America: The Farewell Tour - Book by Chris Hedges

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Not only are things worse than you thought, but the country’s situation is nearly hopeless. Pulitzer-prize winning author Chris Hedges argues that America’s ruling elites have rigged the system and neutered government controls so as to aggrandize their profits while immiserating nearly everyone else.

Other authors have reached similar conclusions while pouring over statistics and writing op-eds in their ivory towers. But Hedges has gone where despair and hate penetrate everyone and everything—from boarded-up factories and porn studios to bankrupted Trump casinos.

 
This book of more than 360 pages consists of seven lengthy chapters entitled Decay, Heroin, Work, Sadism, Hate, Gambling, and Freedom.

In Decay we learn that priorities are upside down: Washington spends $100 billion a year on intelligence (read surveillance), of which 70% goes to private contractors such as Booz Allen.

Meanwhile, the Department of Education spends $68 billion a year, which Secretary Betsy DeVos and some hedge funds labor to channel into charter schools. Washington still subsidizes the fossil fuel industry instead of penalizing it for polluting air, water, eyes, and lungs.

Banks, too, are bailed out and subsidized while small fry are foreclosed and evicted.Meanwhile, the Trump regime does not turn the cameras off even as they film its own demise.

The chapter on Sadism begins with interviews of prostitutes about the dehumanizing nature of their work. Hedges observes: “Poverty is not an aphrodisiac. Those who sell their bodies for sex do so out of desperation.”

 
Hedges extends the thought to argue that the “violence and commodification of human beings for profit are the quintessential expressions of global capitalism. Our corporate masters are pimps.”

Hate analyzes the 2016 election. Hillary and Democrats lost because they had abandoned working and middle-class voters for three decades. But “the malaise that infects America is global. Hundreds of millions of people have been severed by modernity from traditions, beliefs, and rituals, as well as communal structure”—cast aside by global capitalism as superfluous.

The rage of those who feel abandoned is expressed in nativism, neofascism, jihadism, the Christian right, alt-right militias, and violent anarchism.

The chapter Freedom analyzes the decline of what had been America’s promise to its own people and to the world. Empires need a persuasive mystique—a mask for imperial plunder that seduces some native elites and gives them a patina for civility. But the old tricks of the CIA no longer work.

The loss of mystique is crippling, making it hard to find pliant surrogates to administer the empire. United States “brutality abroad is matched by a growing brutality at home.

The disillusionment and anger that led to Trump’s election—a reaction to the corporate coup d’état and the poverty afflicting at least half of the country—have discredited American democracy.”

The views of Chris Hedges reflect not only the experiences of a well-traveled journalist and war correspondent (who covered violence in Central America, Sudan, Palestine, East Germany, and Yugoslavia) but also his close reading of scholars such as Hannah Arendt and Pankaj Mishra.

Each chapter is backed by dozens of citations (sometimes more than a hundred) of citations, while the bibliography includes more than 150 books—from Arendt, James Baldwin, and Zbigniew Brzezinski to Voltaire and Howard Zinn (but no government or other documents).

Chris Hedges describes himself as a socialist and Christian anarchist, strongly influenced by the Catholic charity worker Dorothy Day. Hedges (published here and promoted by one of the largest U.S. publishers) writes that corporate capitalism cannot be reformed.

Hedges thinks that “socialism” has never been properly explained to Americans. He is not optimistic about the country’s future, but he hopes to keep the ideal of equality alive.

He has taken part in protests and seminars with Daniel Ellsberg, Ralph Nader, Jill Stein, Bill McKibben, and Bernie Sanders. Hedges teaches at Princeton and in a New Jersey prison, sometimes addressing regular students and prisoners in the same Princeton classroom.

He is a columnist for the left-leaning Hedges sides with Rosa Luxemburg (assassinated in Germany in 1919) against Lenin. As she warned, revolutions from above end in tyranny.

 But then Hedges writes that Lenin “to achieve power in the 1917 revolution, was forced to follow her advice, abandoning many of his most doctrinaire ideas to respond to the life force of Russian Revolution itself.”

This is a wild distortion of Lenin’s policies. He and his Bolsheviks seized power in November 1917 and then in January 1918 pro-rogued a Constituent Assembly based on popular elections in which they won just 24% of the vote. Only in 1921 did Lenin back off from doctrine when, confronted with starvation and chaos (not the “life force of Russian Revolution”), he approved a New Economic Policy permitting some private trade.

 
This kind of distortion—not a black on white falsehood—should lead readers to take other sweeping statements with more than one grain of salt.

Several articles by Hedges in The New York Times were based on interviews with Iraqi defectors coached by the con-man Ahmed Chalabi in an elaborate scam. Hedges has also been accused of plagiarism. Though Hedges studied ancient Latin and Greek in college, his Farewell Tour attributes the word fortuna to a Greek source.

Although this author graduated from the Harvard Divinity School, he was not ordained a Presbyterian minister until 2014. He is not to be confused with Chris Hodges, also an author, and millionaire founder of the Church of the Highlands and associated churches across Louisiana. nyjournalofbooks


Walter Clemens is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Boston University