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Collapse of American liberalism Pt2 Chris Hedges

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, today in Toronto. Now joining us from Princeton, New Jersey, is Chris Hedges. Chris is a foreign correspondent. He’s reported from all over the world. And he’s written for The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times. His latest book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. Writes regularly on Truthdig. Thanks for joining us.


JAY: So, in the first segment of the interview, we talked about the collapse of the liberal classes and the mechanism for incremental change in America. So if I’m an ordinary working person or an ordinary person watching this interview, what do you say to me? What should we be doing?

HEDGES: Well, the first thing is to recognize the system, the political system in which we operate. And it is probably best described by the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin as what he calls a system of “inverted totalitarianism”. By that he means that it’s not a classical totalitarian regime and led by a demagogue or a charismatic leader, but finds its expression in the anonymity of the corporate state; that in classical totalitarian regimes you have reactionary or revolutionary forces that seek to overthrow a decaying structure and replace it; in inverted totalitarianism, you have corporate entities that purport to pay fealty to electoral politics, to the iconography and language of American patriotism and to the Constitution, and yet have so corrupted and subverted the levers of power as to render those political instruments mute or futile. There are many failures in terms of the part of how we look at the political process. One is to focus, of course, on the personal narrative of the candidates, as if somehow that’s going to make any kind of a difference—and I think the Obama election has illustrated that point very clearly. The second is to accept with a kind of grim fatalism that traditional mechanisms for reform within the system, within the political process, no longer function, and therefore we have to step outside the mainstream. Look at my friend Bill McKibben, who did valiant work organizing these worldwide protests for in anticipation of the meeting in Copenhagen, and yet it had virtually no effect, despite massive popular support around the globe, even in China, for serious environmental reform. And yet the leaders of the industrialized nations, along with, of course, their corporate backers, shredded Kyoto in Copenhagen. So, unfortunately, I think that we are, if we—and we really are at this point talking about the death of the ecosystem that sustains the human species. We’re talking about the creation of a kind of worldwide serfdom. I mean, if you look at the labor conditions of Chinese workers in the South, the southern part of China, they’re almost beyond belief, even when you compare them to the sort of horrific conditions that Victorian workers in the mills and textile mills and industries in Victorian England endured, people literally working until exhaustion and not being paid, and when they are paid, of course, it’s a subsistence—it was not a living wage. Beatings, destruction of labor unions. And essentially these are the working conditions that American workers, Canadian workers, other workers, they’re held up and told, of course, that they have to become competitive. But we’re—what we’re creating is a kind of neo-feudalism on a global scale, and we’re very far along that route. And unless we begin to disrupt the systems of power, then both the iron fist of the security state and that neo-feudal order, along with the continued destruction of the ecosystem, for which we depend for life itself, or for human existence, will continue to be destroyed.

JAY: There’s always been a big debate on the American left on whether to try to duke this out within the Democratic Party or outside of it. I know recently some people who have generally always thought there was no point trying to fight within the Democratic Party have sort of changed their mind and said maybe now there’s an opening, and have gone in to try to start, over the next half, five years, ten years, fights at the primary levels. I mean, do you think that’s an avenue of change?

HEDGES: No, and I think that the political reality of the United States has illustrated that. I mean, for instance, you know, there are innumerable examples, but you could pull the elections of 2006, when the Democrats retook control of the Congress over the issue of the Iraq War, which the American public wanted ended. And what did they do? They not only continued to fund the war, but backed an increase of troops in the name of the surge, 30,000 more troops into Iraq. The Democratic Party is beholden to the people who pay the bills, and those are not the citizens. I mean, remember, Obama raised 600,000,000+ private dollars. He didn’t take the government funds for his election campaign, and most of that money came from places like Goldman Sachs. He knows perfectly well who he has to serve and why, which is why he backed down in front of the pharmaceuticals and the insurance industry. So I think at this point the Democratic Party is a hopeless entity which serves the corporate interests as assiduously as the Republican Party [inaudible]

JAY: So back to my question, what should people do?

HEDGES: I think, first of all, not try and work within the mechanisms of the Democratic Party, to physically disconnect from the system as much as possible, that, you know, to be able to sever yourself from the use of fossil fuels. Seventy percent of the US economy is driven by consumption. To begin to learn to live with a new kind of simplicity. And I think that we are going to have to confront, if the environmental crisis continues to deteriorate (and it shows every sign that it will) with the very real possibility that some of these systems will probably have to be dismantled through popular movements, through popular uprisings.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Chris.

HEDGES: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. Don’t forget the Donate button up here and down there. And thanks again.

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Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for 15 years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East bureau chief and Balkan bureau chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. He is the host of show The Chris Hedges Report.