Journalist Chris Hedges says both Republican and Democratic elites are happy to discuss race, gender, religion, and any politics of identity—as long as you don’t connect it to class divisions.
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
Kim Brown: Welcome to the Real News. I’m Kim Brown. Outside of the elites, Americans tend to lack class solidarity. We don’t see poor people rallying around the same issues to the extent that the rich elites do. Why is that? Why is class not an integral discussion in our political discourse? Well, in his latest piece for truthdig.org journalist Chris Hedges explores this precise issue and his piece is titled Class, the little words the elites want you to forget. We’re joined today with Pulitzer-Prize, award winning journalist, best selling author and activist Chris Hedges, who’s on the line from Princeton, New Jersey. Welcome back to the Real News, Chris. Thank you for being here.
Chris Hedges: Sure.
Kim Brown: Let’s get into to your piece, because it’s laid in with a lot of foundational arguments about why the oligarchical class in the world. But I’m assuming you specifically, you mean here in the US, to forget or would rather talk about identity politics more so than class divisions. Can you explain that?
Chris Hedges: Yeah, because it’s not a threat. You can have your first African-American president. He was a biracial president. You can have your first woman president. At least up until a couple of days ago, we could’ve had our first gay president, or at least openly gay president. As long as that particular gender or race or a religious persuasion or sexual orientation serves the system, the system’s fine with it. But the class divisions, the rise of the oligarchic state and we live in an oligarchy now, is something that the ruling elites do not want discussed. That’s precisely what Bernie Sanders is discussing, which is why he is a threat. It’s also ironically, what Trump is discussing. If you listen to Trump’s very long-winded, self-adulatory speeches at his rallies. Now of course, he’s a con artist. He will do nothing to harm. In fact, he will further consolidate oligarchy power.
But he does play, and certainly did in his attacks on NAFTA and the ruling elites in particular, the Democratic Party ruling elites who have the trade working men and women going all the way back to Clinton with NAFTA, with the 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill, which doubled our prison population, the deregulation of the FCC, which consolidated media outlets in the hands of a half dozen corporations, the destruction of Glass-Steagall, which ripped down the firewalls between commercial and investment banks, the destruction of welfare and 70% of the original recipients on welfare were children. All of that was done by the Democrats. So, and then all wholesale surveillance, imperial war, everything else.
Endless war, that’s been a bipartisan issue. A class, the Democratic elite serve the oligarchy corporate elites, corporate class, the same way the Republican party does, and that’s what they don’t … They don’t want that curtain ripped open.
Kim Brown: Do you think the struggles of low-income white, Americans are comparable to that of low-income black Americans?
Chris Hedges: No. We know statistically that people of color are economically far worse off than white Americans. But, at the same time de-industrialization has imploded the certainly, the expectations and the financial stability of the white working class. That’s a fact. But I don’t think it’s worse. I think the reason the white working class is more vocal, James Baldwin writes about this, is because they expected as the white majority more from the society. Baldwin writes that, he writes African-Americans or are far less prone to having midlife crises because they recognize from the moment their children onward that the system’s gamed against them. The white working class has, certainly before de-industrialization, before offshoring, was in a more privileged position. That has now been taken away, and I think that that it really gets down not to a matter of disparity because people of color are living in far worse conditions. But it’s the rage of the white working-class is that they feel that their birthright and their future was robbed from them.
That’s not wrong. I mean that is a correct. That’s correct. We’ve created one industrial wasteland after another, which has turned communities. I was in Anderson, Indiana for my last book, the old GM Center of GM manufacturing. All those plants not only been ripped down, they’ve been, they’re big empty lots now. They were bulldozed away and all those jobs, good union jobs have gone to Monterey, Mexico. So, 25,000 union workers are out of work in Anderson and Mexican workers are doing the same work for $3 an hour without benefits and then able to drive the trucks over the border and sell them.
Kim Brown: The argument about class as a political tool, so to speak, is something that has been employed by Bernie Sanders and the progressive arm of the Democratic Party as small/growing as it may be. But as we come on the heels of Super Tuesday, where Vice-President Biden took a majority of the primary states, with Bernie Sanders picking up two states, both California and his own state of Vermont. I’m looking specifically at the State of Virginia, for example, because Joe Biden didn’t have a lot of money invested in Virginia. He only made one campaign stop there. I think he only had one office open in Virginia, and yet he was able to come away with 70% of the Africans-American vote. The class argument over race, so to speak, does not seem to be rounding or resounding with black voters. Why do you think that is?
Chris Hedges: Well, I’d be careful of that statement because, okay, the percentages of black voters, especially younger voters, which is also true often among white, younger voters, they don’t vote. I mean, the largest voting block in the country, the 100 million people, don’t vote. You’re talking about that demographic, which tends to skew older that does vote. But, I’m not from Virginia. I didn’t report there. I’m not going to make suppositions about African-Americans in Virginia because frankly, I don’t know. I wouldn’t know what I’m talking about. Why did they vote for Biden? It’s a good question. But you’d have to have somebody from Virginia who’d been out in those communities to answer it.
Kim Brown: Well, I think part of the argument lies within this exact discussion that we’re having about class trumps all when it comes to identity politics. Bernie Sanders, his message, at least when it translates to votes at the ballot box, does not seem to be resonating with the African-American electorate, particularly because of perhaps a reluctance to tie racism to the economic and housing and disproportionate health outcome plights that black Americans face. Why is there a disconnect between saying that we are in low class or lower class solidarity with each other across racial lines, but failing to acknowledge racism as systemic and how it helps to keep black Americans in the same class that they, more often than not, were born into,
Chris Hedges: Racism is one of the primary weapons of an oligarchic state or the ruling elites to create racial divisions, and it’s protean. I mean, racism and I mean, let’s look at our system of mass incarceration as the poet Yusef Komunyakaa says, “The cell block has replaced the auction block.” That is the latest iteration of Neo-slavery. So, it’s constantly hiding its face. Then, what are the black codes? Well, they are people who are thrown into a prison system. I teach in a prison. 94% of them never had a trial. They come out into the criminal cast, where because of their records, they can’t get work, they can’t get public assistance. They become second. They can’t even vote good. They’re become second class citizens. The racism is an integral part of class power. I mean, my students will sometimes say, “Well, I never was actually insulted. Nobody used the N word against me, et cetera.”
I’ll say from Camden or Patterson and I’ll say, “Well, describe your schools which are overcrowded and dilapidated and dysfunctional and they don’t have proper lab equipment or proper computer equipment or they have police in the hallways.” I say, “Well, let me describe the public school in Princeton where I live. That’s racism, that’s institutional racism. This whole charter school business, which also has a long history, is essentially about profiting off of a segregated, unequal system between white kids and poor kids of color.” I’m not pitting identity politics against racism. I’m saying, that when your focus is on identity politics and you have forgotten the primacy of economic justice, then it can become a kind of boutique activism.
As for Bernie Sanders, I’ve always felt that Bernie was racially tone-deaf. He’s gotten a little better, but I fully understand why he might not connect to African-American voters. I think he’s moved since 2016 but I think he knows very little about their reality and they sense that. I don’t want to speak for them. I’m only guessing.
Kim Brown: Well, Chris, in your piece, you also go on to look back historically and note how Franklin Roosevelt observed that we were on the cusp of a societal revolution in the 1930s, coming out of the Great Depression and the steps that he took to ensure that people were put to work, even if the largest employer was the federal government. That infrastructure improvements and the foundations for that were laid, and out of that came the rise of the labor movement, of the labor unions. You go on to note that in more modern times, that the elite forces have worked to destroy the working class, fight organized fight, that comes out of the labor struggle. How is it that we see a large group of Americans who are wholly disenfranchised financially and other ways, but we don’t see the class solidarity of us, versus them. We, we tend to put these rich people on a pedestal and imagine our lives through their lives, not understanding that that is not attainable for most people.
Chris Hedges: Because that’s what mass culture does. It’s a form of propaganda. Those who speak about class consciousness or the corporate coup d’etat that the United States has undergone are not given a platform on the corporate media. I know, because I’m one of them. I mean, [Gram 00:12:19], she writes about this. Culture is a form of political control and you’re very right that those values are inculcated through systems of mass entertainment, through the educational system, through the new … I mean, just all the way that images and stories are disseminated on electronic screens. So, the oligarchic state is quite comfortable with somebody achieving a particular individual identity. But, what they don’t want is class solidarity. They’ve quite effectively, through many mechanisms, including as you mentioned, destroying labor unions. We are now, 11% of workers in the United States are unionized.
I think something like 7% of those are public sector employees. Many of them cannot even strike, which is the only weapons of any effectiveness that unions have. We’ve created the greatest income inequality in American history. We have created all sorts of mechanisms. Let’s not forget that this system of mass incarceration is primarily a form of social control. Half of the 2.3 million people in our prison system have never physically been charged with harming another person and almost none of them got effective legal representation. But a lot of this, by the way, was Joe Biden. Huh. Then when they get out, they are thrown into a criminal past system. That’s, I think on purpose, these kind of de-industrialized wastelands and urban centers.
Especially since I think African-Americans have traditionally Ben the most politically astute, in terms of voting patterns. That’s a form of keeping people in bondage. Ah, and okay. Now, we are seeing an expansion of that taking away of due process. Let’s use the right word, police terror in these streets. This is all about the social control of the underclass. It started primarily with poor people of color, but it’s expanding now across the country.
Kim Brown: Lastly, Chris, we know you have to get out of here, but I wanted to ask, Joe Biden’s campaign was, for lack of a better term, dead and stinking before the South Carolina primary, and now after Super Tuesday, his campaign has been buoyed. It’s gained new life and there is a lot of concern, legitimate concern It could lead to a brokered convention, come the time of the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee this summer. Should Bernie Sanders, rightly or wrongly, be denied the nomination if he has the amount of delegates, if the establishment denies him this opportunity to be the nominee, are we looking at the end of the Democratic Party as we know it?
Chris Hedges: I think there’s almost zero chance the Democratic elites are going to give … he’s not going to come in with a 1,991 or whatever it is, delegates, he needs. The superdelegates, which are 700 plus, vote in the second round. It’s pretty clear that they’re going to, it may be more naked and more and therefore more revealing, but they’re not going to allow Sanders to be the nominee and there’s been all sorts of articles in the New York Times and people like Lloyd Blankfein, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, they’ve all said that if he was the nominee, they’d vote for Trump. I think there’s almost no chance he’s going to get it. I think this will be damaging. I can’t see Bernie’s base, his young base, sticking with the Democratic Party. But I think when we go back to 2016, it was always my argument that Bernie should have run as an Independent, that we’re not going to build an effective political opposition in one election cycle, and that we can’t reform the Democratic Party or the system from within. We’ve got to attack it from the outside.
Kim Brown: His latest piece appears on truthdig.com. It’s titled Class, the Little Words Elites Wants you to Forget. We’ve been joined today with Chris Hedges. If he is a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, of bestselling author and activist. We’ve been speaking to him today from Princeton, New Jersey. Chris, it was great to have you back on the Real News.
Chris Hedges: Thank you very much.
Kim Brown: Thank you for watching the Real News Network.