The U.S. has had 17 different presidents during Noam Chomsky's lifetime, from Calvin Coolidge to Joe Biden — and the left-wing author, now 92, has lived through major historical events including the Great Depression, Watergate, 9/11, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Chomsky discussed the challenges of the Biden era during a recent interview with author/journalist David Masciotra for the Los Angeles Review of Books.
Chomsky discussed his most recent book, "Consequences of Capitalism: Manufacturing Discontent and Resistance," in the interview with Masciotra, warning that people who are hurting economically can be manipulated by far-right extremists. Chomsky has been a blistering critic of neoliberal economics, which he said continues to fail millions of people in the U.S.
"I've seen it over and over," Chomsky told Masciotra. "During the Kennedy and Johnson years, the technocratic and meritocratic elite, my colleagues from Harvard and MIT, were flocking down to Washington to show how the world should be run. Well, in Vietnam, we saw what came of that. It was not unpredictable. Those of us in the streets were warning of it all along. Now, it is the same. Neoliberalism, whatever is in the minds of people who advocate for it — maybe they don't even think about it — is an explicit effort . . . to hand power to private institutions, which are dedicated to self-enrichment."
Neoliberalism, Chomsky added, only worsens the divide between the haves and the have-nots in the U.S.
"The majority of the population gets by paycheck to paycheck," Chomsky told Masciotra. "Real wages have stagnated for 40 years. The gains of productivity growth concentrate in very few pockets. This leads to . . . unfocused anger. Is it surprising? People aren't told what is really robbing them. Instead, they are told that it is immigrants, Blacks, some pedophiles from outer space, if you believe QAnon — anything but what is actually happening."
When economic conditions are unfavorable to the working class, Chomsky noted, Republicans try to distract their voters with "cultural issues."
"The Republicans, who are the party of the superrich, understood in the 1970s that you can't get votes by coming to people and saying, 'I want to rob you, and hand everything you have over to the rich and corporate sector,'" Chomsky explained. "Somehow, that doesn't work. You have to turn to what are called 'cultural issues,' meaning everything but what matters for your life. So, Paul Weyrich, one of the main Republican strategists, by the mid-1970s got a flash of insight and realized that if the Republicans pretend — stress 'pretend'— to be opposed to abortion, they'll pick up the evangelical vote and the northern Catholic vote."
Noting that the Republican Party is becoming "increasingly dangerous and brazenly antidemocratic," Masciotra asked Chomsky to discuss the political climate of 2021. And Chomsky agreed with his description of the modern GOP.
Chomsky said of the Republican Party, "They can mobilize the people they've turned into raging monsters, and get them to attack these communist rats who want the country flooded with rapists and murderers so that the white race suffers genocide. You know the whole story. That's the Republican Party. It's not a political party anymore. It's very dangerous."
The 92-year-old author added that scapegoating is an effective tool of the far-right in 2021 just as it was when he was a kid during the 1930s and Jews were targeted by Nazis. He explained:
There are other parts of it that are just as dangerous. For example, just recently, Pew Research Center came out with one of its regular polls on major issues facing the country. They had a choice of 15 major issues, and people were asked to rank them. It was divided between Republicans and Democrats. Take a look at Republicans. At the very bottom — 13% — the most important question that has ever arisen in human history: global warming. They don't call it that. They call it "climate change," which is more neutral. But only 13% think that is a major problem. It is only the most important problem that's ever arisen — the question of survival. Then you go to the problems they are most concerned about — illegal immigration, the deficit. This is the result of very effective propaganda. Imposing common sense, manufacturing consent, year after year — turning people into the kind of people that supported the Nazis. Going back to my childhood, I remember them right here in the United States. These were the people who wanted to get rid of the Jews, because "the Jews are destroying civilization."
"If people are isolated, atomized, with no support groups, no involvement in constructive activities, they are prey to this attack on their moral and intellectual integrity," Chomsky continued. "Go back to what I said, the Republican leadership is overjoyed at the moves toward some humane behavior on the part of Democrats. They know, especially with (former President Donald) Trump — who is a genius at this —that they can organize and mobilize crazed groups who really believe they need their guns to save the white race from genocide. You can drive people to that."