When you have finished reading the book, take a little time to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life, before the rising oceans swallow your city. And then get busy. Better yet, get active.
This is not my favorite progressive work of non-fiction. It is not even my favorite book by Naomi Klein. It does not explain everything about something, or something about everything. But it is an important synthesis of the research and conclusions from No Logo, The Shock Doctrine, and This Changes Everything, in a short-and-tidy format that anyone with a working heart and brain can grasp. This synthesis parallels the fact that the election of Donald Trump to a seat of enormous political power is the culmination of several decades of increasingly Trumpian governance here in the US.
Trump Bad! No Shit.
In Part I, and in scattered portions of Parts II through IV, Klein reminds us that our alleged president is what happens when a turd-sculpture is left out in the sun too long and develops ambitions of becoming human, or (insert your favorite metaphor here). To many of us, this is not news. Only people who have followed Trump's story closely will be familiar with all the anecdotes about his career.
The story of the Commodore Hotel deal, adapted from Trump's own "writings," illustrates how his first big break in real estate was at root a massive swindle of the taxpayers of New York City. It happened in the mid-1970s, when the city's economy was in the proverbial shitter. I had not heard this illustrative anecdote:
Trump had always dreamed of making his mark in Manhattan, and with the debt crisis he saw his big chance. The opening came in 1976, when the famed Commodore Hotel, a historic midtown landmark, announced that it was losing so much money that it might have to close down. The city government was panicked at the prospect of this iconic building sitting empty.... They needed a buyer, quick and the mood was sufficiently desperate that, as one local television broadcast put it, "beggars can't be choosers."
Enter Trump, proto–disaster capitalist. Partnering with the Hyatt Corporation, Trump had a plan to replace the Commodore's classic brick facade with "a new skin" of reflective glass, and to reopen it as the Grand Hyatt Hotel....
...for $9.5 million down, Trump extracted a tax-break windfall for the property worth $360 million (and counting) from the city. The new hotel was a blight—what one architectural critic described as "an out-of-towner's vision of city life." In other words, it was vintage Trump....
In other words, he's a perfect fit for the job of President of the United States.
Klein also reminds us that the cadre that Trump brought to the White House is a mostly white-male-millionaire disaster squadron, perfectly poised to induce political and economic shock on multiple levels either through Machiavellian scheming or sheer incompetence. It isn't that we contemporary folk need reminding, but her summaries of Trump's cabinet and other top-level appointments will warn future generations not to allow this kind of multi-megaton cluster-fuck to recur.
Trump Bad! Dems Not Much Better
Klein is willing, I am gratified to report, to shovel some blame at the corporatized Democratic Party for Letting Trump Happen. She pulls her punches a bit, perhaps out of sympathy for progressives who cling to the outdated notion that the Democratic Party is their political home. But this punch-pulling is only in the service of not beating a dead donkey. It doesn't aid her narrative to whine at length about all the strings that were pulled to nominate a woman who has become the avatar of War, Wall Street, and the Walmart Economy, or how the party thwarted the avuncular self-styled socialist who likely would have defeated Trump.
So I won't harp on it either, except to say that Klein's endorsement of Bernie Sanders is still a disappointment to me as a Green, albeit a minor one. I rejected Sanders primarily because I found his record on foreign and defense matters shockingly unprogressive: the F-35 fighter, Israel/Palestine, etc. If Sanders had won the White House, I doubt that he would have pursued a more dovish policy, because such a stance is political suicide in our current environment, but by golly he just might have.
Trump Bad! But Just a Symptom
If NO Is Not Enough were only about how awful everything is, it wouldn't be worth stealing a copy from Half Price Books—except as motivation to slit one's wrists (or endless hours of jerking off, if you're a hardcore right-winger). It also repeats what Patti Smith said so succinctly 30 years ago, "People Have the Power," and Alice Walker's oft-quoted advice, "The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any."
As I have stated repeatedly on my Facebook timeline, Donald John Trump is merely a symptom, capitalism is the disease, and greed is the virus. Yes, relieve the symptom by whatever legal and peaceable means our alleged democracy provides. If that doesn't work, take it to another level. But afterward, to prevent future Trumps from Happening, work on rooting out the infection and stopping it from spreading.
As with This Changes Everything, NO is also a manual for creating the society that Progressives dream. Making that dream come true requires identifying the problem, agreeing on various aspects of the vision, dismantling the current system, and then re-creating society based on the vision, in that order.
Among the highlights of my reading was the description of how a diverse group of Canadian thinkers and activists, including more than a few First Nations folk, got together to craft the Leap Manifesto. It reminded me of my 2004 epiphany at the Green Convention in Milwaukee, sitting outside with my lunch and a copy of the platform, reading through that platform, feeling yes after yes after YES!! like a firework show in my head and heart.
It also brought to mind the sadness of watching fellow Greens spewing vitriol at each other, at the 2017 GPTX State Meeting, over issues that may seem huge now but will likely be less-than-footnotes in the long run. Klein's collection of societal creatives could get together, with their various agenda, and sublimate those agenda to the benefit of a holistic vision. Why couldn't a similar bunch do that when we assembled in Corpus Christi this summer? or at the Annual National Meeting in Newark last month?
Addressing Some Quibbles
- One Goodreads reviewer expressed a mild disappointment that NO is not the heavily referenced tome that one might expect from Klein. Well, duh. It wasn't meant to be. Klein has said quite clearly that it is meant to be readable for above-average progressive Joes and Janes, or people of any political stripe or of none. If you want notes, however, check the book's website.
- One two-star review on Goodreads listed what the reviewer liked, and then what she didn't. The list of quibbles began with "a lot of insertion of the author into the book (her reaction to certain world events, her son's experience snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, etc.) Found it distracting and ultimately pulled focus from the book's overall message." Sorry you felt that way, fellow Goodreader, but come on. Part of the problem with our corporatist overlords is their utter lack of empathy, their pathological inability to walk in the shoes of those less fortunate or less ambitious. If you don't live in a fence-line community, does that mean that you can't be sympathetic to the plight of those who do? Anderson Cooper and Rachel Maddow aren't diving at the Great Barrier Reef to show us the extent of the coral carnage, so a proper journalist like Klein has to do it. If you don't understand what she felt on seeing it, may be the problem is you and not the book.
- The estimable Prof. Robert Jensen makes some good points in this review. However, even after reading Jensen's complaints about the feasibility of Klein's prescriptions, I couldn't spot any that aren't achievable, or run up against natural limits, given the time and resources we have to implement them (as far as I can tell). But I can agree with this statement from Jensen's review:
We have a chance for some kind of decent human future, if we can face the challenges honestly: How do we hold onto the best of our human nature (that striving for connection) in the face of existing systems that glorify the worst (individual greed and human cruelty)? All that we dream is not possible, but something better than what we have created certainly is within our reach. We should stop fussing about hope, which seduces too many to turn away from difficult realities. Let’s embrace the joy that always exists in the possible, and also embrace the grief in what is not.
We must dare to dream big, and we must face our nightmares.