Category Archives: Chris Hedges

To White American Progressives: Vote Down Trump with the Rest of America

The Republican and Democratic party conventions held in July both staged a virtual political reality well removed from what is happening in America’s communities. The Democrats produced a carefully choreographed appearance of unity that masked deep divisions between its establishment and Sanders-inspired delegates. The Trump-dominated Republican convention appealed to profound dissatisfaction with the country’s prospects, but stoked the demonization of immigrants to protect the billionaires who are actually responsible for outsourcing jobs.

Meanwhile, state legitimacy is dissolving because of unconstrained shootings of non-white Americans by trigger-happy police.

Clinton’s acceptance speech showed clear signs of the influence of Sanders’ campaign, denouncing factory closings, economic inequality, Wall Street vs. Main Street, and money in politics; but while her speechwriters are attuned to the outcome of the primaries, they are insensitive to the disenchantment of many Americans with the political establishment. For these people, contrary to her message, America is not great. There is a pervasive anti-establishment populist movement in society based on a decline in middle-class jobs and living standards – above all, on a perception that there is no prospect of a better future – that has produced a fundamental shift in the relation between the political elite and the public.

This has created a dangerous desire for a powerful leader who will fix everything. The Associated Press reported: “After a recent Trump rally in West Virginia, countless news articles and academics dismissed Trump’s pledge to bring back coal as impossible, tied to market forces and geology. Chuck Keeney, a professor of political science and history at Southern Community College in Logan, often hears his students dismiss the criticism as the establishment, the very machine that ignored them for so long, beating up on Trump now, too. ‘What they see in their minds is the elite that looks down on them, mocks them, makes fun of them, thinks they’re stupid,’ Keeney said. ‘They see all those establishment groups ganging up on Donald Trump and that makes them root for him more’.”

Trump has leveraged the reaction against globalization and the rejection of political authority to take over the Republican party. Although his convention speeches were politically chaotic, they nevertheless succeeded in convincing his base that he could be president. Moreover, it articulated the appeal of his authoritarian rhetoric to the security forces and the rightwing NRA – not to mention the KKK.

A star speaker at the Republican convention was an African American police officer who denounced the Black Lives Matter movement. Milwaukee county sheriff David A. Clarke told the delegates: “What we witnessed in Ferguson and Baltimore and Baton Rouge was a collapse of the social order. So many of the actions of the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter transcend peaceful protest and violate the code of conduct we rely on. I call it anarchy.”

This is the true danger of Trumpism – its affinity with the authoritarianism of repressive state agencies built up under Bush and Obama. Max Blumenthal commented: “Clarke opened with what was perhaps the most successful applause line of the evening: ‘Ladies and gentleman, I would like to make one thing very clear: Blue lives matter in America!’ … Invoked on the national stage by culture war icons like Sheriff Clarke, Blue Lives Matter has become an integral component of the Republican base. It is not only a catch-all for opposition to Black Lives Matter and virtually any effort to spur police reform, but also a brand that conveys the racial backlash sensibility cultivated by the Trump campaign.”

The Democrats began their convention with party organizers maneuvering to contain dissent from Sanders’ supporters, and ended with Obama and Hillary Clinton staking out the Republican territory of American exceptionalism to deliver a message of patriotic optimism. Their election strategy appears to be one of winning over moderate Republican voters disenchanted with Trump and to pivot away from the concessions made to Sanders’ representatives on the platform committee.

“America is already great. America is already strong,” insisted Obama in his convention speech. According to the New York Times, “Democrats sought to seize on the traditional core of Republican campaign messaging: America as a place of virtue, optimism and exceptionalism. … Democrats celebrated the country’s diversity, with Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, the vice-presidential nominee, ladling on the Spanish.” It’s a welcome sign of the times – but, as Greg Grandin points out, while Kaine speaks Spanish to market the presidential candidate, he still supports “the policies of free trade and militarization that produced the poverty, the violence, and the immigration [from] Central America.” The party’s leaders are simply blind to the contradiction between their professed aims of social justice and their close connections to corporate financial interests.

Alternet reported that “for most of the 1,900 Sanders delegates in Philadelphia, the convention was a turbulent and trying affair. It began with DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz being forced to resign a day before it opened, after WikiLeaks posted emails of aides plotting against Sanders, but then she was rewarded with a top appointment to the Clinton campaign. That didn’t just affirm their suspicions about DNC bias, but it more ominously signaled that the party and Clinton campaign didn’t care about them.” Luis Eric Aguilar, a delegate from Illinois, told Democracy Now: “The theme of the DNC was to unify the party, but the delegates for Hillary get there early, reserve seats in the front rows so it shows good to the media, and then they push us to the back. … They tried taking away these signs, the ‘No TPP’ signs. All the homemade signs were taken away from us. But that is taking away our freedom of speech.”

By day four of the convention, Sanders’ supporters were arguing passionately about what to do next. They had expected to have more of an opportunity to express their critique of Clinton, but found themselves being shut down. Melissa Michelson, a member of Sanders’ California delegation, told Alternet: “We kind of understand where Sanders is going. We understand that he doesn’t want Donald Trump to win. However, he also told us that the political revolution is about us, not him… A lot of us are going to start getting involved in local politics. … We’re still skeptical how things will work out with this new relationship, you know [with Sanders endorsing and planning to campaign against Trump]. I will not vote for Hillary Clinton and I will not vote for Donald Trump either.”

A different view was expressed by a Texas delegate, Fawaz S. Anwar. He said: “I’m scared that Trump’s going to win now. And now that Clinton is sagging behind Trump, the most misogynistic, sexist, sexist, racist person that the Republicans have ever nominated, Clinton is slipping up. I just—I don’t know how else to say it. But our democracy is in danger if Trump becomes president. I’m in agreement with Bernie. I’m going to vote for Clinton if she’s the nominee.”

Now that Sanders activists have reached the limits of the Democratic nomination campaign, they face a decision about the presidential election. In a discussion between Robert Reich and Chris Hedges hosted by Democracy Now, Reich said he saw no alternative to supporting Clinton because under a Trump presidency there would be negative changes that would irrevocably worsen the structure of the country, including appointments to the Supreme Court. He suggested that it was still possible to build “a multiracial, multiethnic coalition of the bottom 90 percent that is ready to fight to get big money out of politics, for more equality, for a system that is not rigged against average working people, where there are not going to be all of these redistributions upward from those of us who have paychecks” in order to take back democracy.

Hedges, advocating a vote for Green party candidate Jill Stein, responded that corporate power has already seized all the levers of control and the Democratic party was identical to the Republicans in this respect. “We’ve got to break away from political personalities and understand and examine and critique the structures of power,” he said. Obama “has been as obsequious to Wall Street as the Bush administration. … I don’t think it makes any difference. The TPP is going to go through, whether it’s Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Endless war is going to be continued, whether it’s Trump or Clinton.”

However, the majority of Americans are not going to abstain in this election, nor vote for a third party. For African and Latino Americans this is not an academic debate. They will vote overwhelmingly for Clinton because a Trump presidency is literally life-threatening for them. It would give the police carte blanche to gun down minorities without cause and Trump the power to use state force to suppress political opposition. White liberals have the luxury of potentially abstaining or voting for a third party, but this implies walking away from a long-term fight within the ranks of the Democratic party, and within the communities outside it, in order to change its leadership. It means giving up the struggle before it has begun. The left cannot use its criticisms of Clinton to avoid going through the experience of voting down Trump with the rest of America.


1 Comment

Filed under 2016 Election, African Americans, aggressive policing, Bernie Sanders, Chris Hedges, Democratic Party, Democratic primaries, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, Obama, political analysis, State legitimacy, Uncategorized, Xenophobia

We the People Over the Deep State Goliath: Americans Reassert Popular Sovereignty Against the Plutocratic-Security Complex

Veteran radical journalist Chris Hedges successfully argued for the proposition that “Edward Snowden is a hero” at the Oxford Union on February 21. Of course, he is absolutely right to praise Snowden’s moral courage. But he painted a picture of a “solitary individual” standing up for his principles against a potentially all-powerful corporate state, neglecting the intention of Snowden’s revelations, which was to alert the public to the extent of NSA surveillance and engage them in discussing placing limits on it.

Prior to the debate, Hedges published an essay in Truthdig in which he writes that Snowden’s personal risk was heroic because we live in a “dual state” (using the terminology of the German political scientist Ernst Fraenkel) where “civil liberties are abolished in the name of national security. … The outward forms of democratic participation—voting, competing political parties, judicial oversight and legislation—are hollow, political stagecraft. … Those who challenge the abuses of power by the prerogative state, those who, like Snowden, expose the crimes carried out by government, are made into criminals.”

There is no denying the authoritarian nature of NSA surveillance, the vicious prosecution of whistleblowers, the outsized political influence bought by right-wing billiionaires, and killing of civilians by drone strikes. But despite the vast enterprise set up in the name of Homeland Security to suppress dissent, other whistleblowers and leakers continue to reveal what the security state is doing. Why would they do this? Only because they are not acting as isolated heroes; their bravery channels the commitment of Americans to their constitutional rights, their strong attachment to the ideal of democracy. Their moral imperatives are social, not individual.

A new report published in the German Bild am Sonntag reveals that, based on information provided by a “high-ranking NSA employee in Germany,” and not on any of the documents released by Snowden, the NSA responded to an order to refrain from spying directly on president Angela Merkel’s phone by intensifying its monitoring of other high-level officials in her government. As Glenn Greenwald points out, this means there is already at least one more NSA source prepared to risk his or her career to disclose the agency’s secrets.

It seems to me that by focusing on the authoritarian elements in the US, Hedges has prematurely written off society’s strengths. The political theorist he cites, Ernst Fraenkel, based his analysis on his direct experience of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazi authoritarian rule within the German state. Comparisons of the present situation of the U.S. with Weimar, which have been made recently by commentators ranging from Glenn Beck to Noam Chomsky, overlook major differences in the two societies: principally that Germany did not have a strong democratic tradition established through a revolution against European powers.

Authoritarian trends within US society certainly exist; but there is a continuing struggle between state coercion and democratic forms of popular participation. Hedges implies that the US surveillance state is part of a self-enclosed apparatus in a polar opposition to society. But to sustain their moral authority, ideals of legitimacy also penetrate state institutions. Edward Snowden, for example, was part of the US surveillance state just as much as the heads of the CIA or FBI, but became a whistleblower because of the contradiction between his experience of the actuality of surveillance and its justification with the misuse of democratic ideals. He began to question his own role when, as Hedges himself narrates, “he had watched as senior officials including Barack Obama lied to the public about internal surveillance.”

State entities need to preserve their moral justification even when political groups within them are misusing their authority to extend their own power – if we truly lived in a dual state, for example, the Christie scandal and the Walker prosecutions would not even be publicly known.

Mike Lofgren, a former GOP congressional staff member with the House and Senate Budget Committees, gives an insider’s view of the same phenomenon, the “hybrid entity of public and private institutions ruling the country … connected to, but only intermittently controlled by, the visible [constitutional] state.” He writes: “In terms of its scope, financial resources and sheer global reach, the American hybrid state, the Deep State, is in a class by itself. That said, it is neither omniscient nor invincible. The institution is not so much sinister (although it has highly sinister aspects) as it is relentlessly well entrenched. Far from being invincible, its failures, such as those in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, are routine enough that it is only the Deep State’s protectiveness towards its higher-ranking personnel that allows them to escape the consequences of their frequent ineptitude.”

Moreover, as Juan Cole points out, the “Deep State” is internally divided, and much more responsive to the exercise of public political power than it appears.  Cole also argues that the vast expansion of the security apparatus was a time-dependent effect of the impact of the September 11 attacks, and this influence is already beginning to wane.

The public has asserted its political power in diverse ways: Obama has had to abandon cuts to social security from his budget; had to back off from military intervention in Syria; and had to make at least a verbal commitment to NSA reform. The election of de Blasio in New York from an overt campaign against inequality signifies a marked shift in the popular mood – his new administration is already taking steps to reverse the plutocratic drive to commandeer society’s education resources.

The rapid escalation of minimum wage demands at the local level stems from years when wages have been held down and pressure on living standards has built up. Politically, the national Democratic leadership is being outflanked by a grass-roots surge of low-waged workers and community activists. Josh Eidelson reports that in Los Angeles, a City Council committee is studying nearly doubling the minimum wage for hotel employees to $15.37, while in Seattle, newly-elected mayor Ed Murray spoke confidently of a $15 minimum for the city’s public and private sector workers.

This movement and the interests of the plutocracy are on a collision course. But although the legal system discriminates in favor of corporations and security agencies are working diligently to suppress dissent, the more determined popular resistance becomes, the more likely state entities will be subverted from within. Their role is by no means settled in advance.

The state cannot rule through force alone. It would be a mistake to overestimate its strength when the American public has not been defeated or cowed, but up until now has been diverted from fighting for its economic interests by either liberal rhetoric or racism. While mindful of the dangers of a turn to authoritarian rule, we need to recognize that the society we live in is not at present a “dual state” but is in a transitional moment: the struggle for democracy is ongoing.

Leave a comment

Filed under Chris Hedges, Edward Snowden, fast-food workers, low-waged, National Security Agency, political analysis, poverty, US policy