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The Great Unraveling

Posted on Aug 30, 2015

By Chris Hedges

  In times of national crisis and public outrage, strange and dangerous candidates often arise. Above, Donald Trump. (Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock)

The ideological and physical hold of American imperial power, buttressed by the utopian ideology of neoliberalism and global capitalism, is unraveling. Most, including many of those at the heart of the American empire, recognize that every promise made by the proponents of neoliberalism is a lie. Global wealth, rather than being spread equitably, as neoliberal proponents promised, has been funneled upward into the hands of a rapacious, oligarchic elite, creating vast economic inequality. The working poor, whose unions and rights have been taken from them and whose wages have stagnated or declined over the past 40 years, have been thrust into chronic poverty and underemployment, making their lives one long, stress-ridden emergency. The middle class is evaporating. Cities that once manufactured products and offered factory jobs are boarded up-wastelands. Prisons are overflowing. Corporations have orchestrated the destruction of trade barriers, allowing them to stash $2.1 trillion in profits in overseas banks to avoid paying taxes. And the neoliberal order, despite its promise to build and spread democracy, has hollowed out democratic systems to turn them into corporate leviathans.

Democracy, especially in the United States, is a farce, vomiting up right-wing demagogues such as Donald Trump, who has a chance to become the Republican presidential nominee and perhaps even president, or slick, dishonest corporate stooges such as Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and, if he follows through on his promise to support the Democratic nominee, even Bernie Sanders. The labels “liberal” and “conservative” are meaningless in the neoliberal order. Political elites, Democrat or Republican, serve the demands of corporations and empire. They are facilitators, along with most of the media and most of academia, of what the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls our system of “inverted totalitarianism.”

The attraction of a Trump, like the attraction of Radovan Karadzic or Slobodan Milosevic during the breakdown of Yugoslavia, is that his buffoonery, which is ultimately dangerous, mocks the bankruptcy of the political charade. It lays bare the dissembling, the hypocrisy, the legalized bribery. There is a perverted and, to many, refreshing honesty in this. The Nazis used this tactic to take power during the Weimar Republic. The Nazis, even in the eyes of their opponents, had the courage of their convictions, however unsavory those convictions were. Those who believe something, even something repugnant, are often given grudging respect. 

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These neoliberal forces are also rapidly destroying the ecosystem. The Earth has not had this level of climate disruption since 250 million years ago when it underwent the Permian-Triassic extinction, which wiped out perhaps 90 percent of all species. This is a percentage we seem determined to replicate. Global warming is unstoppable, with polar ice caps and glaciers rapidly melting and sea levels certain to rise 10 or more feet within the next few decades, flooding major coastal cities. Mega-droughts are leaving huge patches of the Earth, including parts of Africa and Australia, the west coast of the United States and Canada and the southwest United States, parched and plagued by uncontrollable wildfires. We have lost 7.2 million acres to wildfires nationwide this year, and the Forest Service has so far spent $800 million struggling to control conflagrations in California, Washington, Alaska and other states. The very word “drought” is part of the deception, implying this is somehow reversible. It isn’t.

Migrants fleeing violence and hunger in countries such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Eritrea are pouring into Europe. Two hundred thousand of the roughly 300,000 migrants to Europe this year have landed on the shores of Greece. Two thousand five hundred have died so far this year in the sea, on overcrowded and dilapidated boats or in the backs of trucks such as the one discovered last week in Austria that held 71 corpses, including the bodies of children. This is the largest influx of refugees into Europe since World War II, a 40 percent jump since last year. And the flood will grow ever greater. By 2050, many climate scientists predict, between 50 million and 200 million climate refugees will have fled northward to escape areas of the globe made uninhabitable by soaring temperatures, droughts, famines, plagues, coastal flooding and the chaos of failed states.


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