No Is Not Enough by Naomi Klein – A Review

no is not enough

In No Logo (2000) Naomi Klein confronted the issue of multinational corporations undermining democracy. She followed-up this book with The Shock Doctrine (2008), a groundbreaking book about how major social shocks are used to push through neoliberal economic agendas. As the world reeled in the wake of Donald Trump’s 2016 election, Naomi Klein dived back into waters she had already swum in these books. She used Donald Trump’s ascension to power as an object example of the way the Neoliberal agenda had changed the world. She did not stop there. Naomi Klein’s written response to Donald Trump’s administration was right in the title: No is not enough. We can not reject everything the Neoliberal agenda foists on us without creating a path towards something better. We needed real solutions, not just criticism of what was not working.

On the evening of Trump’s victory, Naomi Klein was, “…in a meeting with around fifteen heads of various Australian environmental, labour, and social justice organizations.” (Klein, 2017, p.15) They were meeting to discuss how the goals of their organizations intersected, and how they could approach these issues with a spirit of cooperation rather than competition. The room fell silent as the results rolled in. Klein wrote:

“It was as if everyone instantly understood, without even having to speak, that we were about to be blasted backward by a gale-force wind and all we could do now was try to hold our ground. The idea of forward momentum on any one of the pressing crises on the table seemed to evaporate before our eyes.” (Klein, 2017, p.16)

Klein’s hypothesis was well summed up in the following quote:

“…Trump’s win…severed plans for a forward-looking agenda without so much as a debate. It was perfectly understandable that we all felt that way on election day. But if we accept the premise that, from here on in, the battles are all defensive, all about holding our ground against Trump-style regressive attacks, then we will end up in a very dangerous place indeed. Because the ground we were on before Trump was elected is the ground that produced Trump. Ground many of us understood to constitute a social and ecological emergency, even without this latest rounds of setbacks.” (Klein, 2017, p.18)

Trump immediately appointed several ultra-rich cronies to the most socially and environmentally sensitive portfolios. Klein said:

“To an alarming extent, he has collected a team of individuals who made their personal fortunes by knowingly causing harm to some of the most vulnerable people on the planet, and to the planet itself, often in the midst of crisis. It almost appears to be some sort of job requirement.” (Klein, 2017, p.19)

Klein labelled Trump a “hollow brand” because he sells his name as a brand without providing a real product. It is a lot like printing off money without having hard currency in the federal reserve to back it up. Klein wrote:

“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 (including grabbing whichever women he wants, by whichever body part he wants)….In the world he created, he’s just acting like a winner; if someone gets stepped on, they are obviously a loser. And this doesn’t play by the rules. He entered politics playing by a completely different set of rules—the rules of branding. According to those rules, you don’t need to be objectively good or decent; you only need to be true and consistent to the brand you have created.” (Klein, 2017, p.33)

Klein said, “…to understand Trump you really have to understand the world that made him what he is, and that, to a very large extent, is the world of branding.” (Klein, 2017, p.23)

She compared his seemingly insatiable need to mark every available space with his name to the colonial practice of planting a flag. Many Trump supporters believed he made vast amounts of money building things when, in reality, huge portions of his money came from selling his name as a brand.

Trump supporters were duped into a dazzling display of false consciousness when they were convinced to believe he was the best option to take on government corruption. Klein wrote:

“In the face of his total lack of government experience, Trump sold himself to voters with a somewhat two-pronged pitch. First: I’m so rich that I don’t need to be bought off. And second: You can trust me to fix this corrupt system because I know it from the inside—I gamed it as a businessman, I bought politicians, I dodged taxes, I outsourced production. So who better than me and my equally rich friends to drain the swamp?” (Klein, 2017, p.21)

Klein demonstrated The Apprentice was neoliberal by design. She wrote:

“…The Apprentice delivered the central sales pitch of free-market theory, telling viewers that by unleashing your most selfish and ruthless side, you are actually a hero—creating jobs and fueling growth. Don’t be nice, be a killer. That’s how you help the economy and, more importantly, yourself.

In later seasons, the underlying cruelty of the show grew even more sadistic. The winning team lived in a luxurious mansion—drinking champagne in inflatable pool loungers, zipping off in limos to meet celebrities. The losing team was deported to the tents in the backyard, nicknamed Trump trailer park.

The tent-dwellers, whom Trump gleefully deemed the have-nots, didn’t have electricity, ate off paper plates, and slept to the sounds of howling dogs.” (Klein, 2017, p.48)

The Emoluments Clause in the U.S.A. is otherwise known as the Title of Nobility Clause (Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8). It prohibits the federal government from granting titles of nobility and restricts members of government from receiving gifts, emoluments, offices or titles from foreign governments without the express consent of Congress. Klein pointed out that there are many ways Trump benefits from his position that would not have been accepted with any other President. For example, it would be naive to think that the increase in bookings by foreign governments at Trump-owned or branded properties could be a coincidence. Klein wrote:

“Mar-a-Lago has already increased its membership fees, to $200,000 a year from $100,000. And why not? Now, for your fee, you might find yourself witnessing a high-stakes conversation about national security over dinner. You might get to witness Trump announcing that he has just launched an air assault on a foreign country. And, of course, you might even get to meet the President himself, and have the chance to quietly influence him.” (Klein, 2017, p.37)

Presidents have traditionally been expected to divest. In Trump’s case, this was difficult because his business was his existence. Klein wrote:

“The conflicts of interest are not only tied to specific policies or actions. Rather, the conflicts are omnipresent and continuous, embedded in the mere fact of Trump being president. That’s because the value of life-style 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—to slap it on their new condo development, say, or, on a smaller scale, to play on this golf courses or buy one of his ties.” (Klein, 2017, p.38)

Trevor Noah regularly reviews Fox and Friends scandals from the Obama era, things like wearing a tan suit or golfing, to juxtapose the treatment of Obama and Trump. Obama would never have made it past the primaries if he had been caught before the election saying the kinds of things referred to in the following:

“Well before Trump’s rise, elections had already crossed over into ratings-driven infotainment on cable news. What Trump did was to exponentially increase the entertainment factor, and therefore the ratings. As a veteran of the form, he understood that if elections had become a form of reality TV, then the best contestant (which might not be the same thing as the best candidate) would win. Maybe they wouldn’t win the final vote, but they would at least win wall-to-wall coverage, which from the branding perspective is still winning.” (Klein, 2017, p.50)

There are many ways things could get worse if the actions that were taken after Hurricane Katrina become the Disaster Handbook for countries adhering to neoliberal policies. Based on the response to the hurricane in Puerto Rico, there is no reason to think these tactics will not become the new norm. Naomi Klein suggested the strategy of using a major shock to force through the corporate wish-list went hand-in-hand with neoliberalism. She wrote that the strategy appeared to be:

“… wait for a crisis (or even in some instances, as in Chile or Russia, help foment one), declare a moment of what is sometimes called extraordinary politics, suspend some or all democratic norms—and then ram the corporate wish list through as quickly as possible.” (Klein, 2017, p.134)

Klein wrote:

“Since taking office, he’s never allowed the atmosphere of chaos and crisis to let up. The outrages come so fast and furious that many are understandably struggling to find their footing. Experiencing Trump’s tsunami of Oval Office decrees—seven executive orders in his first eleven full days, plus eleven presidential memoranda issued in that same period—has felt a little like standing in front of one of those tennis ball machines.” (Klein, 2017, p.135)

Klein wrote:

“Speed is of the essence in all this, since periods of shock are temporary by nature….shock-drunk leaders and their funders usually try to follow Machiavelli’s advice in The Prince: ‘For injuries ought to be done all at one time, so that, being tasted less, they offend less.’ The logic is straightforward enough: People can develop responses to sequential or gradual change. But if dozens of changes come from all directions at once, the hope is that populations will rapidly become exhausted and overwhelmed, and will ultimately swallow their bitter medicine.” (Klein, 2017, p.137)

Klein used New Orleans as an example, possibly to demonstrate how the country was not any safer in Vice President Mike Pence’s hands, given his profiteering in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. She pointed out that it was a mistake to think of Hurricane Katrina strictly as a natural disaster. Infrastructure was defunded to the point where the levees were not maintained, which resulted in their breach during Katrina. Klein wrote the following about the causes:

“One was a specific disregard for the lives of poor Black people, whose homes in the Lower Ninth Ward were left most vulnerable by the failure to fix the levees. This was part of a wider neglect of public infrastructure across the United States, which is the direct result of decades of neoliberal policy.” (Klein, 2017, p.153)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency took five days to respond to the catastrophe in New Orleans. Klein wrote:

“Meanwhile, gangs of armed white vigilantes prowled the streets looking, as one resident later put it in an expose by investigative journalist A.C. Thompson for the opportunity to hunt Black people.” (Klein, 2017, p.154)

Along with the local police, who were on-edge due to being overwhelmed by the disaster, there was a sudden flood of private security guards from companies like Blackwater, who were notorious for their tactics in Iraq. They treated desperate people trying to survive as criminals.

Before the flood, New Orleans had a reputation as a city that placed a high value on having strong commons; in particular, their subsidized housing. Klein sites the following grotesquely insensitive quote from Richard Baker, who was a Republican congressman from Louisiana at the time of the flood: “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.” (Klein, 2017, p.155)

The diaspora after the flood was seized as an opportunity to push through the voucher system and charter schools, which had been fiercely opposed up to that point. Most of the teachers got fired. Only a handful of the newest teachers were rehired by the newly created charter schools. Klein wrote:

“On September 13, 2005—just fourteen days after the levees were breached and with parts of New Orleans still underwater—the RSC convened a fateful meeting at the offices of the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC. Under Pence’s leadership, the group came up with a list of Pro-Free-Market Ideas for Responding to Hurricane Katrina and High Gas Prices—thirty-two pseudo relief policies in all, each one straight out of the disaster capitalism playbook.
What stands out is the commitment to wage all-out war on labour standards and the public sphere—which is bitterly ironic, because the failure of the public infrastructure is what turned Katrina into a human catastrophe in the first place.” (Klein, 2017, p.156)

Klein acknowledged that many people react to major shocks by regressing into child-like, passive states. On the other hand, there are many who respond by coming together to resist. She used Argentina as a starting point in mapping a path to effective resistance. She wrote that in places like Argentina:

“Because shock tactics rely on the public becoming disoriented by fast-moving events, they tend to backfire most spectacularly in places where there is a strong collective memory of previous instances when fear and trauma were exploited to undermine democracy. Those memories serve as a kind of shock absorber, providing populations with shared reference points that allow them to name what’s happening and fight back.” (Klein, 2017, p.191)

Americans did not take long to begin developing shock resistance. There was an immediate push-back against Trump’s Muslim Ban. As an example, Klein wrote:

“Trump supporters launched a vicious online campaign to smear Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian American who was one of the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington, like a closet supporter of terrorism and an anti-Semite. Such false claims were precisely the kind of attacks that ruined lives and careers after September 11. But this time it didn’t work—an #IStandWithLinda counter-campaign rose up almost instantly, so loud and large that it all but buried the smears.” (Klein, 2017, p.199)

“What has stood out in this wave of early resistance is how the barriers defining who is and who is not an “activist” or an “organizer” are completely breaking down. People are organizing mass events who have never organized anything political before.” (Klein, 2017, p.202)

The following was a good restatement of Klein’s main point in this book:

“With unleashed white supremacy and misogyny, with the world teetering on the edge of ecological collapse, with the very last vestiges of the public sphere set to be devoured by capital, it’s clear that we need to do more than draw a line in the sand and say no more. Yes, we need to do that and we need to chart a credible and inspiring path to a different future. And that future cannot simply be where we were before Trump came along (aka the world that gave us Trump). It has to be somewhere we have never been before.” (Klein, 2017, p.220)

Klein pointed out how the Arab Spring and the financial crises of Spain and Greece saw an incredible surge of protesting, yet these protests did very little to cause substantive change. She went on to use the bank and automotive industry bailouts as examples of missed opportunities to create real, long-term change.

“Imagine if the Democrats had used the leverage they had in 2009 and 2010 to make serious, substantive restructuring demands of the banks and the auto giants in exchange for continuing to bail them out….what if the auto companies had been mandated to restructure themselves so they were producing the vehicles of the low-carbon future—electric cars, electric buses, and light rail?….the banks could have been required to spend a healthy portion of their bailout money providing the necessary loans for this industrial transformation….” (Klein, 2017, p.212-213)

Klein described how catastrophic events in the past had acted as catalysts for tremendous change. She posed the question of why those events created change while equally disastrous events over the last few years have not done the same. She presented the following theory as a possible explanation:

“The breakthroughs won for workers and their families after the Civil War and during the Great Depression, as well as for civil rights and the environment in the sixties and early seventies, were not just responses to crisis. They were responses to crises that unfolded in times when people dared to dream big, out loud, in public—explosions of utopian imagination.” (Klein, 2017, p.217)

Klein claimed she found at Standing Rock what she had lost that day in Australia when the intersectional meeting she was attending ended abruptly upon the announcement of Donald Trump’s election victory. She wrote:

“Since the election, I had been longing for some kind of gathering of progressive thinkers and organizers—to strategize, unite, and find a way through the next four years of Trump’s daily barrage, the kind of discussion that had been so abruptly interrupted in Australia on the day/night of the election. I pictured it happening at a university, in big halls. I didn’t expect to find that space at Standing Rock. But that is indeed where I discovered it, in the camps’ combination of reaction and contemplation, and in the constant learning-by-doing modelled by Brave Bull Allard and so many other leaders here.” (Klein, 2017, p.229)

Klein became part of a group that sent out invitations to the heads of labour federations and unions, directors of green groups, Indigenous and feminist leaders, organizers in the area of migrant rights and many others. She wrote:

“…at our gathering, we decided to do something that movements in our country had not attempted for several decades: intervene in a national election by writing a people’s platform, one that would attempt to reflect the needs not of one particular constituency, but of a great many at once.” (Klein, 2017, p.237)

Klein wrote:

“The goal was to come up with a vision so concrete and inspiring that voters could, practically speaking, do two things at once. They could go to the polls to vote against what they didn’t want (the disastrous government of the day); and they would still have a space, even if it was outside electoral politics, to say yes to a vision we hoped would reflect what many actually do want, by adding their names to our people’s platform or otherwise voicing public support.” (Klein, 2017, p.237)

They planned to fund it in the following ways:

“…ending fossil fuel subsidies (worth about $775 billion globally); getting a fairer share of the financial sector’s massive earnings by imposing a transaction tax (which could raise $650 billion globally, according to the European Parliament); increasing royalties on fossil fuel extraction; raising income taxes on corporations and the wealthiest people (lots of room there—a one-percent billionaire’s tax alone could raise $45 billion globally, according to the United Nations); a progressive carbon tax (a $50 tax per metric ton of CO₂ emitted in developed countries would raise an estimated $450 billion annually); and making cuts to military spending (if the military budgets of the top ten military spenders globally were cut by 25 percent, that would free up $325 billion, according to numbers reported by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute).” (Klein, 2017, p.246-247)

Thousands of people signed the manifesto within days of its release. The corporate media had reactions that ranged from confusion to rage. At the time, the NDP ran a cautious campaign, not wanting to lose ground to Justin Trudeau and the Liberal party. Their strategy did not work. Losing ground seemed to prompt the NDP party to reevaluate their platform. In the end, they were the only party to endorse the Leap Manifesto in entirety officially.

This book might have felt rushed if any other author had written it. Published in 2017, this book was underway almost immediately after Trump took office. Klein synthesized material from two other books she had already published, No Logo and The Shock Doctrine, in order to give context to how we ended up with Trump. Focusing the subject of the book on the process of finding a path to move forward was uplifting. Pervasive feelings of hopelessness and despair have hindered resistance since Trump’s election which, according to Klein, was the point of the rapid-fire onslaught of Presidential decrees and scandals. He made changes and created catastrophes at a speed designed to disorient. Klein offered her readers strategies for the development of shock absorbers which would allow them to move forward with the hard work of resisting.

 

Klein, N. (2017). No Is Not Enough: Resisting the New Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need. Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf Canada.

 

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