Noam Chomsky’s Advice

Have you ever had the experience of hearing or reading words you thought were worth remembering — and then, just a few minutes later, seeing those same words again in some other context? (I bet you have.) It happened to me yesterday. I read an opinion article in the Chicago Tribune that ended with a quote from Noam Chomsky. Then within minutes, I saw the same quote in a magazine. Chomsky’s words were inspiring, especially in these times when depressingly regressive powers have the upper hand.

So, when I saw his quote twice within minutes I thought, “This is too much of a coincidence. I’m going to base Wednesday’s commentary on Chomsky’s words.” Here’s what he said: “Unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.”  

As I started writing today, I thought I’d simply use his words as an inspiring endorsement for volunteer involvement in our candidates’ campaigns. After all, I thought, any reference to a “better future” would surely embrace our values and priorities. — But then, thinking further I realized that “a better future” is in the eye of the beholder. Noam’s words could just as easily be used to motivate every Trump supporter to become politically involved.

Let’s face it. Every human being would like the future to be better. And you can bet all those folks grinning behind Donald Trump at his rallies or passionately cheering him from the stands believe that he is the leader who will deliver the better future they each hope for.

Of course those hopes vary, depending on each person’s locale, beliefs, traditions, economic situation, business interests, etc. So for some Trump supporters a better future would be a return to the higher paying labor-intensive jobs of two decades past; Or the return of cultural norms that forbid gay marriage; Or a government that “interferes” less in environmental issues or hiring practices.

The truth is, Republican Party leaders, their strategists and their moneyed overlords, know they don’t represent the majority of Americans. But as you can see from their consistent actions in virtually every campaign across the country, they also know that targeting the most personal emotions of potential supporters, including their most base instincts, is a winning approach (at least until those supporters realize they’re being conned).

Fear of “the other,” economic scapegoating, distrust of all government institutions, inflammation of biases, generational prejudices, religious intolerance — it’s a long list of unsavory Republican appeals to winning votes. We all know that “all politics is local.” However, Republican strategists following Donald Trump’s successful demagoguery have hyper-localized their message targets right down to the darkest corners of their supporters’ brains. (To be honest, Democrats have not always been above such tactics but the modern Republican Party has taken this nasty approach to modern new lows.)

This reality is what should be energizing us to defend the better future we must believe in and, as Noam Chomsky said, take responsibility for making it so.

Speaking for myself, and the Democrats I know, our “better future” is a far cry from what Republicans apparently want. Our better future will be a U.S. government that respects science, accepting the fact that global warming is real and that climate change is an existential threat to 21st century civilization. It will be a future that rejects any remaining vestiges of misogyny, recognizing the equal rights of every American woman in every aspect of their lives. 

Our future will ensure that every American can live their entire lives knowing they have easy access to affordable, quality health care. It will value a good education, ensuring that every American has a chance to achieve his or her educational potential. And our better future will insist that no American should be treated as less than any other because of their race, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or sexual self-identification.

Our future will respect the genius of free enterprise, encouraging large and small entrepreneurs to freely pursue their dreams, while insisting that such freedom demands responsible behavior. And our better future will see the United States regain it’s respected position as the world leader among democracies, while recognizing that the conditions of people living in other countries, near our borders or half a world away, will always have a connection with our nation’s long-term well being.

It seems to me that most of those voters so presently enamored with President Trump’s vague promises would discover a chance to thrive in the future we envision. But it’s unlikely we can convince them of that until Democrats regain control of more state houses and governorships and, most importantly, Congress and, in 2020, the White House.

Yes, Noam Chomsky’s words can be inspiring to whoever reads them. But I do believe that today, Chomsky’s maxim most directly applies to us Democrats. The weekly news clips of crowds applauding the lies and ludicrous posturing of President Trump, the years long Republican stranglehold on Congress and this week’s victorious seating of Brett Kavanaugh to SCOTUS may understandably have many of us questioning our belief in the future. – Do not let it get to you.

We cannot stop believing in a better future. During the next 3 1/2 weeks, we must step up and take responsibility for making it so.

Nels Howard
NTDO member since 1973

P.S. Early voting is from Oct. 22 – Nov. 5 – and unregistered voters with two forms of ID (including current address proof) can register to vote at their early voting site.

P.P.S. You still have time to purchase tickets to the NTDO Annual Dinner, this Sunday October 14th at Maggiano’s in Old Orchard? (If you are age 40 or younger you’ll be given a special “Millenial Rate” of $100.)