander in chief card. “There is little reason to hope he will be able to resist putting on the show of shows — the televised apocalyptic violence of a full-blown war, complete with its guaranteed blockbuster ratings.” Klein writes that a terrorist attack on U.S. soil could propel Trump to launch a large-scale conflict abroad as well as severely restrict freedoms at home. This is one of the shocks she fears most, and her scenarios are dire.
“We should be prepared for security shocks to be exploited as excuses to increase the rounding up and incarceration of large numbers of people from the communities this administration is already targeting: Latino immigrants, Muslims, Black Lives Matter organizers, climate activists. It’s all possible. And, in the name of freeing the hands of law enforcement officials, [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions would have his excuse to do away with federal oversight of state and local police. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that, in the aftermath of an attack, judges would show the same courage in standing up to Trump as they did immediately after his inauguration.”
At one point, Klein even suggests Trump is treating the United States the way U.S. envoy Paul Bremer treated Iraq. That’s cold.
Klein’s prose feels overwritten at times; actions are not just unjust or corrupt, for instance, but “defiantly” unjust or “manifestly” corrupt. The hyperbole is unnecessary, and she is more persuasive when she simply outlines what the president does or proposes. “The Trump administration does not choose between amping up law and order, attacking women’s reproductive rights, escalating foreign conflicts, scapegoating immigrants, setting off a fossil fuel frenzy, and otherwise deregulating the economy in the interests of the super-rich,” she writes. “They are proceeding on all these fronts (and others) simultaneously.” Trump embodies a sort of reverse intersectionality, linking and assailing all progressive causes at once.
“No Is Not Enough” is one of the bigger-name works so far in the emerging resistance-lit genre, and the barrage of high-profile left-wing endorsements — from Arundhati Roy, Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, Bill McKibben, Danny Glover and more — signals the intended audience. (I must say, though, 11 blurbs on the back cover may be too much virtue to take.) Klein, whose liberal proclivities fall in the Bernie-pining and Hillary-maligning camp, argues that American progressives were largely silenced after 9/11, washed away by the moment’s patriotic fervor. “That left the economic-populist space open to abuse,” she writes. “Politics hates a vacuum; if it isn’t filled with hope, someone will fill it with fear.”
But Klein argues that the left’s new call to resistance is insufficient on its own. She prefers a new kind of shock doctrine, one that capitalizes on the crisis of Trump’s presidency to unite liberals in a radical and comprehensive policy platform — the affirmative counterpoint to her book’s title. A $15 minimum wage. A carbon tax. Demilitarization of police. Free college tuition. One hundred percent renewable energy. A Marshall Plan to fight violence against women. Reparations for slavery and colonialism. The abolition of prison. The abandonment of “growth” as a measure of improvement. Hey, Trump is going for it all, so why not her side, too?
Klein understands that liberals can be their own worst enemies — she regards the Obama years as a massive missed opportunity and worries that the left is too inclined to compete rather than collaborate, and shame rather than sympathize — but she still feels that the time to strike alliances may never be more propitious, paradoxically because conditions are so grim. “After decades of ‘siloed’ politics, more and more people understand that we can only beat Trumpism in cooperation with one another — no one movement can win on its own,” she writes. “The trick is going to be to stick together, and have each other’s backs as never before.”
This book is a “road map for shock resistance,” the author writes, one that celebrates the “rekindling of the kind of utopian dreaming that has been sorely missing from social movements in recent decades.” So for all her concerns about shock tactics, Klein is not above taking advantage of a crisis to push through radical ideas. They just need to be radical ideas that she likes.