"The fear that I have is that the legitimate rage which is being expressed by our dispossessed is being captured by proto-fascist movements: Tea Party movements, Oath Keepers, militias. And the longer that liberals continue to speak in the bloodless, sterile language of policy and issues, the less credibility that they will have."Full speech and partial transcript below the fold
Chris Hedges, 2010
This speech from over 4 years ago is becoming more and more prescient. With the recent outbreaks of violence against women, against traditional authority and against minorities, the growing dispossessed appear to be gathering into a decentralized fascist movement that is just as pervasive, just as omnipresent as the decentralized mechanisms of power and control within the inverted totalitarian corporate state that is birthing it.
The Poverty Initiative at Union Theological Seminary brought Chris Hedges to their Poverty Scholars Strategic Dialogues on Media and Religion
I think we have to face the fact that the poverty initiative and the civil rights movement failed; that what it did was propel the upper third of African Americans into the middle class, but one could argue that the bottom two-thirds are worse off now than they were when Dr. King was assassinated; that what we have undergone is an assault against the working class which has essentially decimated and destroyed the working class itself.
We live in a post-industrial society. I just spent a few weeks in Camden, New Jersey writing a story for The Nation Magazine. Camden per-capita is the poorest city in the United States, also ranked the most dangerous. And what we are going to see with a kind of permanent underclass in our so-called jobless recovery that Lawrence Summers talks about is these internal colonies, as Malcolm X and later Dr. King called them, leeching outwards across the country bringing all the attendant problems with them. One of the reasons I wanted to focus on Camden was because it’s a window into what is going to affect larger and larger pockets, rural and urban, within the United States.
There is no supermarket in Camden; there is one outside the city... There's no movie theaters; there's no hotels. There are vast sections of the city that have been utterly abandoned; 1,500 buildings, roofs caved in, over a hundred open air drug markets. Because of course when you have no possibility to enter the formal economy, you enter the informal economy. I also have a personal experience with the new peculiar system of neo-feudalism that we are visiting on the country, and that most of my family comes from the former mill towns in the state of Maine that have likewise been utterly devastated.
I think the great failing on the part of the liberal class in the United States was its decision to continue to support the Democratic Party after 1994 with the passage of NAFTA. NAFTA thrust a knife into the back of the American working class. And the failure on the part of people who spoke in language which purported to be concerned with the interests of the poor and the working class was that year after year they supported a party that decimated the working class. The Democrats under Clinton were as guilty as the Republicans.
Clinton’s so-called welfare reform bill, 1996 – Why do you think they keep passing extension of unemployment benefits? Because you can’t live on $143 a month off of Welfare. The Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999, given to us courtesy of Larry Summers, which ripped down the firewalls between commercial and investment banks, allowing speculators to take over the banking system and generate the kind of financial crisis that we find ourselves in now, with the largest transference of wealth upwards in American history - it is not an exaggeration to say at this point that our political and economically elite constitutes a criminal class.
The longer that liberals continue to support a Democratic Party that collaborates in the Weimarization of the American working class, the less credibility they have, because their hypocrisy is exposed. The fear that I have is that the legitimate rage which is being expressed by our dispossessed is being captured by proto-fascist movements: Tea Party movements, Oath Keepers, militias. And the longer that liberals continue to speak in the bloodless, sterile language of policy and issues, the less credibility that they will have.
If you remember during the so-called health care reform debate, I think that many of you have read through this bill, it is essentially, it is for the for-profit health care industry what the bailout stimulus packages were for Wall Street.
You remember that there was a moment when Tea Party people made racial slurs against Jon Lewis and Barney Frank. Richard Rorty, in his last book, the great philosopher, called Achieving our Country before he died, he wrote, for me, a very prescient. . .he saw where we were heading. . . and he wrote a very prescient paragraph when he said,
"The anger toward the college educated, Liberal elites, who continue to talk in a language in which they cared about the working class and yet supported systems that decimated the working class will bring with it a backlash, not against Liberals, but against Liberal values, including that kind of political correctness which sought to counter the endemic sadism that exists within American society."
So that when I heard this group shout out these racial epithets, against Lewis or these slurs against Barney Frank, I remember Rorty's prediction that what will get swept aside with the rise of these frightening right-wing movements will be the attempts by liberal society to counter overt forms of homophobia, racism, sexism and that undercurrent of bigotry and intolerance will be carried like a baton by these movements that oppose us.
I have largely given up on the Liberal class in this country. I think that the great book of our time is Dostoevsky's Notes From Underground, it is a book about defeated dreamers, Liberals, people who stood and chanted, "Yes we Can", and then were betrayed, and then they withdrew into their own private self-indulgent cells.
And as Dostoevsky foresaw, he wrote Notes From Underground in 1878, I believe, that when you have a bankrupt liberal class, as we do, you inevitably propel yourself toward a form of moral Nihilism. To a world in which there are no moral values left.
We live in a corporate state. We live in what the great political philosopher Sheldon Wolin called a system of "Inverted Totalitarianism". For those who have not seen Wolin's great book Democracy Incorporated, I encourage you to take a look at it.
In Inverted Totalitarianism, it is not, as Wolin writes, like classical totalitarianism. which is built around a demagogue or a charismatic leader. In the system of Inverted Totalitarianism, the Totalitarianism is expressed in the anonymity of the Corporate State. That you have forces that pay fealty to electoral politics and to the constitution, to patriotic symbols and iconography. Yet, it has so corrupted the levers of power that the citizenry is, utterly, impotent within the system. .
And you see that, starkly illustrated in this new administration. Whether it is the refusal to confront our permanent war economy, which is literally hollowing us out from the inside, whether it is the refusal to restore basic civil liberties, including Habeas Corpus, an end to warrantless wiretappings, the decision to give, through the FISA Reform Act, to protect the telecommunication companies that, under the Bush Administration spied on, we know of, tens of millions of Americans, that information is still, by the way being stored.
Whether it is the continuation of our Imperial Projects in Iraq and Afghanistan, which I can tell you, after having spent seven years in the Middle East, won't work. They are doomed to failure, number 1, but number 2, under post Nuremburg Laws, they are defined as criminal wars of aggression. That we have no legal or moral right to debate the terms of the occupation.
And so what we have seen with the election of a new Democratic president is a codification of the assaults on domestic and international laws that was put into place by the Bush Administration.
Now, I don't need to tell people in this room that those pockets of Americans who have suffered most have been rendered utterly invisible by the corporate media. We have about six to eight corporations that controls almost everything this country sees, watches, and hears. And what they have done is impose a bland uniformity of opinion.
Look at the healthcare debate.
In moral terms, in this nation it is legally permissible for a for-profit healthcare company to hold sick children hostage while their mothers and fathers bankrupt themselves trying to save their sons or daughters. That is the moral condition. The health care industry in this country profits on the death and suffering in the same way that the arms manufacturers and the defense industry profits from the death and suffering.
The failure on the part of our media to confront this moral abomination when 40,000 Americans died in this country last year because they could not get proper medical care. Half of all bankruptcies in this country were caused by those families who could not afford their medical bills.
This was never part of the debate.
We have the most inefficient and costly health care system in the industrialized world. It doesn't work. But the corporations, through the media, drove the discussion. And, of course, once this healthcare bill was passed, with hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies, for these for-profit health care industries, all of their stocks went up on Wall Street.
We have seen, once again how we, as citizens, have been undergoing what can only be called a Coup D'état in slow motion.