Days of Revolt: The Problem
In this episode of teleSUR’s Days of Revolt, Chris Hedges and Green Party candidate Jill Stein diagnose the problems plaguing US politics, highlighting the dysfunction of a two-party system dominated by corporate interests.
CHRIS HEDGES: Hi, I’m Chris Hedges. Welcome to Days of Revolt.
Today in a two-part series we’re going to speak to Green presidential candidate Jill Stein. In the first part we’re going to diagnose the political landscape, how it works, what impediments are there. And in the second part we’re going to present what we hope is a prognosis, a response, to the political reality that we face, which the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin describes as inverted totalitarianism.
Thank you, Jill.
JILL STEIN: It’s great to be here, Chris.
HEDGES: So. One–you want to start again? Okay. Give me a countdown. Yeah.
SPEAKER: Three, two–.
HEDGES: Hi, I’m Chris Hedges. Welcome to Days of Revolt. We’re going to explore in this segment the political landscape, especially the current presidential campaign, and what impediments are thrown up by the two major parties, and in particular the Democratic party, that essentially keep the system hostage to corporate power. In the second segment, we’re going to explore the solution.
And to discuss these two issues with me is the Green presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein. Thank you, Jill.
STEIN: Great to be here, Chris.
HEDGES: So let’s begin with the nature of what some have called the dark state. How it operates, how it works. Because every facet, whether it’s electoral politics, whether it’s legislation, whether it’s the courts, whether it’s the mass media, has been completely seized by corporate power. And in many ways, a chief executive like Obama is beholden to those interests, has very little influence on them. How do you look at the American political system?
STEIN: It is extremely corrupt. It serves the interests of oligarchy. It puts people, planet, and peace, it subjugates those critical things to profit. We have a political system which is funded and therefore accountable to predatory banks and fossil fuel giants and war profiteers. And those are the interests it serves, those are the policies it creates, and it has, you know, it’s sort of like an amoeba that oozes its way into all aspects of the system. In the words of Chief Justice Louis Brandeis a century ago, you can either have a democracy or you can have vast concentrations of wealth. You can’t have both. And we have a system, whether you call it corporate capitalism or corporatism or just plain greed, whatever you call it we have a system that systematically puts profit over everything else. And it continues to spiral out of balance in a way that now puts us all in the target hairs.
And I think that’s the sort of exciting thing about this moment, that we’ll get to in this, in part two. But it’s reached a level where no one except for really the 1 percent, or perhaps the 5 percent, but no one now is out of danger. We’re imperiled in a very clear and direct way, whether you’re talking about an entire generation of young people who are locked into debt for the foreseeable future, the decline of wages, the true joblessness that actually exists. The foreign policy of total economic and military domination that’s blowing back at us now catastrophically. The immigrant human rights disaster, as 60 million people were forced to migrate over the past year alone. I mean, it’s–and the climate is in meltdown.
So in some ways we’re in this kind of magical moment, it’s an existential moment which is very personal and very real. So it has enormous potential, I think, for transformation. The question is which way is it going to go, and how are we going to make that happen?
HEDGES: Right. But it’s not–. And it’s that old, you know, essay by Rosa Luxemburg, Revolution or Reform. When you have all of the major institutions captured by a tiny elite, power elite, a cabal. Whether that’s an oligarchic cabal or fascist cabal, it doesn’t matter. It essentially shifts the focus of all of those institutions to serving that tiny elite at the expense of the citizenry. And that machinery is key, so that if you’re running elections, in some ways it doesn’t matter because these forces have captured these institutions and systems of control, and because they operate them, they’re beyond the capacity of any particular politician to influence. And that’s what Sheldon Wolin calls inverted totalitarianism, by which he means it’s not classic totalitarianism. It doesn’t find its expression through a demagogue or a charismatic leader, but through the anonymity of the corporate state.
The arms industry–I mean, the whole expansion of NATO is largely to feed the defense contractors. There’s no rational reason why, and we had of course promised Gorbachev with the fall of the wall in Germany that NATO would not be expanded beyond Germany. Now we are pushing it right up to Russia’s borders.
But there’s a perfect example of how rational security interests are sacrificed for profit. You’re a doctor. You understand the disaster of our for-profit healthcare system, including, of course, Obamacare. Everything is commodified within the society.
STEIN: Yes. And, and I think your point exactly right. Because it is so pervasive and so embedded into the DNA of our institutions, our non-profit corp–you know, industrial complex, our military, our political parties, that is the establishment political parties, unions being coopted to the degree that they are, and really large religious institutions, for the most part, with exceptions. But the institutions we used to rely on as the basis of our society, you know, I learned from one of your books. You know, how much they’ve all been corrupted. And it makes the point–in my view elections need to serve the movement. Elections need to be about building long-term capacity. And I think political parties also need to serve the movement. They need to be firewalled against taking corporate money, against not only super PACs but PACs, you know, and accepting money from the surrogates.
You know, ideally we should have a completely publicly financed system. And in fact in my home state in Massachusetts we passed public financing for elections, and it was the Democratic legislature, 85 percent Democratic, which could have passed any law and overwritten any veto by the Republican governor. It was they who dismantled the public financing that we had passed as the people in a referendum. And it was at that point in 2000, roughly 2000, roughly 2000, that I realized that change was not going to happen inside the Democratic party.
HEDGES: Well, let’s talk about the Democratic party. How do you view it as a political entity? What is it–what is its role?
STEIN: [Laughs] I don’t think it’s a rational, you know, product that has a specific, intended role. But I think it’s an expression of political power. And just look who funds it. You know, it’s banks and hedge funds and war profiteers and the private prison industry. This is who it is accountable to. And it works not only by controlling the money. It controls the media, and particularly this mockery of democracy that we call presidential debates, controlled by the two political parties who decide not only, not only do they select the candidates through their, you know, basically their money, big money filter. But they also, they control the audience. You know, and they control what press gets in and they control the moderator, and therefore the nature of the questions.
So these are elaborate, staged events to create the sense that resistance is futile. I had the great pleasure of having fought my way into a statewide governor’s debate in 2002, the first time I was tricked into running for office, against Mitt Romney for governor. You know, I was told, you’re a doctor, you’re fighting community fights. Just do that. Call it a political campaign. And I, that’s how I got tricked into doing it, discovered it was a different animal altogether. But it’s also a very different animal from the way that corporate parties run campaigns. And I found it extremely enlightening and very exciting, and a very empowering conversation that was waiting to happen.
We fought our way into a debate because the public was going crazy even then in 2002, with this monologue, the Democratic-Republican monologue. We got into a debate, and I articulated the usual agenda of cutting the military, greening the economy, living wages, a school system that actually teaches to the whole student for lifetime learning, not to a test, et cetera. Kind of the obvious things that went over like a lead balloon inside the TV studio. And when we walked out I was mobbed by the press, who told me I had won the debate on the instant online viewer poll.
And at that point, you know, I realized that this is a scam. The whole political system is a scam, that we actually have power. In the words of Alice Walker, the biggest way people give up power is by not knowing we have it to start with. We do have power, but it’s very hard to know it, given how corrupt the institutions are.
HEDGES: Well, they’ve created all sorts of mechanisms by which that power can not be expressed, and actuated, actualized, and they’ve also created mechanisms by which dissident voices are really effectively shut out.
STEIN: If not thrown into the clinker. Yes.
HEDGES: Not thrown into the clinker. And, and so you, you end up with these kinds of campaigns, the presidential campaign that we’re currently watching, where in essence you are, you have two parties who are, are both beholden to corporate power, but stoke fear among increasing, increasingly polarized segments of the population. Fear on the right, with all of the homophobia and undocumented, against undocumented workers, this kind of stuff, and fear on, within the Democratic party that you are going to unleash nativists and yahoos, and of course two of them would be Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, on the country as a whole.
Now, what’s interesting in the Republican party is that, you know, these kind of neocons, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Pearl, you know, use these, these culture wars to build a base, but they’ve kind of been overthrown. And how do you, how–how would you, as frightening as a Cruz or a Trump is, in power how different do you think they would actually be from a Hillary Clinton?
STEIN: Well, you know, they are different around the margins of social policy. But in terms of war, the economy, exporting our jobs, attacking unions and workers, privatizing our school system, our commons, an energy system that basically puts fossil fuels and nuclear above all else, turning our, our food system into, you know, a playground for corporate industrial agriculture and GMOs and so on, you know, it’s fundamentally the things that are destroying civilization, and the prospects of life on the planet, you know, they’re really shared between those two parties.
And when people bring up the fear thing, you know, I think it’s important to point out that the politics of fear has actually delivered everything we were afraid of. All the reasons we were told that you needed to vote for Obama, you know, or vote for Al Gore, or whatever, you know, because you didn’t want the expanding wars, you didn’t want the meltdown of the climate, you didn’t want the offshoring of our jobs, you didn’t want the enormous bailouts of Wall Street. You know, $700 billion, $800 billion under Bush, but $16 trillion and counting under Obama. You know, the wars that know no end, that continue to massively expand.
So you know, I try to point–I try to remind people that you have differences around the margins, but the core stuff is essentially the same. The differences are not enough to save your life, to save your job, or to save the planet. And we’re not going to get out of this mess without some real work and some real sacrifice. It’s not like there’s a simple fix, here. You really–we need a politics of courage, not a politics of fear. We have to understand how absolutely deadly the threat is that we are facing now, whether it’s the next economic collapse, which we are really teetering on the brink of right now, or whether it is the meltdown of our climate, which–.
HEDGES: Well, we’ve got, we’ve raised by 1 degree, we’ve got another 5 degree in the pipeline which we can’t control, even if we stop all carbon emissions today.
STEIN: And, you know, we are looking at the collapse of our major ice sheets within the next couple of decades. Within a handful of decades we could basically ruin all coastal cities. You know, when Pearl Harbor was bombed we called out a national emergency, and within six months we had converted 25 percent of GDP to, you know, to a wartime footing, and stayed there.
So the point is, we can do what we need to about climate. And we’ll talk about that more in the next segment. But we are facing an all-out climate emergency. We–you know, and that’s taking place. It got much worse under the Democrats. Obama with two houses of Congress. People should not make excuses for Obama. It was the bad Republicans. And this is the second point about the politics of fear, which is that the lesser evil paves the way to the greater evil. It’s not in opposition to it. It makes way for it. Because people don’t come out to vote when you’re just one shade less terrible than the bad guys.
HEDGES: Well, we should, we should also acknowledge that Obama’s assault on civil liberties have been worse than under Bush.
STEIN: That’s right. On so many fronts.
HEDGES: The kill lists, the NDAA, the–.
STEIN: The pursuit of, of the press.
HEDGES: Going after whistleblowers with the Espionage Act. So it’s, it’s not been a maintenance of the status quo, it’s been a deterioration. And I think that this gets to the fact that these institutions, which have been seized by corporate power, are not, not only are they not reformable, but we don’t have any mechanisms left within the establishment to reform them.
STEIN: Yes. And, and I want to underscore your point, also, about sort of the, the lesser, the insidious, you know, evil of the lesser evil. Why did Congress flip? You know, why was the Democratic Congress lost? Because Obama was elected with enormous, you know, mandate. But what did he do? The moment he got into office, he put his ground troops on the shelf, told them to go home. He, he wasted what could have been a real grassroots engine for real change, and he bailed out Wall Street. Again–you know, and left millions of homeowners, you know, to be thrown out into the street. And he kept doing that over and over for two years. So–.
HEDGES: And he sabotaged the public option, and shoved Obamacare, which, a for-profit healthcare industry. Which is not functional. I mean, you know more about it than I do.
STEIN: It’s terrible. It’s terrible. And that is why–and it’s important for people to recognize that’s why Congress was lost. So the bottom line here is that the lesser evil makes the greater evil inevitable. It not only makes it possible, it makes it inevitable, because it bitterly disappoints people and people whose hopes and expectations have been raised for justice. And then they get basically thrown under the bus. Either they’re not going to come or they’re going to punish you at the polls, and that’s what happened.
HEDGES: Well, and we’re watching the rise of these white, proto-fascist, nativist, neo-confederate, you know, celebrating the gun culture. Where did it come from? Well, it came from a disenfranchised white working class that heard the rhetoric of the liberals about multiculturalism and gender politics and inclusivity. But of course the way that kind of faux-liberalism defined it is we’re going to have a woman CEO. We’re not going to liberate oppressed, working, or poor women. Everything became about branding. We’re going to have our first African-American president.
And so you have these white, angry white groups, who realize that they have, of course, been disenfranchised and pushed aside, and they hear the rhetoric, even though the rhetoric is a lie, because Obama has done nothing for most African-American people in this country. I mean, mass incarceration is as bad or worse than when he came in, despite some cosmetic attempts to address it.
STEIN: And the wealth of the African-American community has been absolutely decimated. It used to be a ratio of ten cents, family wealth of an African-American community, to a dollar in the white community. That ten cents has been cut now to five cents. So this has been a disaster.
And when people talk about, you know, [needing] to be terrorized by the next–you know, by the executive, and therefore voting your worst fears rather than your values, two points. One is that democracy needs values. Democracy does not exist in a vacuum, and there’s nothing more powerful than a moral compass. We have to bring that moral compass to our democracy, because it is a ship lost in a storm right now. There is some risk in getting there, but you have to build.
And remember what happened under Richard Nixon, you know, one of the most oppressive, regressive, dishonest presidents out there. Remember what we got because we had a movement in the streets. The power is ours. We got, you know, women’s right to choose by pushing the Supreme Court, which is also a, you know, an institution that’s amenable to public pressure. We got, you know, the, we brought the troops home from Vietnam. We got the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act and OSHA, and established workers’ rights, and, [and] health and safety.
HEDGES: Ralph Nader calls him our last liberal president.
STEIN: Yes. Exactly. We–.
HEDGES: Because of movements.
STEIN: People have been systematically disempowered, you know, by our media. We’re fed this corporate brainwashing, you know, many times a day that we are powerless. And therefore we have to choose between two oppressors. And it’s really important, you know, to reject that lesser evil-ism and stand up and fight for the greater good. The greater good here has been lost in the battle between the evils.
HEDGES: Well, we’re, we’re allowed–it’s like voting on American Idol. That’s what we’re allowed to do. It means nothing, as this study by the Princeton professor and his colleague have just pointed out. When you look, actually, at legislation, almost everything that’s pushed through has very little popular support and serves the interests of corporate lobbyists who write it in the first place. But it is a kind of species of participatory fascism. It’s a game, and a very cruel one. And of course we are bombarded with over the airwaves, with propaganda, and all of which are driven to make all of the, you know, to drive home the points that you made. That this is–that we can’t step outside the system. And yet our only hope, of course is.
STEIN: And in fact, if we dare to have the courage of our convictions, you know, and those who are on this spectrum of justice among the many movements that there are, if we all stand up, you know, there’s hardly anybody left sitting down, if we’re standing up for workers’ rights and for living wages and for healthcare as a human right, and for ending student debt. For God’s sakes, 43 million young people who are locked in debt, if they alone come out to vote, we win this election, because they have a plurality of the vote. If word gets out that young people can take over this election, if they stand up for themselves and for the leadership, that they could have to really change direction. We can win this.
So you know, the, the weak link in this chain of change is to actually reject this mind-numbing disempowerment and acknowledge the power that we have.
HEDGES: How’s that going to come? You know, it’s obviously going to come through movements. And we’ve seen the rise of some magnificent movements. Black Lives Matter, the anti-fracking movement. Very courageous. I spoke to anti-fracking activists in Denver. What was so moving is they’re all suffering from, many of them, from respiratory problems and from rashes, because they’re going into the fracking fields to fight back. So they’re actually taking on the kinds of health effects that people who live around fracking, the poison that’s–.
STEIN: And the workers in particular, yeah.
HEDGES: Workers. And the workers who are there. And you know, we’re almost starting from scratch in many ways, because our movements have been decimated. The American workforce is no longer unionized. Less than 12 percent. Most of them are public sector workers, like 6 percent, so they can’t even strike.
You know, what–what are the mechanisms by which we’re going to respond? I’m going to stop that, because that’s the next segment. Um, let me just think for a second. Um.
So we’re in, we’re in the midst of a presidential election, which is a political, a species of political theatre. Highly-funded, about $2 billion we’re going to spend. And yet it has effectively captured even, you know, the purported left. And how do we break through, how do we make this reality one that can be visible within a broader spectrum of the public?
STEIN: Well, you know, first, to quote Woody Allen, half of life is showing up. You know, I think it’s really important that we be putting forward a different narrative and a moral compass. That’s why I run, you know, that’s why I’m running in this election and in the last one. Do I think we’re going to win? I’m not holding my breath, but I’m not ruling it out. And a lot depends on how you define the win. We are in the age of the black swan. You know, all these, like, world-changing, absolutely unlikely events are now becoming commonplace. And you know, like the breakup of the, of the major ice sheets that could raise our sea level by 10 or 20 or 30 feet in the next couple of decades, and abs–utterly destroy civilization. You know, we’ve got big things that are happening right now that are rather unpredictable. But when they’re going to happen, [inaud.] we could have a big disaster between now and, and the election, and who knows what that would be, and it could completely change the terms of the election.
But let me just tell you one other way that the terms of the election could change, you know, and that is if young people decide, if word gets out that, oh my God, you know, and young people self-organize, which they can do, we can also turn this election on its head. But you know, more broadly to your point, I used to feel like we had to change people’s minds, and I’ve now become quite convinced we don’t have to change people’s minds, because history, you know, does that, and the economy and the environment and the climate have already done that.
So the question becomes how do we organize the momentum that’s already there? And strategically that’s, that’s a very difficult question. But it is, you know, in a way that, that’s a tactical question. I think it’s so empowering to recognize that in the court of public opinion we have won. Polls now show, in fact, 21 percent of Americans identify as Republicans. This is a Wall Street Journal done in June of last, of this recent year. So 21 percent identify as Republican, 29 percent identify as Democrat. This is like, all-time low. And 50 percent have rejected them both. The two major parties actually have incurred majority unfavorable ratings by most of the public. People don’t trust the two parties, and they shouldn’t.
And, you know, it’s a communications challenge. And we have tools of communications. We have tools to do, you know, to do basically guerrilla, guerrilla media, and guerrilla marketing. And you have self-organizing constituencies on Facebook, and so on.
HEDGES: And, and yet the great impediment is the military-industrial complex–.
STEIN: Oh, absolutely.
HEDGES: Which has seized control of the economy, seized control of the federal budget, carries out wholesale surveillance.
STEIN: It will fight tooth and nail.
HEDGES: And it will.
STEIN: And I don’t think we know exactly where it’s going to go. But you know, we would be crazy to stop, because we are, you know, we have one and a half feet over the cliff right now. So it’s like, are we just going to roll over here, and get pushed off the cliff? Or are we going to stand up and fight?
So you know, it’s not like you need an assured end point, but we know what the end point–we know the trajectory that we’re on. So the question is, how do we optimize what history is going to do here? Because history will mobilize people as the treachery of the system continues to be inflicted on us. And the question is whether we will mobilize in time to change it.
And the point you were making early on is that as one candidate, you cannot do this. If a good candidate can squeak through the Democratic party process, well, that’s great, but that does not change make. We need a movement. That movement needs a political party. Which is only one mode of how that movement works, and we have to work on all cylinders. In an election you want to maximize everything you can do through the electoral process, and that includes building a party so that the movement doesn’t die with your campaign at the end of the election cycle.
HEDGES: And that’s what we’re going to talk about in the second segment. Thank you, Dr. Stein.
STEIN: Thank you.
HEDGES: And thank you for watching Days of Revolt.
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