Citizen Action Monitor

Thoughts on the weakening of democracy in America over the decades, by Chris Hedges

America’s capitalist-based form of democracy has been eradicated, reconfigured into an oligarchy, controlled by global speculators. —

No 2705 Posted by fw, February 1, 2021 —

In a recent appearance at the Institute for Economic Thinking, renowned journalist and author Chris Hedges shared his thoughts on the weakening of democracy in America, among other topics. His exchange with host Rob Johnson lasted just over an hour.

In my repost, I am going to focus solely on Hedges opening 18-minute monologue. It includes my editing and correction of the transcript that accompanies the discussion, plus an embedded You Tube podcast of the entire event. In my repost, my transcript appears first followed by the embedded video. My transcript features added subheadings, text highlighting, and added hyperlinks.

But first, here is my summary of Hedges’ 18-minute monologue for those who prefer a shortened version of his main ideas –

In an 18-minute monologue, Chris Hedges offers his thoughts on the weakening of democracy in America, noting that the decline has given rise to popular grassroots movements, giving citizens a voice and power. In response, political forces are leading an assault against these popular movements. According to Hedges, America’s capitalist-based form of democracy has been eradicated, reconfigured into an oligarchy, controlled by global speculators.

Hedges points to what has happened to members of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party — Liberals, including Ralph Nader, have been pushed out and replaced with faux “feel-your-pain” friends of Wall Street. The end result has been the transformation of the Democratic Party into the Republican Party.

In the process, the Democrats effectively severed its connection to America’s working class in exchange for a phony display of corporate colonialism. With its adoption of NAFTA and trade deals, the Democrats have destroyed the lives and communities of the white working class. Neoliberal capitalism has transformed America into one vast sacrifice zone.

To write off the white working class as racist reflects a failure to understand what really happened to them. Hedges turns his attention to the emergence of the digital age, with its multiplicity of news and information sources it has essentially siloed itself. In the pre-digital, pre-internet era, the major TV and print news outlets set the agenda. But as the old print and big three TV news monopolies were replaced by a multiplicity of partisan media outlets, there’s no longer much difference between Republican and Democrat positions on all major issues. What we have now is a total breakdown in communication — nothing is based on verifiable fact or truth.

Politicians have been sucked into a vortex of misinformation, disinformation and bald-faced lies. Biden’s Dems have returned to doing what ruling parties always do – create enemies to distract public attention. And when truth is dead, who’re you gonna believe? Welcome to the age of a free-for-all media system pitting one demographic against another. Let’s not forget that 74 million voters backed Trump, despite his being the worst president in American history. In the context of Biden’s Democrats, evidence is emerging that they are returning to more of their same old losing tactics.

“The lesson from both this election and the pandemic is that we are losing control both as a nation and as a species.”

To watch the video and read my edited and corrected 19-minute transcript of Hedges’ 18-minute opening monologue, click on the following linked title. The full transcript of the event is available on the website of the Institute for New Economic Thinking.

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Chris Hedges: How Republicans, Democrats, and the Media Have Weakened US Democracy by Institute for New Economic Thinking, January 19, 2021

Renowned journalist and author Chris Hedges talks about the many ways traditional media, digital media, and the two political parties have worked to prevent progressive movements and give rise to the growth of the extreme right.

The You Tube Podcast of this January 19, 2021 event appears at the end of this post — 

MY TRANSCRIPT OF HEDGES’ OPENING MONOLOGUE

Rob Johnson:

I’m here today with my friend Chris Hedges, he writes at Bob Scheer’s Scheerpost and he has many, many, many wonderful books about the political economy of this world, the most recent is, America: The Farewell Tour. I understand next year he’s got a book coming out on mass incarceration and I look forward to that. Historically, Chris was a reporter and worked primarily with the New York Times for about 20 years in the middle East and in the Balkan region. Chris, thanks for joining. Thanks for being here.

Tell me, we’re in the middle of this tumultuous year — presidential election, a pandemic that seems to have intensified. What are you seeing that gives you alarm? What are you not seeing you wish you were seeing, and what are you seeing that gives you some basis for hope?

Chris Hedges:

Origins of the weakening of democracy in America

Well, the structures of democratic capitalism have been severely weakened. That’s a decades-long process, probably begun, if you want a start-date around 1971 with the Powell memo, that’s the memo by Lewis Powell, who was the Chief Attorney for the Chamber of Commerce, that laid out a kind of blueprint by which corporate America could respond to what the political scientist Samuel Huntington called, derisively, “America’s Excess of Democracy.

It’s the weakening of democracy gives rise to popular grassroots movements

Those [weakened structures of democracy] gave rise to popular grassroots movements, not just the anti-war movement, but the feminist movement, the ecological movement, earth day — Ralph Nader, by the way, was the original organizer of earth day — citizens action committees led by Nader — Nader was actually named in that memo [by Powell] as a target.

Political forces led the assault against all popular movements that gave a voice and power to citizens

What we’ve seen since is a frontal assault against all popular movements that gave not only a voice, but power to the citizenry, especially labor unions.

  • If we all remember Reagan going after the Air Traffic Controllers Union but this has culminated with right-to-work laws. At this point [only] about 6% of the labor force is unionized.
  • And then of course we’ve seen all of the policies deindustrialization turbocharged by NAFTA,
  • the destruction of social programs such as welfare — again, that was the Clinton administration, that was a Democratic administration. Welfare is in essence eradicated and 70% of the original recipients of welfare were children.
  • You saw the repeal of the 1933 law Glass-Steagall, which had put a firewall between commercial and investment banks — that was destroyed, which precipitated the global meltdown. It’s interesting that Canada, which under [Prime Minister] Chretien, did not tear down those firewalls and thus did not have a banking crisis with the global meltdown.
  • You saw constant deregulation including of the FCC [Federal Communications Commission], which, as a journalist, was important because that allowed the consolidation of — especially electronic media but not exclusively — into the hands of about a half dozen corporations that control, what, about 90% of Americans listen to and watch.
  • You saw a defunding of public television and public radio, which then became dependent on corporate money. If you went back and looked at public television in the 1970s, you could see critics, corporate critics, critics of imperialism like Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, even earlier before he was assassinated, Malcolm X.

Capitalist democracy has been eradicated, reconfigured into an oligarchy, controlled by global speculators

But all of that’s been eradicated and we configured the capitalist democracy into a system of oligarchy, a globe

  • It’s been seized by global speculators who have in — carried out because their lobbyists write the legislation — virtual tax boycotts. Amazon didn’t pay taxes at least last year, in fact, it got money back.
  • You’ve seen a massive consolidation of personal wealth in the hands of the billionaire class.
  • And, I think, most egregiously, that money corrupted the Democratic party. And that was a conscious decision by Tony Coelho, a Congressman in California, who, along with Clinton, realized that they could get corporate money if they did corporate bidding. David Cay Johnston wrote a good book, [Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense and Stick You With The Bill,] where he talks about how that effort to attract corporate dollars just began this massive rewriting of tax laws.
  • If you go back under Eisenhower, the wealthiest segment of the population, the wealthiest corporations paid 91% income tax.

Members of the Dems’ liberal wing, including Ralph Nader, were pushed out

What you saw — and I learned much of this from Ralph Nader who was turned into a pariah consciously — is that they pushed out the real liberal wing of the Democratic party. Ralph himself wrote I think 24 pieces of legislation, consumer protection, the mine and safety act, the clean water act. This was all Nader. But it was pushed through by liberal senators, Proxmire, Fulbright and others — Wellstone, maybe being one of the last.

The Dems’ “real liberals” were replaced with faux “feel-your-pain” friends of Wall Street

All of these people were pushed out of the Democratic party and replaced with this faux liberal — I would call them faux liberals — figures like Obama, figures like Clinton, who spoke in that traditional “feel-your-pain” language of the Democratic party, but serve the interest of Wall Street. Cornel West called Barack Obama a “Black Mascot” for Wall Street, which was correct.

The end result was the transformation of the Democratic Party into the Republican Party

What you really got was the transformation of the Democratic party into the Republican party. The Republican party was pushed so far to the right that it just became insane, and we’re watching its insanity at the moment.

Dems effectively ditched the working class in exchange for a phony display of corporate colonialism

But this left the working class absolutely bereft. The Democratic establishment essentially justifies this savage assault by being tolerant on issues of sexual identity and race. You see Biden attempting to put women and [Pete] Buttigieg, who’s gay, and people of color on the cabinet. But this is just corporate colonialism.

With NAFTA and trade deals, the Dems have destroyed the lives and communities of the white working class

They certainly serve, like Obama, those centers of power. And that has completely disenfranchised and enraged — and I think that their feeling of rage is legitimate — the white working class. And I have a particular sensitivity to the dispossession of the white working class because I come out of it, in Maine. And I have watched the destruction of these people, where my relatives were working or lower working class, and NAFTA and trade deals have just destroyed their lives and destroyed their communities. If you, for instance, go to the town that my grandparents are from, Mechanic Falls, Maine, it’s a wreck, it’s a ruin. Everything is boarded up. Even the bank in the center of town — it’s a small town — is boarded up. The church in front of the house where my grandparents lived burned down, and the town doesn’t have the money to raze it. It’s just blackened charred embers. The desperation has fueled the opioid crisis; that is true throughout the country.

Unfettered capitalism has transformed America into one vast sacrifice zone

I wrote a book Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt with Joe Sacco, out of West Virginia, these were sacrifice zones and we went to the poorest parts of the United States — Pine Ridge South Dakota, Camden, New Jersey, which, per capita, is the poorest city in America — to say, look, this is what unfettered capitalism has done to these sacrifice zones, and now we’ve just become one vast sacrifice zone.

To write off the white working class as racist reflects a failure to understand what really happened to them

And then, accompanying this dispossession of the white working class — which does express much of its rage in racist, even homophobic, Islamophobic terms — I’m not defending any of this, but I think we have to just write these people off as racist is not to understand what happened.

The digital age, with its multiplicity of news and information sources, has essentially siloed itself

You saw a radical transformation in the media, and I think Matt Taibbi has probably done the best work on this — read his book Hate Inc. It’s a very good analysis of what’s happened to the media landscape. One half of the cover of the book shows Sean Hannity, the other Rachel Maddow, because they do the same thing. If you go back and look at Manufacturing Consent, Chomsky and Ed Herman’s great work on the press, you see that the old paradigm no longer functions. That in the digital age, where there are a multiplicity of sources, the media has essentially siloed itself.

In the pre-digital, pre-internet age, the major TV and print news outlets set the agenda

It doesn’t seek, as with the old monopolies, — remember, we used to have just one major network. The power of the New York Times — and I know because I worked for The Times for 15 years — was not the readership, the readership wasn’t ever that big — the subscription base was rarely much over a million. But it [The Times] was the power to set the agenda. So that when I was overseas, all of the networks — now these were the big, kind of media stars that appeared on CBS or NBC — would actually come and knock on my hotel room at night and ask me what it was I was filing the next morning because they knew their editors would then send them out to do a story based on what I had reported. That was the power of the New York Times.

The former news monopolies have been replaced by a multiplicity of partisan media outlets

All of that’s gone. It’s been replaced by partisan divides. And it has transformed publications like The New York Times into partisan outlets. The Pew Research Center did a poll last summer where they polled readers and viewers –

  • So 91% of the people who read The New York Times identify as supporters of the Democratic party,
  • 87% for national public radio,
  • 94 – 95%, I can’t remember, for MSNBC.

And then you have the other side of the divide where 95% of the people who watch Fox news — I hate combining Fox with the word “news” — identify as supporters of the Republican party.

On all major issues now, there’s little difference between Republicans and Democrats

That has been commercially successful, and even politically successful, because on all of the major issues — trade deals, endless war, wholesale surveillance, austerity programs — there’s really almost no difference between the Republican and the Democratic party — where their difference revolves around what I would call societal or ethical issues, which are not unimportant, but they’re not social or political issues.

What we have here is a breakdown in communication — nothing is based on verifiable fact or truth

The danger of this is that you’re creating a wider, wider divide where people can no longer communicate, where nothing is based on verifiable fact or truth. And I fault the left as much as the right for this. The whole obsession with Russiagate, the whole attempt to blame the election of Trump on Moscow was really a deflection away from the complicity that the Democratic party had in the dispossession of the working class. And that’s very frightening.

Politicians are sucked into the vortex of misinformation, disinformation and bald-faced lies

Of course, we’re watching now the Biden — people around Biden ratchet up a new cold war. If you go back and remember when Biden’s campaign was faltering, he blamed — right after the Nevada caucus where Bernie Sanders shellacked him, I mean, got more than double the votes that he did. I think he got about 20%, Bernie got almost 50%. — he blamed it — he said, well, that’s of course because the Russians want Bernie Sanders. This goes back to Clinton during the 2016 blasting Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate, as a Russian asset, a line she repeated during the democratic primaries this year, trying to tar representative Tulsi Gabbard again as a Russian asset.

Biden’s Dems have returned to doing what ruling parties always do – create enemies to distract public attention

I think that it’s clear from the Biden appointments — and we can go through them if you want — but it’s clear from the Biden appointments that we’re going to get more of the same. The fact is most Americans, on both sides of the political spectrum, do not want more of the same. I worry that what they will do is what ruling parties always do and that is essentially create an enemy.

  • They can’t go after China because Silicon Valley will never let them, and because China frankly is too powerful,
  • so they’ll go after Russia, which is much weaker.
  • You’ve already seen it with this kind of cyber attack or when Hunter Biden’s laptop was discovered with all sorts of damaging emails and apparently pictures of him smoking crack and having sex or whatever. Again, that was an attempt to tar this as Russian disinformation.

When truth is dead, who’re you gonna believe?

Again, if you look at — even the New York Times, when they talk about the John Podesta emails — these were the … he was Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair — which were published by WikiLeaks, it’s described as disinformation. Well, as a journalist, this is very frightening. It’s not disinformation. Those emails were true. Nobody has ever challenged the veracity of those emails.

Welcome to the age of a free-for-all media system pitting one demographic against another

On the one hand, we’ve seen a kind of savaging of the country by rapacious global corporate entities which are supranational and have no loyalty to the nation state at all –Ralph Nader correctly calls them traitors — coupled with a breakdown of a media system, which sets one demographic against another.

Let’s not forget that 74 million voters backed Trump, the worst president in American history

I’ll just close by saying that we must never forget that Donald Trump received the second highest vote count in any presidential race in American history, 74 million voters, and Biden got about 80. Now, this is after one of the most disastrous presidencies in American history, flagrant corruption, inaptitude, racism, appointing conspiracy theorists, et cetera. And not being able to handle the pandemic, although it’s not completely his fault. The for-profit healthcare system is not designed to handle a national health crisis, it’s designed to make money, and that is going to be a problem under Biden.

Evidence emerging that Biden’s Dems are returning to more of the same losing tactics

But so he increases vote count by 11 million votes. And that has to be a huge flashing red light. Watching the Biden administration go back to more of the same,

  • it has apparently rebuffed Bernie Sanders’ desire to be Secretary of Labor
  • or they just refuse to allow Ocasio-Cortez to be on the Energy Committee because of her support of the Green New Deal
  • [and] I mean, virtually all of the nominees including Neera Tanden, this former Clinton aide who has been picked to be Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and who spent the last nine years running the Democratic party’s think tank, the Center for American Progress, and has just been as openly ridiculed [by] Sanders and Sanders supporters.

“The lesson from both this election and the pandemic is that we are losing control both as a nation and as a species.”

That’s where we are and it’s [been] a decades-long march. It’s not something that was caused by a particular election cycle. These are structural, major structural dilemmas that I see no party addressing in a real way. You’re watching Giuliani and Trump attempt to use the same kind of conspiracy theories, the Venezuelan software designed by Hugo Chavez who died in 2013 for corrupting the election. I mean, it’s just as ludicrous as blaming the Kremlin for Trump’s rise. But this is a characteristic of two parties that refuse to confront their own responsibility for where we are and a media that no longer informs, but essentially caters to a particular demographic and demonizes the other demographics. Then we didn’t talk about the climate crisis, which is, of course, “emergency” is the right word.

So, all of these things come together, and I think that the lesson from both this election and the pandemic is that we are losing control both as a nation and as a species.

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You Tube Podcast  January 19, 2021

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