[Note: This item comes from friend Robert Berger. DLH]
Noam Chomsky Believes Trump Is “the Worst Criminal in Human History”
By Isaac Chotiner
Oct 30 2020
Noam Chomsky, the American linguist, activist, and political writer, is one of the most famous and harshest critics of American foreign policy. His critiques of Presidential Administrations from Nixon to Obama, and the stridency of his views—comparing 9/11 to Bill Clinton’s bombing of a factory in Khartoum, for example—have made him the target of much ire, as well as a hero of the global left. “Chomsky always refuses to talk about motives in politics,” Larissa MacFarquhar wrote in her Profile of him for The New Yorker, in 2003. “Like many theorists of universal humanness, he often seems baffled, even repelled, by the thought of actual people and their psychologies.”
When I called Chomsky, who is ninety-one, last month for a long-scheduled interview, I had meant to discuss his career and life, and his latest book, “Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal,” written with Robert Pollin and C. J. Polychroniou—but he spent most of the hour-long session railing against the Trump Administration with a vehemence that slightly surprised me. Chomsky has always been extremely pragmatic in his political analysis, diverging from some other leftists in his belief in the necessity of voting for mainstream Democrats against Republicans. But in addition to supporting Joe Biden this year, he told me that Donald Trump is “the worst criminal in human history” and expressed serious concerns about the future of American democracy (although he conceded that it “was never much to write home about”). With perhaps not equal concern, but with the same passion he seems to bring to every topic, he also railed against “cancel culture” and explained why he signed the recent Harper’s letter on free expression. And yet, Chomsky noted that what he most loves to think about are philosophy, science, and language. “To tell you the truth,” he said, “while I’m giving interviews and talking about things, one part of my mind is working on technical problems, which are much more interesting.” Our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, is below.
Over the past four years, have we been in a strange and new period of American history? Or are we seeing a continuation of American history that is pretty much in line with what it has always been?
Of course, it’s the same country. We haven’t undergone a major revolution, but the last four years are very much out of line with the history of Western democracies altogether. By now, it’s becoming almost outlandish. In the three hundred and fifty years of parliamentary democracy, there’s been nothing like what we’re seeing now in Washington. I don’t have to tell you. You read the same newspapers I do. A President who has said if he doesn’t like the outcome of an election, he’ll simply not leave office, and is taken seriously enough that, for example, two high-level, highly respected, retired military officers—one of them very well known, Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl—actually went to the extent of writing an open letter to General [Mark] Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reminding him of his constitutional duties to send in the American military to remove the President from office if he refuses to leave.
There’s a long article, which you’ve probably seen, by Barton Gellman, reviewing the strategies that Republican leadership is thinking of to try and undermine the election. There has been plenty of tampering before. We’re not unfamiliar with that. In fact, one case that comes to mind is kind of relevant at the moment: 1960. Richard Nixon had pretty good reason to believe that he had won the election. Nixon, who was not the most delightful person in the history of Presidential politics, decided to put the welfare of the country over his personal ambition. That’s not what we’re seeing now, and that’s only one sign of a very significant change. The executive has been almost totally purged of any critical independent voices—nothing left but sycophants. If they’re not sufficiently loyal to the master, fire them and get someone else. A striking example recently was the firing of the inspectors generalwhen they started looking into the incredible swamp Trump created in Washington. This kind of thing goes on and on.
How do you view the Trump Administration, in terms of America’s role in the world and whether it is new or not?
Well, there are some new things which are not being much discussed. I don’t know if it’s Trump, but the people around him are essentially creating an international alliance of extremely reactionary states, which can be controlled by the White House, which, of course, has shifted way far to the right, tearing up every international agreement, wrecking everything in sight. In the Western Hemisphere, a leading figure would be [Jair] Bolsonaro, in Brazil, kind of a Trump clone, and the Middle East, with Gulf dictatorships, the most reactionary states in the world, and Egypt under [Abdel Fattah El-]Sisi, probably the worst dictatorship in Egypt’s history. Israel has moved very far to the right. The current so-called peace agreements have nothing to do with peace agreements. It’s a very natural Middle East base for the Trump-run reactionary international. In the East, [Narendra] Modi’s India is a prime candidate. He’s smashing Indian secular democracy, trying to impose Hindu nationalist theocracy, crushing Kashmir. They’re an obvious part of it. In Europe, the prime candidate is [Viktor] Orbán’s Hungary. Matteo Salvini’s not yet in power, but Italy’s right behind. There are other pleasant figures around the world, but that’s basically the core of it.
Now, that’s one side of throwing out all international agreements and throwing out any concern whatsoever for the attitudes and priorities of others. It was revealed with typical Trump Administration arrogance in [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo’s announcement that the United Nations’ sanctions are reinstituted against Iran. Why? Because he says so. The United States brought it to the Security Council and could get virtually no support. So therefore we reinstitute the United Nations’ sanctions unilaterally. That’s the Godfather talking. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. The same is true of every international agreement. The arms-control regime has been torn to shreds, with great danger to us as well as everyone else.
You mention a bunch of dictators that the United States has cozied up to—and not respecting arms-control treaties—but those are things you’ve written about in the past. I’m interested that you say that you think the Trump Administration is a break with the past. How do you think it’s different in some way?
Well, having an arms-control regime is different than not having one. That’s a break, and it’s a break on one of the two most significant issues in human history. We’ve been living for seventy-five years under the shadow of possible nuclear destruction. The arms-control regime that’s been slowly built up over the years—Eisenhower’s Open Skies proposal, the Reagan-Gorbachev I.N.F. treaty, and other pieces—has mitigated the dangers. Trump has been tearing every piece of it to shreds. The only thing that’s left is New start. It has to be ratified by next February. If Trump wins the election or refuses to leave office, it will be gone by February.