Few have been as politically active as Chris Hedges, an accomplished Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist and ordained Presbyterian minister. Bates invited the author to campus on the Tuesday before February Break to talk about his recent book, Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt , and about how we have reached this predicament in our country.
Last Tuesday, Betsy DeVos was nominated as the education secretary. DeVos is a proponent of antidisestablishmentarian school vouchers and the growth of for-profit schools that harm the United States’ public school system. As Hedges said, “She will dismantle and defund one of the crown jewels of American Democracy, and that is our system of public education. And I’m going to talk a little bit tonight about how we got to where we are.”
Hedges believes that Trump is a product of forty years. It began in 1971, when Lewis Powell, who was then an attorney for the Chamber of Commerce, wrote a confidential memorandum that was a blueprint for conservative corporations to reclaim America for the chamber. Hedges states that the Powell Memo was “a reaction to the opening up of American Democracy in the 1960s.” Now, according to Hedges, “Trump is a prophet of that coup d’etat. Because what happened in that four decade long period was that the liberal institutions themselves were hollowed out and became façades…the foundations are being eroded.”
These liberal institutions include the press, universities, and courts. In reference to Noam Chomsky, an activist, psychologist and philosopher, Hedges said, “But those liberal institutions…worked as a kind of safety valve. They were a mechanism in times of distress, economic breakdown in the 1930s, could ameliorate the sufferer, address the grievances.”
The liberal institution is a favor or advantage granted or expected in return for something. This is because these institutions set the boundaries of acceptable criticism and debate. According to Hedges, “As soon as you start attacking capitalism itself, or as soon as you start questioning the virtues of the leadership you are pushed out of the liberal establishment. And the liberal establishment is used to demonize you. I saw this as a journalist.”
Throughout his talk Hedges incorporated historical perspectives along with personal anecdotes from his time reporting overseas and teaching in Princeton, New Jersey prisons. Near the middle of his talk he discussed how American democracy was created as a sort of closed system with the electoral college and the marginalization of African Americans, women, and even non-property holding men.
The Democratic Party, until now, has long supported popular movements. As Hedges puts it, “It’s a battle on the part of popular movements to open up the space in American Democracy.” A functioning liberal elite, according to Hedges, “could address enough of the grievances [of movements] in order to keep a kind of equilibrium. But unfortunately in their own myopic greed, what these corporate and business entities did was destroy these movements in the name of anti-communism, purging … academia and the arts.”
Recent movements such as Occupy Wall Street and Standing Rock have brought an alternative, and unrestrained press or media platform that the traditional press, subservient to corporate power, could not express. The control of media outlets by corporate enterprises has evolved over the decades: “The press is being consolidate, a half dozen corporations controlling roughly 95% what Americans watch and listen to…But these are giant corporations where media and news are just one revenue stream out of perhaps hundreds of revenue streams, and that compete with hundreds of revenue streams.”
In the 2016 election, Trump received so much air time because he was entertaining, and during his talk Hedges reasoned, “that’s why the press, at first, was complicit in the rise of Donald Trump – not only because they created this fictional vision of him as a great economic titan on a reality television show, but because he drew in revenue. He got 23 times more the air time than Sanders…Because Sanders spoke about policy, he wasn’t entertainment.”
What Hedges proposes is to leave the Democratic Establishment and establish a leftist party concerned with economic justice. As he said, “We cannot build a just society. We cannot confront institutional economic form of racism and oppression unless we confront the military industrial complex.”
So as the Democratic Party continues to speak in the old language of liberalism, “You have a backlash against liberal institutions that have betrayed working men and women, even in the middle class…when they turn on the institutions, they also turn on the supposed values [like] tolerance.”
A huge reason why Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Establishment did not win the presidency was because they ignored the white working class, that then turned to Trump. According to Hedge, “They were betrayed. Their anger is legitimate and they were betrayed by people like us who busied ourselves with a boutique kind of activism about gender identity and multiculturalism—none of which I’m against—but not when it is divorced from the fundamental issue of justice.”
As Hedges said, “Unfortunately [we] fell into this pattern of the least worse. And that pattern of the least worst paved the way for the worst, which we have now.” The only way to change this trend is to participate in politics. Chris Hedges has been arrested several times protesting in the streets. He sued the Obama Administration in 2013 over the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (NDAA) because it allowed the arrest of individuals associated with the Al-Qaeda without access to an attorney or habeas corpus relief.
You never know when you stand up and carry out an act of conscience, an act of rebellion, the effect it has: “That is the moral power of resistance. It is an act of faith. And it is imperative for our time that we stand up. And it won’t be pleasant. I don’t like going to jail, it’s more time than I care to donate to the government. But these people are working at lightning speed and we have no time left.”
At a time when our nation needs leaders to emerge out of the woodwork and represent the interests of Americans on a moral level, it is imperative that individuals like Chris Hedges continue to voice their opinions and receive recognition for their representation of the people.