Donald Trump is culpable in the deaths of thousands of Americans by using the coronavirus pandemic to boost his electoral prospects and line the pockets of big business, Prof Noam Chomsky has said.
In an interview with the Guardian, the radical intellectual argued the US president was stabbing average Americans in the back while pretending to be the country’s saviour during the worst health crisis in at least a century.
He said Trump, who will seek re-election later this year, had cut government funding for healthcare and research into infectious disease for the benefit of wealthy corporations.
Chomsky said: “That’s something that Trump has been doing every year of his term, cutting it back more. So [his plan is] let’s continue to cut it back, let’s continue to make sure that the population is as vulnerable as we can make it, that it can suffer as much as possible, but will of course increase profits for his primary constituents in wealth and corporate power.”
Chomsky also said the president had abandoned his duties by forcing individual state governors to take responsibility for combating the virus: “It’s a great strategy for killing a lot of people and improving his electoral politics.”
Asked to clarify if he viewed Trump as culpable in the deaths of Americans, he said: “Yes but it’s much worse than that, because the same is true internationally. To try and cover up his criminal attacks against the American people, which have been going on all of this time, he’s flailing about to try and find scapegoats.”
The professor said Trump’s decision to freeze payments to the World Health Organization, would lead to deaths in Yemen and across the African continent.
Chomsky was speaking in an interview to mark the launch of the Progressive International, a global initiative to unite, organise and mobilise progressive forces around the world.
First convened by Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator, and Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister, it aims to mount a fightback against the increasing rise of rightwing populist movements around the globe.
Other members include Katrín Jakobsdóttir, the Icelandic prime minister, former Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell, the authors Naomi Klein and Arundhati Roy, and Rafael Correa, the former president of Ecuador. In September, pandemic permitting, the council will convene for an inaugural summit in Reykjavik.
Also speaking in an interview to mark the launch, Varoufakis said articles he and Sanders wrote in the Guardian two years ago were among catalysts for launching the Progressive International.
He said: “It’s been urgent for quite a while now. If anything I’m worried that we’re coming to the party too late. I hope not..”
Expressing anger at the EU response to the pandemic as a “very sad dereliction of duty”, he said the crisis could tear apart the euro single currency bloc. “I don’t think the eurozone can survive it. But it can survive long enough to deplete huge amounts of wealth and social capital. Europe is rich enough, it can pretend and extend.”
EU leaders have agreed to draw up a €540bn (£480bn) package of emergency measures. However, there is a deep split between countries demanding grants for stricken economies, such as Italy and Spain, and northern members such as Germany who favour loans.
The launch of Progressive International comes amid growing calls to drastically alter the global economic and political status quo as Covid-19 continues to expose and exacerbate entrenched levels of inequality and poverty.
Pressure had also been mounting since the 2008 financial crisis to reverse more than four decades of government retreat from intervening in the economy, amid widespread dissatisfaction with modern capitalism from supporters and detractors.
Faced with rightwing nationalist responses and the growing urgency to combat global heating, McDonnell said the new organisation would help develop and promote a more progressive vision of the future.
Speaking to the Guardian, he said: “This initiative comes at just the right time. It’s about the nature of society we want. It’s also about how we tackle the real threat upon us from climate change.”
Comparing the threats from rightwing populism to the rise of Nazism in 1928 when he was born, Chomsky said two approaches were being promoted in the response to Covid-19.
He said: “One is let’s take the savage, Reagan, Thatcher approach and make it worse. That’s one way. The other way is to try to dismantle the structures, the institutional structures that have been created; that have led to very ugly consequences for much of the population of much of the world, [and] are the source of this pandemic. To dismantle them and move on to a better world.”
“It’s not easy. There are forces fighting back. The International is going to be facing similar attacks. To overcome them, it depends on the peasants with the pitchforks.”