Norman Solomon is a lifelong activist and critic of the news media. As all the fatuous Summer of Love celebrations were announced, I thought of his book “Made Love, Got War,” which tracks the rise of militarism in the United States in the last 50 years.
Norman ran as a progressive against a centrist field for our local seat in the House of Representatives; he is the author of a dozen books and co-founder of RootsAction.org, which has 1.5 million active members online. Recently we went back and forth about the anti-war movement so conspicuously absent in our country today, Democrats’ prospects in the mid-term elections and the party’s potential to shift toward policies that meet the basic needs of the majority. Here are some excerpts.
Charles: The marches against the invasion of Iraq were the largest in modern history. Why didn’t they prevent the invasion? What else might we do?
Norman: When a president wants to go to war, it’s very difficult to stop—but it’s essential that we keep trying. The military-industrial complex has gotten much stronger since Dwight Eisenhower warned against it during his presidential farewell address in 1961.
Protests do have an effect, even if a lot of suffering isn’t prevented. For instance, the anti-war protests in late 1969 were so massive that they dissuaded President Nixon from implementing his insane plan to use nuclear weapons against North Vietnam. More recently, in 2013, an outpouring of vocal opposition to President Obama’s plans to bomb Syria caused him to back off. For a while.
There’s so much that can be done, and no one person can do more than a tiny fraction. We need each other to be active in ways that suit our capacities, interests and skills. Make your voice heard!
But let’s not pretend that just voicing opinions is sufficient. To be effective, activism needs to be ongoing rather than episodic. Powerful forces are behind the machinery of what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the madness of militarism,” and they’re not going to be stopped unless we’re serious about exerting sufficient contrary power. That requires concerted organizing.
Charles: We can observe and describe how imperial power functions. How do we act meaningfully in response to it?
Norman: If by “imperial power” you mean U.S. foreign policy, then the people of this country have got to demand a democratic process of governance. That means setting aside illusions about the benevolence of the dominant forces that have been governing the United States.
I was an Obama delegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention, and no one can plausibly accuse me of bias against him. At the same time, facts are facts: he ordered as much bombing in the world as George W. Bush did during an eight-year term. The little girl I met in Afghanistan in 2009 who’d lost one of her arms due to U.S. bombing didn’t care whether the president had a “D” or an “R” after his name.
In West Marin and in other progressive-leaning areas in the country, people often went silent or understated when Obama took actions similar to what caused outrage when done by Bush, ranging from the far-flung drone war to massive warfare in many countries to mass surveillance undermining the Fourth Amendment to pushing a nuclear-weapons “modernization” program that could trigger the deaths of billions of people and bring about ecocide. The warfare state is bipartisan.
Charles: Jared Huffman talks a good game, certainly compared to representatives from Texas on issues like climate change. But he is still a corporate-funded establishment Democrat. Aren’t politicians more defined by the sources of their funding than the words out of their mouths? If so, shouldn’t a grassroots-funded left-Democratic candidate run against him and the other establishment figures?
Norman: I’d say politicians are most defined by what they do, while their funding and their rhetoric tell you a lot about where they’re coming from and what they’re up to. I firmly believe we need strong progressive candidates to challenge the Democratic Party’s mainline entrenched officials, including Huffman. On a national scale, the Bernie Sanders campaign last year showed what can be done. So, too, did the Jeremy Corbyn campaign that just ran so well in Britain.
Charles: What are the prospects for progressive gains in midterm elections?
Norman: My crystal ball is in the shop, but I’d guess that the prospects for progressive gains next year are medium, while the overall prospects for Democratic Party gains are a bit better than that. I’d rather see corporate Democrats replacing Republicans in Congress, that’s for sure, but a lot of those Democrats will hardly deserve the “progressive” label. Keep in mind, there’s an insurance company that calls itself Progressive, but what you call yourself can be quite facile and deceiving.
Charles: Are the Clintons and their gang of corporate Democrats, and the party establishment in California, using the unpopularity of Trump to avoid any real reform?
Norman: Overall, yes. Just denouncing Trump is a great distraction from the reality that being entwined with Wall Street and the big banks undermined and undermines the claims of many Democrats (as with Hillary Clinton last year) that they’re fighting for economic justice. Being better than Trump is important, but anybody who isn’t horrific is better than Trump. It’s a high jump over abysmally low standards.
Charles: Is there such a thing as a Trump blacklash, or is that something that only exists in elite enclaves like ours?
Norman: A whole lot of people see Trump as extremely repugnant, not just in elite enclaves.
Charles: Camille Paglia, who is pretty naive on politics, I must say, believes Trump has already won in 2020 because the media and Democratic establishment have doubled down on their sneering contempt for issues facing the majority of Americans. What do you think?
Norman: Well, the elitism of mainline media pundits and so many Democrats in Congress is a huge problem. A recent statement by Bernie Sanders put it well: “Certainly there are some people in the Democratic Party who want to maintain the status quo. They would rather go down with the Titanic so long as they have first-class seats.”