During the presidential election cycle, liberals display their gutlessness. Liberal organizations, such as MoveOn.org, become cloyingly subservient to the Democratic Party. Liberal media, epitomized by MSNBC, ruthlessly purge those who challenge the Democratic Party establishment. Liberal pundits, such as Paul Krugman, lambaste critics of the political theater, charging them with enabling the Republican nominee. Liberals chant, in a disregard for the facts, not to be like Ralph Nader, the “spoiler” who gave us George W. Bush.
The liberal class refuses to fight for the values it purports to care about. It is paralyzed and trapped by the induced panic manufactured by the systems of corporate propaganda. The only pressure within the political system comes from corporate power. With no counterweight, with no will on the part of the liberal class to defy the status quo, we slide deeper and deeper into corporate despotism. The repeated argument of the necessity of supporting the “least worse” makes things worse.
Change will not come quickly. It may take a decade or more. And it will never come by capitulating to the Democratic Party establishment. We will accept our place in the political wilderness and build alternative movements and parties to bring down corporate power or continue to watch our democracy atrophy into a police state and our ecosystem unravel.
The rise of a demagogue like Donald Trump is a direct result of the Democratic Party’s decision to embrace neoliberalism, become a handmaiden of American imperialism and sell us out for corporate money. There would be no Trump if Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party had not betrayed working men and women with the North American Free Trade Agreement, destroyed the welfare system, nearly doubled the prison population, slashed social service programs, turned the airwaves over to a handful of corporations by deregulating the Federal Communications Commission, ripped down the firewalls between commercial and investment banks that led to a global financial crash and prolonged recession, and begun a war on our civil liberties that has left us the most monitored, eavesdropped, photographed and profiled population in human history. There would be no Trump if the Clintons and the Democratic Party, including Barack Obama, had not decided to prostitute themselves for corporate pimps.
Con artists come in many varieties. On Wall Street, they can have Princeton University and Harvard Law School degrees, polished social skills and Italian designer suits that are priced in the tens of thousands of dollars. In Trump tower, they can have cheap comb-overs, fake tans, casinos and links with the Mafia. In the Clinton Foundation, they can wallow in hundreds of millions of dollars from corporate and foreign donors, including the most repressive governments in the world, exchanged for political favors. But they are all crooks.
The character traits of the Clintons are as despicable as those that define Trump. The Clintons have amply illustrated that they are as misogynistic and as financially corrupt as Trump. Trump is a less polished version of the Clintons. But Trump and the Clintons share the same bottomless guile, megalomania and pathological dishonesty. Racism is hardly limited to Trump. The Clintons rose to power in the Democratic Party by race-baiting, sending nonviolent drug offenders of color to prison for life, making war on “welfare queens” and being “law-and-order” Democrats. The Clintons do a better job of masking their snakelike venom, but they, like Trump, will sell anyone out.
The Clintons and the Democratic Party establishment are banking that the liberal class will surrender once again to corporate power and genuflect before neoliberal ideology. Bernie Sanders will be trotted out, like a chastened sheepdog, to coax his followers back into the holding pen. The moral outrage of his supporters over Wall Street crimes, wholesale state surveillance, the evisceration of civil liberties, the failure to halt the devastation of the ecosystem, endless war, cuts to Social Security and austerity, will, the Democratic Party elites expect, airily evaporate. They may not be wrong. Given the history of the liberal class, they are probably right.
Sanders supporters, however, were given a stark lesson in how the political process is rigged. Some are disgusted and politically astute enough to defect to the Green Party. But once they no longer play by the rules, once they become “spoilers,” they will be ignored or ridiculed by a corporate press, excoriated by liberal elites and chastised by their former candidate.
Liberals, as part of the quid pro quo with the establishment, serve as attack dogs to keep us within the deadly embrace of corporate capitalism. Liberals are tolerated by the capitalist elites because they do not question the virtues of corporate capitalism, only its excesses, and call for tepid and ineffectual reforms. Liberals denounce those who speak in the language of class warfare. They are the preferred group—because they claim liberal values—used by capitalist elites to demonize the left as irresponsible heretics.
Liberals are employed by corporate elites in universities, the media, systems of entertainment and advertising agencies to perpetuate corporate power. Many are highly paid. They have a financial stake in corporate dominance. The educated elites in the liberal class are capitalism’s useful idiots. They are tolerated because they contribute, by discrediting the left, to the maintenance of corporate power. They do not think or function independently. And they are given platforms in academia and on the airwaves to marginalize and denounce those who do think and function independently.
The battle between a bankrupt liberal class and the left will color the remainder of the presidential race. What is predictable, and sad, is that so many self-identified progressives and their organizations will once again serve as the pawns of neoliberalism. They will practice censorship. Progressive sites in the primaries refused to reprint columns by critics such as Paul Street, who did not see Sanders as the new political messiah. And as we move closer and closer to the election, these sites will become ever more hostile to the left and ever more craven in their defense of Clinton.
The system of corporate power, which Clinton and Trump will not alter, will continue to be ignored. The poison of imperialism and corporate capitalism, steadily hollowing out the country and pushing it toward collapse, will be sidelined. The campaign will be a political reality show, this season with a genuine reality star as a presidential candidate. Campaigning will ignore ideas to elicit emotions—fear, anger and hope. Insults will fly back and forth over social media. The race will be devoid of content. Clinton and Trump, in this world of political make-believe, will say whatever their listeners want to hear. They will furiously compete for “undecided” voters, essentially the apolitical segment of the population. And once the election is over, one of them will go to Washington, where corporations, rich donors and lobbyists—who they represent—will continue with the business of governing.
After November, our role will be over. We will no longer be asked to answer polling questions designed to elicit certain responses. We will no longer be asked to play a walk-on part in the tawdry drama called democracy. The political carnival on television will be replaced by other carnivals. The corporate state will claim democratic legitimacy. We will remain in bondage.
The real face of the corporate state, and the evidence that our democracy has been extinguished, will be on display during the party conventions in the streets of Cleveland and Philadelphia. The blocks around the convention halls will be militarized and flooded with police. There will be restricted movement. Pedestrians will be stopped at random and searched. Helicopters will hover overhead. Permits to hold rallies will only be issued to those, such as Sanders supporters, who stay within the parameters imposed by the political charade. Groups suspected of planning protests to defy corporate politics have already been infiltrated. They will be heavily monitored. Those who attempt to organize protests without permits will be arrested or detained before the conventions begin. The cities will be on lockdown.
If you want to see what America will look like soon, across the country, shift your focus from the convention halls to the streets in Cleveland and Philadelphia. It is in the streets that our corporate masters will win or lose. And they know it.
Chris Hedges, whose column is published weekly on Truthdig, has written 11 books, including the New York Times best seller “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt” (2012), which he co-authored with the cartoonist Joe Sacco. Some of his other books include “Death of the Liberal Class” (2010), “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” (2009), “I Don’t Believe in Atheists” (2008) and the best selling “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” (2008). His book “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” (2003) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction.
Hedges previously spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.