The Long Slow Death of America

Chris Hedges Is My Political Guru

I have met Chris Hedges several times at the Los Angeles Times Book Festival—before it moved to USC. On a regular basis, I read his contributions to Truthdig.Com and his books. Currently, he has a great article on Truthdig entitled “Diseases of Despair,” which paints a grim picture of the decline of mainline white culture:

The opioid crisis, the frequent mass shootings, the rising rates of suicide, especially among middle-aged white males, the morbid obesity, the obsession with gambling, the investment of our emotional and intellectual life in tawdry spectacles and the allure of magical thinking, from the absurd promises of the Christian right to the belief that reality is never an impediment to our desires, are the pathologies of a diseased culture. They have risen from a decayed world where opportunity, which confers status, self-esteem and dignity, has dried up for most Americans. They are expressions of acute desperation and morbidity.

A loss of income causes more than financial distress. It severs, as the sociologist Émile Durkheim pointed out, the vital social bonds that give us meaning. A decline in status and power, an inability to advance, a lack of education and health care and a loss of hope are crippling forms of humiliation. This humiliation fuels loneliness, frustration, anger and feelings of worthlessness. In short, when you are marginalized and rejected by society, life often has little meaning.

Hedges goes on from there to lambaste the whole shabby weltanschaaung of 21st century America. It’s not a pretty picture. Among his best books are:

  • War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2002)
  • Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America (2005)
  • American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (2007)
  • I Don’t Believe in Atheists (2008)
  • Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (2009)

As you can guess from some of the titles, Chris Hedges is the son of a Presbyterian minister who, himself, attended Harvard Divinity School. As a war correspondent, he won the Pulitzer Prize for journalism.

If you want to know what is wrong with this country, you can either wear a red hat that promises to make American great again, or you can use your brain and get a better idea of what is going on behind all the political spectacle.

American Moralist

Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges

You are not likely to see him on television unless you get RT, the Russian-owned English-language news channel. There he has a weekly show called On Contact, during which he conducts interviews with economists and social and political figures.

He has a way of looking as if he were fiercely uncomfortable. During his interviews, which are excellent, he rarely laughs or even smiles.

Before he cut loose from the corporate-owned world of news media, he was a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the New York Times, the Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and National Public Radio. He traveled around the world such global hot spots such as El Salvador, Lebanon, and Bosnia.

The son of a Presbyterian minister, Chris Hedges aimed to follow in his father’s footsteps, but found that the reality of Christian charity in the slums of Boston’s Roxbury ghetto was affecting his own survival. But he never forgot what he learned at Colgate and Harvard Divinity School about morality, personal and political. One effect was to make him a confirmed pacifist. When he gave an anti-war graduation address at Rockford College during the gung-ho days after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he was heckled and booed by the “patriots” in the audience.

Hedges is the author of some of the most painfully truthful books about life in our time. The titles below which I have read are marked with an asterisk (*):

  • War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2002)
  • Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America* (2005)
  • American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (2007)
  • I Don’t Believe in Atheists* (2008)
  • Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle* (2009)
  • Death of the Liberal Class (2010)
  • Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt (2012) with Joe Sacco
  • Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt (2015)

You can find a weekly column by Chris Hedges at Truthdig.Com, whose politics are very close to my own.

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Days of the American Empire

It Was Nice While It Lasted

It Was Nice While It Lasted

Writing for the Truthdig website, Chris Hedges—America’s very own Cato—has eloquently described the period that we are living through in the United States:

The final days of empire give ample employment and power to the feckless, the insane and the idiotic. These politicians and court propagandists, hired to be the public faces on the sinking ship, mask the real work of the crew, which is systematically robbing the passengers as the vessel goes down. The mandarins of power stand in the wheelhouse barking ridiculous orders and seeing how fast they can gun the engines. They fight like children over the ship’s wheel as the vessel heads full speed into a giant ice field. They wander the decks giving pompous speeches. They shout that the SS America is the greatest ship ever built. They insist that it has the most advanced technology and embodies the highest virtues. And then, with abrupt and unexpected fury, down we will go into the frigid waters.

The last days of empire are carnivals of folly. We are in the midst of our own, plunging forward as our leaders court willful economic and environmental self-destruction. Sumer and Rome went down like this. So did the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires. Men and women of stunning mediocrity and depravity led the monarchies of Europe and Russia on the eve of World War I. And America has, in its own decline, offered up its share of weaklings, dolts and morons to steer it to destruction. A nation that was still rooted in reality would never glorify charlatans such as Sen. Ted Cruz, House Speaker John Boehner and former Speaker Newt Gingrich as they pollute the airwaves. If we had any idea what was really happening to us we would have turned in fury against Barack Obama, whose signature legacy will be utter capitulation to the demands of Wall Street, the fossil fuel industry, the military-industrial complex and the security and surveillance state. We would have rallied behind those few, such as Ralph Nader, who denounced a monetary system based on gambling and the endless printing of money and condemned the willful wrecking of the ecosystem. We would have mutinied. We would have turned the ship back.

The only good thing to note is that it takes a long time for an empire to finally fall. I think of Byzantium, which struggled on for almost a thousand years after Rome fell, only to fall in 1453 to Mehmet II and his Ottoman Turks.

I strongly recommend you read the Chris Hedges article: I feel he is one of the most knowledgeable and moral commentators on today’s national and international politics. While you are at it, you might want to take a look at some of his books, including War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2002), Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America (2005), I Don’t Believe in Atheists (2008), and The Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (2009). Others are listed in his Wikipedia biography.