“Gangster in the White House”: Noam Chomsky on COVID-19, WHO, China, Gaza and global capitalism

IMAGE/Spectator, US/Duck Duck Go

We continue our conversation with world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author Noam Chomsky. He responds to President Trump’s cuts to U.S. support for the World Health Organization and the surge in deaths in the United States to another record high, and discusses conditions in Gaza, the rise of authoritarianism around the world, and the progressive response. “This is typical behavior of autocrats and dictators. When you make colossal errors which are killing thousands of people, find somebody else to blame,” say Chomsky. “In the United States, it’s unfortunately the case, for well over a century, century and a half, that it’s always easy to blame the ‘yellow peril.’”

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman. The death rate from the coronavirus pandemic continues to accelerate, with worldwide confirmed deaths topping 145,000. In the United States, deaths surged to another record high Thursday, nearly doubling to surpass the previous record set just a day before, at 4,591, U.S. residents died over a single 24-hour period.

Well, today we continue my conversation with Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author of more than a hundred books. He’s a laureate professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Arizona, Tucson, and professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he taught for more than half a century. Professor Chomsky joined us last week from his home in Tucson, Arizona, where he is sheltering in place his wife Valeria. We spoke just after President Donald Trump foreshadowed this week’s announcement that he would cut off U.S. support for the World Health Organization. This is Trump addressing reporters last week.

REPORTER 1: Is the time to freeze funding to the WHO during a pandemic of this magnitude?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, maybe not. I mean, I’m not saying I’m going to do it, but we’re going to look at it.

REPORTER 2: You did say that you’re going to do it.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We give a tremendous — no, I didn’t. I said we’re going to look at it. We’re going to investigate it. We’re going to look at it.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what he’s threatening to do right now? First they reject the WHO tests, that would have been critical, and now saying they’re going to defund the World Health Organization.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, this is typical behavior of autocrats and dictators. When you make colossal errors which are killing thousands of people, find somebody else to blame. And in the United States, it’s unfortunately the case, for well over a century, century and a half, that it’s always easy to blame the “yellow peril.” The yellow — “They’re coming after us.” We’ve seen this all through my life, in fact way before. So, blame the World Health Organization, blame China, claim that the World Health Organization has insidious relations with China, is practically working for them. And that sells to a population that’s been deeply indoctrinated for a long time, way back to the Chinese Exclusion Acts in the 19th century, to say, “Yeah, those yellow barbarians are coming over to destroy us.” That’s almost instinctive.

And it’s backed up by the echo chamber, so, you know, say, Rush Limbaugh. Science is one of the four corners of deceit, along with the media, academia — I forget one of the others, but they’re the four corners of deceit. They live on deceit. You keep driving that into people’s heads. They say, “Why should we believe anything? Why should we believe the news? It’s just fake news. They’re all trying to destroy our savior, our president, the greatest president ever.”

I’m old enough to remember as a child listening to Hitler’s speeches over the radio, Nuremberg rallies. I couldn’t understand the words, but the tone and the reaction of the crowd, the adoring crowd, was very clear and very frightening. We know what it led to. It’s hard to — it comes to mind at once when you listen to Trump’s ravings and the crowd. I don’t suggest that he’s anything like Hitler. Hitler had an ideology, horrible ideology, not only massacring all the Jews and 30 million Slavs and the Roma, and conquering much of the world, but also an internal ideology: The state, under control of the Nazi Party, should control every aspect of life, should even control the business community. That’s not the world we’re in. In fact, it’s almost the opposite, business controlling the government. And as far as Trump is concerned, the only detectable ideology is pure narcissism. Me, that’s the ideology. As long as I am smart enough to keep serving the real masters, pour money into the pockets of the very wealthy and the corporate sector, and they’ll let you get away with your antics.

It’s pretty striking to see what happened at the Davos conference this January. That’s the meeting of the people who are called the “masters of the universe” — CEOs of the major corporations, you know, big media stars and so on. They get together in Davos once a year, congratulate each other on how wonderful they are, put on a pose of dedicated humanists who couldn’t do — you know, just totally devoted to the welfare of the people of the world. “You’re safe leaving your fate in our hands because we’re such good guys.”

Trump came along and gave the keynote address. They don’t like Trump. His vulgarity is incompatible with the image that they’re trying to project of cultivated humanism. But they wildly applauded him, lustily applauded every word, because they know that he does recognize which pockets you have to fill with dollars and how to do it. And as long as he does that, as long as he serves his major constituency, they’ll let him get away with the antics — in fact, like it, because he mobilizes a crowd that will back policies like his legislative achievements. Main one is a tax scam that pours money into the hands of the corporate coffers and harms everyone else. The deregulation is great for business. They love it. They can destroy the environment and harm people as much as they want. Very harmful to the population.

You cut back on pollution constraints, on auto emission regulations, what happens? People die of pollution, of mercury poisoning. The waters are poisoned. And the world, it goes, is facing disaster. You’re accelerating the disaster. As I said, even in the February 10th budget, while cutting back on protection against diseases in the midst of a raging pandemic, increases funding for fossil fuel production, which is going to destroy us all. Of course, a lot more money for the Pentagon and for his famous wall. But that’s the world we’re living in — here, not everywhere. As I said, the Asian countries have been acting sensibly. New Zealand actually seems to have killed it also. Taiwan is doing very well. In Europe, Germany has maybe the lowest death rate in the world, Norway, as well. There are ways to react.

And there are ways to try to destroy everything — what President Trump is leading, with the support of the Murdoch echo chamber, Fox News and others. And amazingly, this conjuring act is working. So, with one hand, you raise your hand to heaven: “I’m the chosen one. I’m your savior. I’m going to rebuild America, make it great again for you, because I’m the servant. I’m the loyal servant of the working class,” and so on. Meanwhile, with the other hand, you’re stabbing them all in the back. And to carry this off is an act of political genius. You have to recognize that serious talent is involved, whether intuitive or conscious planning. It’s devastating. We’ve seen it before. We see it now in dictators, autocrats, sociopaths who happen to get into leadership positions. And it’s now happening in the richest, most important country in world history.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you have this situation in the United States where the economy has been brought to a standstill because of the absolute catastrophe of this pandemic, that people have to isolate — although isolation is a luxury. For so many essential workers, they have to come out into this pandemic and face enormous threat to their own lives. If you can talk about whether you see this pandemic perhaps threatening global capitalism overall or shoring it up, and how the trillions of dollars that are being put into these stimulus packages are going to simply intensify inequality or actually going to help people at the bottom?

NOAM CHOMSKY: That’s a choice, not an inevitability. I mean, the corporate sector is working hard to plan for a future of the kind that you’re describing. The question is whether popular organizations will be able to impose enough pressure to make sure that this doesn’t happen.

And there are ways. Take the corporate — what you just described. The corporations right now are hiding their copies of Ayn Rand and rushing to the nanny state and asking for benefits from the public to overcome the results of their criminal behavior. What have they been doing for the last years? Profits have been going sky high. They’ve been indulging in an orgy of stock buybacks, which are devices to increase the wealth for the rich shareholders and for management while undermining the productive capacity of the enterprise at a huge scale, setting their offices somewhere in a little room in Ireland so they don’t have to pay taxes, using tax havens. This is not small change. This is tens of trillions of dollars, robbing the taxpayer. Does that have to be the case?

Take the current giveaway to corporations. It should be accompanied by conditionalities — term we’re familiar with from the IMF. They should be required to ensure that there will be no more use of tax havens, there will be no more stock buybacks, period. If they don’t do that, with a firm guarantee, no money from the public.

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