Chomsky on Supporting Sanders & Why He Would Vote for Clinton Against Trump in a Swing State

Interview With Noam Chomsky

Interview by Amy Goodman Democracy Now!, May 16, 2016.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Our guest for the hour, Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author, professor emeritus of linguistics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His latest book, Who Rules the World? So, that’s an interesting question for 2016, since the president of the United States occupies a very powerful role in the world, Noam. Who do you support?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, before answering that, let me just make one comment on elections: They’re important. It does matter who sits in the White House, who’s—who appoints Supreme Court justices, who makes decisions about war and peace, about environment and so on. Matters who’s in Congress, matters who’s in the state legislatures and so on. It matters. But it’s not the main issue. We are kind of indoctrinated here into focusing all of our attention and energy on what button we push in November every couple of years, which is not insignificant, but not the main issue. The main issue, what is—what are the forces, domestic forces, that are pressuring, acting, to determine the kind of choices that will be made, legislation that will be passed and so on? Now, of course, there’s one force that’s always going to be there: private concentrated capital, corporate power. Lobbyists, corporate lawyers and so on, writing the legislations, certainly, they’re always—funding the elections, they’ll always be there. The question is: Is there going to be a countervailing force? Is there going to be a force representing popular interests, needs and concerns, defending themselves against what in fact is a standard class-based assault against them? And now, elections can be used as a way of galvanizing and mobilizing the kinds of groups which will—could become persistent, dedicated, growing, constant forces that influence significantly what’s done in the White House and Congress. The New Deal legislation of Roosevelt, for example, wouldn’t have been passed—it wouldn’t have even been initiated—without militant labor action and other political action. And those are lessons to remember.

But now, going back to who should you push the button for, well, my own—in the primaries, I would prefer Bernie Sanders. If Clinton is nominated and it comes to a choice between Clinton and Trump, in a swing state, a state where it’s going to matter which way you vote, I would vote against Trump, and by elementary arithmetic, that means you hold your nose and you vote Democrat. I don’t think there’s any other rational choice. Abstaining from voting or, say, voting for, say, a candidate you prefer, a minority candidate, just amounts to a vote for Donald Trump, which I think is a devastating prospect, for reasons I’ve already mentioned. So—but meanwhile, do the important things.

The significance of the Sanders campaign, which is pretty remarkable, I think—it certainly surprised me. It’s not radical. I mean, Sanders himself is pretty much a traditional New Deal Democrat. I don’t say that in criticism. That’s a—doesn’t pretend to be anything else, and that’s a breath of fresh air in the current generally right-wing climate. But the importance of it is, if it can be used, the energy and enthusiasm that’s been organized and mobilized can be used to develop an ongoing popular movement, which will be a powerful force, no matter who’s in office, to influence and direct the country in ways that are absolutely necessary, even for survival at this point. That’s my view of it.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think there’s any possibility that Bernie Sanders could—the man you prefer, the candidate you prefer, could be the candidate?

NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s possible, I guess. I mean, I’ve been—I should say I’ve been wrong all along, both about Sanders and Trump: I never thought either of them would get anywhere. I was in good company in making those predictions, but they were wrong. And I could be wrong again. But I think the probabilities are—there isn’t a lot of point speculating. We’ll see how—you know, we can try to reach the conclusions we want, the outcomes we want. But—

AMY GOODMAN: And what do—what do you think Donald Trump is tapping into? And what do you think of his statements, you know, waffling on whether he would disavow support of the known Klan leader, David Duke, the avowed white supremacist, saying that no Muslims can come into this country? Whether or not he wins, what effect will this have?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, I think—I should say, this is not new. This is something that’s been around for a long time. He’s brought it into open view, but it’s been there. About probably 15 years ago, early 2000s, in a book of mine, I quoted an article, interesting article—it’s worth going back and reading—by one of the leading historians of modern Germany, Fritz Stern. It appeared in the main establishment journal, Foreign Affairs, wasn’t secret. It was called something like “Descent into Barbarism.” And it was discussion of how Germany, which in the 1920s had been the peak of Western civilization, a decade later was the absolute depths of human history, and how did it descend into barbarism. And he discusses it. And he says very—it’s clear what he has in mind. He pointedly says that he has concerns about the country that rescued—that gave him refuge from Nazi Germany. And every point that he makes is an oblique reference to what was happening in the United States 15 years ago. These are deep elements of U.S. society.

But the appeal of Trump is not only to racism, which is very profound, ultranationalism, which is very profound, fear—it’s one of the most terrified countries in the world, has been through much of its history. It’s part of the reason for the extraordinary gun culture. It’s not only that. He is also appealing to pretty much the same kind of things that Sanders is appealing to. In his case, it happens to be mostly the white working class. But the—

AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Oh. But he’s appealing to the fact that people have just been cast aside by the neoliberal assault of the past generation, that can—

AMY GOODMAN: Noam, we’re going to continue this conversation in post-show, and we’re going to post it online and play it on the air at democracynow.org. Noam Chomsky, world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author. He is the author of a new book right now. He’s written more than a hundred. This book is called Who Rules the World?