A pandemic, an economic crisis, impending climate catastrophe, racial and gender injustice — all of these have put American democracy in question, according to Richard Dien Winfield, a University of Georgia professor and candidate for the U.S. Senate.
Winfield had a conversation Thursday with Noam Chomsky, a political activist currently teaching at the University of Arizona, about the issues they believe will impact the future of the U.S. and the world.
A Green New Deal?
Chomsky and Winfield painted a dire picture of the earth’s climate change. Chomsky emphasized the ticking clock of a warming planet and the human suffering it is causing. As more extreme weather events occur, more people will be displaced from their homes and become refugees, they both said.
“If our democracy is really to be properly in place, it also includes a right to a healthy environment,” Winfield said. “That puts us in face of a global crisis of advancing climate heating that may put not only at risk our democracy but all of our institutions.”
“We have a choice this November. Do we … make it almost certain that our grandchildren will not have a survivable world, or do we move to try to protect not only us, but the world from impending disaster? There’s never been a choice more important in entire human history.”
– Noam Chomsky, linguist and political activist
Winfield and Chomsky both voiced support for the Green New Deal, a congressional plan introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts. The deal proposes for the U.S. to move away from fossil fuels, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide jobs in clean energy fields.
“If we don’t introduce some form of a Green New Deal, everything else is moot,” Chomsky said. “Because there won’t be anything to discuss.”
In the wake of the news that no officers were charged directly in Breonna Taylor’s death, Winfield and Chomsky discussed police brutality and what needs to be done. Taylor was shot while she was sleeping when police raided her apartment in March.
“[Police officers] are basically getting away with murder. They certainly do not need any kind of qualified immunity. That’s completely ludicrous,” Winfield said. “There’s a complete lack of accountability and transparency.”
The level of police violence in the U.S. is “unparalleled” to other democratic countries, Winfield said. Victims of police violence are disproportionately African American, according to Nature Research. Winfield said the poverty and lack of access to services in communities of color caused by social conditions needs to be addressed.
Chomsky said in order to address inequities that play into police violence, work that is currently done by the police needs to be shifted. The responsibility for domestic disputes and people who are homeless or experiencing mental health crises should be delegated to community services, he said.
Chomsky said police should be in favor of the movement to defund the police because it shifts the responsibility for those situations away from officers who haven’t been trained to deal with them. Both Chomsky and Winfield said defunding the police means affordable health care and housing and eliminating homelessness and poverty.
The future of democracy
President Donald Trump is a threat to American democracy, Chomsky said. Winfield said the issues that may pose a threat to U.S. institutions came to a head with Trump’s election in 2016, and are causing “the real crisis of American democracy.”
“If President Trump is either reelected or refuses to leave office, as he said he will do if not elected, then all guesses are over. I mean, it’s gonna be very hard to preserve any form of democracy,” he said.
Winfield spoke about the “mounting threat” of facism in the U.S. and other developed nations. He said the anti-democratic nationalism was being fueled by economic insecurity and anxiety of workers who are making below what minimum wage should be. He and Chomsky argued for a minimum wage of around $20 an hour that would be tied to inflation rates.
Chomsky discussed the unequal wealth distribution and wage stagnation in the U.S. He said wealth has been robbed from the lower 90% of the population.
“Income is massively concentrated in a very few hands. The financial institutions have just blown up — they pretty much dominate the economy,” Chomsky said. “Crisis after crisis, the bailouts, each one worse than the last.”
In dictatorships and governments that could become fascist, one of the first things to go are labor unions, according to Chomsky, who emphasized the need to protect workers’ rights.
The regression of democracy over the last 40 years has solutions, Winfield and Chomsky said. The U.S. should have universal health care, fund public schools and, most importantly, implement a Green New Deal.
As November draws nearer, Winfield and Chomsky said voting was crucial in both the upcoming presidential election and in smaller races.
Winfield said although Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden wasn’t his first choice candidate, there is a fundamental difference in what he and Trump stand for. Biden and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris are “more amenable” to the policies Winfield and Chomsky want to see, Winfield said.
“On the other hand, it’s important for citizens to continue to push for the real solutions, which may involve going beyond what Biden and Harris are currently standing for,” Winfield said.
Chomsky gave a dire warning about the upcoming election, saying the fate of the human experiment was in the people’s hands.
“We have a choice this November. Do we … make it almost certain that our grandchildren will not have a survivable world, or do we move to try to protect not only us, but the world from impending disaster?” Chomsky said. “There’s never been a choice more important in entire human history.”