Watch the interview in its entirety (the last ten minutes are particularly unsettling):
Now read the article:
My friend Dick J. has often implied to me that my radical political leanings are over the top and counterproductive. He has worked in and around government at the state and federal levels, so he has been much closer to the inner workings of the process than perhaps I ever will be. He has first-hand knowledge that I will never have.
Still, I have never bought into his notion that real change in our nation begins at the margins, and that reform can only happen gradually. My perception, one that I believe is supported by historical and developing current evidence, is that most change is initiated by our wealthy elite. The work-a-day masses follow the lead of the wealthy, connected oligarchy, much as they did in the old Europe from which they all came.
American democracy was a brilliant compromise among landed colonial elites. The laboring classes were kept busy fighting the French or English and battling the indigenous populations at the expanding margins of the fledgling state and keeping an eye on the designated pariahs of the infantile Land of the Free, the African slaves. As the country evolved, and immigration from Europe kicked into high gear, the laboring classes were given new occupations, primarily scuffling among themselves, primarily along ethnic lines.
After the U.S. expanded to the Pacific, Native Americans were all but exterminated, and slavery was nominally abolished, the racial hierarchy established by centuries of chattel slavery spread beyond the original slaveholding states and into the fabric of the industrializing republic. The ethnic jockeying of the east coast was built on a foundation of evolving negrophobia; the Italians, Poles, Irish, and other non-WASPS who arrived somewhat later in larger numbers and without substantial wealth and political power eventually became more or less ‘white,’ a generic identity that didn’t erase the preexisting ethnic identities, but subsumed them to the more important identity of being ‘not-brown.’
This history is vital, because our current political realities rest upon the foundations of these racist evolutions. Nixon’s Southern Strategy, and the GOP’s subsequent corollaries (of which the Tea Party is just the latest gimmick), are built upon the toxic ground of American racism. The ground is still toxic, and the racism still relevant (even in forms that are initially barely recognizable as such). The right wing continues to wield power because it understands it has no institutional opposition and can feel free to play the same old Satanic game successfully.
The mistake of so many liberals is to think that one can combat the activism of the right wing with incremental measures that fail to threaten the continuity of existing institutions. Even in the face of increasing gains by the GOP, as they enjoy an overwhelming resurgence even after all their policies have been tried and proven to be miserable failures, I doubt that most liberals have given up this comfortable fantasy. They have Oprah-fied themselves politically: if they just vote consistently for representatives who say the right things and look sane and intelligent, then they can feel free to just keep shopping while our institutions right themselves. The pendulum will always swing back the other way.
As Chris Hedges illustrates, though, reality is not so automatic or comforting. The U.S.A. is as fragile a political system as any that’s ever existed, and the right wingers– the factions who at the founding were best represented, perhaps, by the land-owning, slave-holding elite– have never stopped trying to shape the republic to serve their sensibilities. The elites have always been masters at playing working people against each other and at getting the nominally free to enslave themselves for the marginal privileges of being ‘not-brown.’ Meanwhile, liberals have continuously found new and inventive ways to sacrifice and squander the ground gained by their most active and radical individuals and groups.
So you can laugh at the nonsensical ranting of the teabaggers, and you can stand with arms akimbo and scoff in disbelief at the resilience of the perennially discredited and morally bankrupt Religious Right. But understand that they and their leaders have stayed busy. They’ve never stopped organizing and fighting to achieve their ends. While you have been sitting back deceiving yourself that the pro-corporate, NAFTA-sponsoring, warmongering Democratic Party has been your champion in government, the right wing has been attacking all the institutional supports of the Democratic Party.
The recent direct assaults on public employees’ unions are just the latest engagement, and the initial success of the offensive should be a final warning to liberals, progressives, and working people across the country. The right wing has all but won, and liberals are merely being dragged along into the hellish trash heap of history. Progress is not a given. Entropy is. Nothing short of radical activism on a wide scale will have any chance of turning the tide. “We can’t talk about hope if we can’t grasp reality,” says Chris Hedges. If we want to survive the next few decades, we’d better listen to him.