The 2018 midterm election season has been roiled by the internal divisions between the Democratic Party’s growing progressive base and the more conservative party establishment. In New York City, this division came to a head with the most shocking upset of the election season so far, when 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez handily defeated 10-term incumbent Representative Joe Crowley, the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House. Ocasio-Cortez ran a progressive grassroots campaign as a Democratic Socialist advocating for “Medicare for All” and the abolition of ICE. For more on her victory and what it means for the Democratic Party, we speak with Noam Chomsky, world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn back to my interview with world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author Noam Chomsky, now at the University of Arizona, Tucson.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to the upcoming midterm elections and the increasing number of Democratic Socialist candidates running, who raise the issue of immigration as one of the top issues. I recently sat down with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York Democratic congressional candidate, whose recent primary victory upended the 10-term incumbent Congressman Joe Crowley, the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House, who was being talked about as the next House speaker to succeed Pelosi. And I began by asking her how she achieved her staggering primary victory.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO–CORTEZ: I do think that the way that we won in New York 14 is a model for how we can win almost anywhere. I knew from the outset that—you know, I had no misconceptions of the fact that the New York political machine was not going to be doing me any favors. And so I didn’t—I tried to kind of come in as clear-eyed as possible. And I knew that if we were going to win, the way that progressives win on an unapologetic message is by expanding the electorate. That’s the only way that we can win strategically. It’s not by rushing to the center. It’s not by trying to win spending all of our energy winning over those who have other opinions. It’s by expanding the electorate, speaking to those that feel disenchanted, dejected, cynical about our politics, and letting them know that we’re fighting for them. So I knew that I had to build a broad-based coalition that operates outside of the traditional Democratic establishment, and that I had to pursue kind of an uphill journey of convincing activists that electoral politics is worthwhile.
AMY GOODMAN: And the issues you ran on?
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO–CORTEZ: And the issues I ran on were very clear, and I think it was an important part to us winning: improved and expanded Medicare for all; tuition-free public colleges and universities, as well as trade schools; a Green New Deal; justice for Puerto Rico; an unapologetic platform of criminal justice reform and ending the war on drugs; and also speaking truth to power and speaking about money in politics not just in general, but how it operates in New York City.
AMY GOODMAN: In a moment, I’m going to play her clip talking about immigration activism. Yes, Alexandria Cortez—Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went to the border right before Election Day. In fact, her plane was delayed. I was concerned she wouldn’t be back in New York for the Primary Day. But if you could start by responding to this? And then we’ll hear what she has to say about immigration activism.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, I think there’s—her victory was a quite spectacular and significant event. I think what it points to is a split in the Democratic Party between the—roughly speaking, between the popular base and the party managers. The popular base is increasingly, essentially, social democratic, following, pursuing the—concerned with the kinds of progressive objectives that she outlined in those—in her remarks, which should be directed not only to expanding the electorate but to the general working-class, poor population of the world, of the middle-class population of the country, for whom these ideals are quite significant. They can be brought to that. That’s one part of the party. The other part of the party is the donor-oriented, managerial part of the New Democrats, so-called, the Clintonite Democrats, who are pretty much what used to be called moderate Republicans. The Republican Party itself has drifted so far to the right that they’re almost off the spectrum. But the split within the Democratic Party is significant, and it’s showing up in primary after primary. Will the party move in the direction of its popular base, with a, essentially, social democratic, New Deal-style programs, even beyond? Or will it continue to cater to the donor class and be essentially a moderate wing—a more moderate wing of the Republican Party? And unless that issue is resolved, I don’t think they have a very good chance in the forthcoming elections.
I think she was right in saying that the policies she’s outlined should have broad appeal to a very large segment of the population. We should bear in mind that, for now almost 40 years, since the neoliberal assault began, taking off with Reagan, on from there, a large majority of the population are living in conditions of stagnation or decline. Real wages are—for, say, male real wages—are about what they were in the 1960s. It’s been—there has been productivity growth. Hasn’t gone to working people. It’s gone into the very few extremely overstuffed pockets. And that continues. So, the Labor Department just came out with its report for wages in the year ending May 2018. Now, they actually slightly declined. All sorts of talk—real wages, that is, wages measured against inflation. And it’s apparently continuing, with an even further drop.
This is a time when a lot of crowing about the marvelous economy, you know, full employment and so on, but wages continue to stagnate. And furthermore, it’s plainly going to get worse. The Republicans are on a binge of pursuing the most savage form of class warfare. The tax scam is a good example, the attacks on workers’ rights, on—Public Citizen just came out with a report on corporate impunity, which is almost comical when you read it. The administration has simply cut back radically on any kind of dealing with corporate crimes. And, of course, the EPA has practically stopped working. It’s as if grab whatever you can, stuff it in your pocket, before—while you have a chance. Under those conditions, the kind of appeal that she was talking about should mean a lot to the general population.
Notice, as everybody’s well aware, the tax scam was a purposeful effort not only to enrich the super-rich and the corporate sector—corporate profits, of course, are overflowing—but it was also an effort to sharply increase the deficit, which can be used—and Paul Ryan and others kindly announced to us right away what the plans were—the deficit could be used to undermine any elements of government structure which benefit the general population—Medicare, Social Security, food for poor children. Anything you can do to shaft the general population more can now be justified under the argument that we have a huge deficit, thanks to stuffing the pockets of the rich. This is an astonishing phenomenon. And under those conditions, a properly designed progressive program should appeal to a large majority of the population. But it has to be done correctly and not shaped in ways which will appease the donor class.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to the interview with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has really upended the Democratic Party, and the kind of message this candidate of Puerto Rican descent in New York has sent to the entire party, I think the Republican Party, as well. But this is what she says about immigration.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO–CORTEZ: We have to occupy all of it. We need to occupy every airport, we need to occupy every border, we need to occupy every ICE office, until those kids are back with their parents, period.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, the right-wing media—for example, Fox News and others—have kept—have written about this over and over since she made this comment about occupying airports. Interestingly, her area of Queens and Bronx include Rikers Island and LaGuardia Airport. Noam Chomsky?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, I think we just had a very dramatic illustration of what courageous opposition to these atrocious policies can do—namely, the young Swedish woman who prevented an airplane from taking off because it was deporting an Afghan man to almost certain murder.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam, let me go to the young Swedish woman, the student who you just raised, who stood up—
NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —on the plane, this flight from Gothenburg, Sweden, to Istanbul, because she understood that an Afghan refugee was on the flight, as you pointed out, and she live-streamed what she did next. This is what Elin Ersson had to say.
ELIN ERSSON: I’m not going to sit down until this person is off the plane, because he will most likely get killed if he is on this plane when it goes up.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Elin Ersson. And when one of the angry passengers threatened her, threatened to take her phone away, and then a flight attendant grabbed it back, she went on to say—when passengers talked about being inconvenienced, she said, “They’re not going to die. He’s going to die.” And there were many on the plane, actually, who supported her in her protest, until the Afghan refugee was removed from that flight on orders of the pilot.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah, that was a very inspiring act and an indication of what could be achieved by really large-scale civil disobedience. Here’s one young woman standing up alone to try to prevent a person from being killed in difficult and hostile conditions. Large-scale civil disobedience could achieve a great deal more.
But I would again urge that we think in broader terms. We should be considering why people are fleeing from their homes. Not because they want to live in slums in New York. They’re fleeing from their homes because their homes are unlivable, and they’re unlivable, largely, because of things that we have done. Overwhelmingly, that’s the reason. That tells you right away what the solution to the crisis is: rebuild what we’ve destroyed, compensate for the atrocities that we’ve carried out. Then the flow of refugees will decline. And for those who come with asylum pleas, they should be accommodated in a humane and civilized way. Maybe it’s impossible to imagine that we can reach the level of civilization of the poor countries that are absorbing refugees. But it doesn’t—it shouldn’t seem entirely out of reach.