POLITICIANS LOVE TO tell us every election is the “most important of our lifetime.” With Donald Trump in power, it rings true for many voters. This week on Intercepted: Journalist Chris Hedges has spent the past 15 years trying to ring the alarm about the dangers of the U.S. political system and the impact of a corporate and financial coup d’etat that happened long ago. He talks about the growing power of “Christian fascists,” predicts a major financial crash, and offers ideas on how to fight back. In 1923, a year after Mussolini took power in Italy, one radical and visionary woman saw his rise for what it was and warned of the grave dangers the world would face if fascism spread. Her name was Clara Zetkin. Acclaimed writer and actor Deborah Eisenberg performs a selection of Zetkin’s writing, which was recently published as a book, “Fighting Fascism: How to Struggle and How to Win.” Also, new music from the incredible visual artist and musician Lonnie Holley, who is out with a new album called “MITH.”
Join Michael Moore, Jeremy Scahill, and Marshall Curry for a special post-election screening and discussion about the rise of hate crimes and right-wing political violence in the age of Trump on November 9, in New York City. Tickets are available here.
“Don’t Be a Sucker” (1947): America, lots of room and people. All kinds of people. People from different countries with different religions, different colored skin. They can live together and work together and build America together because they’re free. Free to vote but there are guys who stay up nights figuring out how to take that away from him.
Donald J. Trump: As we speak, Democrats are openly encouraging millions of illegal aliens to violate our laws and break into our country and they want to sign them up for free welfare, free healthcare, free education. And of course, the right to vote, the right to vote.
[“Don’t Be a Sucker”] Man 1: I’ve heard this kind of talk before, but I never expected to get it in America.
Man 2: What about those other people in this country?
Man 1: We have no other people we are American people, all of us.
DJT: There’s something going on, but there’s something going on and – But I think there’s something going on. And there is something going on out there and I think you know what I mean. There’s, there’s something going on. There’s something that’s very interesting that’s happening. There is something going, I’m sure. There’s something going on. There’s something going on. There’s something going on, Phil. There’s something going on here. There’s something going on that’s really incredible in this country.
[“I Know There’s Something Going On” by Frida plays]
This is Intercepted.
I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from the offices of The Intercept in New York City and this is episode 73 of Intercepted.
Barack Obama: You get to vote in what I believe will be the most important election of our lifetimes.
DT: This is one of the most important elections of our time.
JS: Politicians love to tell us that whatever election happens to be the next one is the most important election of our lifetimes. With Donald Trump as president, that stump speech line actually carries weight. Particularly when you have neo-Nazi and fascist attacks on Jews because they’re Jews or on African Americans because they’re African Americans. When you have pipe bombs being mailed to some of the leaders of the Democratic Party and its perceived bankrollers. When you have Brett Kavanaugh confirmed to a lifetime appointment on the highest court in the U.S. When the president openly encourages violence and spews racist propaganda followed by attempts to legalize that violent hate. The Trump presidency adds urgency to so many battles that people have been fighting against both Democrats and Republicans for decades upon decades. It feels immediate. And, let’s be honest, for the most vulnerable people in our society, the danger is already here.
But voting for Democrats is not a solution to anything. At best, it is an important effort to hold the line, to fight so that it doesn’t get worse. But that act of “I voted for Democrats” only take us so far. The rot in the American political system was not created by Donald Trump. He is a product of that system, a beneficiary of that system. If we are always put on the hamster wheel of U.S. electoral politics, nothing is ever going to fundamentally change in this system.
The journalist Chris Hedges has spent the last decade and a half trying to ring the alarm about the dangers of the U.S. political system and he writes about a corporate and financial coup d’etat that happened long ago in this country.
Now before Hedges embarked on this mission, he was a longtime war correspondent for The New York Times. In fact, he was part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team that covered the 9/11 attacks and the aftermath. Hedges’ book “War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning” remains a classic work for studying war journalism. Chris Hedges quit the New York Times after being reprimanded for his public denouncement of the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq. And that largely ended Chris Hedges’ relationship with large, powerful media organizations.
He’s currently a columnist at Truthdig, he hosts a show on Russian television on RT America, and he teaches a college class at a state prison in New Jersey. In 2012, Hedges sued President Barack Obama in a case known as Hedges v. Obama over Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act. Hedges said that that act would allow for the detention or rendition of US citizens. Hedges won an injunction in that case, but the decision was ultimately overturned on an appeal filed by the Obama administration.
Chris Hedges latest book is “America: The Farewell Tour” and he joins me now. Chris, welcome to Intercepted.
Chris Hedges: Thanks, Jeremy.
JS: Is there a difference in your view between the Democratic and Republican parties given everything we’re seeing now in the era of Trump?
CH: Well, of course, there’s a difference. It’s how you want corporate fascism delivered to you. Do you want it delivered by a Princeton educated, Goldman Sachs criminal or do you want it delivered by racist, nativist, Christian fascist? When this is essentially what the Trump Administration, this is the ideology that the Trump Administration has embraced because Trump has no ideology. So, they’re filling his ideological void.
But you know, and you’ve reported on this, the fundamental engines of oligarchic global corporate power are advanced by both parties and one attempts to present that in a kind of multicultural, inclusive way. The other is, you know, it kind of embraced by troglodytes. But there’s no way within the American political system you can in any way tame or challenge the war machine or Goldman Sachs or ExxonMobil.
The Democrats’ assault on civil liberties under Barack Obama again, as you know well, were worse than under George W. Bush. The expansion of drone warfare, which again you reported on, was all under the Obama Administration. The reinterpretation of the 2002 Authorization to Use Military Force Act was interpreted by the Obama White House to give them the right to assassinate American citizens Anwar al-Awlaki, and his 16-year-old son. It was his daughter also was killed right? It’s that old book, was written 30 years ago, you know, friendly fascism. It’s how you want it served up.
And the press, of course, the commercial press has a vested interest in doing this but we’ve personalized the problem in Trump without realizing that Trump is the product of a failed democracy. Trump is what rises up from the bowels of a decayed and degenerate system. And you can get rid of Trump, but you’re not going to get rid of what the sociologist Émile Durkheim called that anomie that propels societies to engage in deeply self-destructive behavior.
Whether that’s the opioid crisis, and my latest book is called “America, the Farewell Tour,” but it looks at these pathologies. What sociologists call diseases of despair and argues that until those social bonds are reknit, until that anomie is confronted, not only are things not going to get better but especially as we are now on the cusp of another financial breakdown, they’re going to get worse.
JS: Noam Chomsky who consistently now, for election after election, has openly said that the only choice is to support the Democrats. And more recently, he’s been saying that the GOP — the Republican party — is the single greatest threat to global stability or peace in the world.
Noam Chomsky: Overwhelmingly, the Republican Party is simply a major threat to, not only to the country, but to human survival. I’ve said in the past that I think they’re the most dangerous organization in human history.
CH: I don’t agree with Noam on that issue. I think the problem is that, and I was very involved in the Nader campaign when he was running for president. I was a speechwriter and nobody’s fought corporate power with more integrity and courage and foresight than Nader. And essentially, he was locked out of the legislative process when this corporate coup d’etat, which we have undergone, essentially pushed out the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.
Because Ralph would write this legislation, I think he wrote 24 pieces of legislation — the Mine and Safety Act, OSHA, the Clean Water Act, of all this was written by Nader — but then passed or pushed through by liberals. And I think the problem is that we on the left didn’t take a stand. Politics is a game of fear and Ralph’s argument was that five, ten, fifteen million people walk out on the Democrats, they will feel the pressure.
In the same way that the Democrats under Roosevelt with a breakdown of capitalism in the 1930s felt the pressure from not just the Progressive Party and the old CIO, but also the Communist party. I’m not a Communist, but I mean that the Communist Party played a very important role in terms of putting pressure on the centers of power.
Now, where Noam is particularly prescient is understanding the role of liberal class in a capitalist democracy. The liberal class functions as a kind of safety valve it ameliorates the system to address the grievances and injustices, especially when they become particularly pronounced among the working class.
So, Roosevelt who in his private correspondence, which were published after his death, he actually uses the word revolution. He says, If we don’t respond to this crisis since the private sector can’t put people to work, the government must put people to work, then we will undergo revolution. This is Roosevelt’s word. And he also said that his greatest achievement was that he saved capitalism. That’s the role of the liberal class.
Now, the radical movements have been eviscerated and destroyed in the United States. And we had very, as you know, very militant radical movements, especially on the eve of World War I: the old anarchist movements, the Wobblies, great figures, Mother Jones, Big Bill Haywood.
So, the radical movements were destroyed and then this was accelerated, of course in the 1950s. And many, Ellen Schrecker has written a couple good books on this and I didn’t understand the extent of it till I read Schrecker. So, you had the FBI going into high schools with lists of teachers with no evidence. Most of these people weren’t even communist, but they were progressives. And getting them fired and then they were blacklisted. They could never teach again.
Announcer: If a person defends the activities of communist nations while consistently attacking the domestic and foreign policy of the United States, she may be a communist. But there are other communists who don’t show their real faces, who work more silently.
CH: The purging of American society of anyone with a social conscience went quite deep. Then you saw the 1960s, but in the 1960s, labor was divorced from the radical movements, which was fatal. Then the corporatist really made a huge push, the 1971 Powell memo. And so, in their myopia, the capitalist class destroyed not just the radical movements but eviscerated the liberal institutions which created a kind of equilibrium within the capitalist system that offered an ability to address the most egregious problems.
And this is now where we’ve ended up, in the greatest income inequality in American history, the seizure of power by, and they’re not even traditional capitalist, they don’t make anything. They’re all speculators, global speculators. That’s what Goldman Sachs does. They’ve seized control of our economy and most economies. The breakdown that we experience has been bipartisan. Clinton was, of course, the poster child for this. Clinton understood that if he did corporate bidding, he would get corporate money. And of course, by the 1990s, fundraising parity with the Republicans was equal. And when Barack Obama first ran 2008, he got more.
So, we’ve got to look at the structural issues. I mean, I find Trump as repugnant and repulsive as everyone else. But our problem is not embodied in the personality of Donald Trump.
JS: Hmm, I think that there are two separate debates. They’re related but there are two separate debates to have. On the one hand, I think you and I share this view. Nothing is ever going to fundamentally change in this country of any worth until the two-party monopoly over the lives of our politics is shattered. It’s just not going to fundamentally change. But then you have this other reality when it does seem like every election, and this is Obama was saying it just this week, is the most important of our lifetime.
BO: The most important election of our lifetimes. I know politicians always say that but this time it’s really true because America is at a crossroads.
JS: There’s no doubt that Hillary Clinton would not have had Brett Kavanaugh on her court or Neil Gorsuch on her court. She probably would have been in potentially more wars than Trump is in right now, would have had a much more militaristic stance on a range of issues. But how do you reconcile those two discussions? On the one hand, this need to finally deliver a meaningful blow against the two-party system, and on the other hand, hold the line against things becoming even worse? Like it’s hard to imagine a worse scenario than having Donald Trump and, I think people need to always remember this, Mike Pence, a radical right-wing Christian ideologue who has his own forms of corruptions. But how do you reconcile those two things?
CH: It’s causation. What caused it? And what caused it was the decision by the Democratic Party to sell out working men and women. So that’s why the Democratic Party runs so close to the margins in every election. I mean, Trump should not be a political figure who mounts a credible challenge to a party that truly represents the interests of working men and women. But Pelosi, Schumer, they’re all tethered to Wall Street and they won’t address the fundamental issue, which is social inequality.
And because they won’t address it, they play to the margins and that’s a very dangerous game. Especially as we are, and even The New York Times ran an editorial a couple weeks — we are definitely headed for, their polite term is an adjustment. We’re headed for probably a crash that will be as large as the 2008 crash from everything I can tell.
And then what happens? Then the monsters really come out. I saw it in Yugoslavia.
Barrie Dunsmore: It was not a Happy Easter in Sarajevo. This capital of Bosnia Herzegovina continues to be the focal point of the latest chapter of the Civil War in Yugoslavia. In recent days, the people of Sarajevo have been subjected to artillery and mortar attacks by Serbian militiamen and the regular Yugoslav, mainly Serbian Army.
CH: And so, it’s short-term gain. The problem is that those of us who care about an open society and advancing the interests of the poor and the working class and even the middle class surrender every election cycle to the Democratic Party and therefore were utterly ineffectual. And we should have of course, back when Nader was running in 2000, stepped out and that’s why it’s gotten worse and worse and worse. It’s lonely. It’s difficult. You’re right about Kavanaugh. But if we really want to stop it, we’re going to have to rise up against the machine and those first few tentative steps will be very difficult.
We’re not going to cure this in an election cycle, but we haven’t even talked about climate change. I mean, we are watching a form of ecocide when the latest climate report was that the oceans have stored far more heat. So that means that if we stopped all carbon emissions today, we would still suffer catastrophic effects. I mean the polar ice caps are — there’s an iceberg, what twice the size of Manhattan or something, that just broke off.
I mean the planet is disintegrating in front of our eyes and the Democratic Party is not doing anything about it, anything meaningful. I mean, rhetorically they recognize the reality of it, but it’s a form of magical thinking to think that we’re going to adjust or adapt, or technology is going to save us just as its magical thinking to think it doesn’t exist.
So, our problems are far more severe and while the Democratic leadership is not as radical as the Kleptocrats and the Republican party, they move in the same direction. They just move it at a slower pace. We don’t have time to play this game anymore.
JS: One of the I think, legitimate lines of concern that I hear coming from people of color and women about the idea of not voting for the Democrats is that we can’t afford to engage in the kind of thinking that Chris Hedges is laying out here, or that Jill Stein was laying out, or that Ralph Nader is laying out because the threat to us is immediate. In the case of women and access to abortion, it’s immediate. In the case of police brutality and extrajudicial killings of black people, it’s immediate. And so, you will hear this very intense level of concern or anger at the notion that you’re using this particular election to sort of say “The revolution starts now and we need to at all costs dismantle this system.”
But what would you say to people who say, “Yeah, I get that. I can’t afford to do that because I’m worried about losing access to abortion like next month?”
CH: Well, let’s begin with the system of mass incarceration and police terror. I teach in a prison and half of my students wouldn’t be there but for Bill Clinton. That whole “Law and Order” issue was seized by Biden and Clinton as they transformed the Democratic Party into the Republican Party and pushed the Republican Party so far to the right it became insane. So, in terms of people of color, in fact, it was the self-identified liberals of the Democratic Party, these were the three strikes you’re out laws, the tripling and quadrupling of sentences, the 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill that poured, what $300 billion into the prison system? It’s all Democrats.
Bill Clinton: Today, the bickering stops. The era of excuses is over. The law-abiding citizens of our country have made their voices heard. Never again should Washington put politics and party above Law and Order.
CH: In terms of abortion, that is a legitimate concern.
JS: I mean, we’re going to have these guys on this court for a couple generations.
CH: Well, it’s clear. I mean, Kavanaugh was pushed by the Christian right because he will clearly abolish Roe v. Wade. I mean, that’s why he’s there and that’s why the Christian right made it very clear to the Trump Administration, “you must put him on.” But are we going to rectify this political, economic, cultural, social dissent by every election cycle surrendering to the Democratic Party? And I think if you look at the last few decades, the proof is there. It is getting steadily worse, and worse, and worse, and we have to overthrow the corporate state. We have to rest power back into our hands.
The Democratic Party if it truly addressed social inequality in a real way, the way Bernie Sanders— I mean the thing about Sanders and Trump, although Trump is a con artist, is that they both spoke about the reality that most Americans experience. And yet if you turn on CNN, they will tell you the economy is booming. Well, booming for whom? I mean the overheated stock market is not a sign of financial health. Go back and read John Kenneth Galbraith’s book “The Crash.”
So, I mean, stock values are no longer in any way real way related to the values of companies. We’ve pumped out $26 trillion in fabricated money and handed it to the banks. I mean we could have paid for college tuition, provided universal health care for all, created, you know, a few million jobs and infrastructure projects, which is of course what Roosevelt did with the Depression. And so, these structural issues, which are never addressed by the commercial corporate media because they are completely owned and run by corporations like General Electric, are the real issues.
And I don’t want to minimize the issue of taking control of your own body away from women. I don’t want to minimize that in any way and yet by continuing to react through fear, and that’s what really both parties do. The only thing they have to sell us is fear, but my argument especially having covered Yugoslavia and seen it, is that with an irresponsible ruling elite and the impending financial collapse — right now, we live in a period of relative stability — but with that impending financial collapse then we who care about the rule of law and opposed anarchic and nihilistic acts of violence and mass shootings, we’re finished. And that’s exactly what happened in Yugoslavia because we didn’t stand up and fight for anything really. I mean, what is the Democratic Party’s mantra? It’s basically “We’re not Trump” and Hillary Clinton tried it and it didn’t work really well. And given the instability that is about to envelop us, it’s time for us to step out, and fight back, and it will be difficult, and a lot of people won’t join us, but I think it’s our only hope.
JS: When you talk about stepping out, or fighting back, or confronting that corporate takeover, or this coup that long ago happened with the corporations, what do you mean?
CH: What I saw in Eastern Europe — sustained acts of mass civil disobedience, non-cooperation, in the words of the ANC and apartheid South Africa.
Nelson Mandela: The ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realized. But my lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
CH: Doing everything we can to disrupt the mechanisms of the machine. And it works. I mean, I covered the fall of the Stasi State in East Germany. And when you had 500,000 people gathering day after day and Alexanderplatz and it has to be nonviolent. I mean this has been my persistent battle with the Black Bloc and Antifa, who are a gift to the security and surveillance state. Because as the theorists of revolution, and this is what I’m calling for, is revolution, as the theorists of revolution, Crane Brinton, Geoffrey Davies, and others have written, no revolution succeeds unless a significant part of the ruling apparatus defects. You’re appealing to conscience.
So, Leipzig, September 1989, Erich Honecker, the Communist dictator sends down an elite paratroop division with the intention of firing on the demonstrators. And when they get there the local Communist authorities refused to allow them to be deployed in the streets. Honecker’s out of power within a week. Same thing in the Russian Revolution. I mean, read Lenin on anarchist violence. I mean the guy was heartless and, I’m with Chomsky, was a counterrevolutionary, destroyed the Soviets and all that. But he certainly understood the mechanics of revolution. And he saw how those acts of violence played into the hands of the Tsarist state.
So, we have to build those kinds of movements, as I saw in Standing Rock, would be a good example. And it isn’t going to be like the Women’s March on Washington. When you truly defy their interests as the water protectors did in Standing Rock, then they’re vicious. So, you had seven hundred arrests, constant infiltration, drones flying over the camp, attack dogs, water cannons laced with pepper spray, but that’s it. And if we just reduce everything to climate change alone, we don’t have any time left.
JS: When Obama was President, you were a plaintiff in a lawsuit against Barack Obama.
Amy Goodman: Filing a complaint in Southern U.S. District Court against Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to challenge the legality of the NDAA. Their plaintiff is none other than veteran war correspondent and Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges.
JS: And it’s centered around the National Defense Authorization Act, and I think it’s a particularly relevant story for you to explain given the fact that Trump and his administration seemed to be indicating that they’re going to toss Posse Comitatus out.
CH: It’s already been destroyed. That’s what Obama did.
JS: So, this is on people’s mind now, but in the context of Donald Trump. So, explain why you filed this lawsuit and you were joined then by Dan Ellsberg, Noam Chomsky, the journalist Alexa O’Brien. There was a whole list of people that were public figures, journalist, intellectuals, and others. Why did you sue Obama over the National Defense Authorization Act?
CH: Well, because he overturned the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act which had prohibited the military from acting as a domestic police force. He signed it into law at around midnight on 2011. The Section 1021 allows the federal government, or the executive branch in particular, to carry out extraordinary rendition, to seize an American citizen who supports the Taliban, Al Qaeda or something called “associated forces” — whatever that is — and hold them indefinitely in detention without due process until “the end of hostilities,” which as we’ve seen in 17 years of warfare is forever. So, it was a section, part of the National Defense Authorization Act which is renewed every year, designed I think, because the elites understand how precarious the situation is. Designed as a last resort to employ the military to crush any kind of domestic unrest and I think that’s because ultimately, they don’t trust the police to protect them.
So, I mean just anecdotally, when a few years ago, we had the teachers strike in Chicago, the teachers when they were marching through the streets of Chicago would go into the precincts of the police to use the bathrooms and the police would applaud. This terrifies the elite. Or when I, a few years ago, was arrested in front of the White House with 133 veterans from Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan — it turns out that the Washington police most of them are in the National Guard — and as they would cuff us, they would say “keep protesting.” And so that’s why we have section 1021.
We won in the Southern District Court in New York. And then the Obama Administration immediately asked that the injunction, the temporary injunction be lifted and to her credit Judge Katherine B. Forrest refused. They then went to the appellate or the 2nd Circuit, the next court up and got the injunction lifted in the name of national security. Now, it was fascinating because — two-year legal process after that — and it was fascinating to watch because here was a very clear black-and-white issue in the same way that privacy is a very black-and-white issue. I mean, once we had the Snowden revelations, every time you want to get all warm and fuzzy about the Democrats remember what they did to restore our right to privacy, which is zero.
And what they ended up doing is what they always do which is find a way to deny my right, my standing, my ability to bring the case. And the way they did that is that I was also a plaintiff in Clapper vs. Amnesty International before the Snowden revelations where we challenged wholesale government surveillance where government lawyers got up in the Supreme Court and not only denied that it was taking place but told the court that if any of us were being surveilled, we would be informed. And so, we waited months for the 2nd Circuit. That ruling came down. They threw it out. The Supreme Court threw it out, in essence denying our standing. And then the 2nd Circuit said, “Well, he doesn’t have standing in Clapper vs. Amnesty International. Therefore, he doesn’t have standing in Hedges v. Obama and so we’re rejecting it.”
We filed a cert or a petition to the Supreme Court and they wouldn’t take it. But during that two-year process, the lawyers approached the Democratic Leadership and Pelosi said because it’s renewed every year, all you have to do is insert in there that this does not apply to U.S. citizens and we drop the case. Well, they didn’t insert that because that’s what is written for.
JS: And does it keep getting passed in the NDAA under Trump?
JS: So, explain in clear terms what that means?
CH: Well, what I’m watching is this ridiculous deployment of you know, what’s the latest figure? 15,000?
JS: 15,000 troops to the U.S.-Mexico border.
CH: To the U.S.-Mexico border.
JS: Barbed wires can be very beautiful if it’s put up right, that’s what Trump was saying.
DJT: We’re different. We have our military now on the border. [Audience cheers.] And I noticed all that beautiful barbed wire going up today. It was — a barbed wire used properly can be a beautiful sight.
CH: All you have to do is declare these people as terrorists. You know, speaking of the Christian fascists. I was, the only time I see TV is at a gym or airport, but I flicked on the 700 Club with Pat Robertson.
JS: You know, as we do.
CH: Right, well, I was kind of curious how they were dealing with it. And of course, it was just what I expected where they were splicing in photographs of marching black-clad jihadist carrying, cradling automatic weapons with the caravan which is a thousand miles from Texas. So, we will see, and we already are seeing, animal rights activists, environmental activists, all being tried under terrorism laws. And this section of the National Defense Authorization Act really at that point gives the executive branch the ability to completely militarize in a very formal way our society. I mean we already have in marginal communities militarized police. They are quasi, you know, paramilitary, not bound in any way by the rule of law. I mean, I think what is the 3.1 of our citizens, almost all poor people of color are murdered every day on the streets of American cities. Almost all of them unarmed. But this brings it to a whole new level and it’s just one more tool that the corporate totalitarians can employ.
JS: I find it fascinating that when Bush was president you heard a lot of talk about the kind of theocratic nature of that administration. I think you could very effectively argue that theocratic, right-wing, Christian fascists, this is their Golden Era right now.
Jeff Sessions: I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.
JS: With someone like Trump, you know, he’s been married X number of times. He represents so much of what they claim to be against in terms of personal morality, but the mere fact that he sort of does the speech, “I accept Jesus.” It’s like all is forgiven and Trump was sent by God. I do think that people are making a mistake not looking at the theocratic drive of Mike Pence, the people that pushed him onto the ticket with Trump, and the fact that Trump won an election they probably would never have been able to win on their own — the radical Christian-right and the elites of the Republican party. I think Allan Nairn said it best.
Allan Nairn: Trump dragged the ultra-right oligarchs kicking and screaming into power. They could never win an election on their own.
JS: Mike Pence was not going to get elected president in 2016 any more than he would in 2020.
CH: Well, as you know, 10 years ago, I wrote a book on the Christian right “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War in America.” I come out of a religious tradition. My father was a minister. My mother graduated from Seminary and was a professor, and I graduated from Harvard Divinity School. So, I’m steeped in that tradition. And I didn’t use the word fascist lightly.
In fact, when I finished the book, I went to spend several hours with Fritz Stern, one of the great scholars of fascism, who wrote “The Politics of Cultural Despair,” and fled Nazi Germany as a teenager. As well as Robert Paxton who wrote “Anatomy of Fascism,” the great Vichy scholar at Colombia. First of all, they’re Christian heretics. I mean, you don’t need to spend three years at Harvard Divinity School as I did to realize that Jesus did not come to make us rich, or shower us with consumer products, or bless the dropping of iron fragmentation bombs all over the Middle East.
And inside these megachurches, they function as cults and these white male pastors who prey on the despair of their congregants for wealth. People like Joel Osteen, they’re you know, multi-millionaires.
Joel Osteen: And here’s the whole key, after all God has done for us, freed us from slavery, defeated our enemies, if you don’t see yourself the right way, it will keep you from your destiny.
CH: In the same way that Trump prayed on the despair of people within his casinos. People raise the issue well, how can the Christian right build an alliance with Trump? And I would argue that in fact, they’re completely alike. They’re con artists. They manipulate the misery and despair of others. They perpetuate a form of magical thinking, magic Jesus. They attack reality-based science and reality-based news. This all comes out of the — all predates Trump. They are a fascism, as Paxton writes in the “Anatomy of Fascism,” it always comes draped in familiar even comforting iconography and language.
So Italian fascism hearkened back to ancient Rome and the glory of the Roman Empire. German fascism harkened back to Teutonic myths and this. And we harken back to the iconography and language of Christianity, the fusion of, the sacralization of the state. So my great mentor at Harvard Divinity School, James Luther Adams was in Germany in 1936 and 1937 at the University of Heidelberg.
He watched Martin Heidegger begin his lectures with Nazi salute. He dropped out. He joined the confessing church with Niemöller, Bonhoeffer, Schweitzer, Karl Barth, and others. And he took lots of home movie film which he was picked up by the Gestapo and thrown out of Germany a year later. And I watched that film as he narrated in his apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but much of it was of the so-called German Christian Church, which had on one side of the altar the Christian cross and on the other the Nazi swastika. And Adams told me — and this was in the early 80s, or told us —when you’re my age, he was then 80, you will all be fighting the Christian fascists. Because he understood that when you dispossess a working class, as we have done, and this was evident when I did the book on the Christian-right, the real world becomes so oppressive.
And I did dozens of interviews with followers, you’d have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by their struggles with addiction, and underemployment, and sexual abuse, and domestic abuse. And so, this magic Jesus, this magical thinking is kind of the last protection that they have. So, I was in Detroit doing an End Times weekend with Tim LaHaye who wrote “The End Times” series and looking at— lust is the only word I can describe this, lust for apocalyptic violence. And I think I finally understood that that came from the euphoric desire to destroy the world that almost destroyed them. And at the end of the book, I said you will not break this movement by trying to argue these people out of creationism. You will only break this movement by reintegrating these people into the economy and rebuilding the social bonds that have been destroyed so that they have a possibility of meaningful work, of self-actualization. You know, of all people John Paul II wrote a very good encyclical about work. And Emile Durkheim’s book on suicide talks about how those societies and individuals that have a propensity for self-annihilation are those for whom these social bonds no longer function. And of course, ten years later, it’s much worse.
And so, we have to address the root. We have to rebuild those social bonds if we’re going to save us, and by capitulating every election cycle to the Democratic party, ultimately, we ensure our own enslavement, and — without being melodramatic because of climate change — ultimately the extinction of the human species.
JS: You know, it’s been interesting and I think extremely disturbing to watch how Trump, Pence, certainly Jeff Sessions, their preferred audience, certainly in the case of Trump is not the troops. He has yet to set foot in a foreign war zone which is fairly unheard-of particularly, post-9/11 for the commander-in-chief. But he’s always talking to sheriffs somewhere or police officers somewhere. And you and I both know from our reporting going back decades, there is a large contingent of white supremacists in the U.S. military and certainly among police officers, and sheriffs, and others. But what Trump and company are doing is really showing – and Trump said it the other day, where you know, where are my bikers, my cops? They listed off and you do get a sense that they know they have their “Brown Shirts” that are actually in official uniforms that when the day comes are going to be on their side no matter what the African-American put in as their captain tells them to do or not to do.
CH: Yeah, that’s true. You know, rhetoric is important. So, we’re watching Trump incite violence because none of his policies have any support. His tax cuts don’t have support, his assault on Obamacare, his refusal to raise the minimum wage. None of this has any. All he has is hate and that’s the only weapon he’ll use. And I look at this attempt to decapitate, in essence, murder the Democratic leadership through these pipe bombs as very, very ominous because I saw it in Yugoslavia. And not only will this continue and expand, but ultimately it will be successful.
And that’s the only language they have because they’re not a majoritarian movement. Even the Nazis were never a majoritarian movement. I think the highest percentage of votes they got was about 43 percent and it was a declining after that.
JS: Why do you say it’s going to succeed?
CH: Because they can marshal the forces of violence and they can decapitate already extremely weakened opposition movements. So, you know, the only real opposition movement that the Nazis had was the Communist party, but we don’t even have a Communist party. We don’t have a militant reaction. So, we’re far weaker and far more vulnerable. Our labor unions are spent. I mean labor strikes, even the Nazis which were very anti-union had to support the strikes in Berlin because they knew that if they didn’t everybody would go into the arms of the Communists. So, we don’t even have that.
We’re in a far more fragile and debilitated state so that those popular movements which provide resistance are almost non-existent. In fact, we pretty much have to start them from scratch. So, we’re very easily, I’m afraid, controlled.
The media is burlesque. It’s ridiculous and I certainly include MSNBC. And the whole idea that Trump was elected with Russian bots is absurd. He was elected because the working class was sold out. And the longer the Democratic party refuses to address that issue the more either support or at least acquiescence, to these right-wing Christian fascists we will see. I mean there will definitely be a backlash but what I fear is that it will be a proto-fascist, right-wing backlash and you will see, as we’ve already seen, the demonization of the vulnerable, undocumented workers, and you know, as we saw with this attack in Pittsburgh, Jews are on the list, feminists, intellectuals, African Americans.
JS: I met you just as you were breaking with the New York Times and I’ve wanted to ask you, as I watch you particularly, the last couple of years, speaking around the country, organizing also engaging in direct action, debating, you know tactics with Antifa or Black Bloc. What lessons have you learned that you think could help other people in transitioning from doing the war reporting that you did at the New York Times to now basically being on the road all the time, either talking about ideas that you’ve laid out in your books, or sharing history or analysis that you’ve found, or being there at demonstrations, or in economically or politically targeted communities. What are some of the lessons you’ve learned that might be helpful for people trying to make sense of their own lives in the context of this political-historical moment we’re in?
CH: The most important lesson having come out of distressed societies, disintegrating societies is that every — societies are extremely fragile. And that the facade of that society will often appear monolithic and powerful but that they crumble from within and that’s where we are. And I think people have an emotionally hard time grasping that what seems so solid and permanent is in fact, ephemeral. So, especially among the educated elites. So, I wasn’t in Sarajevo at the inception of the war, but I was in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, during the inception of the war and I would be out in the countryside and be stopped by the Kosovo Liberation Army and get back and tell my friends in Pristina who were multilingual, highly educated that I’d been stopped and they said “No, no the Kosovo Liberation Army doesn’t exist. It’s just created by the Serbs to justify oppression.” They had no idea what was happening until literally they were hauled out of their apartments by Serbian paramilitary and put on boxcars to Macedonia. And I think that that is the most important lesson.
I mean, coming out of places like Sarajevo. I can walk into a supermarket and I wouldn’t call it a flashback, but I know what it looks like with all of the windows broken, and nothing on the shelves, and garbage all over the floor, and we’re not immune from that. I watched these ridiculous buffoonish figures like Radovan Karadzic who was every bit as buffoonish as Donald Trump and I would go back. Remember the Nazis were also buffoonish.
JS: This is the Bosnian Serb leader.
CH: Right, the Bosnian Serb leader. And often funny. I mean, they were funny. Milosevic, by the way, was quite funny, which a lot of people didn’t know.
I think we’re in a situation that’s far more dangerous than people grasp and I think the elites are particularly unable to see how dangerous the situation is. The whole idea that you know, the Democratic party is going to be an instrument to protect us is a kind of willful blindness. Number one, about who they are and number two, how precarious this moment in American history is.
JS: Chris Hedges, thank you very much for joining us.
CH: Thank you, Jeremy.
JS: That was Chris Hedges. He’s a journalist with Truthdig. He’s also a professor and an author. Chris Hedges has written 12 books including the bestsellers “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt,” “American Fascists: The Christian Right and The War on America,” and “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.” His latest book is “America: The Farewell Tour.” It just came out this year.