by David Edwards
(This final section of a transcribed recent talk by Chris Hedges begins at about 57:40 on the video linked below.)
As the state increases the level of violence against nonviolent dissent, we must never respond with violence. The use of violence, including property destruction and taunting the police, is a gift to the security and surveillance state. It allows the state to demonize and isolate a mass movement. It drives away the bulk of the population.
Violence against the state is used by the authorities to justify greater forms of control and repression. The corporate state understands and welcomes the language of force. This is a game the government will always win and we will always lose. If we are perceived as a flag-burning, rock-throwing, angry mob that embraces violence, we will be easily crushed. We can succeed only if we win the hearts and minds of the wider public and ultimately many of those within the structures of power, including the police (applause).
When violence is used against nonviolent protesters demanding basic forms of justice it exposes the weakness of the state. It de-legitimizes those in power. It prompts a passive population to respond with active support for the protesters. It creates internal divisions within the structures of power that, as I witnessed in the revolutions in Eastern Europe, paralyze and defeat those in authority.
Martin Luther King, Jr. held marches in Birmingham, Alabama, rather than in Albany, Georgia, because he knew Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner “Bull” Connor would overreact and expose the city’s racist structures.
The acts of resistance — including the massive street protests the day after the inauguration and later the demonstrations that grew out of the ban on Muslims, the Department of Energy’s refusal to give the Trump administration a list of employees that worked on climate change, acting Attorney General Sally Yates’ refusal to enforce the travel ban, and hundreds of State Department staff members’ signing of a memo opposing the immigration restrictions — terrify those around Trump.
We have the power to make any country ungovernable. But we do not have much time. Corporate power is global. It will make it harder and harder to organize, to get into the streets, to carry out nationwide strikes, including within the federal bureaucracy. And this resistance must also be accompanied by an alternative vision of a socialist, anti-capitalist society. Because the enemy is, in the end, not Trump or Bannon, it is corporate power. And if we do not dismantle corporate power, we will never stop fascism’s seduction of the white working class and unemployed.
Now is the time not to cooperate. Now is the time to shut down the systems of power. Now is the time to resist. It is our last chance.
The fanatics are moving with lightening speed. So should we.
Hope comes from the numerous protests that have been mounted in the streets, at town halls, led by First Nations people, held by members of Congress, and at flash points such as Standing Rock. It may also come from the 2.5 million civil servants within the U.S. federal government if a significant number refuse to cooperate.
We must engage in these battles on the local and the national level. We must in our own community mobilize to prevent the deportation of undocumented workers, the evictions from homes of the unemployed, those with disabilities, the elderly or those living on small, fixed incomes.
The reclaiming of our democracy will only happen when we make our physical presence felt in public spaces.
We once had within our capitalist democracy, liberal institutions — the press, labor, third parties, civic and church groups, public broadcasting, well-funded public universities, — that were capable of responding to outside pressure from movements.
They did so imperfectly.
They provided only enough reforms to save the capitalist system from widespread unrest or, with the breakdown of capitalism in the 1930s, from revolution. They never addressed white supremacy and institutional racism, misogyny, or the cruelty that is endemic to capitalism. But they had the ability to ameliorate the suffering of the poor and working men and women.
These liberal institutions exist now only in name. They are props in the democratic facade. There are, as the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin wrote, no institutions certainly left in the United States that can authentically be called democratic.
We will have to build new radical movements and, most importantly, new, parallel institutions that challenge the hegemony of corporate power. It will not be easy. It will take time. We must not be seduced by foundation money and grants from established institutions that blunt the radical restructuring of society. Trusting in the system to carry out reform and wrest back our democracy ensures our enslavement.
We will have to pit power against power. We will have to defy the rules. We cannot be predictable. We must disrupt the machinery of governments. And none of this will come by forming flash mobs on the Internet. It will come by building real and enduring relationships within our communities the old way — person by person. It will come when we take time to listen. And we have to surprise those in authority. And these kinds of protest — not the choreographed boutique activism where you stay within the “free speech area” or are politely escorted to jail (laughter) — are greeted with real anger by the state.
If we are to succeed, we will have to make alliances with people in groups who professed political stances are different from ours and at times unpalatable to us.
We will have to shed our ideological purity.
The Chicago organizer Saul Alinsky argued that the ideological rigidity of the Left — sometimes that can be epitomized in identity politics and political correctness — effectively severed it from the lives of working men and women.
This was especially true during the Vietnam War, when college students led the anti-war protests and the sons of the working class did the fighting and dying in Vietnam. But it is true today also, as liberals and the Left dismiss Trump supporters as irredeemable racists and bigots and ignore their legitimate feelings of betrayal and very real suffering (applause). Condemning all those who support Trump is political suicide. Alinsky detested such moral litmus tests. He insisted that there were “no permanent enemies, no permanent allies, only permanent power.”
We must acknowledge our own failures on the Left, our elitism, our arrogance, our own misogyny, our refusal to root our politics locally in our communities. Rosa Luxemburg understood that unless we first address the most pressing economic and physical needs of the destitute — something understood by Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter, and Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution, — we will never gain credibility or build an effective resistance movement.
Revolt surges up from below. Politics is a game of fear. Those who do not have the ability to make the power elites afraid do not succeed. The movements that opened up the democratic space in America — the abolitionists, the suffragists, the communists, the socialists, anarchists, the civil rights and labor movements,— developed a critical mass, a militancy that forced the centers of power to respond.
The platitudes about justice, equality and democracy are just that. Only when power is threatened does it react. Appealing to its better nature is useless. It doesn’t have one.
The days ahead will be dark and frightening. But as Immanuel Kant reminds us, “If justice perishes, human life on Earth has lost its meaning.” The moment we rise up to defy radical evil we are victorious. The moment we stand alongside the oppressed and accept being treated like the oppressed, we are victorious.
The moment we hold up a flickering light in the darkness for others to see another narrative, another way of being, we are victorious. The moment we reopen a public library, or save a public school, or provide a sanctuary to a battered woman or affordable housing — we are victorious. The moment we thwart the building of a pipeline or fracking site, we are victorious. And the moment those in power fear us, we are victorious (cheers and prolonged applause).
If nothing else, let those who come after us say we tried. Let them say that we kept hope alive. Let our lives be an example of the empathy and justice that all authoritarian regimes and dictatorships seek to eradicate. Let us love our neighbors as ourselves.
(standing ovation with cheers and prolonged applause)
(This transcript of a section of Chris Hedges’ recent talk begins around 51:00 on the video linked below.)
Most of the rules of democracy are unwritten. These rules determine public comportment and ensure respect for democratic norms, procedures, and institutions. Trump has, to the delight of his supporters, rejected this political and cultural etiquette. And Arendt noted that when democratic institutions collapse, it is quote “easier to accept patently absurd propositions than the old truths which have become pious banalities.” The chatter of the liberal ruling elites about our democracies is itself an absurdity. “Vulgarity with its cynical dismissal of respected standards and accepted theories,” she wrote, infects political discourse. And this vulgarity is “mistaken for courage and a new style of life.”
Trump’s theatricality works.
He forces the press and the public to repeat his lies, inadvertently giving them credibility. He is always moving. He is always on display. He has no fixed belief system.
Trump, as he consolidates power, and adopts the ideology of the Christian Right, seamlessly forges the magical thinking of the Christian Right with his own magical thinking. Idiocy, self-delusion, megalomania, fantasy, and government repression, will come wrapped in images of the Christian cross and the American flag.
The corporate state, hostile or indifferent to the plight of the citizens, has no emotional pull among the public. It has long presented political candidates as celebrities. Campaigns eschew issues to make people feel good about candidates and themselves. Ideas are irrelevant. Emotional euphoria is paramount. The voter is only a prop in this political theater. Politics is anti-politics. It is reality television. And Trump proved better at this game than his opponents.
It is a game in which fact and knowledge do not matter. Politicians, like celebrities, are manufactured personalities. Reality is what you create. Entertainment is paramount. The skillful manipulation of emotion is confused with knowledge.
We were conditioned for a Trump.
These lies create a climate in which everyone is assumed to be lying. The truth becomes suspect and obscured. Narratives begin to be believed not because they are true, or even sound true, but because they are emotionally appealing.
The aim of systematic lying, as Arendt wrote, is “the transformation of human nature itself.” The lies eventually foster somnambulism among a population that surrenders to the magical thinking and ceases to care. It checks out. It becomes cynical. It only asks to be entertained and given a vent for its frustration and rage. And demagogues produce enemies the way a magician pulls rabbits out of a hat. They wage constant battles against nonexistent dangers, rapidly replacing one after the other to keep the rhetoric at a fever pitch.
“Practically speaking, the totalitarian ruler proceeds like a man who persistently insults another man until everyone knows that the latter is his enemy, so that he can, with some plausibility, go out and kill him in self-defense,” Arendt wrote. “This certainly is a little crude, but it works — as everybody will know who has watched how certain successful careerists eliminate competitors.”
To recover our mental balance we must respond to Trump the way victims of trauma respond to abuse. We must build communities where we can find understanding and solidarity. And we must allow ourselves to mourn. We must name the psychosis that afflicts us. We must carry out acts of civil disobedience and steadfast defiance to re-empower others and ourselves. We must fend off the madness and engage in dialogues based on truth, literacy, empathy, and reality. We must invest more time in activities such as finding solace in nature, or focusing on music, theater, literature, art, even worship, — activities that hold the capacity for renewal and transcendence.
This is the only way we will remain psychologically whole. Building an outer shell or attempting to hide will exacerbate our psychological distress and depression.
We cannot, as the Democratic Party appears to be doing, hope that the 2018 or 2020 elections will solve our dilemma. These reactionary forces, which have been plotting for four decades for this moment, extend far beyond the Trump White House. Their tentacles reach across national borders, meaning no country, including Canada, is immune.
This section of a recent talk in Vancouver by Chris Hedges begins at 41:58 in the video linked below the transcript.
Trump has no coherent belief system or coherent ideology, but his ideological vacuum is being filled — by the Christian Right.
What comes next, history has shown, will not be pleasant.
A corrupt and inept ruling elite, backed by the organs of state security and law enforcement will transform workers into serfs. The most benign dissent will be criminalized. The ravaging of the ecosystem will propel us ever closer towards extinction. Hate talk will, as stagnation and decay continue, call for attacks against Muslims, undocumented workers, African Americans, feminists, intellectuals, artists, dissidents, all of whom will be scapegoated for the country’s decline.
Magical thinking will dominate our airwaves and be taught in our public schools. Art and culture will be degraded to nationalist kitsch.
All the cultural and intellectual disciplines that allow us to view the world from the perspective of the other, that foster empathy, understanding and compassion, will be replaced by a grotesque and cruel hyper-masculinity and hyper-militarism. The language of racism, bigotry, misogyny, and homophobia will infect our national discourse.
Reality, any discourse based on verifiable fact and truth, are under assault. Verbal confusion reigns. Truth and illusion have merged. Mental chaos makes it hard to fathom what is happening. We feel trapped in a hall of mirrors. Revealed lies are answered with new lies. The rational is countered with the irrational. Cognitive dissonance prevails. We endure a disquieting shame, even guilt.
Tens of millions of Americans, especially women, undocumented workers, Muslims, and African Americans, suffer the acute anxiety of being pursued by a predator.
All this is by design.
Demagogues always infect the governed with their own psychosis.
The lies pour out of the White House like flocks of pigeons:
Donald Trump ‘s election victory “was a landslide.”
He had “the largest inauguration crowds in American history” (laughter).
“Three million to five million undocumented immigrants voted illegally.”
“Climate change is a hoax.”
“Vaccines cause autism.”
Immigrants are carriers of quote “tremendous infectious disease” (laughter).
“The election was rigged” — until it wasn’t (laughter).
“We don’t know who really knocked down the World Trade Center.”
“Mexico will pay for the wall.”
And “America will be great again!” (laughter and applause)
Trump, a 70 year old man with orange-tinted skin and hair that Penn Jillette has likened to “cotton candy made of piss” (intense laughter) is, as Trump often reminds us, “very good-looking!” (raucous laughter and applause). He does not read. He knows little of history, politics, law, philosophy, art, or governance, but insists “my IQ is one of the highest — and you all know it!” (raucous laughter). “Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure — it’s not your fault!” (laughter).
He goes on to say of the mediocrities he has installed in his Cabinet, that, quote, “they have by far the highest IQ of any Cabinet ever assembled” (laughter).
It is an avalanche of absurdities.
And this mendacity would be easier to repulse if the problem was solely embodied in Trump. But even in the face of a rising despotism, the Democratic Party and the liberal elite refuses to denounce the corporate forces that eviscerated our democracy, impoverished the country, and created Trump.
The neo-liberal Trump demonizes Muslims, undocumented workers, and the media. The neo-liberal Democratic Party demonize Vladimir Putin and FBI Director James Comey.
No one challenges corporate power.
The warring elites pit alternative facts against alternative facts. All engage in demagoguery. And we will, I fear, be condemned to despotism by Trump and by the cowardice and dishonesty of the liberal class.
The order for some employees of several federal agencies, — including the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research service, the National Park Service, and the Department of Health and Human Services, — to restrict or cease communication with the Press or members of Congress, along with the attempt to impose 10-year felony convictions on six reporters who covered the inauguration protests, is part of this campaign to marginalize reality itself and replace it with fantasy. “Facts” for demagogues depend solely on those who have the power to create them.
And the goal of the Trump administration is to create an artificial consistency, an absorbing and endless spectacle, that advances its warped perspective of the world. It must, as it has day after day, dominate our lives as it re-configures reality. Fantastic and absurd assertions are treated seriously, a process that over time erodes the power of the rational.
“Before they seize power and establish a world according to their doctrines, totalitarian movements conjure up a lying world of consistency which is more adequate to the needs of the human mind than reality itself; in which, through sheer imagination, uprooted masses can feel at home and are spared the never-ending shocks which real life and real experiences deal to human beings and their expectations,” Hannah Arendt wrote. “The force possessed by totalitarian propaganda—before the movements have the power to drop iron curtains to prevent anyone’s disturbing, by the slightest reality, the gruesome quiet of an entirely imaginary world, — lies in its ability to shut the masses off from the real world.”
This assault on fact, on truth, on reality, is empowered by the loss of credibility of our democratic institutions, and it has thrown the country into an existential as well as an economic crisis. The courts, university, and press, are no longer trusted by tens of millions of Americans who correctly see them as as organs of the corporate elites. These institutions are traditionally the mechanisms by which a society is able to unmask the lies of the powerful, critique ruling ideologies, and promote justice.
Because Americans have been bitterly betrayed by their institutions, the Trump regime can attack the press as “the opposition party,” threaten to cut off university funding, taunt a federal jurist as a “so-called judge” and denounce a court order as “outrageous.”
The decay of democratic institutions is the prerequisite for the rise of authoritarian or fascist regimes. And this decay has given credibility to a pathological liar.
The Trump administration, according to an Emerson College poll, is considered by 49 % of registered voters to be truthful, while the media are considered truthful by only 39% of registered voters.
Once American democratic institutions no longer function, once larger sectors of the public believe, as Trump said, that the press is “the enemy of the people,” reality becomes whatever absurdity the White House issues.
This transcript of part of a recent talk by Chris Hedges in Vancouver covers the section of the video linked below from 30:35 to 41:58.
In the twilight phase of capitalism, wealth is no longer created by producing or manufacturing. It is created by manipulating the prices of stocks and commodities and imposing a crippling debt peonage on the public. Our casino capitalism has merged with the actual gambling industry. This is an economic model designed to prey on the desperate — young men and women burdened by student loans, underpaid workers crushed by credit card debt and mortgages, bankrupt towns and cities forced to borrow to maintain municipal services and sell off municipal assets, from sewers and water treatment plants to their parking authority, to corporations.
Casino magnates such as Sheldon Adelson — who has advocated attacking Iran with nuclear weapons; and hedge fund managers such as Paul Singer — who buys distressed or defaulted bonds at pennies on the dollar and then successfully sues for full repayment — which is how he trashed the Argentine economy; and Robert Mercer, add nothing of value to society. They do not generate money but instead redistribute it upwards to the one per cent. They use lobbyists and campaign contributions to rewrite laws and regulations and build monopolies. This is how the drug company Mylan in the United States raised the price of an EpiPen used to treat allergy reactions, from $57 in 2007 to $500.
They give themselves the legal power to carry out a tax boycott, loot the Treasury, close factories and send jobs overseas, and gut social service programs. These corporate mandarins are, if we speak in the language of God and country, traitors. They are parasites. Financial speculation in 17th-century England was a crime. Speculators were hanged. The heads of most of today’s banks, and hedge fund managers, and the executives of large corporations, such as Walmart and The Gap, that run sweatshop deathtraps for impoverished workers overseas, deserve prison far more than most of the poor students of color I teach within the prison system, people who never had a fair trial or a fair chance in life.
When a tiny cabal seizes power — monarchist, communist, fascist, or corporate, — it creates a mafia economy and a mafia state.
Trump is not an anomaly.
He is the grotesque visage of our collapsed democracy.
Trump and his coterie of billionaires, generals, half-wits, Christian fascists, criminals, racists and deviants (intense applause), play the role of the Snopes clan in some of William Faulkner’s novels. The Snopes filled the power vacuum of the decayed South and ruthlessly seized control from the degenerated, former slave-holding aristocratic elites. Flem Snopes and his extended family — which includes a killer, a pedophile, a bigamist, an arsonist, a mentally disabled man who copulates with a cow, and a relative who sells tickets to witness the bestiality, — are fictional representations of the scum now elevated to the highest level of the federal government (cheers and extended applause).
“The usual reference to ‘amorality,’ while accurate, is not sufficiently distinctive, and by itself does not allow us to place them as they should be placed, in a historical moment,” the critic Irving Howe wrote of the Snopeses. “Perhaps the most important thing to be said is that they are what comes afterwards: the creatures that emerge from the devastation, with the slime still upon their lips.”
“Let a world collapse in the South or Russia, and there appear figures of coarse ambition, driving their way up from beneath the social bottom, men to whom moral claims are not so much absurd as incomprehensible, sons of bushwhackers and muzhiks [peasants] drifting in from nowhere and taking over through the sheer outrageousness of their monolithic force,” Howe wrote. “They become presidents of local banks and chairmen of party regional committees, and later, a trifle slicked up, they muscle their way into Congress or the Politburo. Scavengers without inhibitions, they need not believe in the crumbling official code of their society, they need only learn to mimic its sounds.”
Trump and those around him believe in one truth, which is whatever they proclaim at the moment, although any such declaration may contradict what they said a few hours before. They are possessed by one idea: conflict. They sanctify violence, misogyny, a disdain for empathy, and the self-appointed right to engage in bouts of frenzied rage. These characteristics, they insist, are a sign of strength and virility. Their highest aesthetic is militarism, violence, and war. Without conflict, without enemies real or imagined, their ideological structures and their racism collapse into a heap of contradictions and absurdities.
Christian fascists are now the vanguard of this emerging American fascism. They ferret out facts and formulas that buttress their peculiar worldview and discard truths that contradict their messianic delusions. They mouth a few Biblical clichés to justify bigotry, homophobia, chauvinism, and repression. It is propaganda masquerading as ideology. These Christian fascists are singularly incurious. They are linguistically, culturally, and historically illiterate about the Muslim world, and about most other foreign cultures, science and intellectual pursuits, yet they blindly write off one-fifth of the world’s population — Muslims — as irredeemable, while they dismiss climate change as a hoax.
The inability of white supremacists and Christian fascists to recognize the humanity of others springs from their spiritual and intellectual impoverishment. They mistake their bigotry for honesty. They mistake their ignorance for innocence. They cannot separate fantasy from reality. And such people are, as author James Baldwin said, “moral monsters.” Evil for them is embodied in the dehumanized other. And once the human personification of evil is eradicated, evil itself is supposed to disappear. Except, of course, that as soon as one group of human beings is annihilated, another human embodiment of evil rises to take its place.
The Nazis began with the Jews. Our fanatics are beginning with the undocumented and Muslims. And history has shown where they will go from here.
“The nationalist is by definition an ignoramus,” the Yugoslav writer Danilo Kis wrote. “Nationalism is the line of least resistance, the easy way. The nationalist is untroubled; he knows, or he thinks he knows, what his values are, that’s to say national, that’s to say the values of the nation he belongs to, ethical and political. He is not interested in others. They are no concern of his; hell, it’s other people, another nation, another tribe. They don’t even need investigating. The nationalist sees other people in his own image — as nationalists.”
Like all utopians, these people believe that their agenda is being implemented for our benefit. They are like Cardinal Robert Bellarmine who oversaw the burning of Giordano Bruno at the stake and who argued that eradicating heretics does them a favor because it saves them from their own damnation.
It is impossible to have rational dialogue with people who view reality through the binary lens of black and white — us and them. They do not recognize the right of dissent. Dissent is at best obstruction and probably treason. Fanatics, in power, always become inquisitors.