A hush came over the audience as Naomi Klein entered the room. She hadn’t even taken the stage yet, all she had to do was walk in... This was a crowd that was ready and willing to hear the message, "No Is Not Enough", which is also the title of Klein's new book, and the author/journalist/provocateur was ready to get everyone at War Memorial Hall hyped in order to spread that message.
Klein was the keynote speaker for this year's Eden Mills Writers Festival, a tradition run since 2010, and Klein is the first repeat speaker. Toronto Star journalist Tanya Talaga talked one-on-one with Klein, including some reminiscing about their student journalist days at the University of Toronto Varsity, and then Klein answered audience questions before signing copies of her book.
“So you’ve been busy,” Talaga teased as the audience laughed. The joke being that Klein turned around her latest book fairly quickly, a hot take, if you will, on the world since the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, and how the more progressively minded might be able to organize to confront him and his policies.
"This [book] is totally unlike any writing process," Klein said. "I’m a terrible procrastinator, it takes me five years to write each book, but this just poured out of me. I wanted the book to come out before there was really an external shock.”
"An external shock" like the recent hurricanes that have devastated Texas and Florida respectively, Klein noted. “I had a greater sense of urgency than with anything else I've ever written," she added. "I just wanted to put Trump in context," which is to say not treat the New York real estate mogul and reality TV star like, "a martian from another planet."
In part, the message of No Is Not Enough is that things can get a lot worse, but it's not too late to undo the damage. Part of that, Klein said, is to demystify Trump and recognize that there's a little Trump in all of us. "This book urges all of us to face our inner Trumps, we need to confront that in each other and discover the best of us again," she said. "I think there are more dangerous presidents that can be elected, more dangerous than Trump."
As for The Donald, Klein explained that his now famous extreme sense of dominance and entitlement doesn’t come from nowhere, and is an extension of the "billionaire saviour complex." This is not something that Trump represents alone, as Klein notes. Microsoft founder Bill Gates gets a lot of credit for his philanthropic work, but he's given a wide latitude despite a lack of expertise in education policy or governance in African countries.
This attitude, "should wake us up, it should jolt us," said Klein. "Trump as a person could not interest me less."
Naturally, the author of No Logo is more interested in the "branding" aspect of the Trump presidency, and how the relatively new business model of selling a brand over selling a product is being translated to the presidency.
"The Apprentice projected his brand: impunity through wealth, which is a problem when holding him to account for anything," Klein explained. "It's the dream of having so much power you can get away with anything you want."
"But I don’t think this is an Apprentice crowd," Klein deadpanned.
"[Trump] now has a much bigger gift that the Apprentice, he’s got the presidency and he's still selling the brand," said Klein who noted that the reason Trump has been impervious to criticism about taking multiple positions on multiple issues is that, "As long as you’re true to your brand you’re not in trouble," and Trump is true to his brand.
So why does this matter in Canada? Klein had an answer for that too. "The danger in Canada, having a figure like Trump south of the border, is it has a tendency to increase smugness," the author said. "We can not be satisfied with governing by meme and by tweet. We can’t have a prime minister that says the right thing, we have to demand more in our spaces."
So what do we, and you, do? “This is a moment to organize, this is a moment to do, there is so much news that were transfixed by it and we have to get out of spectator mode," Klein said. "We have to get into rooms with people we never expected to, we have to have difficult conversations with each other."
Of course, Klein points to the LEAP Manifesto as a way to spurn real change. Klein is one of the co-authors of the document, which has been primarily tied to the NDP and their attempt to re-organize federally after the 2015 election, but it's a guide for any community or group looking to promote progressive economic, social and environmental policies.
"The most interesting stuff is happening at the local level," Klein said. "Thunder Bay rewrote LEAP for their community, and have gathered a diverse slate of councillors for a progressive wing of their council."
She also issued a challenge for the audience. "Guelph is being out-radicaled by Peterborough," she said. "[Documentary filmmaker] Avi [Lewis, Klein's partner] asked me to tell you are you really going to stand for that?"
Time will tell. The gauntlet has been thrown down.