When a new Naomi Klein book comes along it is certain to be a part of the zeitgeist. So the recent publication of No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics is no exception. Classics such as No Logo (1999) and The Shock Doctrine (2007) added important critiques to the public debate about neo-liberalism. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate (2014) documented the environmental impossibility of the current fossil-fuelled trajectory of business as usual. No Is Not Enough doesn’t add a fresh over-arching critical theme but consolidates and updates predictions put forward in earlier books, now all too clearly corroborated by the cataclysm of the Trumpquake.
No Is Not Enough is an early and brilliantly damning assessment of the Trump administration in its early stages. Klein is right to stress that Trump is not an aberration but the predictable outcome of the billionaire interests that have determined mainstream politics since the end of the 1970s. His rise signals an acceleration of the global rise of political and religious variants of ultraconservatism. This trend in advanced capitalism has distinctive characteristics in the United States. Klein explains that Trump’s victory on a minority vote is a result of electoral colleges originally set up as a legacy of a system that maintained interests of slave owners. Millions are excluded from the political process through incarceration, the designation of illegal status or displacement. The racist legacy of the genocide of native americans, slavery and segregation makes the sound of Trump’s pledge to ‘Make America great again’ ring out like a prophecy of doom.
Big business’s domination of politics in the US is not, of course, news. What is a distinguishing feature of the Trump administration, Klein suggests, is that the naked and explicit aggrandisement of the super-rich reflects a shift from traditional politicians who implicitly represent the interests of big business, to a consolidation of the direct corporate hold of the reins of power. Leading corporations are in effect ‘cutting out the middle men’. Alongside the blurring of the Trump brand and the Trump presidency, therefore, we have witnessed the ascendency of ExxonMobil as Secretary of State (Rex Tillerson), OneWest as Treasury Secretary (Steve Mnuchin), General Dynamics and Boeing in charge of Defense and other key roles covered by Goldman Sachs.
The main shortcoming of No Is Not Enough is that for the most part the content deals with ‘No’ not ‘Yes’. There are perhaps two books here: first, a timely critique of Trump’s ‘populist’ elitism and second, a consideration of potential positive alternatives. Unfortunately, the latter is comparatively scant. Despite the implied promise of the title, Klein’s ideas about the ‘bedrock of shock resistance’ are relegated to Part 4 (the final section). One prominent ‘yes’ is Bernie Sanderson’s popular, yet ultimately unsuccessful 2016 presidency campaign. An inspiring chapter deals with Klein’s support for the hugely impressive and moving resistance of the Standing Rock Sioux and their coalition-building which included solidarity from a convoy of 2000 war veterans. Tragically, however, this defensive struggle also now seems ready to join the honourable history of heroic defeats. It is only the book’s postscript that proposes a positive programme for the future. This reproduces the broadbrush Leap Manifesto, a non-party intervention for the Canadian elections, which makes a brief liberal appeal to those seeking political office to respect social justice and planetary wellbeing. While it is correct, therefore, to point out that what was largely missing from the Occupy movement was ‘a clear and captivating vision of the world beyond…no’, an expanded vision of what ‘yes’ might be is still lacking in No Is Not Enough’.
As an intellectual quick response unit Klein pulls off a considerable achievement in startlingly publishing just weeks after the Trump ascendency. She makes clear at the outset that No Is Not Enough is intended to be ‘brief and conversational’ and that, unlike her earlier rigorously documented books, this one intentionally forgoes citations (for the most part these are provided on an accompanying website). At times, however, this lightens the force of her argument. On the immanently catastrophic consequences of climate change, for example, Klein assures readers that ‘I have interviewed the leading scientists in the world on this question’. While I fully accept her argument, such unsupported assertions are a limited contribution to the debate for any unconvinced readers. While it’s a solid contribution towards understanding the Trump, and indeed Hilary Clinton, phenomenon, it does not aspire to establish itself as a weighty piece of research like No Logo. It is a punchy book about now.
The great value of No Is Not Enough is that it presents perspectives and resistance often absent from mainstream media coverage in the UK. Klein points out the vulnerability of the Neoliberal world order to fluctuations in global oil prices. Fearing that Trump and his acolytes might be tempted to counterbalance falling oil prices with an upsurge aggressive military adventurism, she makes clear that ‘preventing war and averting climate chaos are one and the same fight’. Klein draws attention to the super-alienation of the billionaires who have strategies and insurance policies in place to escape the anthropogenic climate change that they deny, and the ecological disasters of their own making. On Earth Day in the spring large Marches for Science took place across United States on which chants included ‘What do we want? Evidence-based research. When do we want it? After peer review’. In November 2017 such evidence-based research subsequently contradicted Trump’s policies when US scientific government agencies published the National Climate Assessment report that attributed more than 90% of current climate change to human activity. This finally hit the headlines.
Klein calls for a ‘People’s shock’ in response to the notion of the neoliberal ‘Shock doctrine’ she put forward in her earlier book of that title. Something of this has already been underway this year. The women’s march, held shortly after Trump’s inauguration, has been estimated to have been one of the largest coordinated demonstrations in history. Above all Klein is right to suggest that the consciousness that informs such resistance must be grounded in a historical context. The widespread lack of understanding of longstanding social injustice and environmental degradation as systemic problems led to the missed opportunity for profound transformational change following the banking crisis in 2008. Klein contrasts this with the ambitious and audacious ‘explosions of utopian imagination’ that accompanied historical moments of real transformation during the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, and the 1960s and 1970s.
What does the persistence of neoliberalism mean for the UK? Peering through from the Maysian malaise that currently besets us, it often seems as if the dystopian future that many feared in the early 1980s is here and now. Politicians at the Conservative Party’s annual conference made smug assurances that free-market capitalism (what Klein calls the ‘veneration of greed, individualism, and competition’) has been successful ad that there is no alternative. Yet the ‘end of history’ triumphalism that was trumpeted at the end of the millennium now sounds hollow. This is because forty years since Reaganomics and Thatcherism redefined the political paradigm, many key indicators of wellbeing point to a bewildering variety of intractable and deteriorating problems on both sides of the Atlantic, including the experience of falls in real terms wages for many, threats to public health services, substantial consumer debt, air pollution, mass homelessness, loss of biodiversity, a rise in the prison population, sharper income inequality and increasing mental health illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
A key strength of No Is Not Enough lies in Klein’s reflective critique of the progressive campaigns with which she sympathises. Klein correctly points out the need to transcend the compartmentalization of single-issue politics. She is passionate about nurturing a web of connections and striving for a broader vision built upon local and international solidarity. In this sense it is not social discontent or the desire for change that are lacking but the inadequacy of incremental reforms, of the kind achieved for example under the Obama administration. Klein also voices the necessity to unify and synthesise economic resistance and identity politics, although perhaps underestimating how far the philosophy and objectives of the activist movement can be conflicted. Above all she recognises that the most forceful way to resist the free-market capitalist mantra of ‘There Is No Alternative’ is to find unifying strategies to build radical and workable alternatives. I look forward to the further development of some of these alternative ‘yeses’ in Klein’s future writings.