Noam Chomsky on Donald Trump

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[Note: This is an overview of Noam Chomsky’s views on Donald Trump.]

[Dates Updated: 3/27/17 — 2/18/21]


If you look at the “Trump phenomenon,” it’s not so surprising. During the last fifteen years, in election after election, more candidates have arisen that were once considered “intolerable” to the Republican establishment. The answer for this intolerability is that over the years, under neoliberal policies, the Democrats and Republicans have shifted more to the right. (3) (7)

“The Democrats — by the ’70s — have pretty much abandoned the working class.” (3)

In 1978, the Humphrey–Hawkins Full Employment Act was the last kind of progressive policy (which Carter had ordered down “so that it had no teeth”) (3). While Democrats shifted to resemble moderate Republicans, Republicans moved so far right that they fell off the spectrum. (7)

Republicans have a primary constituency — extreme wealth and corporate power — that they have to serve. It’s hard to get votes when serving those interests. Therefore, they have historically appealed to evangelicals, southern racists, and disenfranchised white people, under the pretense of certain issues such as voting against abortion or fighting for gun rights. These issues are not necessarily favored by the establishment (and were previously not supported by the Republican party), but they are tolerated in recent decades because they ultimately serve the real constituency. (3) (6) (7)

“As for Trump’s base, they are indeed quite loyal. Most Trump voters were relatively affluent and probably are fairly satisfied with the ultra-reactionary policies. Another important segment was non-college-educated whites, a group that voted overwhelmingly for Trump (a 40 percent advantage). There is a close analysis of this group in the current (Spring 2018) issue of the Political Science Quarterly. It found that racism and sexism were far more significant factors in their vote than economic issues. If so, this group has little reason to object to the scene that is unfolding, and the same with the white Evangelicals who gave Trump 80 percent of their vote. Among justly angry, white, working-class Trump voters, many apparently enjoy watching him stick his thumb in the eyes of the hated elites even if he doesn’t fulfill his promises to [working-class voters], which many never believed in the first place.

What all this tells us, yet again, is that the neoliberal programs that have concentrated wealth in a few hands while the majority stagnate or decline have also severely undermined functioning democracy by familiar mechanisms, leading to anger, contempt for the dominant centrist political forces and institutions, and often anti-social attitudes and behavior — alongside of very promising popular reactions, like the remarkable Sanders phenomenon, Corbyn in England and positive developments elsewhere as well.” (2) (13)

Trump, on the other hand, understands how to serve corporate interests while getting the votes of evangelicals and extremists. The Democrats, in their focus on his outrageous antics, are helping him succeed in the 2020 election. For example, Democrats vigorously attacked Trump for Russia-Gate, for which evidence was slight (possibly for corruption), but there is more evidence for important things like the Israeli election interference. Furthermore, the highest interference in the United States elections is campaign funding. Campaign funding alone gives the highest prediction of who will win. Not to mention, the United States interferes with elections often, overthrowing leaders in coups, installing dictators and puppet leaders, placing harsh sanctions on impoverished countries. While the Democrats invested a lot of their energy into Russia-Gate, they wasted a lot of time when they could’ve focused on crucial problems that can devastate the world, such as climate change. (5) (7) (8)


Trump is basically a conman, a showman. He’s never had any political experience prior to being president, speaks all over the place in his speeches, never showing a consistent political position.

He knows how to get the mainstream media to focus on him.

“In order to maintain public attention, you have to do something crazy. Otherwise nobody’s going to pay attention to you.” (3)

While he’s showboating, lying, or doing something to offend a lot of people, in the background, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and other members of the government that are writing executive orders, are working to “systematically dismantle every aspect of the government that works for the benefit of the population.” This ranges from worker’s rights to health standards to environmental regulations. Those in power want more power for their constituency at the expense of the people. Meanwhile, some of the most disastrous policies under the Trump administration are barely discussed. (3)

“This generation is going to have to decide whether organized human existence is going to continue. Global warming and nuclear war are the two main issues… Trump’s actions are making both of them much more dangerous.” (3)

The United States has pulled out of the international effort to reduce the effects of climate change. Trump hasn’t only withdrawn from the Paris Climate Agreement, cut a large portion of the EPA and environmental regulations for multinational corporations, but he’s actively increased the threat of climate change. Even in his State of the Union Address, he barely talked about the environment or pollution — other than “beautiful, clean coal.” (3) His administration has drastically taken away funds for research on renewable energy sources, but has increased the subsidies for multinational oil and gas companies.

Additionally, when Trump started his second year in office, “the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists advanced their Doomsday Clock to two minutes to midnight, citing increasing concerns over nuclear weapons and climate change. That’s the closest it has been to terminal disaster since 1953, when the US and USSR exploded thermonuclear weapons. That was before the release of Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review, which significantly increases the dangers by lowering the threshold for nuclear attack and by developing new weapons that increase the danger of terminal war.” (9) (12)

Meanwhile, his Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 is “an enormous gift to the very wealthy, [giving] virtually nothing to anyone else.” The architects of the bill, such as Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, worked to undermine the already weak welfare and benefits systems of the general population. Paul Ryan had successfully accomplished his goals with the “‘Donor Relief Act of 2017’ and the deficit cuts that open the way to sharp reduction of entitlements: health, social security, pensions — whatever matters to the people beyond the very privileged.” (2)

He exploded the “the deficit (a trademark of Republicans since Reagan), which means that they can move on to cut away at entitlements, as the chief architect, Paul Ryan, announced happily at once. The US already ranks near the bottom of the [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] countries — the 35 richer and more developed countries — in social justice measures. The Republican triumph will sink it even lower. The tax scam is only the most prominent of the devices being implemented under the cover of Trump buffoonery to serve wealth and corporate power while harming the irrelevant population.” (3) (9)

Trump’s policies on immigration, such as separating children (even infants) from their mothers, is having disastrous effects on people already in turmoil. Many of these families are fleeting from poor countries, suffering the consequences of US foreign policies, seeking security far from their homes. For example, “Honduras has been the main source of refugee flight since the US, almost alone, endorsed the military coup that ousted the elected president and the fraudulent election that followed, initiating a reign of terror.” (6)

Trump’s hateful rhetoric has roused the passions of many extremist groups. His leadership has further pushed the narrative of fear for outsiders or “invaders,” including his claims about a Nicaraguan army ready to invade or a caravan of miserable criminals that want to cause harm. He’s exploiting people’s resentment and anger about their stagnating conditions, which has grown for more than forty years, due to the effects of enhanced corporate power. (6)

He has strongly supported the Saudi War in Yemen. Despite UN agencies warning that the Saudi blockade could lead to one of the largest famines in modern times. The blockade prevents many “desperately needed imports of food, medicine, and fuel.”

Yemeni people are tragically dying from the world’s worst cholera outbreak. With “firm U.S. backing of systematic Saudi destruction,” priceless antiquities destroyed and countless deaths out of control, there seems to be little help for civilians.

There is little help for victims elsewhere either, such as in Raqqa, after a US-led attack on ISIS had absolutely obliterated the city. Rather than rebuilding or helping those harmed from such destruction, Trump has instead “sharply cut funding to the [United Nations Relief and Works Agency], which barely keeps millions of Palestinian refugees alive. In general, ‘make America great’ means great at destroying, and that’s where the greatness ends. It’s by no means entirely new, but is now raised to a higher level and becoming a matter of principle.” (8) (9)

Trumpism is a consequence of neoliberal policies. Many lives have declined or stayed the same while only a few have become more powerful. Deregulated financial institutions are bailed out of multiple crashes while those who suffer are ignored and forgotten. American voters have become bitter, angry, and depressed, while they compete on a global scale for stagnated wages. “The real surprise in the election was the Sanders campaign, which broke with a long tradition of pretty much bought elections, and was stopped only by machinations of the Obama-Clinton party managers. The Democratic Party is now split between the donor-oriented New Democrat managers and a growing activist social democratic base.” (1) (12)

“What all of this portends, worldwide, is far from clear. Though there are also significant signs of hope, some commentators have — with good reason — been quoting Gramsci’s observation from his prison cell: ‘The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.’” (8)


Updated: 6/7/20

[On Trump’s response to the George Floyd protests during the coronavirus pandemic] Trump wants to call forth a strong military response to those protesting against police brutality. His ideology is very simple. It’s called “me.” He wants to appeal to his white supremacist/racist base by calling for law and order. (11)

Trump is concerned with his own power. His outrageous antics will be tolerated by the corporate sector as long as he enriches them (the already rich and powerful). While at the same time, during COVID-19, he’s removing regulations for how much air pollution can be emitted. This is estimated to increase the number of deaths by the tens of thousands, mostly of poor black people. What matters to him are his electoral prospects, not the people who suffer the consequences of his policies. (11)

Trump-Republicans are trying to pass legislation to immunize corporations, so they can order their workers back to work, despite the threat of Covid-19. White-collar crime prosecutions, such as for wage theft and environmental violations, have dropped significantly, while the general public is being consistently robbed through tax havens and stock buybacks.

[In response to the Coronavirus pandemic] The government could have used their resources to do research on viruses and prepare for vaccines. They’re blocked by (Reagan and Thatcher) neoliberal policies, which aim to put decision-making power into the hands of private tyrannies (corporations), whose goals are short-term profit. While the government is partially accountable to the public, the corporate sector is not. (11)

“This is a capitalist crisis exacerbated by neoliberalism, exacerbated further by malignancies like President Trump. Countries did respond in one or another way to the crisis. The US just didn’t respond… Since the stock market went down, he finally noticed. Since then it was just efforts to cover up on chaos. Some of the things that have been done are just surreal like [for example] everyone’s concerned, of course, about getting a vaccine. There was a scientist in the government in charge of vaccine production. He was fired by the president. Why? Because he questioned some of his quack remedies.” (12)

Trump has surrounded himself with sycophants like Mike Pompeo. Everyone else has been kicked out and not just in the last few weeks. For example, he had purged all the inspector generals, who were hired (incidentally by the Republicans) in the departments of the government to weed out corruption.

“Trump has created a total swamp of corruption. He has just fired all of the inspector generals. That’s a coup reminiscent of a fascist state.” (12)

This pandemic was caused by a “capitalist crisis, neoliberal crisis on top of it. Gangsters from the top capitalist class exacerbating it.” The corporate sector manipulates this terrible crisis to make profits, while the poor suffer the most. (12)


Updated: 12/9/20

“The Trump administration has purged the executive branch of the government of any independent voices. Nothing left, except sycophants. The Congress, years ago, had installed Inspectors General to monitor the performance of executive offices for corruption, maleficence. They began to look into the enormous swamp of corruption that Trump had created in Washington. He took care of that just by firing them. They’re gone.” (12)

There was an election on November 4, 2020. It was a total disaster. The Republicans — who completely fell off the political spectrum — are now comparable to European parties with neofascist origins. They are “environmental denialists, ultranationalists, evangelical Christians, militarists, xenophobic, racist, white supremacists… very dangerous organization.” (12)

The Republicans won the election at every level — from state legislature up to Congress. They only lost the presidency because of a hatred for Trump rather than a love for Biden. Trump will presumably leave office on January 20, 2020, not conceding that he lost. Trump’s absurd legal maneuverings (suing with claims that the election was rigged, that dead people voted, etc.) will energize his base, showing them that the election was stolen. He wants to appear to be a hero who lost a rigged election because of the deep state. His increasing support will enable him to set up his “true” government, alternative to the “fake news, liberal” government. (12)

The Senate, which is controlled by the Republicans with Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader, will block anything that the Democrats propose. They want to pass legislation that empowers the corporate sector, enriching the already rich, while passing the burden onto the public.

Secondly, they want to stack the judiciary with ultra-right lawyers who will “block any mildly progressive legislation for the generation, no matter what the public wants.” With Trump removed from office, they will do whatever they can to make the country ungovernable.

In regards to the pandemic, countries such as China and Korea, have taken measures to effectively deal with the coronavirus. In the US, the government has given up on its people. US citizens are inundated with right wing propaganda, which says that there is no virus, the liberals made it up, there is no real crisis, masks take away our freedom. “People are literally dying in hospitals, claiming that there is no disease.” (12)


Updated: 2/18/21

There was an attempted coup on the Capitol. It may not have been a military-backed coup with “ample bloodshed, torture, [and] ‘disappearances,’” but it was a coup. The people who stormed into the Capitol believed that the election was a fraud and they were saving their white Christian country. Many believe that Trump is their savior. They are reinforced with propaganda daily (from Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, the communities they live in, etc.), so their beliefs are not often challenged by outsiders. (10)

Donald Trump is “…the malevolent figure in charge,” who “deserves credit for his talent in tapping the poisonous streams that run not far below the surface of American society, with sources that are deep in U.S. history and culture.” (10)

He has become a successor after decades of neoliberal assault. While he may have “harmed the image” that neoliberals often “project as humanists dedicated to the common good,” he still enriched private enterprises at the expense of the American people. (10)

Trump is not finished as a politician. His base is too loyal to him. He understands how to manipulate people into following him by taking advantage of their suffering condition. “Trumpism will not be so easily contained. Its roots are deep. The anger and resentment raised to a frenzy by this talented con man is not limited to the U.S. The $50 trillion robbery is only the icing on the cake of the neoliberal disaster, which itself is built on foundations of deep injustice and repression. We are not out of the woods, by far.” (10)


Works Cited:

1. Chomsky, Noam. Noam Chomsky: If Trump Falters with Supporters, Don’t Put ‘Aside the Possibility’ of a ‘Staged or Alleged Terrorist Attack’, 27 March 2017, chomsky.info/20170327/.

2. “Climate Change and Human Rights.” Global Policy Journal, 26 April 2018, www.globalpolicyjournal.com/blog/26/04/2018/complete-disaster-noam-chomsky-trump-and-future-us-politics.

3. English, TeleSUR. “Special Interview: Noam Chomsky.” YouTube, YouTube, 16 Feb. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=sDYIINbaKWs.

4. Johnson, Stephen. “Noam Chomsky Says Trump and Associates Are ‘Criminally Insane’.” Big Think, Big Think, 7 Feb. 2019, bigthink.com/politics-current-affairs/chomsky-says-trump-is-criminally-insane?rebelltitem=3#rebelltitem3.

5. Kulinski, Kyle. Talk, Secular. “Chomsky BRILLIANTLY Dissects Trump, Democrats & RussiaGate.” YouTube, YouTube, 23 Apr. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=llzoItQgLOQ.

6. Now!, Democracy. “Noam Chomsky on Pittsburgh Attack: Revival of Hate Is Encouraged by Trump’s Rhetoric.” YouTube, YouTube, 2 Nov. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hn_M4xK-Bpk&t=781s.

7. Now!, Democracy. “Chomsky: By Focusing on Russia, Democrats Handed Trump a ‘Huge Gift’ & Possibly the 2020 Election.” YouTube, YouTube, 18 Apr. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLyS0E91H1o.

8. NUTMEG, PRIMO. “PRIMO NUTMEG #169​: Noam Chomsky.” YouTube, YouTube, 16 Mar. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtqWezfIhMY&t=21s.

9. Polychroniou, C.J. “‘A Complete Disaster’: Noam Chomsky on Trump and the Future of US Politics.” Truthout, Truthout, 7 May 2018, truthout.org/articles/a-complete-disaster-noam-chomsky-on-trump-and-the-future-of-us-politics/.

10. Polychroniou C.J. “Chomsky: Coup Attempt Hit Closer to Centers of Power Than Hitler’s 1923 Putsch.” Truthout, 19 Jan. 2021, truthout.org/articles/chomsky-coup-attempt-hit-closer-to-centers-of-power-than-hitlers-1923-putsch.

11. Chomsky, Noam. Barat, Frank. “NOAM CHOMSKY: ‘Trump’s Ideology Consists Of Two Letters : Me’” June 2, 2020. https://youtu.be/n_LD6alcsn0

12. 6th Yohsin Lecture: A Conversation with NOAM CHOMSKY.” Youtube, uploaded by Habib University, 7 Dec. 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGsUh3dOF0c.

13. Zareian, Ramin. “Dissection of US Politics: A Conversation with Noam Chomsky.” Chomsky.Info, 4 Dec. 2019, chomsky.info/20191204.

The Sickness is the System: When Capitalism Fails to Save Us from Pandemics or Itself (Book Review)

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Richard D. Wolff is a Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Massachusetts and Visiting Professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs at the New School University. He holds a BA in History (Harvard College), an MA in History (Yale University), an MA in Economics (Yale University), and a PhD in Economics (Yale University). For the last twenty-five years, professor Wolff, in collaboration with Stephen Resnick, has expanded the “Marxist notion of class as surplus labor,” while rejecting the concept of economic determinism, found in most schools of economics. Besides writing, teaching, and lecturing, Wolff is one of the founders for the Association of Economic and Social Analysis (AESA) and its quarterly journal (Rethinking Marxism).

On September 20, 2020, Richard Wolff published “The Sickness is the System: When Capitalism Fails to Save Us from Pandemics or Itself.” In this collection of over fifty essays, Wolff examines the deepening economic crash, systemic racism, and the coronavirus pandemic, and how they have all coalesced under an unjust economic system.


[Note: The most recent data from this review are from 2020]

American wages have stagnated since the 1970s while the cost of living has steadily increased. The federal minimum wage, for example, is $7.25. It has remained at $7.25 since 2009. Meanwhile, 2,153 billionaires own more wealth than 4.6 billion people from around the world (making up 60% of the global population). In the US alone, the three richest people own more wealth than 50% of the population. As inequalities rise, millions of ordinary citizens are chasing the American Dream into a deepening hole of student, credit card, mortgage, and auto loan debt, while stressing out over job security, flat wages, and eroding benefits.

Many American corporations have moved their businesses overseas rather than providing American workers with protections, salaries, benefits, and retirement packages. They are driven by maximizing their profits, not with helping the people of their own country.

In developing countries, there are fewer (health, safety, environmental, and so on) regulations imposed on corporations. There are also natural resources to be exploited, which indigenous populations often depend upon for their daily survival. Poor workers in developing countries are often coerced into working for these corporations under unfair conditions. They usually work for pitifully low wages and long hours.

Christopher Ryan, in Civilized to Death, provides an example of what these conditions are like for locals, who are forced into this kind of dehumanizing work. “Multinational corporations routinely expropriate land in poor countries (or ‘buy’ it from corrupt politicians), force the local populations off the land (so they cannot grow or hunt their own food), and offer the ‘luckiest’ among them jobs cutting down the forest, mining minerals, or harvesting fruit in exchange for slave wages often paid in company currency that can only be used to buy unhealthful, industrially produced food at inflated prices at a company-owned store. These victims of market incursion are then often celebrated as having been saved from ‘abject poverty.’ With their gardens, animals, fishing, and hunting, they had been living on less than a dollar per day. Now, as slave laborers, they’re participating in the economy. This, we’re told, is progress.”

In America, around 30 million citizens have no medical insurance. They cannot afford the astronomical costs of insurance, especially if they are suddenly confronted with a medical emergency. 100 million Americans who do own insurance still struggle with “high deductibles and/or sizable co-pays.” And many American workers, despite the state of their insurance, don’t have sick leave. They can’t afford to take time off from their job if they feel sick. Then there are millions of undocumented immigrants who are afraid to go to medical facilities because they don’t want to be locked in cages, separated from their intimate families, and deported.

When many workers become sick and have to quarantine, they aren’t given enough (if any) money to cover their costs. A lot of workers, especially those with families, live from paycheck to paycheck. They have no economic incentive to go into quarantine if they get sick. All through the Trump Administration, corporate profits were protected, such as with tax reliefs. Essential workers, whose health is threatened daily by the pandemic, receive inadequate protections, if they receive them at all.

Viruses have always been around throughout the centuries. They are not uncommon. During the 1918 flu epidemic, more than 700,000 people died from H1N1. “H1N1 resurfaced again in 2009 as ‘swine flu.’ Other recent viruses include SARS (2002–2004) and MERS (since 2012).” (Wolff)

Systematic preparation for future outbreaks of dangerous viruses is a social necessity. Producers of ventilators, masks, hospital beds, and so on, should have stockpiled them. There should have been extensive planning for a distribution of supplies and a training of volunteers to cope with sudden outbreaks.

“To block disease transmission, plans should have been made to accommodate supervision, distribution of supplies, etc. likewise, the consequences of social distances — lost jobs, closed businesses, disrupted supply chains, crippled purchasing power, chaotic credit markets, etc.–should have been planned for.” (Wolff)

Capitalist industries failed to prepare for this public health crisis because they had no incentive to prepare. Their goal is primarily to increase their private profits. The Trump administration didn’t compensate for the failures of the corporate sector because political interests often overlap with corporate interests.

Viruses happen periodically in history. They are not new, but they can be devastating when they are not researched and prepared for. The only rational, humane response to the inevitable threat of a pandemic is to plan to minimize death, sickness, damage, and loss. The US government should have (but did not) produce a necessary supply of masks, ventilators, hospital beds, gowns, protective gear, and testing kits. They should have invested more into medical research, economic support for citizens, and public health measures.

In a capitalist system, however, profits are more valuable than efficiency. Capitalism tends to move overtime toward instability and inequality. Minimum wages, universal basic income, progressive tax structures, redistributive schemes, and so on, may slow, stop, or reverse these tendencies temporarily.

In our present system, corporations first accumulate massive amounts of debt. Then they borrow vast sums of money at lower interest rates, trying to cope with past economic crashes (which recur every four to seven years on average), while building toward the next crash, and the next.

When the pandemic sent the economy into a full-or-partial lockdown, with businesses closing down and profits stopping, corporations could not pay off their debts. As a result, Wolff wrote, “Defaults then undermined and froze credit markets that traded securitized corporate debt, the derivative instruments insuring that debt and those securities, and so on.”

Toward the end of April 2020, 30–40 million Americans were estimated to have filed for unemployment. 10–12 million undocumented immigrants, who were not included in this figure, might have lost their jobs as well, but couldn’t file for unemployment insurance out of fear of deportation.

Capitalism has been an economic system for 300–400 years. Its modern form dates back to England in the 17th century. Then it spread from Europe to America, from America to Japan, and so on, eventually becoming a global system. Wherever capitalism settled, every four to seven years on average, there has been an economic crash.

Our current crash is already the greatest economic crash since the time of The Great Depression. The Great Depression began in 1929 and ended in 1941. In this century already, from 2000–2020, there have been three economic crashes, each named for their triggers. “The trigger in 2000: dot-com stock prices. In 2008: people failing to pay mortgages. In 2020: a virus.” These recurring crashes are due to an unstable system but only the symptom is named for each crash. Nobody addresses the system itself.

Richard Wolff wrote that “We have a system that doesn’t work for most people. It produces grotesque inequality, it is unstable, and it has proven incapable of securing our safety during a global pandemic. This virus came at a time when we should have and could have known that our economic system was vulnerable to crashes. Make no mistake, blaming the virus for this crash muddles the issue. The problem is the system.”

Nobody will know the true devastation of this economic crash for many years. Hundreds of thousands have died, millions are sick, millions are unemployed, countless businesses are shut down permanently, renters are being evicted from their homes, industries are collapsing, families are falling into deeper debt, depression has risen, suicide has risen, and on, and on.

The Trump administration downplayed the seriousness of the coronavirus, scapegoated other countries (like China) rather than accept responsibility, undercut funding for medical research before the pandemic began, ignored outcries for help early on, pressured employees to return to their jobs without providing them with safe work environments, provided barely any economic support for struggling citizens, failed to adequately plan for distribution, all while playing political games about election frauds to manipulate a diehard base.

Workers are urged to return to their jobs to help out the stock market economy. They are even hailed as essential. But they are not provided with protection, supplies, or livable wages. Stimulus bills are given out of political deliberations rather than economic necessities.

Over the last half-century, in both the US and UK, neoliberalism overtook Keynesian capitalism. Private capitalists used the ideology of neoliberalism to cover their attacks on Europe’s social democracy and America’s New Deal programs. With goals of privatization and deregulation under neoliberal policies, manufacturing work moved to low-wage countries, unions were brutally attacked, automation replaced human workers, and more illegal immigrants were hired because they were unprotected (unable to legally contest unfair conditions such as unpaid wages, poor wages, and an absence of benefits,). Meanwhile, venture capitalists, executives, shareholders in multinational corporations, and so on, through capital gains, dividends, merger fees, bonuses, and higher salaries, enriched themselves at the expense of the majority of the population.

A small minority of the population controls (owns and runs) public and private enterprises. They reap most of their profits from their enterprises, while working to undo whatever reforms the working class has struggled to achieve. Reforms may have been hard won over many decades, but they will not often endure under consistent neoliberal assaults. These enterprises are anti-democratic in nature. Inequalities and imbalances will recur unless the system is changed to be more democratic.

On March 27, 2020, the first stimulus package was truly disappointing for the average American. The 2.2 trillion dollars spent in The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was paid for with government debt. This debt only encouraged the corporate sector to borrow more money from banks, insurance companies, wealthy individuals, foreign governments, and so on, even after already being laden with debt from previous crises during the past twenty years. Ordinary working Americans will have to pay back the interest to the initial loan with their taxes, while all they had received was a pitiful one-off check.

The US treasury has borrowed vast sums of money, trying to force the economy back into its pre-pandemic state. Monetary authorities have lent money at extremely low interest rates to corporations and banks. The economy before the pandemic was not an ideal state. Global capitalism hadn’t healed itself from past crashes and was building toward another one before the virus hit. The pandemic was a trigger for a crash that was inevitable. Pre-COVID capitalism has always valued private profit over public health and safety. These priorities eventually led to vulnerabilities and instabilities.

On July 2020, over 50 million Americans filed for unemployment in the last 16 weeks. The number is still rising. Many who are unemployed want to give back to society, to produce, to meaningfully contribute. Many desperately need to work to support themselves and their families. They need to eat, to have access to healthcare, to be able to afford shelter, and so on.

During the Great Depression, a Federal reemployment program was founded by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. People who lost their jobs could get new jobs, helping to build up national infrastructure. From 1935 to 1943, the WPA (Works Progress Administration) had given jobs to over 8.5 million people. They worked to build parks, schools, bridges, housing, airports, and roads.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica: “The agency’s construction projects produced more than 650,000 miles (1,046,000 km) of roads; 125,000 public buildings; 75,000 bridges; 8,000 parks; and 800 airports. The Federal Arts Project, Federal Writers’ Project, and Federal Theater Project — all under WPA aegis — employed thousands of artists, writers, and actors in such cultural programs as the creation of art work for public buildings, the documentation of local life, and the organization of community theatres; thousands of artists, architects, construction workers, and educators found work in American museums, which flourished during the Great Depression. The WPA also sponsored the National Youth Administration, which sought part-time jobs for young people.”

It is possible for millions of people to return to work. The federal government can create a program of reemployment, where citizens can use their unique skills to teach, perform, and build. They can be trained to create more sites for testing. They can aid in distribution, administration, education, construction, manufacturing, and cleaning, working with dignity and respect. Sadly, though, many politicians believe more in private enterprise than in public reemployment, even when the economy has undergone a market failure.

Under neoliberalism, government intervention is avoided whenever possible (with the exception of the military, police, judiciary, and so on). Laissez-Faire capitalism is valued highly. Neoliberals argue for a “free market,” where private enterprises are left alone without government taxation and regulation. Neoliberal politicians do not want to stockpile, organize, support, or endorse anything that private enterprises can do instead.

In societies influenced by neoliberalism, such as the UK, US, and Italy, preparation for the coronavirus pandemic was weak. In societies less influenced by neoliberalism, such as South Korea and China and New Zealand, preparation was much stronger. Private employers, who belong to the minority of their capitalist societies, prefer a neoliberal ideology. They want to maintain their economic dominance, motivated by self-interest more than compassion. They’re threatened by government interference, union organization, regulation, and so on, because they could lose out on their profits.

Executives of private enterprises enjoy the free market, but only when it benefits them. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “It’s socialism for the rich and rugged capitalism for the poor.” When the stock market fell in early 2020, the US government intervened to support those who owned the bulk of stocks. Many of these people are billions of dollars wealthier since the pandemic began. Other major benchmarks for securities, such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average, The Standard, and Poor 500, have also recovered economically. While neoliberals claim to hate government intervention, they like it when they’re made wealthier from intervention.

Government intervention subsidized those recoveries. The Federal Reserve pumped unprecedented amounts of money into the economy after mid-March. This wealth caused the stock market to rise again. Corporations benefited while ordinary Americans suffered. Corporations hired more lobbyists, donated vast sums of money to politicians, and so on, influencing policy decisions in their favor. They received a lot of help from the government while smaller businesses received little help in comparison. The Federal Reserve provided banks with lower interest loans and bought up corporate and government debt. Banks, corporations, and wealthy individuals bought stocks off of each other, selling them at higher prices than before.

Unlike during the New Deal, where programs were developed to help people out, such as with Social Security, a minimum wage, and the WPA, millions have become unemployed during the coronavirus pandemic. There is no guarantee that their old jobs and benefits will return. Those who quit their jobs, refusing to work in unsafe environments, may not be eligible to receive unemployment insurance. Many employees are expected to work under unsafe conditions, while fearing to ask for a safer environment, benefits, and higher wages. They are threatened with the prospect of joining millions of unemployed citizens. The Labor of Bureau Statistics has confirmed that employee wages are declining at a much faster rate than predicted.

There are social movements that are pushing back against these unfair conditions. Black Lives Matter marches, teacher’s strikes, nurse’s strikes, fights for debt relief, protests to prevent eviction, and so on, have risen up in contrast to corporate interests. Corporate wealth and power have concentrated in the government, influencing who the government will help and how. As inequality deepens, as more people become desperate, calls for justice will rise out.

The corporate sector holds the most dominant influence on the US economy. They were tied to the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913. The Federal Reserve is the central bank of the United States, established by Congress and signed into law by the president. They’re supposed to maintain the stability of price, preventing extremes of deflation and inflation. They’re also supposed to moderate the regular business cycles of an economy, which includes dealing with recessions, downturns, depressions, etc. The Federal Reserve has a mixed record with price stability. They have an even worse record when it comes to the prediction, moderation, and prevention of certain business cycles.

The Federal Reserve has, on the other hand, created trillions of dollars (out of nothing) to deal with recent crises. They have lowered interest rates to almost nothing. This created money goes to large corporations and banks. These corporations are not hiring large numbers of unemployed people into the workforce — as trickle-down proponents claim — because it is not profitable for them to do so.

Millions of unemployed people cannot afford to buy what is produced by these corporations as much as they did before. After 40 years of stagnating wages and rising debt, they’ve lost their means to consume. Rather than help the economy to grow, corporations spend the money they’re given in the stock market.

They buy more stocks and hope to sell those stocks for more. As a result, the economy suffers from higher levels of inflation. The Federal Reserve, which supplies money to these major corporations, cares primarily about preserving the system. Their priority isn’t about protecting citizens from a deepening inequality.

American politicians often promote the idea that all citizens are free and equal in a democratic society. The Declaration of Independence said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

George Carlin, an American comedian, retorted that “This country was founded on a very basic double standard. It was founded by a group of slave owners who wanted to be free! So, they killed a lot of white English people in order to continue owning their black African people, so they could wipe out the rest of the red Indian people, and move west and steal the land from the brown Mexican people, giving them a place to take off and drop their nuclear weapons on the yellow Japanese people.”

While the majority of the population suffers from rising inequality, a minority of citizens are super wealthy. While many groups are historically oppressed, other groups are privileged because of their sex, race, and class.

Capitalism unequally distributes its wealth and burdens. Racist ideology distracts the working population from fighting against their unjust circumstances by dividing them apart, categorizing them in sub-groups of superiority and inferiority. The powerless are blamed for their predicaments, but the system is never addressed.

Poor people, people of color, and immigrants are demonized for capitalism’s failures while they are given far less of an opportunity to succeed. Mass incarceration, social isolation, job insecurity, unemployment, and so on, are methods to keep powerless people in an endless cycle of poverty and desperation. They are often forced to live in slum conditions, unable to afford better housing, healthier food, insurance, etc. Their neighborhoods are policed much more harshly than affluent neighborhoods. They are arrested more frequently and are subject to more police violence.

Capitalists use racist ideology to undermine the solidarity of the working class. Their racism is infused in media narratives, hiring practices, police treatment in different communities, education, housing, public policies, attitudes, and so on. Politicians focus more on condemning the vile behavior of lone individuals than in dealing with systemic issues.

As Professor Wolff wrote in The Capitalism/Racism Partnership, “The business cycles ever besetting capitalism threatened the entire working class with periodic unemployment, poverty, etc. That constant threat — as well as the recurring downturns themselves — risked provoking working class opposition to capitalism as a system.”

“Racism facilitated offloading instability’s risks and costs onto the African-American community that was last hired, first fired. A large part of the white population could thus escape capitalism’s instability or suffer less from it. Racist argument then blamed African-Americans for their unemployment and poverty by contrasting it with that of most whites. Racism and capitalism reinforced one another in this way… Racism assigns African-Americans to the bottom of the income and wealth distributions (via racist hiring, housing, schooling, public policies, and attitudes).”

Wolff went on to write, in regards to how neoliberalism has spread to more of the working population since the 1970s, “Long-Term wage stagnation and profit driven technical changes are subjecting more and more whites to conditions previously limited largely to African-Americans. Hence the household disintegrations, drug dependencies, etc. long afflicting African-Americans are affecting whites as well… The resurgence of white-supremacy represents anxiety about descent into conditions that capitalism and racism had earlier let most whites escape…”

White working-class people have historically suffered from poor conditions too. They’re another shock-absorber for capitalism’s instabilities. While they have occasionally joined forces with the black working-class to great effect, their efforts at solidarity are often undermined. Rather than paying the working-class higher wages and providing them with adequate protections, wealthy capitalists have divided the working class apart on racial lines, pitting them against each other for scarce jobs. The white working-class has also used their privileges to gain more work, better housing, and so on, using racist ideology to their advantage.

Just as African Americans have suffered from unjust conditions due to capitalism, so too have women. Before capitalism, there was the system of feudalism, where serfs worked for and answered to lords. They were subordinated under the dominion of churches and governments. There was no separation between work-life and home-life. Serfs had little to no money and were often resigned to the land of their birth. They were under a moral/religious obligation to obey their lords and God.

When capitalism replaced feudalism, proponents of capitalism promised that the new system would be free, equal, and democratic. Capitalism meant an escape from rigid social hierarchies, belonging to lords, and remaining for life on one patch of land. People could choose who they worked for, where they went, and what they did.

Women, however, were excluded from most of the benefits of capitalism. They were at first forced to remain at home. At home, they cleaned, cooked, took care of their children, working like feudal serfs under the power of men. After WWII, more women entered the workforce, but they were often forced into low-paying jobs, suffering from sexual harassment. In the 1970s, as wages began to stagnate, women needed to bring money into their household while still maintaining that household. They worked double-shifts at home and at work, while being funneled into lower-paid “pink collar jobs,” which were often essential but not valued as much.

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit, millions of people have become unemployed. At first, there was a tremendous drop in jobs in March and April. Then slowly jobs began to return. In December, however, the comeback slowed down and even reversed. There were 140,000 fewer jobs in December of 2020 than in the month before.

In the last month of 2020, men gained 16,000 more jobs while 156,000 more women lost their jobs. White people gained more jobs while non-white people lost more jobs. 40% of jobs gained by white males, on the other hand, were in the hospitality industry. These types of jobs are usually temporary. They’re also places where workers are vulnerable to the coronavirus.

The Trump Administration pushed people to go back to work as soon as possible, but not to improve safety conditions for workers. Corporate CEOs wanted to “get the economy going” as well. While the United States locked down, there was a low level of support for people who needed rent money, food, clothes, shelter, and so on.

Millions are out of work now. Many who do hold jobs work fewer hours. Essential workers often work in unsafe environments for no additional compensation. They risk their lives and may potentially infect those they live with. Those who have worked virtually, but fear returning to in-person jobs, will be fired if they do no not come in. They’re trapped in a position where they either must work to keep their benefits/salary or quit.

Poor people of color have disproportionately suffered the worst effects from this pandemic. Indigenous communities have suffered tremendously as well, but they are rarely ever talked about, even though they are one of the groups at highest risk to the disease. Many companies still haven’t ensured proper safety measures for their employees such as with frequent testing, ventilators, socially distanced workspaces, paid sick leave, masks, contact tracing, daily disinfecting, etc.

Many businesses don’t want to pay for proper safety measures, but expect people to return to work. In the US, where more people are put into prison per capita than in any other country, a lot of prisoners are forced into labor under dangerous conditions. They often are paid a fraction of what most citizens make. Because prisoners are forced to work for so little, ordinary workers are undercut whenever they demand higher wages and more safety measures.

In the United States, a lot of employees depend on their jobs to receive their medical insurance. In Europe, most developed countries have a universal healthcare system. Healthcare is considered a basic human right. Meanwhile, US citizens spend more money on medical care than any other advanced industrial country in the world. Despite insurance being so costly, Americans still do not receive the best healthcare overall.

A lot of European countries provide their citizens with public or public-and-private healthcare. The United States healthcare system, however, is a business first. Pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, device manufacturers, and so on, desire to make a profit. They want to minimize costs and overcharge to make more money.

During the coronavirus crisis, the US imposed mass unemployment on its citizens. In Germany, fewer people lost their jobs (ticking up from 5% to 6%). While the German government bailed out employers, most employees were allowed to keep their positions. The German working-class have protections (unlike in the US). They have social influence due to the strength of their labor unions and political left.

European leaders told their people that COVID-19 was a serious threat as well. They wore masks, gloves, and went into lockdown. President Trump gave Americans ambivalent messages about the severity of the virus, even lying about it on multiple occasions. According to a John Hopkins study, four countries with authoritarian leadership — the United States, Brazil, Russia, and India — experienced a far higher rate of coronavirus cases than other countries did. The United States, for example, makes up 5% of the world’s population but has 25% of its positive cases. Countries, such as South Korea and New Zealand, fared far better in preparedness and execution.

Viruses have affected human civilizations for centuries, while responses have differed. The Bubonic plague (also known as the Black Death) was a disease in 14th and 15th century Europe. Fleas, which lived on rats, carried the disease. This plague killed a third of all people in Europe.

Centuries later, in 1900, the Bubonic plague spread into San Francisco, California. Henry Gage, the then-governor of California, hid the reality of the disease from the public. The federal government denied its truth too, not revealing that large numbers of people were dying from it. Then the virus became too big to ignore.

After the truth came out, Gage lost his reelection to George Pardee in 1902. Pardee employed medical solutions to deal with the disease rather than hiding its existence. Although the plague hit two years after he first contained it, he brought it under control again.

Private enterprises have failed to deal with the coronavirus because these enterprises value profits over human lives. The US government didn’t compensate for the failures of the corporate sector either — as President Roosevelt did during the Great Depression, after a lot of pressure from the left. As a result of public and private failures, hundreds of thousands of Americans have died in 2020. Many more will continue to die.

When the Black Death broke out in the 14th and 15th centuries, wiping out a third of all people in Europe, feudalism was already a weakened system. The soil wasn’t as fertile as before, crops didn’t yield as much as earlier seasons, serfs were malnourished. As lords counted their rising riches, serfs starved and died. As the plague infected countless numbers of people, feudalism declined. Eventually there weren’t enough serfs left to serve their lords.

Capitalism before the coronavirus pandemic was already a weakened system. COVID-19 only exposed its ugliness. Corporations owed massive amounts of debt. The Federal Reserve had pumped trillions into the economy at lowering interest rates. Corporations borrowed money from the Federal Reserve at almost zero costs. This money went into the stock market, and into the pockets of the few, rather than to those who needed it the most.

Requiem for the American Dream

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Released on April 18, 2015

“NOAM CHOMSKY is widely regarded as the most influential intellectual of our time. Filmed over four years, these are his final long-form documentary interviews.”

Inequality in America is unprecedented. A fraction of one percent of the population have super wealth. Because of this unequal wealth distribution, there is a corrosive effect on the principles of democracy.

The notion of class mobility is now antiquated. While back in the Great Depression, there was an expectation of future prosperity, of idealized success. In this modern period, the American Dream has collapsed.

In a real democracy, the public has influence over policy decisions. For privileged elites, however, democracy takes power out of their hands and puts it into the general population’s. They desire a concentration of wealth for themselves, so they can have more power, more influence. If politicians want to win elections or even to run, they’ll need ever-increasing sums of money. In order to get funded, candidates must serve corporate interests that financially support their campaigns. Corporate power becomes legislation through their influence on those running and elected. Legislation passed protects the rich, helping them to gain even more power, often at the expense of taxpayers.

This cycle is inherent in the United States. Adam Smith, in “The Wealth of Nations,” wrote that in England, the “principal architects of policy are the people who own the society.” In the 1770s, the merchants and manufacturers were the architects. Despite the impact on other members of the population, their interests were always taken care of. Nowadays, instead of manufacturers and merchants, financial institutions and multinational corporations are in control.

They are the “Masters of Mankind.”

PRINCIPLE #1: REDUCE DEMOCRACY

James Madison believed that the United States should be structured. He wanted most of the power to transfer to the senate at a time when the senate wasn’t elected. Senate members were selected from an elite class of white men in the population.

In debates of the Constitutional Convention, Madison said that “the major concern of society has to be to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” He wanted the constitution to prevent the majority from taking the property of the rich. Whereas Aristotle wrote that a democracy should reduce inequality, Madison wrote that an unequal society should reduce democracy.

The general population often pushes for more democratization, such as in the 1960s with civil rights, environmental rights, and anti-war activism, while the masters want the population to be apathetic, subservient, and powerless.

PRINCIPLE #2: SHAPE IDEOLOGY

There has been a coordinated effort to undermine democracy. When “previously passive and obedient” members of the population, who are sometimes called “special interest groups,” have tried to become politically active, the state resists them. Private businesses can lobby, buy elections, staff the executive branch, but when young people are “too independent and free” and not responsive to indoctrination, they’re deemed as dangerous and must be subdued.

PRINCIPLE #3: REDESIGN THE ECONOMY

Since the 1970s, financial institutions such as banks and insurance companies, have gained more power. For example, in 2007, before the economic crash, they had 40% of corporate profits. The United States once was the greatest “manufacturing center of the world.” Financial institutions had a smaller part in society, performing roles like distributing unused assets. They were regulated with more control over their risky investments. By the ’70s, there was an increase in speculative capital, risky investments, money manipulations, and so on. Manufacturing was exported out to third world countries, putting workers from different countries in competition with each other, which reduced their wages while exploiting the poorest of workers. Top managerial positions have shifted to more business graduates than graduates from other departments, financializing the country even more.

“Workers can’t move, labor can’t move, but capital can.”

While highly-paid professionals are secure, workers are made insecure. They fear losing their jobs, discouraged from attaining livable wages, better health and safety conditions, and unionization.

PRINCIPLE #4: SHIFT THE BURDEN

Dissidents are often vilified. Depending on the society, critics are imprisoned, abused, executed, tortured, or censored. The United States has a high degree of freedom, compared to other countries. Yet terms of abuse, such as anti-American and Marxist, still arise when one criticizes corporate state power. Abusing critics in a developed democratic country, such as the United States, is a sign of the influence of elite culture on the general population.

***

During “The Golden Age” of the ’50s and ’60s, there was a high period of relatively egalitarian economic growth. The lowest fifth of the population was improving about as much as the upper fifth. When the U.S. was considered the largest manufacturing center in the world, businesses were made to be more concerned with consumers domestically.

When only a small percentage of the population owns an increasing amount of wealth, however, what happens to American consumers matters far less. What matters to the wealthy is their quarterly profit, even if it is due to money manipulation, higher salaries for their top executives, and decreases in taxes for multinational corporations.

“Taxes on the wealthy has reduced, while the tax burden on the rest of the population’s increased.” The pretext for this drastic shift is so there will be more jobs and investment. Despite the lack of evidence for this poor rhetoric, to truly stimulate production and job growth, money should go to poor and working people. The reality is far different, however. Corporations pay little to no taxes, receive exponential profits, while sending their manufacturing work offshore. They shift “the burden of sustaining the society on the rest of the population.”

PRINCIPLE #5: ATTACK SOLIDARITY

The masters want to indoctrinate people to only care about themselves. To care about other people is dangerous. They have put in a lot of effort to undermine people’s instincts for compassion and generosity, such as with the attack on social security. Social security is about helping others. “I pay payroll taxes so that the widow across the street can get something to live on.” A lot of the population survives on social security. The rich don’t need it, so they want to destroy it. They will first defund it, eventually privatizing it. A similar attack has happened to public education. The United States used to be a leader in funding mass pubic education. Now most college students are burdened with tuition. If they don’t come from wealthy families, they are trapped in debt.

PRINCIPLE #6: RUN THE REGULATORS

“The business being regulated is often running the regulators. Bank lobbyists are actually writing the laws of financial regulation; it’s gotten to that extreme.” The business world has worked steadily against the welfare measures of the sixties, ending with Nixon as the last “New Deal” president. Businesses didn’t like “consumer safety legislation, safety and health regulations in the workplace, the EPA,” and so on, because of high taxes and regulation. They began a coordinated effort, through lobbying, to overcome it. When regulations started to become dismantled, there were more economic crashes. Then the government bailed out the banks, over and again, under the Reagan, Bush, and Obama administrations. Taxpayers were forced to bail out the institutions that started the crisis. These financial institutions had become “too big to fail,” not responsible for their risky investments. Instead, they were chosen to fix the crises that they created.

PRINCIPLE #7: ENGINEER ELECTIONS

“Corporations are state-created legal fictions” that have manipulated the fourteenth amendment to be considered persons. They use their “persons” status to have personal rights and the right to due process under the law. This notion of “persons” is expanded for corporations, but not for actual people. If taking the amendment literally, undocumented immigrants would not be deprived of rights because they are persons. In the U.S., however, General Electric is more of a person than someone from another country.

In Buckley V. Valeo (1970), “the courts decided that money was a form of speech.” Later, in Citizens United V. Federal Electric Commission, a corporation’s free speech couldn’t be curtailed anymore, because they could spend as much money as they wanted. Now, corporations can buy elections, completely unrestricted.

PRINCIPLE #8: KEEP THE RABBLE IN LINE

“Organized labor is a barrier to corporate tyranny.”

Because organized labor is a democratizing force, leading to worker’s rights and those of the general population, it has been consistently attacked. The United States, in comparison to other developed countries, has had a long history of violently opposing organized labor. The core principle of free association, of political pressure through the masses, is a threat to business interests. Violence against workers, campaigns of propaganda, threats, and imprisonment, has drastically reduced unions.

PRINCIPLE #9: MANUFACTURE CONSENT

It is not easy to control a population by force alone, especially in developed countries like the United States and Britain. Manipulating a population’s beliefs and attitudes is far more effective. To control what the public wants, turning people into consumers is the goal of business. The masses are taught to crave superficial things, distracted from meaningful change. They spend their lives buying what they don’t need and wanting what they don’t have. They are seduced by advertisements, uninformed about desires, persuaded against their own interests.

Ever since Reagan, the PR industry has been marketing candidates like toothpaste. There is little discussion of policy issues and more discussion of personality. Meanwhile, private interests are marginalizing the public, while securing their selected candidates into office.

PRINCIPLE #10: MARGINALIZE THE POPULATION

Most of the population doesn’t influence policy. People are increasingly frustrated with institutions, alienated, demoralized, but are often lost for answers. The manufacturers want the population to turn on each other, to hate and fear each other. They want activist groups to fragment. They want people to care only about themselves and not about others. If a society is controlled by private institutions, it will reflect those values. A society based on the value of greed will not last.

To progress as a society, institutions should be under a participatory democratic control. All structures should be questioned for legitimacy. If they’re not just, then they should be dismantled or improved upon. If there are oppressive structures, the public must come together and not accept them. They must organize and challenge what is unjust. To become a better citizen, to change the world, people need to learn, to contribute, to find opportunities for speech and direct action. As Howard Zinn once said, “Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”

Here’s to the Helpers

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An old man had a habit of early morning walks on the beach. One day, after a storm, he saw a human figure in the distance moving like a dancer. As he came closer he saw that it was a young woman and she was not dancing but was reaching down to the sand, picking up a starfish and very gently throwing them into the ocean.

“Young lady,” he asked, “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”

“The sun is up, and the tide is going out, and if I do not throw them in they will die.”

“But young lady, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it? You cannot possibly make a difference.”

The young woman listened politely, paused and then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves. “It made a difference to that one.”

We have traded our intimacy for social media, our romantic bonds for dating matches on apps, our societal truth for the propaganda of corporate interests, our spiritual questioning for dogmatism, our intellectual curiosity for standardized tests and grading, our inner voices for the opinions of celebrities and hustler gurus and politicians, our mindfulness for algorithmic distractions and outrage, our inborn need to belong to communities for ideological bubbles, our trust in scientific evidence for the attractive lies of false leaders, our solitude for public exhibitionism.

We have ignored the hunter-gatherer wisdom of our past, obedient now to the myth of progress.

But we must remember who we are and where we came from.

We are animals born into mystery, looking up at the stars. Uncertain in ourselves, not knowing where we are heading. We exist with the same bodies, the same brains, as Homo sapiens from thousands of years past, roaming on the plains, hunting in forests and by the sea, foraging together in small bands.

Except now, our technology is exponentially increasing at a scale that we cannot predict.

We are overwhelmed with information; lost in a matrix that we do not understand.

Our civilizational “progress” is built on the bones of the indigenous and the poor and the powerless.

Our “progress” comes at the expense of our land, and oceans, and air.

We are reaching beyond what we can globally sustain. Former empires have perished from their unrestrained greed for more resources. They were limited in past ages by geography and capacity, collapsing in regions, and not over the entire planet.

What will be the cost of our progress?

We have grown arrogant in our comfort, hardened away from our compassion, believing that our reality is the only reality.

Yet even at our most uncertain, there are still those saints who are unknown and nameless, who help even when they do not need to help.

They often are not rich, don’t have their profiles written up in magazines, and will never win any prestigious awards.

They may have shared their last bit of food while already surviving on so little. They may have cherished the disheartened, shown warmth to the neglected, tended to the diseased and dying, spoken kindly to the hopeless.

They do not tremble in silence while the wheels of prejudice crush over their land.

Withering what was once fertile into pale death and smoke.

They tend to what they love, to what they serve.

They help, even when they could fall back into ignorance, even when they could prosper through easy greed, even when they could compromise their values, conforming into groupthink for the illusion of security.

They help.

The Art of Communicating (Thich Nhat Hanh)

The Art of Communicating (Thich Nhat Hanh)

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“Mindfulness requires letting go of judgement, returning to an awareness of the breath and the body, and bringing your full attention to what is in you and around you. This helps you notice whether the thought you just produced is healthy or unhealthy, compassionate or unkind.”

When we breathe mindfully, we communicate. We know we’re breathing in, breathing out. In this awareness, we are in tune with our body-mind, with feelings and thoughts, with the environment.

“Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in. Breathing out, I know I’m breathing out.”

When we’re mindful, we’re free. When we’re consumed with anger, anxiety, and fear, we’re trapped. Instead of holding on to our storylines, and avoiding the present, we can release our suffering and return home, again and again.

A lot of our thinking comes from dwelling on the past, controlling the future, imagining scenarios that have never happened. We worry so much. We worry about ourselves, about what other people think of us, about meaning, about money, about everything that we can. We get caught in our ideas, talking, talking, talking, thinking, thinking, thinking. Distracting ourselves with constant amusements and dramas.

Instead of realizing that our perceptions are only perceptions, we mistake them for reality.

When we mindfully breathe, we can return to where we are.

“It’s enjoyable to breathe in, to breathe out; it’s enjoyable to sit, to walk, to eat breakfast, to take a shower, to clean the bathroom, to work in the vegetable garden. When we stop talking and thinking and listen mindfully to ourselves, one thing we will notice is our greater capacity and opportunities for joy.”

Mindfulness lets us open up to our fear, our pain, our sorrow, our love. We don’t run away from life. We become aware of life, nurturing the present, letting go of what causes us to suffer.

We are no longer afraid to be with ourselves.

“We can just continue to follow our in-breath and our out-breath. We don’t tell our fear to go away; we recognize it. We don’t tell our anger to go away; we acknowledge it. These feelings are like a small child tugging at our sleeves. Pick them up and hold them tenderly. Acknowledging our feelings without judging them or pushing them away, embracing them with mindfulness, is an act of homecoming.”

When we know our own suffering, then we can learn to see the suffering of the world. Exploitation, discrimination, racism, poverty, homelessness, war, and so on, cause a lot of suffering to us and those around us. We cannot help others until we look at our own sorrow and fear, pain and anxiety, depression and anger.

We need to listen deeply to ourselves. Only then can we release our burdens. Only then can we stop the destructive patterns that we’ve inherited from our ancestors, from our parents, from our past.

“If a lotus is to grow, it needs to be rooted in the mud. Compassion is born from understanding suffering. We all should learn to embrace our own suffering, to listen to it deeply, and to have a deep look into its nature. In doing so, we allow the energy of love and compassion to be born.”

To be effective at communication, we need to know ourselves. Then we can practice mindfulness, deep listening, and loving speech. Other people may complain, insult us, manipulate, whine, and judge. When we listen deeply with compassion, we can look at people as they are, and not be stirred up emotionally. We can love them without judging them, care about them without giving in to anger and resentment.

As we listen, our purpose is to help others to suffer less. We want ourselves to suffer less too. Instead of judging and blaming, we can be mindfully aware.

When we are not mindful, we will not see our own suffering. Then we will make everyone around us suffer as well. We may believe that we know the people around us, such as our family members and friends and colleagues, but maybe we have never truly listened to them. Maybe we’ve never truly listened to ourselves.

We must be skillful with how we communicate. Do we use words of kindness, compassion, and truth, working to reduce another person’s pain and anxiety? Are we gentle or harsh in our tones? As we begin to understand more about ourselves, we can understand others. We can listen and speak kindly and choose the right words for the right situation.

We can use peaceful language instead of abusing, condemning, judging. We don’t need to exaggerate. We don’t need to speak one way to one person and another way to another person, attempting to manipulate. Our truth can be gentle, consistent, and loving.

Not everyone has the same perception or understanding. When we talk, we can adapt ourselves to each person, learning about how they think and feel. Not everyone will be receptive to the same stories, the same messages, and the same knowledge.

Our speech should be used for well-being and healing. When our speech causes ill-being and suffering, then that is wrong speech. We can make those around us feel loved through our presence, through our gentleness and care.

As we look into ourselves, we know that we’re not perfect. We have strengths and weaknesses like everyone else. We feel pain and joy and compassion and fear and anger and on and on, just like everyone else.

We don’t have to judge ourselves as bad, because we have positive qualities too, but we don’t have to swell with pride either, because we make mistakes too. No one sees us for who we are in totality. They are only partly right. We don’t see everyone else for who they are in totality either. People may have many experiences, feelings, and thoughts that we will never be aware of.

When we feel angry, we neither need to act nor suppress our anger. Anger may have a sense of urgency to it, but when we act, we often escalate the situation.

Rather than falling into the same habitual patterns, we can treat our anger with tenderness. We can embrace our energy and breathe and let go. Even a small pause can be beneficial.

We can ask ourselves whenever a thought arises, “Is that thought right? Are we really sure?” Instead of committing to a wrong perception, we can slow down and question our certainty.

Unless we can communicate mindfully with ourselves, we cannot improve the quality of our relationships. With mindfulness of suffering, compassion arises. When we see the suffering in others, we want to help. We cannot force others to become who we want them to be, but we can change ourselves.

When we are compassionate to ourselves, our desire to help our communities grows.

Our love grows.

Our lives are interwoven. We are dependent on each other for survival and well-being. If our communities can listen to each other, communicating with loving-kindness and non-judgmental awareness, we can systematically change our civilization.

We can only help each other when we are engaged.

We can only help each other when we care.

Living in joy and Sorrow: a poem inspired by the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh

Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us and all around us, everywhere, any time. If we are not happy, if we are not peaceful, we cannot share peace and happiness with others, even those we love, those who live under the same roof. If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace. Do we need to make a special effort to enjoy the beauty of the blue sky? Do we have to practice to be able to enjoy it? No, we just enjoy it. Each second, each minute of our lives can be like this. Wherever we are, any time, we have the capacity to enjoy the sunshine, the presence of each other, even the sensation of our breathing. We don’t need to go to China to enjoy the blue sky. We don’t have to travel into the future to enjoy our breathing. We can be in touch with these things right now. It would be a pity if we are only aware of suffering.

We are so busy we hardly have time to look at the people we love, even in our own household, and to look at ourselves. Society is organized in a way that even when we have some leisure time, we don’t know how to use it to get back in touch with ourselves. We have millions of ways to lose this precious time we turn on the TV or pick up the telephone, or start the car and go somewhere. We are not being with ourselves, and we act as if we don’t like ourselves and are trying to escape from ourselves.

Meditation is to be aware of what is going on-in our bodies, in our feelings, in our minds, and in the world. Each day 40,000 children die of hunger. The superpowers now have more than 50,000 nuclear warheads, enough to destroy our planet many times. Yet the sunrise is beautiful, and the rose that bloomed this morning along the wall is a miracle. Life is both dreadful and wonderful. To practice meditation is to be in touch with both aspects. Please do not think we must be solemn in order to meditate. In fact, to meditate well, we have to smile a lot.

Thich Nhat Hanh

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Poem by Bremer Acosta