Donald Trump Is Our National Catastrophe

This spring I taught a seminar (via Zoom, of course) at the University of Chicago on the art of political persuasion. We read Lincoln, Pericles, King, Orwell, Havel and Churchill, among other great practitioners of the art. We ended with a study of Donald Trump’s tweets, as part of a class on demagogy.

If the closing subject was depressing, at least the timing was appropriate.

We are in the midst of an unprecedented national catastrophe. The catastrophe is not the pandemic, or an economic depression, or killer cops, or looted cities, or racial inequities. These are all too precedented. What’s unprecedented is that never before have we been led by a man who so completely inverts the spirit of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.

With malice toward all; with charity for none: eight words that encapsulate everything this president is, does and stands for.

What does one learn when reading great political speeches and writings? That well-chosen words are the way by which past deeds acquire meaning and future deeds acquire purpose. “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here,” are the only false notes in the Gettysburg Address. The Battle of Gettysburg is etched in national memory less for its military significance than because Lincoln reinvented the goals of the Civil War in that speech — and, in doing so, reimagined the possibilities of America.

Political writing doesn’t just provide meaning and purpose. It also offers determination, hope and instruction.

In “The Power of the Powerless,” written at one of the grimmer moments of Communist tyranny, Václav Havel laid out why the system was so much weaker, and the individual so much stronger, than either side knew. In his “Fight on the beaches” speech after Dunkirk, Winston Churchill told Britons of “a victory inside this deliverance” — a reason, however remote, for resolve and optimism. In “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King Jr., explained why patience was no answer to injustice: “When you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity … then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.”

In a word, great political writing aims to elevate. What, by contrast, does one learn by studying Trump’s utterances?

The purpose of Trump’s presidency is to debase, first by debasing the currency of speech. It’s why he refuses to hire reasonably competent speechwriters to craft reasonably competent speeches. It’s why his communication team has been filled by people like Dan Scavino and Stephanie Grisham and Sarah Sanders.

And it’s why Twitter is his preferred medium of communication. It is speech designed for provocations and put-downs; for making supporters feel smug; for making opponents seethe; for reducing national discourse to the level of grunts and counter-grunts.

That’s a level that suits Trump because it’s the level at which he excels. Anyone who studies Trump’s tweets carefully must come away impressed by the way he has mastered the demagogic arts. He doesn’t lead his base, as most politicians do. He personifies it. He speaks to his followers as if he were them. He cultivates their resentments, demonizes their opponents, validates their hatreds. He glorifies himself so they may bask in the reflection.

Whatever this has achieved for him, or them, it’s a calamity for us. At a moment when disease has left more than 100,000 American families bereft, we have a president incapable of expressing the nation’s heartbreak. At a moment of the most bitter racial grief since the 1960s, we have a president who has bankrupted the moral capital of the office he holds.

And at a moment when many Americans, particularly conservatives, are aghast at the outbursts of looting and rioting that have come in the wake of peaceful protests, we have a president who wants to replace rule of law with rule by the gun. If Trump now faces a revolt by the Pentagon’s civilian and military leadership (both current and former) against his desire to deploy active-duty troops in American cities, it’s because his words continue to drain whatever is left of his credibility as commander in chief.

I write this as someone who doesn’t lay every national problem at Trump’s feet and tries to give him credit when I think it’s due.

Trump is no more responsible for the policing in Minneapolis than Barack Obama was responsible for policing in Ferguson. I doubt the pandemic would have been handled much better by a Hillary Clinton administration, especially considering the catastrophic errors of judgment by people like Bill de Blasio and Andrew Cuomo. And our economic woes are largely the result of a lockdown strategy most avidly embraced by the president’s critics.

But the point here isn’t that Trump is responsible for the nation’s wounds. It’s that he is the reason some of those wounds have festered and why none of them can heal, at least for as long as he remains in office. Until we have a president who can say, as Lincoln did in his first inaugural, “We are not enemies, but friends” — and be believed in the bargain — our national agony will only grow worse.

G-7 Meeting Ends in Disagreement Over Coronavirus Name

U.S. wanted a statement referring to the coronavirus as the ‘Wuhan virus.’ Other nations disagreed.

WASHINGTON—A meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of Seven nations ended Wednesday without a customary joint statement because members wouldn’t agree with a U.S. request to refer to the novel coronavirus as the “Wuhan virus,” according to an official familiar with the matter.

The U.S. chaired the meeting, which was conducted virtually due to concerns about the outbreak of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. The State Department is using the hashtag #WuhanVirus on Twitter.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who represented the U.S., declined to comment when asked about the disagreement during a briefing with reporters on Wednesday.

Top agenda items for the meeting included preventing further crises in the world’s most vulnerable countries and keeping global travel routes open to ensure citizens can return home.

“This isn’t a time for blame; this is a time to solve this global problem. We are focused on that today,” Mr. Pompeo told reporters.

The German magazine Der Spiegel reported the disagreement among the seven industrialized nations earlier Wednesday. The Trump administration has drawn criticism for its description of the novel coronavirus, which some critics said has stoked hostility toward Asian Americans.

Mr. Pompeo reiterated his previous criticism of China for what he called a disinformation campaign about the virus. He also said that Chinese authorities still were withholding information about the outbreak that started in Hubei province.

The Chinese embassy in Washington didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Other participating G-7 nations released their own statements about the outcome of the meeting on Wednesday, though didn’t refer to the novel coronavirus as the “Wuhan virus” or the “Chinese virus,” a term used by President Trump.

The G-7 consists of the U.S., U.K., Canada, Japan, Italy, Germany and France.

“Today, I’ve agreed to work together to intensify international cooperation to support vulnerable countries, pursue a vaccine, protect the world economy, and enable our citizens who are stranded to get home safely,” the U.K. foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said in a statement.

The Trump Presidency Is Over

It has taken a good deal longer than it should have, but Americans have now seen the con man behind the curtain.

When, in January 2016, I wrote that despite being a lifelong Republican who worked in the previous three GOP administrations, I would never vote for Donald Trump, even though his administration would align much more with my policy views than a Hillary Clinton presidency would, a lot of my Republican friends were befuddled. How could I not vote for a person who checked far more of my policy boxes than his opponent?

What I explained then, and what I have said many times since, is that Trump is fundamentally unfit—intellectually, morally, temperamentally, and psychologically—for office. For me, that is the paramount consideration in electing a president, in part because at some point it’s reasonable to expect that a president will face an unexpected crisis—and at that point, the president’s judgment and discernment, his character and leadership ability, will really matter.

“Mr. Trump has no desire to acquaint himself with most issues, let alone master them” is how I put it four years ago. “No major presidential candidate has ever been quite as disdainful of knowledge, as indifferent to facts, as untroubled by his benightedness.” I added this:

Mr. Trump’s virulent combination of ignorance, emotional instability, demagogy, solipsism and vindictiveness would do more than result in a failed presidency; it could very well lead to national catastrophe. The prospect of Donald Trump as commander in chief should send a chill down the spine of every American.

It took until the second half of Trump’s first term, but the crisis has arrived in the form of the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s hard to name a president who has been as overwhelmed by a crisis as the coronavirus has overwhelmed Donald Trump.

To be sure, the president isn’t responsible for either the coronavirus or the disease it causes, COVID-19, and he couldn’t have stopped it from hitting our shores even if he had done everything right. Nor is it the case that the president hasn’t done anything right; in fact, his decision to implement a travel ban on China was prudent. And any narrative that attempts to pin all of the blame on Trump for the coronavirus is simply unfair. The temptation among the president’s critics to use the pandemic to get back at Trump for every bad thing he’s done should be resisted, and schadenfreude is never a good look.
That said, the president and his administration are responsible for grave, costly errors, most especially the epic manufacturing failures in diagnostic testing, the decision to test too few people, the delay in expanding testing to labs outside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and problems in the supply chain. These mistakes have left us blind and badly behind the curve, and, for a few crucial weeks, they created a false sense of security. What we now know is that the coronavirus silently spread for several weeks, without us being aware of it and while we were doing nothing to stop it. Containment and mitigation efforts could have significantly slowed its spread at an early, critical point, but we frittered away that opportunity.

“They’ve simply lost time they can’t make up. You can’t get back six weeks of blindness,” Jeremy Konyndyk, who helped oversee the international response to Ebola during the Obama administration and is a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, told The Washington Post. “To the extent that there’s someone to blame here, the blame is on poor, chaotic management from the White House and failure to acknowledge the big picture.”

Earlier this week, Anthony Fauci, the widely respected director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases whose reputation for honesty and integrity has been only enhanced during this crisis, admitted in congressional testimony that the United States is still not providing adequate testing for the coronavirus. “It is failing. Let’s admit it.” He added, “The idea of anybody getting [testing] easily, the way people in other countries are doing it, we’re not set up for that. I think it should be, but we’re not.”

We also know the World Health Organization had working tests that the United States refused, and researchers at a project in Seattle tried to conduct early tests for the coronavirus but were prevented from doing so by federal officials. (Doctors at the research project eventually decided to perform coronavirus tests without federal approval.)

But that’s not all. The president reportedly ignored early warnings of the severity of the virus and grew angry at a CDC official who in February warned that an outbreak was inevitable. The Trump administration dismantled the National Security Council’s global-health office, whose purpose was to address global pandemics; we’re now paying the price for that. “We worked very well with that office,” Fauci told Congress. “It would be nice if the office was still there.” We may face a shortage of ventilators and medical supplies, and hospitals may soon be overwhelmed, certainly if the number of coronavirus cases increases at a rate anything like that in countries such as Italy. (This would cause not only needless coronavirus-related deaths, but deaths from those suffering from other ailments who won’t have ready access to hospital care.)

Some of these mistakes are less serious and more understandable than others. One has to take into account that in government, when people are forced to make important decisions based on incomplete information in a compressed period of time, things go wrong.

Yet in some respects, the avalanche of false information from the president has been most alarming of all. It’s been one rock slide after another, the likes of which we have never seen. Day after day after day he brazenly denied reality, in an effort to blunt the economic and political harm he faced. But Trump is in the process of discovering that he can’t spin or tweet his way out of a pandemic. There is no one who can do to the coronavirus what Attorney General William Barr did to the Mueller report: lie about it and get away with it.

The president’s misinformation and mendacity about the coronavirus are head-snapping.

  • He claimed that it was contained in America when it was actually spreading.
  • He claimed that we had “shut it down” when we had not.
  • He claimed that testing was available when it wasn’t.
  • He claimed that the coronavirus will one day disappear “like a miracle”; it won’t.
  • He claimed that a vaccine would be available in months; Fauci says it will not be available for a year or more.
  • Trump falsely blamed the Obama administration for impeding coronavirus testing.
  • He stated that the coronavirus first hit the United States later than it actually did. (He said that it was three weeks prior to the point at which he spoke; the actual figure was twice that.)
  • The president claimed that the number of cases in Italy was getting “much better” when it was getting much worse. And in one of the more stunning statements an American president has ever made,
  • Trump admitted that his preference was to keep a cruise ship off the California coast rather than allowing it to dock, because he wanted to keep the number of reported cases of the coronavirus artificially low.

“I like the numbers,” Trump said. “I would rather have the numbers stay where they are. But if they want to take them off, they’ll take them off. But if that happens, all of a sudden your 240 [cases] is obviously going to be a much higher number, and probably the 11 [deaths] will be a higher number too.” (Cooler heads prevailed, and over the president’s objections, the Grand Princess was allowed to dock at the Port of Oakland.)

On and on it goes.

To make matters worse, the president delivered an Oval Office address that was meant to reassure the nation and the markets but instead shook both. The president’s delivery was awkward and stilted; worse, at several points, the president, who decided to ad-lib the teleprompter speech, misstated his administration’s own policies, which the administration had to correct. Stock futures plunged even as the president was still delivering his speech. In his address, the president called for Americans to “unify together as one nation and one family,” despite having referred to Washington Governor Jay Inslee as a “snake” days before the speech and attacking Democrats the morning after it. As The Washington Post’s Dan Balz put it, “Almost everything that could have gone wrong with the speech did go wrong.”

Taken together, this is a massive failure in leadership that stems from a massive defect in character. Trump is such a habitual liar that he is incapable of being honest, even when being honest would serve his interests. He is so impulsive, shortsighted, and undisciplined that he is unable to plan or even think beyond the moment. He is such a divisive and polarizing figure that he long ago lost the ability to unite the nation under any circumstances and for any cause. And he is so narcissistic and unreflective that he is completely incapable of learning from his mistakes. The president’s disordered personality makes him as ill-equipped to deal with a crisis as any president has ever been. With few exceptions, what Trump has said is not just useless; it is downright injurious.

he nation is recognizing this, treating him as a bystander “as school superintendents, sports commissioners, college presidents, governors and business owners across the country take it upon themselves to shut down much of American life without clear guidance from the president,” in the words of Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times.

Donald Trump is shrinking before our eyes.

The coronavirus is quite likely to be the Trump presidency’s inflection point, when everything changed, when the bluster and ignorance and shallowness of America’s 45th president became undeniable, an empirical reality, as indisputable as the laws of science or a mathematical equation.

It has taken a good deal longer than it should have, but Americans have now seen the con man behind the curtain. The president, enraged for having been unmasked, will become more desperate, more embittered, more unhinged. He knows nothing will be the same. His administration may stagger on, but it will be only a hollow shell. The Trump presidency is over.

Trump adds Jews to his hit parade of hatred

Seemingly devoted to making our country into the Divided States of America, the President who smeared and offended Muslims and Latinos is now doing the same for Jews. Speaking in the Oval Office, Donald Trump accused Jews who vote for Democrats of having “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”

With those nine evil words, he deployed a vague but potent trope about Jewish patriotism. Accusations of “disloyalty” were flung at Jews in Nazi Germany and have been used to smear Jews around the world. Trump wasn’t specific about the loyalty Jewish Democrats were violating.
  • To Israel?
  • To Judaism?
  • To America?
  • To Trump?

He subsequently explained to reporters Wednesday that he had meant that those who support Democrats are disloyal to “Jewish people” and to Israel. He did not explain why he should be considered a proper judge of Jewish Americans’ obligations.

The uproar over Trump’s remarks drew press attention away from rising evidence that the US is headed for an economic meltdown. The economy has been his main claim to presidential success. On the very day he shouted-out to anti-Semites, Trump also admitted that more tax cuts are being considered as a way to halt the slide into recession.
Confusing and outrageous statements are key to Trump’s style of attention-seeking, which he refined over decades of manipulating the tabloid press in New York City. Back then he would make outrageous statements about
  • his own wealth,
  • plant stories about the famous women pursuing him for romance, and
  • jump into controversies like the attack on a jogger in Central Park, which he exploited with signed advertisements calling for New York state to reinstate the death penalty.
In the jogger case, Trump wasn’t so bold as to say the youngsters arrested for the crime should be executed, but the implication was obvious. (It should be noted that they were eventually exonerated of the crime.) The wording meant that Trump could exploit the dangerous anger people felt about the attack, but in an indirect way.
By the time he began his 2016 campaign for president, Trump had perfected his method of attaching escape-hatch-caveats to inflammatory words about groups of people. So it was that he said that a few “good people” were among the immigrants from Mexico whom he described as rapists and people bringing drugs.
With his “lack of knowledge” and “great disloyalty” smear, Trump again picked up his favorite playthings — dangerous words — and threw them around recklessly. Those who identify with neo-Nazis chanting “Jews will not replace us” during the awful white nationalist demonstrations in Charlottesville would find in Trump’s comment confirmation that he is with them. He expressed a similar sentiment during the Charlottesville crisis when he noted there were “very fine people” among those who carried torches and shouted the Nazi slogan “blood and soil”
Trump’s comments are of a piece with the white identity strategy he seems to be employing in his bid for reelection. With his brutal approach to immigration, references to “shithole” countries in Africa, and his consistent attacks on black and brown members of Congress — like his recent, and repeated, public disparagement of Muslim-American Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib — Trump plays on white anxieties about a future when they are no longer part of a racial or ethnic majority.
The big problem with Trump’s callous and destructive abuse of his office is that it requires regular renewal, intensification and amplification. Renewal comes when he simply repeats an ugly claim to remind us where he stands. Intensification comes when he raises the stakes to make sure he gets the attention he wants. Amplification comes when he adds a new group — in this case American Jews — to his hit parade of hatred. With three techniques he keeps drawing attention to himself, and away from serious problems.
It’s difficult to say where all this will lead. The only certainty is that Trump will continue along this line. Proof came less than 24 hours after his Oval Office disgrace when he retweeted a notorious conspiracy theorist’s claim that Israelis regard Trump as “the second coming of God.”
Jews do not believe in a concept like the “second coming,” but conservative evangelicals who largely support Trump do. The statement exploits their religious and emotional attachment to Israel in the crudest possible way. Of course, Trump endorsed it.

With Trump as President, the World Is Spiraling Into Chaos

Trump torched America’s foreign policy infrastructure. The results are becoming clear.

Earlier this week, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Asad Majeed Khan, visited The New York Times editorial board, and I asked him about the threat of armed conflict between his country and India over Kashmir. India and Pakistan have already fought two wars over the Himalayan territory, which both countries claim, and which is mostly divided between them. India recently revoked the constitutionally guaranteed autonomy of the part of Kashmir it controls and put nearly seven million people there under virtual house arrest. Pakistan’s prime minister compared India’s leaders to Nazis and warned that they’ll target Pakistan next. It seems like there’s potential for humanitarian and geopolitical horror.

Khan’s answer was not comforting. “We are two big countries with very large militaries with nuclear capability and a history of conflict,” he said. “So I would not like to burden your imagination on that one, but obviously if things get worse, then things get worse.”

All over the world, things are getting worse. China appears to be weighing a Tiananmen Square-like crackdown in Hong Kong. After I spoke to Khan, hostilities between India and Pakistan ratcheted up further; on Thursday, fighting across the border in Kashmir left three Pakistani soldiers dead. (Pakistan also claimed that five Indian soldiers were killed, but India denied it.) Turkey is threatening to invade Northeast Syria to go after America’s Kurdish allies there, and it’s not clear if an American agreement meant to prevent such an incursion will hold.

North Korea’s nuclear program and ballistic missile testing continue apace. The prospect of a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine is more remote than it’s been in decades. Tensions between America and Iran keep escalating. Relations between Japan and South Korea have broken down. A Pentagon report warns that ISIS is “re-surging” in Syria. The U.K. could see food shortages if the country’s Trumpish prime minister, Boris Johnson, follows through on his promise to crash out of the European Union without an agreement in place for the aftermath. Oh, and the globe may be lurching towards recession.

To be sure, most of these crises have causes other than Trump. Even competent American administrations can’t dictate policy to other countries, particularly powerful ones like India and China. But in one flashpoint after another, the Trump administration has either failed to act appropriately, or acted in ways that have made things worse. “Almost everything they do is the wrong move,” said Susan Thornton, who until last year was the acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, America’s top diplomat for Asia.

Consider Trump’s role in the Kashmir crisis. In July, during a White House visit by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Trump offered to mediate India and Pakistan’s long-running conflict over Kashmireven suggesting that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to do so. Modi’s government quickly denied this, and Trump’s words reportedly alarmed India, which has long resisted outside involvement in Kashmir. Two weeks later, India sent troops to lock Kashmir down, then stripped it of its autonomy.

Americans have grown used to ignoring Trump’s casual lies and verbal incontinence, but people in other countries have not. Thornton thinks the president’s comments were a “precipitating factor” in Modi’s decision to annex Kashmir. By blundering into the conflict, she suggested, Trump put the Indian prime minister on the defensive before his Hindu nationalist constituency. “He might not have had to do that,” she said of Modi’s Kashmir takeover, “but he would have had to do something. And this was the thing he was looking to do anyway.”

At the same time, Modi can be confident that Trump, unlike previous American presidents, won’t even pretend to care about democratic backsliding or human rights abuses, particularly against Muslims. “There’s a cost-benefit analysis that any political leader makes,” said Ben Rhodes, a former top Obama national security aide. “If the leader of India felt like he was going to face public criticism, potential scrutiny at the United Nations,” or damage to the bilateral relationship with the United States, “that might affect his cost-benefit analysis.” Trump’s instinctive sympathy for authoritarian leaders empowers them diplomatically.

Obviously, India and Pakistan still have every interest in avoiding a nuclear holocaust. China may show restraint on Hong Kong. Wary of starting a war before the 2020 election, Trump might make a deal with Iran, though probably a worse one than the Obama agreement that he jettisoned. The global economy could slow down but not seize up. We could get through the next 17 months with a world that still looks basically recognizable.

Even then, America will emerge with a desiccated diplomatic corps, strained alliances, and a tattered reputation. It will never again play the same leadership role internationally that it did before Trump.

And that’s the best-case scenario. The most powerful country in the world is being run by a sundowning demagogue whose oceanic ignorance is matched only by his gargantuan ego. The United States has been lucky that things have hung together as much as they have, save the odd government shutdown or white nationalist terrorist attack. But now, in foreign affairs as in the economy, the consequences of not having a functioning American administration are coming into focus. “No U.S. leadership is leaving a vacuum,” said Thornton. We’ll see what gets sucked into it.

The Collapse of the American Empire?

Chris Hedges is appeal at surprise
winning journalist who over the past
decade and a half has made his name as a
columnist activist and author he’s been
a vociferous public critic of presidents
on both sides of the American political
spectrum and his latest book America the
farewell tour is nothing short of a
full-throated throttling of the
political social and cultural state of
his country and with that we welcome
Chris Hedges back to TV oh it’s so nice
to see you in that chair thank you you
know I sort of jokingly said to you in
the green room before we started having
read your book I don’t know whether to
kill myself today or wait till tomorrow
right what I said you’re Canadian so so
we don’t have in being an American this
is the most depressing look at your
country I think I’ve ever read and if I
can just be permitted sort of an
observation on the top and then you tell
me if I’m totally out to lunch here
after reading this I thought Chris
Hedges sees the same problems in America
that I heard from Donald Trump at the
Republican convention where he described
widespread carnage and mass unemployment
and drug problems and so many things bad
with America your prescriptions
obviously for fixing all that are
different but do you – do you –
essentially see the country the same way
in that regard no because he you know
it’s important that he while he will run
down some of the pathologies that have
gripped huge sections of the country he
blames them on undocumented workers on
liberals on Muslims on Mexicans you know
so he’s a classic con artist or a
demagogue
but you do raise an important
point he tapped into the deep despair
and rage that large segments in
particular the white working-class feels
that having been betrayed by both of the
major parties well let’s get into with
it
you call this a farewell tour a farewell
to what a farewell to the American
Empire to America as we know it and is
that a good thing because I’ve heard
some people say you know the farewell to
American Empire will be a good thing for
this world it depends how the Empire
dissolves it depends what our reaction
is
it yeah I mean Empire when it contracts
and it will contract very quickly once
the dollar is no longer the world’s
reserve currency can express itself in
some very frightening forms so for
instance the British Empire in essence
it was a slow collapse from the end of
World War one culminating with the Suez
Crisis right the abortive attempt to
retake the Suez Canal after was
nationalized they had to retreat in
humiliation largely because of
Eisenhower’s opposition and then the
pound sterling was dropped as though and
so they fell into a pretty significant
depression but they handled it in a
different way what happens in the United
States we’re not prepared at all our
democratic social and cultural
institutions are deeply decayed we are
also a very violent society in a way
that for instance Canada is not or the
in the way that Great Britain is not we
are wash in weapons and not just weapons
but these are in essence these a k14 and
a take a the AR 14 s that are used in
these mass shootings and schools and
concert venues and malls and our assault
weapons there’s not they’re not for
hunting and they’re easily accessible so
I worry that the disintegration of
Empire will exacerbate the kinds of dark
pathologies that I spend a lot of time
in the book writing about the UK
farewell tour as you’ve described it
took about 40 years how long is the
American farewell tour been going for
well there’s been a steady decline I
would say since the early 70s when we
shifted in the words of the Harvard
historian Charles Mayer from an empire
of production to an empire of
consumption so we began to borrow to
maintain both an empire and a lifestyle
we could no longer afford those began
the distortions accelerated under Reagan
the cannibalizing that’s when the
cannibalizing of the federal government
began on behalf of corporations at the
expense of the citizenry you know the
famous phrase government is not the
solution government is the problem
well that’s true if you’re Goldman Sachs
or ExxonMobil but it’s not true if
you’re a single mother trying to raise
children on a substandard wage or no
wage so all of the mechanisms by which
democracy was supported by which
opportunity was offered to the have been
slowly erased and of course we’ve been
de-industrialized as has large parts of
Canada with all of the attendant
consequences that come from collapsed
communities the loss of good-paying
unionized jobs I’m gonna play devil’s
advocate for a second here because of
course Donald Trump would say the growth
rate that America is experiencing right
now the economic growth rate hasn’t been
this high in decades
the unemployment rate hasn’t been this
low in decades he sees other signs of a
country that is economically quite
dynamic right now well it’s all about
measurement so yes it’s true the stock
market is on a run but why well largely
first of all because of the Donald
Donald Trump’s tax cuts which will
remove an estimated 1.5 trillion dollars
from the US budget over a 10-year period
that money has not been used to bolster
manufacturing or create jobs it’s either
been hoarded or it’s been used to buy
back stock and that has inflated the
stock market because the senior managers
and CEOs of large corporations their
compensation packages are tied to the
value of stock presumably some of it’s
gone to creating new jobs not much
that’s how unemployment gets below 4%
yes but the unemployment figures are
completely fixed if you if you look at
how they measure unemployment so for
instance if you work one hour a week
you’re counted as employed the average
worker at Walmart works 28 hours a week
which puts them below the poverty line
they’re counted as employed
if you have stopped looking for work
after four weeks you are magically
erased from the unemployment rolls and
it doesn’t count large sectors of the
population students retired people who
are many of whom are now riding around
in RV vans work doing temp work for
Amazon at Christmas for 12 hours a day
in warehouses prisoners so real
unemployment the LA Times a couple years
ago said you know real unemployment is
pushing probably 17% if we’re teen if
we’re talking and we’re if we removed
people or if we look at people who are
considered the working poor ie those
people who have jobs but are the below
the poverty line as in essence
unemployed are certainly not receiving
an income that can sustain in any way a
lifestyle yeah I know you’re not a
massive fan of heartless capitalism as I
just read in 308 pages of the book
however comma private companies create
most of the jobs that most Americans
have so what do we do about that well I
would argue that there are different
types of capitalism
so I grew up in a
farm town in upstate New York and I saw
the penny capitalism of farmers farmers
produced brought their produce in for
sale you had regional capitalism so a
local factory owner who lived in the
community sat on the school board paid
taxes and then you have corporate
capitalism which is another animal
altogether so when you talk about
producing jobs let’s look at Apple where
are the manufacturing jobs for Apple
overseas they’re in China and what are
the working conditions for the people
who they’re subcontractors who make
Apple products not great it’s kind of
slave labor
it’s huge suicide rates wage theft when
they don’t make quotas they’re not paid
people climbing up on the living in
these horrific dormitories so corporate
capitalism is an enemy of penny and
regional capitalism
and it is global
it’s supranational it has no loyalty to
the nation-state
and it is corporate
capitalism that has
started and and kind of hollowed the
American economy out from the inside
when I read your book
I see an America at war with itself
between white supremacists and neo-nazis
who are trying to make their claim for
the end of the world I see you described
widespread sexual abuse in a hardcore
poor industry that is completely
frightening opioid and drug abuse and
heroin abuse that is off the charts
addictive gambling run amuck widespread
as you’ve described already here tonight
inadequate employment and
underemployment and unemployment far too
much general suffering I understand
you’re trying to tell a story here but
is that genuinely truly reflective of
America today
yes and and I think that
what and I you know I traveled all over
the country as you know for this and
spent two years so I was in Anderson
Indiana where all the old GM plants were
Utah
I wrote my gambling chapter out of the
Trump Taj Mahal before Trump ever even
announced he was running for president
it’s in Atlantic City in Atlantic City
it’s now closed it was when I was
writing it was in deep decay I mean most
of the rooms were mothballed rats mice
all yes mice were fighting on the floor
and people shooting up in the elevators
so I think what was so disturbing for me
writing the book was how many people
have been affected especially in the
opioid crisis I don’t think the numbers
begin to reflect the numbers of people
who are addicted to powerful narcotics
depressants and I mean I list
statistically we’re talking about big
big numbers big large sectors of the
American populous that in essence has
found ways to check out the
proliferation of hate groups is III used
for the book Emile Durkheim’s
great study of suicide where he went
back and tried to look the sociologists
at what were the factors of causes that
led people to kill themselves and he
talks where he coins this term anomie
and I think that that that’s what I’m
trying to do is explain that anomie that
has gripped I would argue at least half
the country and the dark pathologies
that that anomie produces and that
fundamentally if we don’t address that
alienation that dislocation and that
despair if we don’t we integrate these
people economically politically and
socially back into a system that no
longer responds in any way to their
rights and their grievances then these
pathologies will only grow we spoke
earlier about the decline of American
Empire as the pressure becomes worse as
the economic situation deteriorates if
these conditions go unaddressed then
these pathologies will explode and I
cover the war in the former Yugoslavia
and so I know what disintegrating
societies that resort to violence can
look like I watched as after the
economic collapse of Yugoslavia in late
1980s from a failed self-identified
liberal elite that couldn’t respond I
watched these figure these distortions
like Radovan Karadzic and Franjo Tudjman
slobodan milosevic
essentially be vomited up out of the
decay in the way that Trump has been
vomited up out of a very diseased
country well that was what I was gonna
ask you is is how much of what you’re
describing here is a feature of the
person who happens to sit in the Oval
Office today versus if anybody else were
in that chair I think Trump is the
symptom not the disease he’s a con
artist he’s a demagogue and he he he was
astute enough to tap into the zeitgeist
the tragedy for me you know there were
insurgencies in both of the major
political parties Bernie Sanders the
Demerol and the Democratic Party
establishment was just more astute in
terms of blocking the nomination to
Sanders and I would argue that they
effectively blocked it the Republican
Party establishment was not able to
block Trump and if Sanders had gotten
the nomination I think he would have
beaten Trump how would America be
different if that it happened
not terribly because with a
republican-controlled Congress it would
have been paralysis but you wouldn’t
have Sanders pushing forth the kinds of
agendas nor making the kinds of
appointments to the EPA to education
Supreme Court Supreme Court that the
Trump is made and and that that for me
is is quite frightening and and I think
we we have to pin some of the blame on
the Clinton campaign when you go back
and read the Podesta emails they push
Trump as a candidate because they
thought he would be the easiest
candidate to defeat so both Sanders and
Trump responded in to to the the reality
of the grotesque social inequality in
the United States which is greater than
the Gilded Age greater than it was a
century ago the difference being that of
course Trump is is dishonest I mean
Trump is is only fueled the kleptocracy
well let me pick up on that because and
you mentioned a bunch of important
institutions in American society in the
midst of that answer and I want to pull
a quote from the book here that deals
with that Sheldon if you would bring
this graphic up the most ominous danger
we face comes from the marginalization
and destruction of institutions
including the courts academia
legislative bodies cultural
organizations and the press that once
ensured that civil discourse was rooted
in reality and fact helped us
distinguish lies from truth and
facilitated justice I saw a poll
recently I bet you saw it too in which
Republicans were surveyed and 93% said
if Donald Trump says it I believe it

yeah I think the same poll showed those
same people saying if someone in my
family says it only 63% of people
believe that they believe the president
more than they believe their own family

80% of Republicans think that what’s in
the Wall Street Journal is not credible

80% of Republicans don’t believe the
Wall Street Journal even
in that America what hope do empirically
provable facts have well you pinpointed
something that’s very ominous when
national and political discourse is no
longer rooted and verifiable fact then
facts are interchangeable with opinions
truth is whatever you want it to be and
I write in the book about the nature of
the permanent lie that that all
politicians lie all governments lies I
have stone said but they live for
expediency so for instance Bill Clinton
argues that bypassing NAFTA there will
be many more American jobs good jobs
Bill Clinton doesn’t make that argument
anymore because it’s false and who knows
whether he knew or didn’t know but it’s
false with the permanent lie reality
facts doesn’t matter
so

  • Trump wins by a landslide
  • Trump has
    the largest inauguration crowd in the
    history of you know if we rent
  • first guy to win Wisconsin in 50 years

it’s
endless Andrew right it’s endless
endlessly but it doesn’t have it doesn’t
matter and then you have media platforms
that like Fox News that will propagate
or disseminate these lies uncritically
and and that has eroded discourse in the
United States the the institutions in it
functioning democracy you have
institutions and you cited them the
courts academia the press that their job
is to make sure that people speak about
a verifiable reality those institutions
have become corrupted weakened destroyed
or replaced with systems masks you know
Fox Breitbart all of these right-wing
propaganda outlets masquerading as news
the court system has been taken over and
is is now being finished off with
appointments by the from the Federalist
Society which is this ideological right
wing so and that it creates a kind of
schizophrenia where you whatever you
know you may see reality in front of you
but reality is denied by the power
elites and by the organs the media
platforms that disseminate the opinions
of the power leads and that that really
begins to sound like descriptions of
totalitarianism someone like Hannah
Aaron would write about I don’t want to
let the clock get too far away from this
year without being without giving you an
opportunity to speak to what you see as
the prescription for getting America out
of this farewell tour and here’s just a
few of the ideas that you advance in the
book a $15 minimum wage a ban on
for-profit health care a dismantling of
nuclear weapons ending trade agreements
giving citizenship to undocumented
workers what do you think implementing
that menu of policies would change I
think that it’s about reintegration so
it’s about taking this dispossessed huge
dispossessed segment of the American
population and reintegrating them into
the country and of course the opposite
is happening through programs of
austerity slashing welfare you know the
original welfare program which was cut
by Clinton 70% of the recipients were
children
I mean it’s called AFDC yeah I see
standing for children yeah well and the
children were sold out and there’s been
now a further slashing of availability
of food stamps and so you’re taking a
population in distress and you were
exacerbating that distress so I wrote a
book about the Christian Right called
American fascists and I came to the
conclusion after two years of writing
that book that the only way to battle
the Christian Right which I see as a
kind of Christianized fascist force and
I speak as a Seminary graduate I should
point that out
you’re a reference yes I am yeah you are
the dr. Reverend that’s right so
Christopher Lynn hedges the
the importance I believe to countering
the magical thinking of the Christian
Right was rooted in the economy in
reintegrating them into the economy
giving them the kinds of jobs the
unionized jobs that were once available
where you had job security job safety a
pension plan medical benefits and a
salary that could sustain a family
that’s all gone and by making it worse
we are pushing larger and larger parts
of the population into the embrace of
demagogues hate groups or seeing them
engage in behaviors that are wilfully
self-destructive
I mean suicide for instance the highest
rate of suicide in the United States are
middle-aged white men who realized that
there’s no place for them anymore and as
and I quote Pope Pope John Paul in his
encyclical on work work is not just
about the exchange of labor for wages it
is about status dignity self-respect
the ability to find a meaningful place
in society and we’re not doing it and
the longer we don’t do it the worse it’s
going to get here’s another quote from
the book politics is a game of fear
those who do not have the ability to
frighten power elites do not succeed the
platitudes about justice equality and
democracy are just that only when ruling
elites become worried about survival do
they react appealing to the better
nature of the powerful is useless they
don’t have one I guess I need to ask you
whether you are actually advocating the
violent overthrow of the United States
government No I’m strongly opposed to
violence as okay let’s take the violent
out of that sentence are you advocating
the overthrow of the United Scott vaque
ting the overthrow of a corporate
government I’m advocating the reversal
of the corporate coup d’etat in slow
motion how does that happen it happens
the same way it happened in Eastern
Europe I covered the revolutions in East
Germany Czechoslovakia
Romania it happens when people have
enough and how is it not I mean if the
Great Recession 2008 till whenever if
that didn’t and all of the corporate
kleptocracy that Wall Street got away
with there and how Main Street had to
pay for it if that didn’t propel people
to rise up what will the next crash and
we’re getting one I don’t know when but
it’s coming and this time around the
elites don’t have a plan B so what’s the
thing they can’t lower interest rates
anymore and they’ve already lower them
we’re already at virtually zero so what
does that look like that rising up that
you see coming
well we’ve seen glimpses of it you know
the put a most movement in Spain where
they surrounded the Parliament I mean
large numbers of people taking to the
streets obstructing the system I saw it
in vanilla square in Prague 500,000
Czechs I saw it in East Germany in
Leipzig and that was the most efficient
security and surveillance state in human
history until our own okay but I’m gonna
take a quote if I remember it correctly
from your book which was now that we’ve
got all those communists out of Eastern
Europe we can go back to the form of
government we used to have fascism is
that it’s coming well America is already
a failed democracy and Trump has no
ideology it’s an ideological vacuum
which is very rapidly being filled by
the Christian Right
we saw it he just had a big White House
dinner or with evangelicals he has 81%
support among evangelicals I that that
the ennis Noam Chomsky says you may want
Trump out but believe me Mike Michael
Pence will be worse the Christian Right
is organized they have their own
universities they have their own media
platforms and systems of indoctrination
they have huge amounts of money behind
them including the most retrograde
capitalists in the United States that
what’s coming to replace whatever this
is I’m a reporter and I and I and I
learned a long time ago that’s you know
trying to predict the future is a very
dangerous thing
but unless there is sustained mass civil
disobedience to put pressure on two
political parties and a system that is
completely captured by corporate power
then what’s coming I can do I can assure
you will not not look nice and not be
good you’ve called this America the
farewell tour but I wonder if this is
exclusively in your view an American
story no and we know from you know
what’s happening in Europe brexit
Hungary Poland which are kind of quasi
fascist states now Canada is not immune
to this you you also not to the extent
that we have but you’ve had your
experiences with mass shootings populist
politic populist politics but it’s far
more virulent and pronounced within the
United States because empires are always
fragile in this sense that they depend
on the control of foreign labour foreign
resources we have 17 years of warfare
now in the Middle East futile endless
you know meanwhile our infrastructure is
collapsing crumbling public libraries
are closing schools our teachers have to
buy basic supplies for students and you
know now we have this insane idea that
we’re gonna train teachers and public
schools to carry concealed weapons I
mean these are all examples of a society
that is completely on board so it is not
hardly unique to the United States and
and it will have a ripple effect in
countries like Canada but it will never
reach the extent of chaos and potential
violence because but but never forget
that that within American society we are
a deeply violent culture awash in
weapons we believe in the regeneration
through violence this myth that violence
is a form of purification and that comes
out of our long history of
side and slavery he started with a
revolution yeah we did not you did well
we also killed 90% of indigenous peoples
in the United States and slave 4 million
Africans and and we’ve never really
confronted that you know that dark
aspect you know in American history we
we cling to our national myth and and so
that does make us different and more
dangerous than Canada this is if you
don’t mind my saying a depressing book
but it is well reported and a very
important read America the farewell tour
Chris Hedges really good of you to come
into TV oats and I thank you thanks for
having me
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