From Democracy Now! transcript of this interview:
In his new book, scholar Henry Giroux examines "America at War with Itself." From poisoned water in Flint and other cities to the police deaths of African Americans to hatemongering on the presidential campaign trail, Henry Giroux critiques what he believes is a slide toward authoritarianism and other failings that led to the current political climate and rise of Donald Trump. Giroux is the McMaster University professor for Scholarship in the Public Interest.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We end today’s show with a look at a new book that argues America is at war with itself. From poisoned water in Flint and other cities to the police deaths of African Americans, including Keith Lamont Scott, Eric Garner and Sandra Bland, to hatemongering on the presidential campaign trail, Henry Giroux critiques what he believes is a slide toward authoritarianism and other failings that led to the current political climate.
AMY GOODMAN: Noted scholar Robin D.G. Kelley writes in the book’s foreword, quote, "These are indeed dark times, but they are dark not merely because we are living in an era of vast inequality, mass incarceration, and crass materialism, or that we face an increasingly precarious future. They are dark because most Americans are living under a cloak of ignorance, a cultivated and imposed state of civic illiteracy that has opened the gates for what Giroux correctly sees as an authoritarian turn in the United States. These are dark times because the very fate of democracy is at stake—a democracy fragile from its birth, always battered on the shoals of racism, patriarchy, and class rule. The rise of Donald J. Trump is a sign of the times," he writes.
Well, for more, we’re joined by the author of America at War with Itself, Henry Giroux, MccMaster University professor for Scholarship in the Public Interest. He joins in New York City.
We welcome you. It’s great to have you with us.
HENRY GIROUX: Well, I’m honored.
AMY GOODMAN: How is America at war with itself?
HENRY GIROUX: It’s at war with itself because it’s basically declared war not only on any sense of democratic idealism, but it’s declared war on all the institutions that make democracy possible. And we see it with the war on public schools. We see it with the war on education. We see it with the war on the healthcare system. We see it, as you said earlier, with the war on dissent, on the First Amendment. We see it in the war on women’s reproductive rights.
But we especially see it with the war on youth. I mean, it seems to me that you can measure any degree—any society’s insistence on how it takes democracy seriously can, in fact, be measured by the way it treats its children. And if we take that index as a measure of the United States, it’s utterly failing. You have young people basically who—in schools that are increasingly modeled after prisons. You have their behavior being increasingly criminalized. And one of the most atrocious of all acts, you have the rise of debtors’ prisons for children. Kids who basically are truant from school are being fined, and if they can’t—their parents can’t pay the fine, they’re being put in jail. You have kids whose every behavior is being criminalized. I mean, what does it mean to be in a public school, and all of a sudden you are engaged in a dress code violation, and the police come in, and they handcuff you? They take you out, they put you in a police car, put you in the criminal justice system, and all of a sudden you find yourself, as Tess was saying earlier, marked for life. Entire families are being destroyed around this.
So, but it seems to me the real question here is: How do you understand these isolated incidents within a larger set of categories that tell us exactly what’s happening? And what’s happening is the social state is being destroyed, and the punishing state is taking its place. So violence now becomes the only tool by which we can actually mediate social problems that should be dealt with in very different ways.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, you devote an entire chapter to Donald Trump’s America.
HENRY GIROUX: Yeah.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you specifically talk about the—how the media coverage of Trump has sort of divorced him from any past history of the country, in terms of the development of right-wing demagogues and authoritarian figures.
HENRY GIROUX: That’s an important question. I mean, you live in a country marked by the culture of the immediate. You live in a country that’s marked by celebrity culture, you know, that basically infantilizes people, paralyzes them, eliminates all notions of civic literacy, turns the school into bastions of ignorance. They completely kill the radical imagination in any fundamental way.
And I think that what often happens with Trump is that you see something utterly symptomatic of the decline of a formative culture that makes democracy possible. Juan, you have to have informed citizens to have a democracy. You don’t have an informed citizenry. You don’t have people who can think. Remember what Hannah Arendt said when she was talking about fascism and totalitarianism. She said thoughtlessness is the essence of totalitarianism. So all of a sudden emotion becomes more important than reason. Ignorance becomes more important than justice. Injustice is looked over as simply something that happens on television. The spectacle of violence takes over everything.
I mean, so it seems to me that we make a terrible mistake in talking about Trump as some kind of essence of evil. Trump is symptomatic of something much deeper in the culture, whether we’re talking about the militarization of everyday life, whether we’re talking about the criminalization of social problems, or whether we’re talking about the way in which money has absolutely corrupted politics. This is a country that is sliding into authoritarianism. I mean, it is not a—you cannot call this a democracy anymore. And we make a terrible mistake when we equate capitalism with democracy.
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