Prof. Cornel West – America at a Crossroads
June 17, 2016
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Every now and then it’s worthwhile checking in with astute, former Princeton prof Cornel West. Here’s an extract from a new interview with Open Democracy. How do you view the Trump phenomenon? CW: Donald Trump is a billionaire pseudo-populist with an autocratic sensibility, narcissistic personality, and hence a neofascist in the making. His project brings together a lethal mixture of big banks, huge corporations, xenophobic scapegoating (Mexicans, women, Muslims, Blacks, and non-straights), economic anxiety and national malaise tied to militaristic aspirations abroad. This is what US-style fascism looks like—echoes of Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here (1935), the classic novel of American fascism.
What is the legacy of the Obama administration?
(CW): We are at a crossroads in American history. We must choose between a neofascism in the making (Trump), neoliberalism in the decaying (Clinton), and a neopopulism in the ascending (Sanders). The establishments in both the Democratic and Republican parties are disintegrating. Obama is the last gasp of the neoliberalism that emerged under Carter: a massive response to the structural crises of the global economy in the mid-70s. This attempt to financialize, privatize, and militarize our way through deep problems—from the economy, education, incarceration, security and communication—has produced vast wealth inequality, cultures of superficial spectacle, and pervasive corruption in every sphere.
GS: If Sanders fails, how do you think a social movement can emerge out of his campaign?
CW: Political campaigns are not social movements. Even great campaigns like those of Jackson in the 80s, Obama in the recent past or Sanders today are not social movements. We must distinguish between social momentums, social rebellions and social movements. Given the massive national security state and the pervasive carceral state, social movements are rare—past, present and future. The American Empire is more ripe for a counter-revolution than revolution, for right-wing movements than left-wing ones. This is so primarily because of the deep xenophobic roots in the country and profound militaristic sentiments in the culture. Hence, progressive social momentums and chaotic social rebellions are more likely to reshape our priorities and gain some concessions from greedy elites and callous citizens. This is why moral and spiritual dimensions of social activism are crucial—to sustain our will to fight inside and outside the system with little chance of immediate victory!