What kind of nation is it that spends far more to kill enemy combatants and Afghan and Iraqi civilians than it does to help its own citizens who live below the poverty line? What kind of nation is it that permits corporations to hold sick children hostage while their parents frantically bankrupt themselves to save their sons and daughters? What kind of nation is it that tosses its mentally ill onto urban heating grates? What kind of nation is it that abandons its unemployed while it loots its treasury on behalf of speculators? What kind of nation is it that ignores due process to torture and assassinate its own citizens? What kind of nation is it that refuses to halt the destruction of the ecosystem by the fossil fuel industry, dooming our children and our children’s children?
“America,” Langston Hughes wrote, “never was America to me.
I sometimes feel that Chris Hedges, a writer and thinker I greatly admire, allows his frustration to carry him a little too far with his rhetoric, but not this time, in this essay about the Occupy Wall Street movement, the only mass protest against the bankrupt corporate economic system that has a chance of succeeding. The protesters are not, however, traditional liberals who have sold out over the past few decades, in droves.
"Liberal reform", in its current incarnation, has meant an ineffecive Obama presidency, where most of his basic election promises, such as closing Guantanamo and ending the war, have failed to occur; and the passage, for instance, of a gutted universal health care bill - better than nothing, to be sure, but a very very far cry from what any moral social system in the developed world should be providing for its citizens. The environment, one of the most urgent issues facing the world, is so far back in the priority list there's no point even talking about it. Instead, the corporate-military collusion continues unchecked, and Americans are required to pay to support it while losing their own jobs, homes, and future. Impoverishing the people and draining the treasuries to support wars and the greed of the powerful is nothing new in human history -- read the Book of Kings, read about 5th century Athens, the list continues throughout the centuries -- but the scale of the global effect today certainly is. So is the scale of the immorality. The Toronto Star points out that more Americans (46 million) are now living in poverty than at any time since records were first taken more than 50 years ago. What has happened to democracy and its promises, which are supposedly based on equal opportunity? The first paragraph quoted above asks the real questions we should all be asking ourselves.
Since coming to Canada I've realized that the dismantling of American liberalism is not well understood or even acknowledged abroad, let alone at home. Part of the blame lies with the so-called left itself, while the discrediting and destruction of trade unions, for instance, has been a systematic and deliberate process by corporations and government working hand in hand. Here in Quebec, unions remain important, and strikes and protests are common; the government, which has many flaws, is still considered accountable to the people. Where in America today are the checks and balances against unfettered greed and power? Certainly not in the institutions that have traditionally provided them, as Hedges so rightly points out:
Liberal institutions, including the church, the press, the university, the Democratic Party, the arts and labor unions, set the parameters for limited self-criticism in a functioning democracy as well as small, incremental reforms. The liberal class is permitted to decry the worst excesses of power and champion basic human rights while at the same time endowing systems of power with a morality and virtue it does not possess. Liberals posit themselves as the conscience of the nation. They permit us, through their appeal to public virtues and the public good, to see ourselves and our state as fundamentally good.
But the liberal class, by having refused to question the utopian promises of unfettered capitalism and globalization and by condemning those who did, severed itself from the roots of creative and bold thought, the only forces that could have prevented the liberal class from merging completely with the power elite. The liberal class, which at once was betrayed and betrayed itself, has no role left to play in the battle between us and corporate dominance. All hope lies now with those in the street.