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American intellectual Noam Chomsky on Donald Trump and the Doomsday Clock

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"The most powerful country in history is now leading the way towards what may be terminal destruction."

That's how famed American scholar and public intellectual Noam Chomsky assessed the consequences of Donald Trump's presidency a year after his election.

Key points:

  • The doomsday clock now the closest it has been to terminal disaster since 1953
  • Elements of the TPP are "seriously objectionable, others are positive"
  • Australia has "a difficult balancing act" pursuing a positive path in world affairs

Perhaps best know for his penetrating critiques of socio-political systems, Mr Chomsky, 89, is also the founder of modern linguistics, a pioneer of cognitive science, and a recipient of the 2011 Sydney Peace Prize.

He has authored more than 100 books with topics ranging from politics and war to history and mass media and is one of the most cited scholars in modern history.

Mr Chomsky spoke to the ABC's The World program on President Trump's slide towards midnight on the Doomsday Clock, the TPP and Australia's significance in world affairs.

Donald Trump and the Doomsday Clock

"I think the best and most authoritative assessment [of Mr Trump's first year] was perhaps given by the famous Doomsday Clock. As you know every year since 1947 leading distinguished physicists and political analysts assess the state of the world and set the Doomsday Clock at a certain number of minutes before midnight. Midnight means terminal disaster. It began seven minutes before midnight in 1947 after that atom bombing, it's been oscillating since. Just now a week ago it was moved two minutes to midnight, after a year of Trump. That's the closest it's been to terminal disaster since 1953 when the US and later the USSR exploded thermonuclear weapons demonstrating that human intelligence had now developed the capacity to destroy everything on earth.

Is there room for optimism?

"Yes there are many quite hopeful signs. Go back to the 2016 election, the focus of attention is of course on the Trump victory … however something else happened that was astonishing: Bernie Sanders, who came from nowhere, even used the scare word "socialist", had no support from private wealth or [the media] … he might've won the election, and is now far and away the most respected political figure in the country.

That breaks with well over a century of American political history, in which predictability of election is very well given simply by looking at variables like campaign spending. This is astonishing and it's a real positive prospect for the future."

Elements of TPP 'objectionable, others positive'

"The TPP was quite unpopular in the US, in fact both candidates [Hillary] Clinton and Trump were opposed to it, but you have to look at why they were opposed. There are elements of the TPP which are seriously objectionable, and others that are positive, and unfortunately the reason Trump pulled out was not the objectionable features but the positive ones.

One consequence of this is to reduce US influence in the Pacific region, and the world, in fact it's a gift to China and increases their influence. On the other hand integration of the global economy can be of benefit to people. So it's not the question of integration, of globalisation, but it's a question of what form it takes."

Australia's 'difficult balancing act'

"China is a growing expanding power, its expanding its influence, carrying out aggressive actions in the South China Sea and is pursuing its interests in many ways, some benign, some destructive. The United States has been the dominant world power, and is seeking to maintain its influence and control. It's certainly not averse to using force, no need to go through the record.

And Australia — its not a major super world power but a significant one — has to choose ways which will tend towards alleviating and reducing conflicts and opening ways for more beneficial, international policies to take place, meanwhile attending to quite serious issues arising within Australia.

It's a difficult balancing act but Australia has the intellectual, economic resources to pursue a positive path in world affairs."

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