I can't decide whether Chris Hedges is a fool or a tool, but I know that his articles have done a great deal of harm to the progressive cause in America, and his latest piece, "The Coming Collapse", aims to do harm once again, at a very fragile moment in American history. I never had much patience for fools, and this one is prominent enough to benefit from a thorough putdown. Enjoy.
Rule 80/20 is the oldest and most effective method of making people believe propaganda. Ever since ancient priests snuck an implication that women are property into the Tenth Commandment ("thou shalt not covet your neighbour’s house, wife, servants, animals, or other belongings"), manipulators have lulled their victims' scepticism by mostly saying agreeable things, to make the occasional lie harder to spot.
Chris Hedges has been following this pattern his entire career. In the wake of 9/11, he was duly covering terrorism. In November 2001, he wrote an article for the New York Times, claiming that Iraq has been training airplane hijackers. That story turned out to be a lie, the kind that justified the most disastrous war of the XXI century. When that war began in 2003, he picked up a new cause: criticising the war that he has helped start.
His subsequent "support" of the progressive cause again and again benefited conservatives, and contributed to the next major political disaster of the XXI century: the rise of fascism in America. He supported spoiler candidates: first Ralph Nader in 2008, then Jill Stein in 2012. He first gained respect of Occupy Wall Street, and then completely demoralized it by posting a vicious attack on Black Bloc tactics that has split the movement and made it lose momentum and public support.
Even more telling, given what we all have learned over the past year and a half, is the fact that since 2011 and to this day he's running a weekly show on RT (Russia Today). He stayed with them in 2014, when Liz Wahl quit over RT's lies about Russia's invasion of Ukraine. He didn't leave in 2017, when RT's role in Russian interference in the 2016 elections has become public knowledge and made most other American contributors quit. Instead, he declared that RT is a victim of a witch hunt.
His choice of friends and his choice of rhetoric make it abundantly clear what kind of bias Chris Hedges brings into the discussion of the ongoing constitutional crisis in the United States of America, aka Trump presidency.
Naturally, he opens "The Coming Collapse" with blaming the victim: American democracy wasn't undermined from within and attacked from outside, it "decayed" and fell apart on its own. Wrong. American democracy may be flawed, but without GOP and Hedges' Russian employers working in concert to exploit its weaknesses, it would not have failed.
And it wasn't even that fragile to begin with. It took a combination of voter suppression, Russian bots using stolen Facebook data, and the October surprise (Comey's letter to Congress) to swing it all the way to the less popular and less qualified candidate.
Democracy can and must be made robust against such attacks. Without that, any gains in social equality are doomed to be short-lived. Instead, Hedges calls for a general strike (that's what "massive and sustained civil disobedience" actually implies).
Firstly, it’s not enough. To succeed, a strike must have one concrete, simple, and achievable goal. Reformatting the entire political system to be more robust and fair is a long and complex process. You can’t ask people to disrupt their lives for months — if not years — it would take to complete such overhaul. If you instead call a strike with the simple goal of getting a specific leader in power, in hope they would then complete that overhaul, all you get in the end, even if you succeed, is a new dictator.
Secondly, it’s a pipe dream. There’s no force in United States that can organize and sustain a general strike. To rebuild unions to the level where they could pull something like that off would take decades, we don’t have the time. We have to use what we have, and all we have is a flawed political system that needs our help to recover from a series of crippling blows.
So what he really calls for is pointless chaos that would give the dictator-wannabe-in-chief a convenient excuse to escalate the violence, or even declare martial law and suspend democracy altogether. Not to mention helping shift the blame for the coming Great Depression 2.0 onto progressives.
Then Hedges refers to Sheldon Wolin’s concept of "inverted totalitarianism", which postulates that because representative democracy is not perfect, it is no better than fascism. To make this toxic claim seem more plausible, Wolin goes as far as to whitewash fascism: "Unlike Nazis, who made life uncertain for the wealthy and privileged while providing social programs for the working class..." Bullshit. That’s what Nazi propaganda said, not how Nazi economy actually worked out for either side of the class war.
It is also worth noting how this rhetorical maneuver leans on a well-known technique of Soviet propaganda: whataboutism. KGB loved blurring the differences between bad and worse. It allowed them to distract people from the atrocities of Stalinism and the authoritarian oppression of post-war USSR, to discourage them from trying to improve the world around them ("try something else and it will only get worse"), and even to undermine their trust in objective reality ("everybody lies, give up on trying to find the truth").
All these are nothing more than demoralizing lies. Love is real. Objective truth exists. Scientific method works. World is knowable. World can be changed for the better. Nothing worth doing is ever simple. Every change is a trade-off, positive change requires evaluating relative merits of imperfect solutions. Perfectionism is a form of procrastination, done is better than perfect.
While it is easy to dismiss the most primitive forms of whataboutism, such as "but her emails", it is essential for a critical mind to also learn to recognize its more subtle forms, from Olgino brigade’s "try to overthrow Putin and there will be a war like in Ukraine" to Hedges' "Democratic Party steadfastly refuses to address the social inequality".
Did you spot the lie? Democratic Party has spent literally its entire legislative window of 2009-2010 on Obamacare. Healthcare for the poor is objectively the most effective way to make lasting long-term impact on economic inequality in US, it was a good move to make it their top priority. Republicans spent the entire 2017 trying to dismantle Obamacare and then stealing money from the poor to give trillions in tax cuts to the 0.1%. This difference must not be dismissed.
And he keeps piling on more bullshit like that, supplanting every case of "they didn’t do enough" with "they won’t even try". As if California Democrats had not just won a whole package of measures to decrease local prison population, AND to raise state minimum wage to $15. Or as if it was Democrats that won Citizens United and enabled big money to hijack the political campaigning. Well guess what, it was the all-or-nothing defeatism like this that has enabled Tea Party to take over the Congress in 2010 and steal the crucial Supreme Court seat in 2016, and it was your "Hillary is not good enough" message that got us Trump and completed the Republican takeover of all branches of government. Own it, Chris. Own it like you own your role in starting the Iraq War that you so valiantly and so belatedly opposed.
He then declares that "Trump has tapped into the hatred that huge segments of the American public have for a political and economic system". Oh come on, it's 2018, we know it's the other kind of hatred he tapped into! Racism of Trump himself and a significant part of his base is out there for all to see! Or shall we talk about what you, Chris, in your Occupy Wall Street years, have done to channel that movement's will to fight for their rights into despair and into this hatred of the system you speak of, into this idea you keep pushing here, that democracy doesn't work?
No. Instead, Hedges tries to sweep the racism and the fascism of the Trump regime under the rug, and calls Madeleine Albright's timely and insightful book about fascism "disconnected from the zeitgeist". He echoes Trump's attacks on the press and calls the scandals that prove illegitimacy of this regime "empty topics". He doesn't want us to pursue these legal and peaceful ways to remove Trump, just like he doesn't want us to go to the polls to vote against Republicans in November.
Like any propagandist, he is defined by what he refuses to talk about: racism, fascism, and Russian meddling. Chris Hedges is a crypto-fascist on a Russian payroll, delivering another demoralizing message custom-tailored to reach American progressives and discourage them from rallying behind the Democratic Party. It's time we stopped listening to fascists.