Chomsky on the Election

Noam Chomsky, the illustrious subject of my book, is surely the best-known personage on what remains of the radical left in the United States.  Unsurprisingly, Chomsky supported Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination.  Perhaps less predictably, he is equally unequivocal in his stand on the general election: Clinton must win.  If, instead, Trump becomes president, “the human species is in very deep trouble.”  That may be a characteristically Chomskian overstatement, but as usual with Chomsky’s overstatements, it contains a large element of truth.  Disgruntled Bernie supporters and Jill Stein fans: please take heed.


James Comey faced a politically prickly choice with regard to the Abedin/Weiner e-mails.  He could have withheld information with potential for influencing the upcoming election.   In that case, he would have exposed himself to the inevitable wrath and fury of Congressional and other Republicans once the information was revealed.  Or, he could have done what he did, in violation of longstanding guidelines.  It undoubtedly occurred to him that the political consequences of the latter course would be minor.  A President Clinton would surely leave this incident behind her; firing Comey for his transgression would be unthinkable.  Comey chose political expediency over principle.

Actually, the choice he faced wasn’t as clearly binary as I have just suggested.  Nuances matter: he could have worded his letter to Congress differently, for example saying that the newly discovered emails “could be” rather than “appear to be” pertinent to the Clinton investigation.   He could have said that he had directed staff to assess “the relevance, if any” to the Clinton investigation, instead of assess “the importance” to the investigation. He could have alluded to the strong possibility that many of the “new” e-mails are in fact duplicates of those already examined.  He could have stressed that at this point in time there is no reason to believe that the agency’s earlier conclusion might change.  As worded, the letter gave the Trump campaign opportunity to try to make something out of nothing.   This was a terrible performance by a heretofore highly respected official.




  1. John Duggan October 31, 2016 at 2:05 pm

    – Your “a characteristically Chomskian overstatement” reads like a cheap shot, exploiting Chomsky’s name to urge “Disgruntled Bernie supporters and Jill Stein fans: please take heed.”.

    The alleged “characteristically Chomskian overstatement” is actually a thoughtful, nuanced reply running 6 minutes that your readers can view in full:

    Chomsky has sketched out the range and seriousness of his concerns in such comments as:

    “… One of these candidates, Trump, denies the existence of global warming, calls for increasing use of fossil fuels, dismantling of environmental regulations and refuses assistance to India and other developing nations as called for in the Paris agreement, the combination of which could, in four years, take us to a catastrophic tipping point. Trump has also pledged to deport 11 million Mexican immigrants, offered to provide for the defense of supporters who have assaulted African American protestors at his rallies, stated his ‘openness to using nuclear weapons’, supports a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and regards “the police in this country as absolutely mistreated and misunderstood” while having ‘done an unbelievable job of keeping law and order.’ Trump has also pledged to increase military spending while cutting taxes on the rich, hence shredding what remains of the social welfare ‘safety net’ despite pretenses. …

    The suffering which these and other similarly extremist policies and attitudes will impose on marginalized and already oppressed populations has a high probability of being significantly greater than that which will result from a Clinton presidency. …

    should constitute sufficient basis to voting for Clinton where a vote is potentially consequential-namely, in a contested, ‘swing’ state. …”

    • tonygreco October 31, 2016 at 3:25 pm

      The human species is in deep trouble? That suggests a real possibility of extinction. I think it’s more than fair to call that an overstatement that contains a large element of truth. And that characterization in no way denies that Chomsky has made important and valid observations on climate change.

      • tonygreco October 31, 2016 at 9:14 pm

        On reconsideration (and after consulting with my wife) I can see that “the human species” could have just been a peculiar choice of wording, with no intention to imply extinction. So, I am happy to give Chomsky the benefit of the doubt here and withdraw my inference that he overstated. Anyway, i don’t think overstatement is always bad. It can be a useful rhetorical device, one that I employ myself on occasion.

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