Kleins new study in shock politics is a warning of the enormous toxic potential of the Trump presidency and a call to oppose it. Refusal needs to turn into resistance
Lately the pace of news has felt so fast and its volume so overwhelming that the very idea of a political book seems quaint, a relic of the gentler and more carefree time before we were all pinned to the floor by the social media firehose. Naomi Klein has written No Is Not Enough at near internet speed, a warning of the enormous toxic potential of the Donald Trump presidency and a call to oppose it. As the title suggests, Klein wants her readers to move from refusal to resistance, from a passive stance of opposition to engagement in a programme of action. If the convulsions of the last year have taught us anything, its that we cant wait for the dust to settle and clarity to emerge. Turbulence is, at least for the foreseeable future, our new condition, and we must learn to function within it. Wehave to teach ourselves to stand upright on a moving deck.
Klein emerged as a star of the 1990s social movements that were trying to frame a politics of opposition to capitalist globalisation. Was exchange value the only kind of value? What about the environmental, social and cultural formations that were being reorganised (and in some cases damaged or destroyed) by the logic of the market? Kleins widely-read 2000 book No Logo packaged and synthesised ideas that had been circulating in anti-capitalist circles during the previous decade, helping a general readership to understand changes taking place in corporations, which had begun to outsource many of their functions and view themselves primarily as brands, deployers of intellectual property that did not need, for example, to do their own manufacturing or distribution. It was, as she puts it in No Is Not Enough, a race toward weightlessness; whoever owned the least, had the fewest employees on the payroll and produced the most powerful images as opposed to things, won the race.
Klein points out that Trumps business has followed that trajectory. As a property developer, the future president was (by Manhattan standards) only moderately successful, his primary distinction being an above average appetite for seeing himself in the media. His innovation, helped by his position as host of The Apprentice, was to brand high-end real estate not just hotels and resorts, but office towers, apartment buildings and golf courses. Klein dissects the values of the Trump brand, noting that it doesnt stand for quality or innovation or taste, but for richness itself, associating the consumer with wealth in its most direct and uninflected form.
In Trumpworld there are only two existential categories: winners and losers. Trump stands for winning, and if you oppose him, you are a loser. His support is curiously immune to scandals and failings that would have sunk other politicians, a curious fact that Klein ascribes to the migration of branding into politics. Trump has shown that you dont need to be objectively good or decent; you only need to be true and consistent to the brand you have created. Trumps brand is that hes the boss and part of being the boss is that the rules dont apply to him. One strategy for opposing him is to attack the brand. Its why, for example, a red line for interviewers has always been any suggestion that his fortune is not as large as he claims.