The façade of democracy and the disempowerment of the citizenry by corporations has sparked a nationwide revolt. Elites, fearing unrest, will soon become ruthless. We must engage now in acts of sustained civic mobilization and civil disobedience or be crushed.
Protester Bob Bowes, of Somerville, Mass., displays an American flag featuring corporate logos outside a meeting of U.S. elites in Boston. (Steven Senne / AP)
By Chris Hedges
May 17, 2016
The artifice of corporate totalitarianism has been exposed. The citizens, disgusted by the lies and manipulation, have turned on the political establishment. But the game is not over. Corporate power has within its arsenal potent forms of control. It will use them. As the pretense of democracy is unmasked, the naked fist of state repression takes its place. America is about—unless we act quickly—to get ugly.
“Our political system is decaying,” said Ralph Nader when I reached him by phone in Washington, D.C. “It’s on the way to gangrene. It’s reaching a critical mass of citizen revolt.”
This moment in American history is what Antonio Gramsci called the “interregnum”—the period when a discredited regime is collapsing but a new one has yet to take its place. There is no guarantee that what comes next will be better. But this space, which will close soon, offers citizens the final chance to embrace a new vision and a new direction.
This vision will only be obtained through mass acts of civic mobilization and civil disobedience across the country. Nader, who sees this period in American history as crucial, perhaps the last opportunity to save us from tyranny, is planning to rally the left for three days, from May 23 to May 26 at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., in what he is calling “Breaking Through Power” or “Citizen’s Revolutionary Week.” He is bringing to the capital scores of activists and community leaders to speak, organize and attempt to mobilize to halt our slide into despotism.
“The two parties can implode politically,” Nader said. “They can be divided by different candidates and super PACs. But this doesn’t implode their paymasters.”
“Elections have become off-limits to democracy,” he went on. “They have become off-limits to democracy’s fundamental civil community or civil society. When that happens, the very roots shrivel and dry up. Politics is now a sideshow. Politics does not bother corporate power. Whoever wins, they win. Both parties represent Wall Street over Main Street. Wall Street is embedded in the federal government.”
Donald Trump, like Hillary Clinton, has no plans to disrupt the corporate machinery, although Wall Street has rallied around Clinton because of her predictability and long service to the financial and military elites. What Trump has done, Nader points out, is channel “the racist, right-wing militants” within the electorate, embodied in large part by the white working poor, into the election process, perhaps for one last time.
Much of the left, Nader argues, especially with the Democratic Party’s blatant rigging of the primaries to deny Bernie Sanders the nomination, grasps that change will come only by building mass movements. This gives the left, at least until these protofascist forces also give up on the political process, a window of opportunity. If we do not seize it, he warns, we may be doomed.
He despairs over the collapse of the commercial media, now governed by the primacy of corporate profit.
“Trump’s campaign has enormous appeal to the commercial mass media,” Nader said. “He brought huge ratings during the debates. He taunted the networks. He said, ‘I’m boycotting this debate. It’s going to cost you profit.’ Has this ever happened before in American history? It shows you the decay, the commercialization of public elections.”
The impoverished national discourse, fostered by a commercial mass media that does not see serious political debate as profitable and focuses on the trivial, the salacious and the inane, has empowered showmen and con artists such as Trump.
“Trump speaks in a very plain language, at the third-grade level, according to some linguists,” Nader said. “He speaks like a father figure. He says, ‘I’ll get you jobs. I’ll bring back industry. I’ll bring back manufacturing. I’ll protect you from immigrants.’ The media never challenges him. He is not asked, ‘How are we going do all of this? What is step one? Step two? Is the White House going to ignore the Congress and the courts?’ He astonishes his audience. He amazes them with his bullying, his lying, his insults, like ‘Little Marco,’ the wall Mexico is going to pay for, no more entry in the country by Muslims—a quarter of the human race—until we figure it out. The media never catches up with him. He is always on the offensive. He is always news. The commercial media wants the circus. It gives them high ratings and high profit.”
The focus on info-entertainment has left not only left the public uninformed and easily manipulated but has locked out the voices that advocate genuine reform and change.
“The commercial media does not have time for citizen groups and citizen leaders who are really trying to make America great, whether by advancing health safety or economic well-being,” Nader bemoaned. “These groups are overwhelmed. They’re marginalized. They’re kept from nourishing the contents of national, state and local elections. Look at the Sunday news shows. No one can get on to demonstrate that the majority of the people want full Medicare for all with the free choice of doctors and hospitals, not only more efficient but more life-saving. There was a major press conference a few days ago at the National Press Club. The leading advocates of full Medicare for all, or single-payer, were there, Dr. Steffie Woolhandler and Dr. Sidney Wolfe, the heads of Physicians for a National Health Program. This is a group with about 15,000 physicians on board. Nobody came. There was a stringer for an indie media outlet and the corporate crime reporter. There are all kinds of major demonstrations, 1,300 arrests outside the Congress protesting the corruption of money in politics. Again no coverage, except a little on NPR and on ‘Democracy Now!’ ”
“The system is gamed,” he said. “The only way out of it is to mobilize the civil society.
“We are organizing the greatest gathering of accomplished citizen advocacy groups on the greatest number of redirections and reforms ever brought together in American history under one roof,” he said of his upcoming event. “The first day is called Breaking Through Power, How it Happens. We have 18 groups who have demonstrated it with tiny budgets for over three decades on issues such as road safety, removing hundreds of hazardous or ineffective pharmaceuticals from the market, changing food habits from junk food to nutrition and rescuing people from death row who were falsely convicted of homicides. What if we tripled the budgets and the staffs of these groups? Eighteen of these groups have a total budget that is less than what one of dozens of CEOs make in a year.”
Nader called on Sanders to join in the building of a nationwide civic mobilization. He said that while Clinton may borrow some of his rhetoric, she and the Democratic Party establishment would not incorporate Sander’s populist appeals against Wall Street into the party platform. If Sanders does not join a civic mobilization, Nader warned, there would be “a complete disintegration of his movement.”
Nader also said he was worried that Clinton’s high negativity ratings, along with potential scandals, including the possible release of her highly paid speeches to corporations such as Goldman Sachs, could see Trump win the presidency.
“I have her lecture contract with the Harry Walker lecture agency,” he said. “She had a clause in the contract with these business sponsors, which basically said the doors will be closed. There will be no press. You will pay $1,000 for a stenographer to give me, for my exclusive use, a stenographic record of what I said. You will pay me $5,000 a minute. She has it all. She can’t say, ‘We will look into it or we’ll see if we can find it.’ She has been dissembling. And her latest rant is, ‘I’ll release the transcripts if everyone else does.’ ‘Who is everybody else?’ as Bernie Sanders rebutted. He doesn’t give highly paid speeches behind closed doors to Wall Street firms, business executives or business trade groups. Trump doesn’t give quarter-of-a-million-dollar speeches behind closed doors to business. So by saying ‘I will release all of my transcripts if everyone else does,’ she makes a null and void assertion. This is characteristic of the Clintons’ dissembling and slipperiness. It’s transcripts for Hillary. It’s tax returns for Trump.”
While Nader supports the building of third parties, he cautions that these parties—he singles out the Green Party and the Libertarian Party—will go nowhere without mass mobilization to pressure the centers of power. He called on the left to reach out to the right in a joint campaign to dismantle the corporate state. Sanders could play a large role in this mobilization, Nader said, because “he is in the eye of the mass media. He is building this rumble from the people.”
“What does he have to lose?” Nader asked of Sanders. “He’s 74. He can lead this massive movement. I don’t think he wants to let go. His campaign has exceeded his expectations. He is enormously energized. If he leads the civic mobilization before the election, whom is he going to help? He’s going to help the Democratic Party, without having to go around being a one-line toady expressing his loyalty to Hillary. He is going to be undermining the Republican Party. He is going to be saying to the Democratic Party, ‘You better face up to the majoritarian crowds and their agenda, or you’re going to continue losing in these gerrymandered districts to the Republicans in Congress.’ These gerrymandered districts can be overcome with a shift of 10 percent of the vote. Once the rumble from the people gets underway, nothing can stop it. No one person can, of course, lead this. There has to be a groundswell, although Sanders can provide a focal point”
Nader said that a Clinton presidency would further enflame the right wing and push larger segments of the country toward extremism.
“We will get more quagmires abroad, more blowback, more slaughter around the world and more training of fighters against us who will be more skilled to bring their fight here,” he said of a Clinton presidency. “Budgets will be more screwed against civilian necessities. There will be more Wall Street speculation. She will be a handmaiden of the corporatists and the military industrial complex. There comes a time, in any society, where the rubber band snaps, where society can’t take it anymore.”