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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Does Social Connectedness Explain Trump’s Appeal?

So what factor distinguishes Trump and non-Trump voters? My answer is social connectedness or, to use Robert Putnam’s term in “Bowling Alone,” social capital. Socially connected people have strong family ties and wide circles of friends, are active in churches and voluntary organizations and work steadily.

Putnam’s thesis is that social connectedness has declined sharply since the 1950s. But as Charles Murray notes in “Coming Apart,” that decline is uneven. Whites in the top third of income and education scales still have plenty of social capital. But there’s been a precipitous decline among whites in the lowest fifth of those scales. They work less steadily, attend church less often and participate very little in voluntary organizations.

Looking over the election returns, I sense that Trump’s support comes disproportionately from those with low social connectedness. My first clues came from the Dutch. Heavily Dutch-American counties in northwest and central Iowa and western Michigan, around Grand Rapids, were Huckabee and Santorum territory in past years.

This year, unlike surrounding territory, they voted for Ted Cruz, with Trump a poor third. Dutch-Americans have dense networks of churches and civic groups — unusually high social connectedness.

I saw something similar in strong Huckabee/Santorum southern Missouri. Southeast Missouri voted heavily for Trump, but southwest Missouri for Cruz. Southeast Missouri has high rates of disability insurance, an indicator of low workforce participation and low social connectedness. Southwest Missouri, headquarters of the Assemblies of God, has dense networks of civically active churches.

Similarly, exit polls show Trump doing worse with evangelicals who attend church weekly than with those who don’t. This helps explain why Trump carried South Carolina and lost Oklahoma, where church attendance is higher.

Then there is majority-Mormon Utah, whose Mormon majority has higher social connectedness than any other American group. Only 14 percent of Utah Republicans voted for Trump.

Putnam reports that social connectedness is highest in states with large Scandinavian- and German-American populations and in Utah. It’s lowest in — no surprise — Nevada, one of Trump’s best states.

In the 13 states highest in social connectedness, Trump has gotten just 21 to 35 percent in primaries and caucuses. In the 11 states lowest in social connectedness (except for Cruz’s Texas), his percentages ranged from 33 to 47 percent.

In states with medium social-connectedness but many retirees voting in Republican primaries – Florida and Arizona –Trump has run in the high 40s. He ran similarly in Massachusetts, where only a sliver of voters there are registered Republicans and their social connectedness may be limited to listening to Howie Carr on talk radio.

 

Trump’s Populist Schism Over Syria

His troop-withdrawal plan is politically risky. The Republican base is more hawkish than isolationist.

The most surprising thing about President Trump’s decision to overrule his top advisers and withdraw U.S. forces from Syria and Afghanistan isn’t that it was improvised and disruptive. Sudden shifts are part of Mr. Trump’s method, and disconcerting senior officials is one of his favorite management tools.

The surprise is that for the first time, Mr. Trump made a foreign-policy decision that divides the coalition that brought him into the White House and risks his control of the GOP. Mr. Trump has frequently challenged and infuriated his political opponents, but his Syria decision risks alienating allies he can ill afford to lose.

Nowhere has Mr. Trump’s sense of populist America been more important than in foreign policy. As a candidate in 2015-16, he showed that he understood something his establishment rivals in both parties did not: that the post-Cold War consensus no longer commanded the American people’s support.

.. During the Cold War, a large majority of Americans united around the policies that built the international liberal order after World War II. But when the Soviet Union collapsed, a gap opened between those who saw an opportunity to expand America’s world-building activities and those who saw an opportunity for the U.S. to reduce its commitments overseas. The foreign-policy establishment across both parties supported an ambitious global agenda, but increasingly alienated populists preferred to pull back.

For a quarter-century after the Soviet Union collapsed, the establishment consensus for building up the global order dominated American foreign policy, and dissenting voices were shunted aside. By 2016, that was no longer possible. In the Republican Party, Trump’s antiestablishment message led him to victory; on the Democratic side, Sen. Bernie Sanders’s campaign also benefited from opposition to establishment policies on security and trade.

The conservative opposition to conventional American foreign policy is anything but monolithic. One group of critics continues the Jeffersonian tradition of preserving American liberties at home by minimizing American involvement abroad. Figures like Sen. Rand Paul and his father, former Rep. Ron Paul, speak to this side of the populist coalition. Jeffersonians are skeptical of international institutions and alliances as well as American interventions to protect human rights abroad. They oppose big defense budgets and extensive military deployments and see no reason for an anti-Russia foreign policy. Many believe that Israel seeks to drag the U.S. into Middle East struggles that Washington would do better to avoid. Sen. Paul was quick to announce his support for President Trump’s Syria decision.

The other, Jacksonian wing of conservative populism shares the Jeffersonian suspicion of multilateralism and humanitarian interventions, but is more supportive of the American military and of maintaining America’s reputation for standing by allies. Jacksonians are hawkish about China, Russia and Iran and favor a strong relationship with Israel. This tendency in American politics is represented by figures like Sen. Tom Cotton, a U.S. Army veteran who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq and has criticized Mr. Trump’s Syria decision.

Mr. Trump’s beleaguered presidency needs both Jeffersonian and Jacksonian support to survive, and until the Syria decision, he had managed the tension between the two currents pretty effectively. Both Jacksonians and Jeffersonians supported the withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, and both hailed the president’s skepticism about humanitarian intervention. Both sides enjoyed the discomfiture of the foreign-policy establishment when Mr. Trump challenged conventional wisdom, and both praised his willingness to pursue a more unilateral course in foreign affairs.

That harmony may soon sour. Mr. Trump’s decisions on Syria and Afghanistan risk a rift between the president and his Jacksonian supporters and provide a way for some in the GOP to break with the president without losing their own populist credentials.

  • The betrayal of the Kurds, the
  • benefits to Iran of American withdrawal,
  • the tilt toward an Islamist and anti-Israel Turkey, and
  • the purrs of satisfaction emanating from the Kremlin are all bitter pills for Jacksonians to swallow.

Of the two wings of the GOP populist movement, the Jacksonians are the stronger and, from a political standpoint, the more essential. The GOP base is more hawkish than isolationist, and from jihadist terrorism to Russian and Chinese revisionism, today’s world is full of threats that alarm Jacksonian populists and lead them to support a strong military and a forward-leaning foreign policy.

Neoconservatives tried and failed to rally GOP foreign-policy hawks against Donald Trump. Should Jacksonians turn against him, they are likely to pose a much more formidable threat.