By Ed Meek
America: The Farewell Tour and American Pyschosis are well worth taking to heart — both to provide provocative perspective on what is happening and to spur us into action.
America: The Farewell Tour by Chris Hedges, Simon and Shuster, 311 pages, $18.56.
American Psychosis, a documentary written by Chris Hedges. Directed by Amanda Zakem. Available on Vimeo, etc.
Despite the feverish claims of Fox News and the Republican Party, America has not had much of a left wing in politics until recently. Although one might have gotten the impression from Republicans that the Democratic Party in 2016 was full of socialist fanatics headed by extremist Nancy Pelosi, the truth is since the presidency of Bill Clinton the Democratic Party has been centrist, while the Republicans have become increasingly right-wing. Both of these conditions powered the rise of Donald Trump, who was able to appeal to both Republicans and the many disaffected Democrats left behind by neoliberals like Bill and Hillary.
Lately though, a number of left-wing voices have been speaking up and they are getting a hearing. Bernie Sanders ran on a platform that included healthcare for all and free higher education. Newly elected congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez talks openly about being a democratic socialist. Sander’s attacks on the 1% calls for a redistribution of wealth; Ocasio-Cortez champions a universal income. Since Trump’s election, a wide-ranging group calling themselves the Resistance has sprung into existence and found credence with a number of respected journalists and intellectuals, including: Sarah Kendzior, Amy Siskind, Jeffrey St. Clair, Paul Street, Zephyr Teachout, Tom Engelhardt, Rebecca Solnit, Chauncy DeVega, and Chris Hedges, to name a few. According to one survey, one third of Millennials have a positive view of socialism, a term that is often turned into a smear by the right wing to take down political candidates. The right finds it electorally useful to conflate socialism and communism. One of the many ways in which it plays on the sad ignorance of the American public to strong-arm its way forward.
Chris Hedges is a former writer for the New York Times and an eclectic, erudite thinker who readily backs up his views via convincing research from literature, television and film. In America: The Farewell Tour, he considers the fall of the American Empire, focusing on a number of problems that, when taken together, paint a bleak picture of our current era. In fact, Hedges sees denial everywhere — the sky falling around us but we carry on with our day-to-day lives entranced by distractions and entertainment. He has chapters that zero in on our disappearing manufacturing sector, our crumbling infrastructure, our drug problem, our loss of unions due to the corporate takeover of the economy and the government, our decadent surrender to porn and sadism, the rise of hate groups and hate crime, our national addiction to gambling, our oppressive, racist prison system, and the encroachment of a militarized surveillance state. Hedges does what most of our mainstream (profit-driven and non-profit) media fails to do: move from the specific to the general so we can take in the big picture. And it doesn’t look good.
He points to the insatiable greed among what he refers to as “the elite rich,” not the 1% that Bernie refers to, but the .01% that Piketty highlights. People like Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers, the representatives of our new corrupt Gilded Age. According to Hedges, this mega-rich group does not have our best interests at heart: they are all in for privatizing the United States. They are behind efforts to finance suppressing the vote to keep the riffraff out, breaking up unions, encouraging charter schools, along with (of course) cutting taxes and entitlements. They champion Ayn Rand — survival of the uber-fittest. They are convinced that, because they worked hard for their money, as did those who came before them, they deserve to be in control, in perpetuity. The tragic flaw with this immoral approach is that if people don’t make their way, it is their fault.
American Psychosis, a fifteen-minute documentary written by Hedges, comes at the same critical issues from a slightly different angle. The idea here is that there is a calculated disconnect between the world that we’re presented with on television and the world we live in: we no longer know the difference between what is real and what is not. Television is filled with happy talk and capitalist propaganda that assures us that, if we have the money, we can buy products (cars, vacations, drugs) that will ensure our happiness. Meanwhile, people compete against each other in ‘Reality TV’ shows such as Survivor. These programs are designed to teach us that society is made up of two categories: the weak, who are humiliated losers, and cutthroat egomaniacs, who are the winners. This cartoon version of life sells consumer goods, but it is terrible for democracy.
What does Hedges want? He is a socialist who is “concerned with what is right and just.” He believes that “we must stand with all of the oppressed … this is a global fight against tyranny.” He calls for full employment, single payer healthcare, inexpensive mass transportation, a minimum wage of $15 an hour and/or a universal income of $500 per week. He wants to repeal the Patriot Act and dismantle mass incarceration, invest in renewable energy, and demilitarize the police. He thinks we should fight for free education; and he wants to bring our troops home. He demands that as Sarah Palin proclaimed to be her mission, “to take our country back.” Of course, she had a very different country in mind.
In American Psychosis, Hedges points to Iraq as the political catalyst that sent us off track because it encouraged the implementation of the surveillance state, the end of habeas corpus, and the advent of the use of torture by the Bush Administration. But the origin of our problems can also be traced to the ’60s — the assassinations of the Kennedys and MLK generated a national case of PTSD. Iraq and all our subsequent wars can be seen as attempts to finally win the Vietnam War, to be winners, not losers. In any case, we have obviously gone off the rails, from our foreign wars and the opioid crisis to hate crimes and the rising suicide rate among white males — culminating in the election of Donald Trump. If he is our ‘insane clown president’ (as journalist Matt Taibbi calls him), then we are his dutifully crazy audience. America: The Farewell Tour and American Pyschosis are well worth taking to heart — both to provide some provocative perspective on what is happening and to spur us into action.
Ed Meek is the author of Spy Pond and What We Love. A collection of his short stories, Luck, came out in May. WBUR’s Cognoscenti featured his poems during poetry month this year.