In his most recent TruthDig column, former New York Times war correspondent, Chris Hedges, observes that reform in America via personality-based electoral politics has “become a form of magical thinking.” He is, of course, alluding to the hope that accompanied Barack Obama’s election in 2008, and he offers this friendly reminder of who really drives the legislative process:
Lobbyists write the bills. Lobbyists get them passed. Lobbyists make sure you get the money to be elected. And lobbyists employ you when you get out of office. Those who hold actual power are the tiny elite who manage the corporations.
And Hedges says this of America’s elite class (the .01% of the population that enjoys a 12.3% share of its national income):
They have found sophisticated mechanisms to thwart popular aspirations, disenfranchise the working and increasingly the middle class, keep us passive and make us serve their interests.
And he predicts the following future for America:
The corporate state will continue its inexorable advance until two-thirds of the nation is locked into a desperate, permanent underclass. Most Americans will struggle to make a living while the Blankfeins [Lloyd Blankfein is CEO of Goldman Sachs] and our political elites wallow in the decadence and greed of the Forbidden City and Versailles. These elites do not have a vision. They know only one word—more. They will continue to exploit the nation, the global economy and the ecosystem. And they will use their money to hide in gated compounds when it all implodes. Do not expect them to take care of us when it starts to unravel.
How did democratic Jeffersonianism—our American Enlightenment—devolve into plutocracy? Hedges traces it to:
. . . the ideology of permanent war and the capacity by public relations to manufacture consent.
These are trends that got their start in the early 20th century and, for America, accelerated at mid-century with the Cold War:
The body politic was mortally wounded during the long, slow strangulation of ideas and priorities during the Red Scare and the Cold War. Its bastard child, the war on terror, inherited the iconography and language of permanent war and fear. The battle against internal and external enemies became the excuse to funnel trillions in taxpayer funds and government resources to the war industry, curtail civil liberties and abandon social welfare.
The effect has been the conditioning of the populace to father-knows-best passivity and acquiescence to corporate conformity (a form of collectivism):
Secrecy, the anointing of specialized elites to run our affairs and the steady intrusion of the state into the private lives of citizens conditioned us to totalitarian practices. . . . Every corporation is a despotic fiefdom, a mini-dictatorship. And by the end Wal-Mart, Exxon Mobil and Goldman Sachs had grafted their totalitarian structures onto the state.
This state of affairs gives rise to a curious sort of apologist, the neoliberal:
The neoliberal—composed of the gullible and cynical careerists—parrots back the mantra of endless war and corporate capitalism as an inevitable form of human progress. Globalization, the neoliberal assures us, is the route to a worldwide utopia. Empire and war are vehicles for lofty human values.
As for the Democratic Party, it plays good cop to the Republican Party’s bad cop, lulling activists to sleep even as it does nothing to really arrest or reverse the plutocratic agenda:
The Democrats are always able to offer up a least-worst alternative while, in fact, doing little or nothing to thwart the march toward corporate collectivism.
So how do we retain our humanity against so great a Moloch as the American plutocracy? Hedges calls for a revived counterculture:
We will have to take care of ourselves. We will have to create small, monastic communities where we can sustain and feed ourselves. It will be up to us to keep alive the intellectual, moral and culture values the corporate state has attempted to snuff out. It is either that or become drones and serfs in a global, corporate dystopia.
Here’s the Moloch that appears in Fritz Lange’s great silent film, Metropolis. It seems to be the proper accompaniment to Chris Hedges’ column:
And here’s Chris Hedges speaking at a small Washington rally from December 16th, 2010 (interspersed with the testimony of Iraq War veterans). Hedges has dedicated himself to keeping hope alive and is a goad to my own conscience. I think he’s someone to emulate.
How about you?