YouTube video

Chris Hedges: The system has not been able to respond in a rational way,
the way the Roosevelt administration responded rationally through the New
Deal. And because of that, we’re in deep, deep trouble. So I think all of our
hope now has to be invested in acts of civil disobedience

Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

We’re only a few weeks away from the November presidential elections. Now joining us to discuss the competition is Chris Hedges. Chris is a senior fellow at the Nation Institute. He writes a weekly column for Truthdig. His newest book is Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt. Thanks for joining us again, Chris.


JAY: So there’s kind of two questions for people that have been involved in the Occupy movement or generally in, you could say, progressive politics in general. One is this whole issue of lesser evil. You know, is there really a significant difference between Obama and Romney? And certainly the majority, I think, of sort of liberal left opinion is that there’s enough difference that it matters. So I guess that will be one question to you, and then we’ll kind of talk more about electoral strategy in general. But what’s your take on that question?

HEDGES: Well, certainly there are differences, but not enough that they matter. It’s how you want to ingest your poison. You can get it from Romney, who will tell you to stop whining and playing the victim, or you can get it from Obama, who will tell you that it hurts him more than it hurts you. But either way you’re going to get it.

We are all going to walk off what they call the fiscal cliff in January, no matter who is president. Wall Street will continue its malfeasance and criminal activity and fraud unimpeded. The imperial wars and proxy wars will expand. There’s—the paralysis that has made the ruling elite unable to respond to the chronic underemployment and unemployment will continue. The savaging of municipal, state, and federal budgets will continue. The power of the fossil fuel industry to determine our relationship to the ecosystem, you know, in essence ultimately making life for the human species extremely precarious, will continue.

The assault against civil liberties—and Obama’s assault against civil liberties have been worse than those carried out under George W. Bush, not only interpreting the authorization to use military force act of 2001 as giving the executive the prerogative to assassinate American citizens, but of course the FISA Amendments Act, which sees tens of millions of Americans monitored without warrants, eavesdropped, all of their communications stored in supercomputers in Utah, the use of the Espionage Act six times under the Obama administration to shut down whistleblowers, anything that challenges the government narrative, exposes corruption, crimes, including war crimes, and, of course, the National Defense Authorization Act—and I was part of a lawsuit against the president in that, which allows the U.S. military to seize American citizens, hold them without due process in military facilities until the end of hostilities, which in an age of permanent war is forever. All this is under Obama.

And I think we have to look closely at the continuity between the Bush administration and the Obama administration and what would be a Romney administration. The security and surveillance state or the corporate state—and I would argue that we have undergone a corporate coup d’état in slow motion—is preparing for unrest. It is not responding rationally.

Paul Krugman in column after column in The New York Times pleads for a rational response to the economic crisis, and we’re not going to get it. The only response we get is one of force, and we saw that in a coordinated national or federal effort to shut down the Occupy encampments. At that point, for me, the government essentially exposed its hand. It said that, you know, there will be no moratorium on foreclosures and bank repossessions; there will be no forgiveness of student debt; there will be no jobs program, especially targeted at people under the age of 25; there will be no rational health care program, the public option, universal health care; the only way we will respond is through the militarized police forces and an attempt to shut you down.

It’s always the ruling elite that determines the parameters for resistance or rebellion. And that means something else is coming. The system has not been able to respond in a rational way, the way the Roosevelt administration responded rationally through the New Deal. And because of that, we’re in deep, deep trouble. So I think all of our hope now has to be invested in acts of civil disobedience. I intend to vote, but I will not vote for Barack Obama. I’ll vote for a third-party candidate: Rocky Anderson, or Jill Stein from the Green Party.

JAY: Would it make any difference to you if you were in a swing state where a few votes might matter?

HEDGES: No, because the problem is that we who care about the underclass, who care about protecting what’s left of our anemic democracy, who care about battling back against corporate power, have no influence within the Democratic Party. And the policies of the Democratic Party are evidence of that. The only hope we have left is to be obstructionist. You know, they’re all—all the pressure is from the other side.

And if you look at all of the policies of the Democratic Party in Europe, they would be a far-right party, without question, including the prosecution of preemptive war, which—under post-Nuremberg laws these wars are illegal. We have no right to define the terms of the occupation in places like Iraq or Afghanistan.

I just think you can—you know, the simple argument is that by ceding so much to the Democratic Party and refusing to stand up for our principles, it’s not worked, and it hasn’t worked, and we have to begin to defy centers of power that essentially, I think, since Citizens United, have been hostage to corporate interests, I mean, including the judiciary, which is pretty much a wholly owned subsidiary of the corporate state.

JAY: Now, if you take as a sort of given that both parties represent different section of the American elite, both parties are financed by different sections or off to the same section of Wall Street, both parties are totally enwrapped up with the military industrial complex, etc., etc., take that as a given, do you not think that, first of all, around, you know, George Bush—last George Bush—and around Romney, the kind of neocon foreign policy people that have—certainly, you know, the invasion of Iraq, most of the professional foreign policy people, in both parties, really, were opposed to that invasion. And so was President Obama, and not because he was against having a war that would be good for the Empire; it was because he thought it was a war that wouldn’t be good for the Empire. He said it quite clearly: he was against the Iraq War ’cause it weakened America’s ability to project power, not ’cause there’s anything wrong with invading somebody. But that being said, you could say there’s a certain rationality in terms of the American pragmatic foreign policy, which certainly includes waging war if they think it’s in their interest. But the neocons seem to take it another step which is somewhat irrational. And around Romney he seems to have gathered those people. And I guess the short of my question is: are they not more likely to participate in some kind of war against Iran?

HEDGES: I don’t think—well, first of all, it’s the Pentagon that determines whether we go to war or don’t. Vis-à-vis Iran, the Pentagon has been adamantly opposed to direct U.S. involvement in any war with Iran. We saw that under the Bush administration, and we see it again under the Obama administration. I think you have to go back and look at the Congressional elections of 2006, when the Democrats retook control of Congress on the issue of the Iraq War, and yet, once in power, they not only continued to fund the war, but increased troop levels in Iraq by 30,000. The rhetoric of the Democratic Party just does not match the actions of the Democratic Party.

And I think you could argue that much of the rhetoric of the Republican Party, which plays to the lunatic fringe and the Christian right and the Tea Party and other sort of nefarious elements within the American political landscape, these people are also very frustrated, because in the end—and we have to look at patterns of governance. The way Mitt Romney governed Massachusetts essentially put him as, you know, a corporate administrator, which, of course, he once was, in the same way that Obama functions as a corporate lawyer.

You can take the issue of Obamacare. You know, this whole plan was hatched in the Heritage Foundation, put into practice in 2006 by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts, and then adopted by Obama. Obamacare is Romneycare. We have sort of passionate and furious debates about it, but the guts of both programs are the same and are generated from the same corporate think tank.

And I think that that is just true over and over and over, whether it’s the issue of civil liberties, whether it’s the issue of the refusal to curb Wall Street, whether it’s the issue of no reining in of this massive industrial-military complex which has cannibalized the country, consuming 50 percent of all discretionary spending, and the Democrats won’t even stand up against a particular weapons system. I mean, they used to do that. They won’t do that anymore.

And I think Sheldon Wolin is right in his great book Democracy Incorporated: we live in what he calls a system of inverted totalitarianism. It’s not classical totalitarianism; it doesn’t find its expression through a demagogue or a charismatic leader, but through the anonymity of the corporate state, that you have corporate forces that purport to pay fealty to electoral politics, the iconography and language of American patriotism, the Constitution, and yet have subverted internally all of the levers of power as to render the citizen impotent. And I think that’s where we are.

And we have very little time left in terms of climate change alone. If we do not wrest control of our relationship to the ecosystem back from ExxonMobil and BP and big coal, we’re finished. I mean, we’re literally finished. Forty percent of the summer Arctic sea ice gone, and the response of our corporate overlords is to race up there to mine the last vestiges of minerals, oil, gas, and fish stocks. It’s insane. It’s out of Melville’s Moby Dick.

You know, we’re being held forward by a class of Ahabs. And as Ahab said, my means and my methods are sane; my object is mad. And that’s precisely where we are. And neither Barack Obama or Mitt Romney is going to wrest control back from the hands of these forces. That’s up to us.

JAY: So in terms of up to us, within that, doesn’t there need to be some kind of electoral strategy of some kind, whether it’s third-party or something, in the sense that in the final analysis, to wrest that control, you need political power?

HEDGES: No, that’s incorrect. All of the true correctives to American democracy came through movements that never achieved formal positions of political power, whether that was the Liberty Party that fought slavery, the suffragists who fought for women’s rights, the labor movement, or the civil rights movement. And yet you could argue that in April—until April 1968, when he was assassinated, Martin Luther King was the most powerful political figure in this country, because when he went to Memphis, 50,000 people went with him.

I watched or covered as a reporter all of the revolutions or most of the revolutions in Eastern Europe, including the East German revolution that brought down the Stasi state. And when a system becomes as decayed, corrupt, and isolated as our corporate elite has become, the foot soldiers of that elite are no longer willing to expend their passion and their energy to defend it, so that when Erich Honecker, the dictator of East Germany, sends down an elite paratrooper division to fire on the crowds in Leipsig, they refuse. Honecker lasts another week in power.

And I think that the Occupy movement has shown us, first of all, where real power lies, and that’s Wall Street, and secondly, that it is only through acts of mass civil disobedience that we have any possibility left of affecting this system.

JAY: Well, but in the example of East Germany, or even more recently, example of Egypt where you can bring down a Mubarak, without some kind of electoral strategy and without some kind of way to actually take political power, they wind up with another variation on a similar system. I mean, in Germany as well, they may have brought down the Stasi dictatorship, and now they have neoliberal Germany. I mean, if you’re talking more significant transformation, you have to address who owns stuff, and you can’t address who owns stuff if you don’t address the issue of political power.

HEDGES: Well, yeah. I mean, the problem with East Germany is that it got subsumed into West Germany. The problem in Czechoslovakia—and I did cover the Velvet Revolution—is that you saw corporate forces go in afterwards and reconfigure Eastern Europe, with, of course, heavy pressure from administrations within the United States. But I don’t think that, you know, voting—you know, I just don’t think we live in a system where you can vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs.

And we have to rebuild the movements, the popular movements that were consciously destroyed in the war against communism. It was, you know, the old red witch hunts which wiped out the Wobblies. The old CIO saw thousands upon thousands of university professors, high school teachers, journalists, artists, directors, pushed out of the wider society. And what they have found in the war on terror is a template to do the same. You know, as Randolph Bourne said, war is the health of the state.

And I think at this point, appealing to the formal mechanisms of power doesn’t work. And until we wrest power back from corporate control (and we’re not going to do that through the electoral process), there is no hope of building a rational system that responds to the needs of citizens. Once corporate power is broken, then we can attempt to rebuild. As long as corporate power remains solidified and in place, we can go through the charade of this political theater, but it isn’t going to make any difference. And if you doubt me, look at the very long list of campaign promises that Barack Obama made in 2008 and how once in power he walked away. Whether he was cynical or whether he had to, I don’t know, but he walked away from, you know, every single one of them. He’s drilling, you know, as rapaciously as—.

JAY: No, but by electoral strategy, I’m not talking about whether we should believe in the leaderships of the Democrat or the Republican Party, but if you look towards some of the things, for example, that are happening in Latin America, where you have both mass movements and electoral strategy and you do find governments get elected that do start to make some significant changes.

HEDGES: Right. But you know as well as I do that third-party candidates like Ralph Nader and others are so shut out of the process that they have no voice. I mean, you talk to Ralph, and he uses the word blacklisted. He said, I can’t even get on NPR or PBS. Our most important social critics, people like Noam Chomsky, are invisible within a commercially dominated media, roughly six corporations that control almost everything most Americans watch and listen to—Viacom, General Electric, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., Disney. And in that kind of a system, there is no space. And there’s consciously no space.

JAY: Well, there’s certainly no space at a national level. I think that’s without question. What can happen at some local levels might be different.

HEDGES: Sure. I mean, all resistance at this point is probably local. But, you know, I feel that Wolin nailed it. He’s without question our greatest living political philosopher. And I think that we can’t begin to effectively resist until we understand the configurations of power. And, you know, given the tentacles of the corporate state and the way that it has crushed the liberal mechanisms that once made piecemeal or incremental reform possible, we have to find another route to resistance.

JAY: Okay. Thanks very much for joining us, Chris.

HEDGES: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. And if you want to hear more discussions like this, there’s a “Donate” button over there. If you don’t click on it, we can’t do this.


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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.