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The Age of the Demagogues

Posted on Nov 29, 2015

By Chris Hedges

(Page 2)

Republicans, like Democrats, did not prevent wages from declining, unemployment and chronic underemployment from mounting, foreclosures from ripping apart communities, banks from looting the U.S. treasury, or jobs from being exported. The two major parties colluded to pass trade agreements, ranging from NAFTA and the WTO to the now-pending TPP, that impoverish workers and weaken the power of government to intervene to protect the citizenry and the environment. They worked together to strip citizens of constitutional rights and install the most pervasive security and surveillance state in human history. They collaborated with Wall Street to trash the global economy and seize trillions in taxpayer money in bailouts. The two parties funded disastrous and futile imperial wars that enrich the arms manufacturers and defense contractors while bankrupting the nation. They militarized police, rewrote the laws to explode our prison population and destroyed social service programs such as our welfare system, which was dismantled by the Clinton administration. The two parties orchestrated the corporate coup d’état while diverting citizens with the battles over gay rights, abortion, “Christian” values, gun laws and affirmative action. 

The country realizes it has been sold out. Most citizens are apathetic and do not vote consistently. Some, especially in the white underclass, are willing to follow anyone, no matter how buffoonish, who promises that the parasites and courtiers will be driven from power. This mixture of rage and apathy is a recipe for totalitarianism.

The hypermasculine values of the military are embraced across the political spectrum as an antidote to paralysis and decay. Toughness and violence are venerated. The obsequious hero worship, the celebration of American power, the sanctification of the military and military values, inflect all political discourse. Hero worship of the military has unwittingly laid the ideological groundwork for demagogues who promise glory, strength, order and discipline. It justifies the emergence of an authoritarian police state.

Half of all Americans live in poverty. They have watched helplessly as their communities have been plunged into distress by the flight of manufacturing jobs and as their infrastructure, both moral and physical, has been ripped out from under them. America resembles the developing world. A tiny, oligarchic elite amasses obscene amounts of wealth while most of the population lives amid boarded-up storefronts, dilapidated houses, pothole-riddled streets, abandoned factories and warehouses and crumbling schools. They see no future. They have abandoned hope. Their despair now infects a shrinking and desperate middle class. Americans feel isolated, vulnerable and frightened. They yearn for moral and economic renewal, revived greatness, and vengeance. And many are desperately hunting for a savior outside the established political order.

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The disgust directed at an ineffectual liberalism—as was true in late imperial Russia and the latter days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Weimar Republic and the former Yugoslavia—has given rise to a rejection of liberalism. Liberals and secularists, along with groups such as feminists, African-Americans and homosexuals that were supposedly championed in the quest for cultural diversity, are viewed not as political competitors but as contaminants. This is giving rise to a homegrown fascism—a subject I examined in “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America”—buttressed by the gun culture, a resurgence of racism and sexism and the fusion of the symbols of the Christian cross and the American flag. This American fascism will expand unless there is a radical restructuring to reintegrate dispossessed Americans into the economy. The failure to reverse the corporate assault, the continued expansion of poverty and despair, will accelerate the country’s breakdown. It will ensure the emergence of demagogues who, channeling this rage, will stoke white vigilante violence and call for the state repression of all groups including Black Lives Matter, abortion providers, environmentalists and anti-capitalists that are blamed for the country’s decline. 

The perfidious game of the Democrats and the Republicans has backfired. Playing the Democrats’ mantra of cultural diversity against the Republicans’ mantra of cultural diversity weakening the fabric of American society no longer works as a mechanism of control. We have entered a new and dangerous phase in American political life. The ruling political elites have been exposed as charlatans. The rage of the underclass, especially the white underclass, has broken its bonds. The age of the demagogues has arrived.


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