By Chris Hedges
We can hold One Nation marches every week. It will not make any difference until we revolt against the formal structures of power.
The liberal preoccupation with positive forms of propaganda ignores the root of our problem. The tea party and hate mongers on Fox such as Glenn Beck, however repugnant, are the manifestation of the crisis, not its cause. The forces assaulting the remnants of American democracy will not be cowed or discredited with rallies, such as the one in Washington on Saturday. We will blunt these rising anti-democratic forces only when we organize outside conventional systems of power. It means dismantling the permanent war economy and the corporate state. It means an end to foreclosures and bank repossessions. It means a functional health care system for all Americans. It means taking care of our poor and unemployed. And it means a system of government that is freed from corporate interests.
Mass support for anti-democratic movements and public acceptance of open violations of human rights are not caused, in the end, by the skillful dissemination of misinformation or brainwashing. They are caused by the breakdown of a society and the death of a liberal class that once made reform and representative government possible. The timidity of our liberal class was on public display during the march in Washington. Speakers may have called for jobs, but none would call on citizens to abandon the rotting hull of the Democratic Party and our moribund political system or put Wall Street speculators in prison. The speakers at the rally proposed working within the current electoral system, although most Americans are aware that it has been gamed by corporate interests. This is hardly a call, especially given the failures of the Obama administration, that will fire up the unemployed and underemployed.
“We need jobs,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said at the march. “We’ve bailed out the banks. We bailed out the insurance companies. Now it’s time to bail out the American people.”
But Sharpton and the other speakers, too close to the power elite in the Democratic Party, did not call for rebellion. There was no war cry against Wall Street and the purveyors of death in the defense and health industry. There was no acknowledgement that unfettered capitalism and globalization are killing our ecosystem and creating a worldwide system of neo-feudalism. There was no acceptance that the corporate state must be dismantled if we are to save ourselves. Any effective resistance must begin with a condemnation of our political elite and liberal institutions, including the press, the universities, labor, the arts, religious institutions and the Democratic Party, for selling us out. But the speakers on the mall in Washington would not go there. And I suspect, for this reason, the Americans who are hurting most found nothing they said of interest.
All totalitarian movements, even those that are openly criminal, succeed because they have widespread mass support. They are the expression of a yearning that sweeps through a nation that has been convulsed by economic dislocation, a loss of hope and flagrant political corruption. And in these times of lament and deprivation the absurdities, crimes and excesses of reactionary forces do not matter. It wasn’t hard to find out what Slobodan Milosevic was doing in Bosnia. It wasn’t hard in Nazi Germany to hear about the widespread massacres of Jews in Poland. It is not a secret to most Americans that Muslim detainees, held for years without charges, are tortured in black sites around the world. The murder of tens of thousands of civilians by our forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan is tacitly acknowledged by the public as the price of war. The massive human suffering in the open-air prison that is Gaza is not a mystery. We know what happens to the millions of undocumented workers who live as stateless citizens among us and have become a kind of modern day slave labor force.
The rising proto-fascist movement in America is caused by a hatred and alienation so profound that the crimes of the state, along with the buffoonish antics of those who defend and champion these crimes, do not matter. We will not discredit the right-wing with facts, a demand for a respect of law or rational discussion. Propaganda or counter messages of tolerance are not the issue. The issue is societal collapse. This issue is a corporate state that has carried out a coup d’etat. The issue is the rupture of all mechanisms within the political process to protect citizens from accelerating impoverishment, internal control and corporate abuse. Those who refuse to acknowledge this bleak reality cannot offer solutions.
The right-wing propagandists have not created the problem. They have tapped into the moral void that has left tens of millions of Americans yearning for a profound and radical change. And if torture, war, racist attacks on immigrants, gays and Muslims, along with increased repression against internal dissidents, is the price for moral and economic renewal, many Americans are ready to sign on. If those who lead this rising proto-fascist movement insist on a Christian nation, teach creationism and believe in the physical existence of Satan, many Americans will sign on for this too. Hatred, when mobilized, is a very effective political force. And hatred, including the hatred for a liberal class that abandoned the working class, is what we face.
The decimation of our working class through outsourcing and globalization dynamited two of the most important props of the democratic system—class consciousness and class conflict. This has left traditional political parties, which once represented differing class interests, with nothing to offer the public beyond fringe issues such as abortion or gay marriage. Those in the liberal class who cling to the corpse of the Democratic Party do so not because they believe in the policies of the party—it does not differ in any significant way from the Republican Party—but because they hope against hope that the party will somehow restore itself to its former position as a defender of liberal values and the working class interests. It is the politics of nostalgia.
Our political theater has orphaned citizens who once looked to political parties to express and defend their interests. It has engendered apathy toward traditional social and political structures and an inchoate rage. This mixture of apathy and rage is a volatile cocktail. It finds its expression outside normal systems of dissent and in leaders who, in times of prosperity and stability, would be dismissed as lunatics.
No rally, no positive message, no effort to expose the idiocies of those arrayed against us will work until we restore to the political process mechanisms by which ordinary citizens can be heard. Hannah Arendt in “The Origins of Totalitarianism” cites the collapse of traditional political mechanisms, which now plagues us, as the opening needed for all totalitarian movements:
“The fall of protecting class walls transformed the slumbering majorities behind all parties into one great unorganized, structureless mass of furious individuals who had nothing in common except their vague apprehension that the hopes of party members were doomed, that, consequently, the most respected, articulate and representative members of the community were fools and that all the powers that be were not so much evil as they were equally stupid and fraudulent.”
The One Nation March in Washington, which lacked moral and political courage, did nothing to educate or rally our most important constituency—those out of work, those being foreclosed, those without hope. It refused to confront the real, corporate structures of power. It refused to disown Barack Obama and the Democrats. And in the end it only confirmed what those who hate us think of liberals.
AP / J. Scott Applewhite
Activists gather at the Lincoln Memorial to participate in the “One Nation Working Together” rally to promote job creation, diversity and tolerance.