(This transcription of a talk by Chris Hedges covers the section of the video linked below from 12:40 to 30:35)
Presidential Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon, in his public comments and his films such as Generation Zero, has embraced a historical determinism worthy of Karl Marx. He posits that Western culture has been contaminated and is being destroyed by darker races and barbaric religions and belief systems.
His conspiratorial view of history and society sees a global war between the white race and the lesser breeds of the Earth as not only inevitable, but one that will re-invigorate and purify America. This idea of regeneration through violence, which has always been part of the American myth, is also a central tenet of fascism.
Racists and conspiracy theorists such as Bannon, Michael Anton, Stephen Miller, and Sebastian Gorka, constitute Trump’s ideological brain trust. Gorka goes so far as to argue that the failure to understand the evil of radical Islam stems from a “systematic subversion of the national security establishment under the banner of inclusivity, cultural awareness, and political correctness.”
In a 2014 speech, Bannon said, “I believe we’ve come partly off-track in the years since the fall of the Soviet Union and we’re starting now in the 21st century, which I believe strongly is a crisis both of our church, a crisis of our faith, a crisis of the West, a crisis of capitalism.”
“There is a major war brewing, a war that’s already global,” Bannon said, “It’s going global in scale, and today’s technology, today’s media, today’s access to weapons of mass destruction, it’s going to lead to a global conflict and I believe it has to be confronted today. Every day that we refuse to look at this, as what it is, and the scale of it, and really the viciousness of it, will be a day where you will rue that we didn’t act.”
Bannon is a proponent of the theory popularized by authors William Strauss and Neil Howe, in their books Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584-2069 (1991), and The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy — What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny (1997).
These authors argue that roughly every eighty years, or an average human lifetime, the country goes through a cataclysmic crisis. This crisis triggers war, industrious slaughter, and genocide, and lasts for a decade or more. In its aftermath, they argue, the social order is rejuvenated. Strauss and Howe highlight the American Revolution of 1775-1783, the Civil War, the Great Depression and World War Two, as examples of how this cycle works.
Pseudo-intellectuals such as Strauss and Howe play the role that Paul de Lagarde, Julius Langbehn, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, and Alfred Rosenberg played for the Nazi Party. They give an intellectual veneer to racist conspiracy theories, a perverted nationalism, a hatred for culture, and a lust for domination through violence.
I share Bannon’s distaste for corporate globalization, free trade agreements, the failure to put Wall Street bankers in jail, the bank bailouts, the crony capitalism [my note: Bannon, however, is quite happy to hold onto his personal fortune worth many, many millions acquired as a Wall Street executive at Goldman Sachs!], and would even concede that Americans wallow in the moral swamp of a culture of narcissism. He is right when he attacks the two major political parties as “the one party of Davos.” But his solution to the purported crisis — total war by the white race to regain its ascendancy — is insane, as are the causes he cites: a New Deal that turned citizens into whining dependents; the permissiveness of the 1960s; white guilt that made the country cater, in his words, irresponsibly, to African Americans by giving them social service programs, and undeserved mortgages that led to the 2008 financial meltdown; an intellectual and liberal class composed essentially of traitors who hate America; and quote unqoute, “the new barbarity of Jihadist Islamic fascism.”
Racism, misogyny, the inherent cruelty of capitalism and the crimes of empire, from Wounded Knee to Vietnam and Iraq, simply do not exist in Bannon’s mystical nationalist worldview.
He insisted that the white male aristocratic elites who formed a republic that enslaved African Americans, exterminated Native Americans, denied the vote to women and white men without property, created quote “a church and a civilization that really is the flower of mankind.” And this is the myth he wants to recover.
Now it may be that the Deep State,—the shadowy world of the security and surveillance bureaucracy, the arms industry, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and corporations that actually rule the country, — disturbed by Trump’s impulsivity, irrationality, and incompetence, — will move to replace him. This was certainly the idea when the organs of internal security used a wiretap to remove and discredit Michael Flynn. And it is what is happening now with the leaks about the Attorney General’s [Jeff Session’s] two meetings with the Russian ambassador. But the ascendancy to the White House of Michael Pence, — a more polished and disciplined politician who will advance the agenda of the Christian Right, — will not make things better, and indeed they might make things worse.
Those being placed now into positions of power are agents of destruction. Betsy DeVos is moving to defund our system of public education and use government vouchers to expand corporate charter school chains and those run by the Christian Right.
Scott Pruitt is dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency. He has already called for a 25% reduction in the EPA’s budget, the elimination of 3,000 jobs, and the slashing of numerous programs, including a 70% cut to its climate protection program that oversees cutting emissions of greenhouse gases.
Bannon was the dark hand behind the ban on Muslims entering the United States from seven Muslim majority countries — a ban you can expect to see extended if the Trump administration is successful in removing a stay issued by a district court or issuing a new executive order.
Bannon was behind the order to the Department of Homeland Security to draw up lists of Muslim organizations and individuals in the United States that, in the language of that order, have quote unquote “been radicalized and provided material support to terrorist-related organizations in countries that pose a threat to the United States.”
Such lists will be used to criminalize Muslim leaders and the institutions and organizations they built. Then, once Muslims are dealt with, there will be new Homeland Security lists that will allow the government to target the press, activists, labor leaders, dissident intellectuals, and the Left. “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal, too,” Bannon told the writer Ronald Radosh in 2013. “I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
This culture of destruction was launched four decades ago by corporate forces. The corporate elites, terrified by the mobilization of the left in the 1960s — by what political scientist Samuel Huntington called “America’s excess of democracy,” — built and funded counter-institutions to delegitimize and marginalize critics of corporate capitalism and imperialism. They bought the allegiance of the two main political parties. They imposed obedience to the neoliberal ideology within academia and the press. This campaign, laid out by Lewis Powell in his 1971 memorandum titled, Attack on American Free Enterprise System, was the blueprint for the creeping corporate coup d’état that, 45 years later, is largely complete.
The dismantling of democratic institutions, places where the citizen has agency and a voice, is far graver than the ascendancy to the White House of the demagogue Trump. The coup destroyed our two-party system. Labor unions are a spent force. The press is corporatized. Universities have been purged of dissidents and independent scholars who criticize neoliberalism and decry the decay of democratic institutions and political parties. Public broadcasting and the arts — places where voices not beholden to corporate power should find a sanctuary — have been defunded and forced to beg for corporate money, which, of course comes with corporate censorship. And it is expected that what little money the government gives to public broadcasting and organizations such as the National Endowment for the Arts will soon be eliminated under Trump.
The courts have been stacked with judges whose legal careers were spent serving corporate power, a trend in appointments that continued under Barack Obama. Money has replaced the vote, which is how someone as unqualified as Betsy DeVos can buy herself a Cabinet seat. And the Democratic Party, rather then sever its ties to Wall Street and corporations, is naively waiting in the wings to profit from a Trump debacle.
This coup destroyed more than our democratic institutions. It destroyed the very credibility of liberal democracy. Self-identified liberals such as the Clintons and Barack Obama mouthed the words of liberal democratic values while making war on these values in the service of corporate powers. And the revolt we see rippling across the United States and much of the globe is a revolt not only against a corporate system that has betrayed workers, but also, for many, the ideas and values espoused by a bankrupt liberal class. This is very dangerous.
The discrediting of liberal democracy will allow the radical right to cement into place in America and much of Europe and other parts of the globe a form of fascism. Presidential adviser Stephen Miller, an ardent white supremacist, in an interview on Face the Nation on CBS was quite blunt about what to expect: “We have a judiciary that has taken far too much power and become in many cases a supreme branch of government,” he said. “Our opponents, the media, and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further action, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”
History may not repeat itself, but it echoes. The framers of our Constitution, steeped in the history of ancient Greece and Rome, attempted to provide checks and balances to keep the American republic from falling, like their ancient counterparts, into oligarchy and tyranny. This knowledge of the past — dismissed as frivolous by our consumer culture and business elites — allows us to recognize the familiar warning signs on the road to tyranny. If we studied the collapse of ancient Greece, Rome, the Wiemar Republic, or even the former Yugoslavia, we would be far more alert to the current march to despotism. Thucydides, who wrote that the tyranny the Athenian Empire imposed on others it finally imposed on itself, is a better guide to our future than Milton Friedman or Ayn Rand.
The historian Fritz Stern, in The Politics of Cultural Despair, his book on the rise of fascism in Germany, warned repeatedly of the danger of a bankrupt liberalism. Stern, who saw the same dark irrational forces at work today that he watched as a boy in Nazi Germany, argued that the spiritually and politically alienated are the prime recruits for a politics centered around cultural hatreds and personal resentments.
And Stern told me in Germany there was a yearning for fascism before the word fascism was invented. “They attacked liberalism,” Stern wrote of the fascists emerging at the time in Germany, “because it seemed to them the principal premise of modern society. Everything they dreaded seemed to spring from it: the bourgeois life, Manchesterism (which is laissez faire capitalism), materialism, parliament and the parties, the lack of political leadership. Even more, they sensed in liberalism the source of all their inner sufferings. Theirs was a resentment of loneliness; their one desire was for a new faith, a new community of believers, a world with fixed standards and no doubts, a new national religion that would bind all Germans together. All this, liberalism denied. Hence, they hated liberalism, blamed it for making outcasts of them, for uprooting them from their imaginary past, and from their faith.”
It turns out, 45 years later, that those who truly hate us for our freedoms are not the array of dehumanized enemies cooked up by the war machine — the Vietnamese, the Cambodians, Afghanis, Iraqis, Iranians, or even the Taliban, al-Qaida, or ISIS. They are the financiers, bankers, politicians, public intellectuals and pundits, lawyers, journalists, and businesspeople, many cultivated in elite universities and business schools who serve, as Matt Taibbi says, as the guardians of the orthodoxy of neoliberalism and empire.