American politics, as the midterm elections demonstrated, have descended into the irrational. On one side stands a corrupt liberal class, bereft of ideas and unable to respond coherently to the collapse of the global economy, the dismantling of our manufacturing sector and the deadly assault on the ecosystem. On the other side stands a mass of increasingly bitter people whose alienation, desperation and rage fuel emotionally driven and incoherent political agendas. It is a recipe for fascism.
More than half of those identified in a poll by the Republican-leaning Rasmussen Reports as “mainstream Americans” now view the tea party favorably. The other half, still grounded in a reality-based world, is passive and apathetic. The liberal class wastes its energy imploring Barack Obama and the Democrats to promote sane measures including job creation programs, regulation as well as criminal proceedings against the financial industry, and an end to our permanent war economy. Those who view the tea party favorably want to tear the governmental edifice down, with the odd exception of the military and the security state, accelerating our plunge into a nation of masters and serfs. The corporate state, unchallenged, continues to turn everything, including human beings and the natural world, into commodities to exploit until exhaustion or collapse.
All sides of the political equation are lackeys for Wall Street. They sanction, through continued deregulation, massive corporate profits and the obscene compensation and bonuses for corporate managers. Most of that money—hundreds of billions of dollars—is funneled upward from the U.S. Treasury. The Sarah Palins and the Glenn Becks use hatred as a mobilizing passion to get the masses, fearful and angry, to call for their own enslavement as well as to deny uncomfortable truths, including global warming. Our dispossessed working class and beleaguered middle class are vulnerable to this manipulation because they can no longer bear the chaos and uncertainty that come with impoverishment, hopelessness and loss of control. They have retreated into a world of illusion, one peddled by right-wing demagogues, which offers a reassuring emotional consistency. This consistency appears to protect them from the turmoil in which they have been forced to live. The propaganda of a Palin or a Beck may insult common sense, but, for a growing number of Americans, common sense has lost its validity.
The liberal class, which remains rooted in a world of fact, rationalizes placating corporate power as the only practical response. It understands the systems of corporate power. It knows the limitations and parameters. And it works within them. The result, however, is the same. The entire spectrum of the political landscape collaborates in the strangulation of our disenfranchised working class, the eroding of state power, the criminal activity of the financial class and the paralysis of our political process.
Commerce cannot be the sole guide of human behavior. This utopian fantasy, embraced by the tea party as well as the liberal elite, defies 3,000 years of economic history. It is a chimera. This ideology has been used to justify the disempowerment of the working class, destroy our manufacturing capacity, and ruthlessly gut social programs that once protected and educated the working and middle class. It has obliterated the traditional liberal notion that societies should be configured around the common good. All social and cultural values are now sacrificed before the altar of the marketplace.
The failure to question the utopian assumptions of globalization has left us in an intellectual vacuum. Regulations, which we have dismantled, were the bulwarks that prevented unobstructed brutality and pillaging by the powerful and protected democracy. It was a heavily regulated economy, as well as labor unions and robust liberal institutions, which made the American working class the envy of the industrialized world. And it was the loss of those unions, along with a failure to protect our manufacturing, which transformed this working class into a permanent underclass clinging to part-time or poorly paid jobs without protection or benefits.
The “inevitability” of globalization has permitted huge pockets of the country to be abandoned economically. It has left tens of millions of Americans in economic ruin. Private charity is now supposed to feed and house the newly minted poor, a job that once, the old liberal class argued, belonged to the government. As John Ralston Saul in “The Collapse of Globalization” points out, “the role of charity should be to fill the cracks of society, the imaginative edges, to go where the public good hasn’t yet focused or can’t. Dealing with poverty is the basic responsibility of the state.” But the state no longer has the interest or the resources to protect us. And the next target slated for elimination is Social Security.
That human society has an ethical foundation that must be maintained by citizens and the state is an anathema to utopian ideologues of all shades. They always demand that we sacrifice human beings for a distant goal. The propagandists of globalization—from Lawrence Summers to Francis Fukuyama to Thomas Friedman—do for globalization and the free market what Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky did for Marxism. They sell us a dream. These elite interpreters of globalism are the vanguard, the elect, the prophets, who alone grasp a great absolute truth and have the right to impose this truth on a captive people no matter what the cost. Human suffering is dismissed as the price to be paid for the coming paradise. The response of these propagandists to the death rattles around them is to continue to speak in globalization’s empty rhetoric and use state resources to service a dead system. They lack the vision to offer any alternative. They can function only as systems managers. They will hollow out the state to sustain a casino capitalism that is doomed to fail. And what they offer as a solution is as irrational as the visions of a Christian America harbored by many within the tea party.
We are ruled by huge corporate monopolies that replicate the political and economic power, on a vastly expanded scale, of the old trading companies of the 17th and 18th centuries. Wal-Mart’s gross annual revenues of $250 billion are greater than those of most small nation-states. The political theater funded by the corporate state is composed of hypocritical and impotent liberals, the traditional moneyed elite, and a disenfranchised and angry underclass that is being encouraged to lash out at the bankrupt liberal institutions and the government that once protected them. The tea party rabble, to placate their anger, will also be encouraged by their puppet masters to attack helpless minorities, from immigrants to Muslims to homosexuals. All these political courtiers, however, serve the interests of the corporate state and the utopian ideology of globalism. Our social and political ethic can be summed up in the mantra let the market decide. Greed is good.
The old left—the Wobblies, the Congress of Industrial Workers (CIO), the Socialist and Communist parties, the fiercely independent publications such as Appeal to Reason and The Masses—would have known what to do with the rage of our dispossessed. It used anger at injustice, corporate greed and state repression to mobilize Americans to terrify the power elite on the eve of World War I. This was the time when socialism was not a dirty word in America but a promise embraced by millions who hoped to create a world where everyone would have a chance. The steady destruction of the movements of the left was carefully orchestrated. They fell victim to a mixture of sophisticated forms of government and corporate propaganda, especially during the witch hunts for communists, and overt repression. Their disappearance means we lack the vocabulary of class warfare and the militant organizations, including an independent press, with which to fight back.
We believe, like the Spaniards in the 16th century who pillaged Latin America for gold and silver, that money, usually the product of making and trading goods, is real. The Spanish empire, once the money ran out and it no longer produced anything worth buying, went up in smoke. Today’s use in the United States of some $12 trillion in government funds to refinance our class of speculators is a similar form of self-deception. Money markets are still treated, despite the collapse of the global economy, as a legitimate source of trade and wealth creation. The destructive power of financial bubbles, as well as the danger of an unchecked elite, was discovered in ancient Athens and detailed more than a century ago in Emile Zola’s novel “Money.” But we seem determined to find out this self-destructive force for ourselves. And when the second collapse comes, as come it must, we will revisit wrenching economic and political tragedies forgotten in the mists of history.
Chris Hedges, who writes a weekly column for Truthdig, is the author of “Death of the Liberal Class.”