Born in Philadelphia on December 7, 1928, left-wing author and activist Noam Chomsky has seen a lot in his lifetime — from the Great Depression and World War II to the social unrest of the 1960s to Watergate to 9/11. And during an interview with the New Statesman this month, the 91-year-old Chomsky explained why he finds the events of 2020 especially perilous.
"There's been nothing like it in human history," Chomsky told the Statesman. "I'm old enough to remember, very vividly, the threat that Nazism could take over much of Eurasia — that was not an idle concern. U.S. military planners did anticipate that the war would end with a U.S.-dominated region and a German-dominated region . . . But even that, horrible enough, was not like the end of organized human life on Earth, which is what we're facing."
Chomsky spoke to the Statesman before the first summit of the Progressive International, an organization founded by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis in response to the increase in far-right authoritarian movements in different parts of the world.
In 2020, Chomsky has been sounding the alarm about a variety of perils: climate change, the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump's authoritarian response to the George Floyd protests. And he told the Statesman, "We're at an astonishing confluence of very severe crises. The extent of them was illustrated by the last setting of the famous Doomsday Clock. It's been set every year since the atom bombing, the minute hand has moved forward and back. But last January, they abandoned minutes and moved to seconds to midnight, which means termination — and that was before the scale of the pandemic."
Chomsky has vivid memories of the bombing of Hiroshima in August 1945 — he was 16 at the time — as well as the Cold War, which ended with the end of the Soviet Union and the Easter Bloc in the early 1990s. And Chomsky believes that in 2020, the "threat of nuclear war" is "growing" and is "probably more severe than it was during the Cold War." Adding to the peril, Chomsky told the Statesman, are "the growing threat of environmental catastrophe" and "the sharp deterioration of democracy."
A key figure in that deterioration, according to Chomsky, is Trump — and other troubling examples of authoritarianism he cited range from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to Hungarian President Viktor Orbán, who Chomsky said is "creating a proto-fascist state."
Chomsky, the Statesman's George Eaton notes, has "lived through 22 U.S. presidential elections" — and he pointed out that Trump has said that he might not concede if former Vice President Joe Biden wins in November.
"He's already announced repeatedly that if he doesn't like the outcome of the election, he won't leave," Chomsky told the Statesman. "And this is taken very seriously by two high-level military officers, ex-military leaders — who've just sent a letter to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reviewing for him his constitutional duties if the president refuses to leave office and gathers around him the paramilitary forces that he's been using to terrorize people in Portland."