Chris Hedges: Bandaging the Corpse

Biden’s bailout will not alter the structural inequities and other fundamental underpinnings of America’s death spiral.

President Joe Biden during presidential inauguration motorcade, Jan. 20. (White House, Ana Isabel Martinez Chamorro)

By Chris Hedges

The established ruling elites know there is a crisis. They agreed, at least temporarily, to throw money at it with the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 bill known as American Rescue Plan (ARP).

But the ARP will not alter the structural inequities, either by raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour or imposing taxes and regulations on corporations or the billionaire class that saw its wealth increase by a staggering $1.1 trillion since the start of the pandemic.

The health system will remain privatized, meaning the insurance and pharmaceutical corporations will reap a windfall of tens of billions of dollars with the ARP, and this when they are already making record profits. The endless wars in the Middle East, and the bloated military budget that funds them, will remain sacrosanct. Wall Street and the predatory global speculators that profit from the massive levels of debt peonage imposed on an underpaid working class and loot the U.S. Treasury in our casino capitalism will continue to funnel money upwards into the hands of a tiny, oligarchic cabal.

There will be no campaign finance reform to end our system of legalized bribery. The giant tech monopolies will remain intact. The fossil fuel companies will continue to ravage the ecosystem. The militarized police, censorship imposed by digital media platforms, vast prison system, harsher and harsher laws aimed at curbing domestic terrorism and dissent and wholesale government surveillance will be, as they were before, the primary instruments of state control.

This act will, at best, provide a momentary respite from the country’s death spiral, sending out one-time checks of $1,400 to 280 million Americans, extending $300 weekly unemployment benefits until the end of August and distributing $3,600 through a tax credit for children under the age of 6 and $3,000 per child ages 6 to 17 starting on July 1.

Much of this money will be instantly gobbled up by landlords, lenders, medical providers and credit card companies. The act does, to its credit, bail out some 1 million unionized workers poised to lose their pensions and hands $31.2 billion in aid to Native communities, some of the poorest in the nation. 

But what happens to the majority of Americans who get government support for only a few months? What are they supposed to do when the checks stop arriving at the end of the year? Will the federal government orchestrate another massive relief package? I doubt it. We will be back where we started. 

(Original illustration by Mr. Fish)

By refusing to address the root causes of America’s rot, by failing to pump life back into the democratic institutions that once gave the citizen a voice, however limited, and make incremental and piecemeal reform possible, by not addressing the severe economic and social inequality and dislocation that afflicts at least half the country, the anomie and ruptured social bonds that gave rise to a demagogue like Donald Trump will expand. The American empire will not staunch its disintegration. The political deformities will metastasize. 

When the next demagogue appears, and the Republican Party has banked its future on Trump or his doppelgänger, he or she will probably be competent. The Republican Party in 43 states has proposed 250 laws to limit mail, early in-person and Election Day voting and mandate stricter ID requirements, as well as reduce the hours at voting sites and the numbers of voting locations potentially disenfranchising tens of millions of voters. The party has no intention of playing by the rules. Once back in power, cloaked in the ideological garb of Christian fascism, the new or the old Trump will abolish what little is left of democratic space. 

The established elites pretend that Trump was a freakish anomaly. They naively believe they can make Trump and his most vociferous supporters disappear by banishing them from social media. The ancien régime, will, they assert, return with the decorum of its imperial presidency, respect for procedural norms, elaborately choreographed elections and fealty to neoliberal and imperial policies. 

The Ongoing Trump Era

But what the established ruling elites have yet to grasp, despite the narrow electoral victory Joe Biden had over Trump and the storming of the capital on Jan. 6 by an enraged mob, is that the credibility of the old order is dead. The Trump era, if not Trump himself, is the future. The ruling elites, embodied by Biden and the Democratic Party and the polite wing of the Republican Party represented by Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, is headed for the dustbin of history. 

The elites collectively sold out the American public to corporate power. They did this by lying to the public about the consequences of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), trade deals, dismantling welfare, revoking Glass-Stegall, imposing austerity measures, deregulating Wall Street, passing draconian crime bills, launching endless wars in the Middle East and bailing out the big banks and financial firms rather than the victims of their fraud. These lies were far, far more damaging to the public than any of the lies told by Trump. These elites have been found out. They are hated. They deserve to be hated. 

“The Rise of Medusa” by Théodore Géricault, 1818-1819, the Louvre. The work is set at a moment when “the ruin of the raft may be said to be complete.” (Wikimedia Commons)

The Biden administration — and Biden was one of the principal architects of the policies that fleeced the working class and made war on the poor — is nothing more than a brief coda in the decline and fall, set against which is China’s rising global economic and military clout. 

The loss of credibility has left the media, which serves as courtiers to the elites, largely powerless to manipulate public perceptions and public opinion. Rather, the media has divided the public into competing demographics. Media platforms target one demographic, feeding its opinions and proclivities back to it, while shrilly demonizing the demographic on the other side of the political divide. This has proved commercially successful. But it has also split the country into irreconcilable warring factions that can no longer communicate. Truth and verifiable fact have been sacrificed. Russiagate is as absurd as the belief that the presidential election was stolen from Trump. Pick your fantasy. 

Transfer of Political Influence

The loss of credibility among the ruling elites has transferred political influence to those outside established centers of power such as Alex Jones, celebrities and those, such as Joe Rogan, Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi who were never groomed by the media conglomerates.

The Democratic Party, in an effort to curb the influence of the new centers of power, has allied itself with social media industry giants such as Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Patreon, Substack and Spotify to curtail or censor its critics. The goal is to herd the public back to Democratic Party allied news organizations such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN. But these media outlets, which in the service to corporate advertisers have rendered the lives of the working class and the poor invisible, are as reviled as the ruling elites themselves. 

The loss of credibility has also given rise to new, often spontaneous groups, as well as the lunatic fringe that embraces conspiracy theories such as QAnon. None of these groups or individuals, whether they are on the left or the right, however, has the organizational structure, coherence and ideological cohesiveness of radical movements of the past, including the old Communist Party or militant labor unions.

Emotional Outrage

Building burning in Minneapolis on May 29, 2020, during George Floyd protests. (Hungryogrephotos, CC0, Wikimedia Commons)

They traffic in emotional outrage, often replacing one outrage with another. They provide new forms of identity to replace the identities lost by tens of millions of Americans who have been cast aside. This energy can be harnessed for laudable causes, such as ending police abuse, but it is too often ephemeral. It has a tendency to transform political debate into grievance protests, at best, and more often televised spectacle.

These flash mobs pose no threat to the elites unless they build disciplined organization structures, which takes years, and articulate a vision of what can come next. (This is why I support Extinction Rebellion, which has a large grassroots network, especially in Europe, carries out effective sustained acts of civil disobedience and has a clearly stated goal of overthrowing the ruling elites and building a new governing system through people’s committees and sortition.)

This amorphous, emotionally driven anti-politics is fertile ground for demagogues, who have no political consistency but cater exclusively to the zeitgeist of the moment. Many of those who support demagogues know, on some level, they are con artists and liars. But demagogues are revered because, like all cult leaders, they flout conventions, are outrageous and crude, claim omnipotence and disdain traditional decorum. Demagogues are weaponized against bankrupt well-heeled elites who have stripped the public of opportunities and identities, extinguishing hopes for the future. A cornered population has little left but hate and the emotional catharsis expressing it brings. 

The engine of our emerging dystopia is income inequality, which is growing.  This bill does nothing to address this cancer. The bottom 50 percent of households in 2019 accounted for only 1 percent of the nation’s total wealth.  The top 10 percent accounted for 76 percent.  And this was before the pandemic accelerated income disparity. 

More than 18 million American depend on unemployment benefits, as businesses contract and close.  Nearly 81 million Americans struggle to meet basic household expenses, 22 million lack enough food and 11 million say they can’t make their next house payment. 

Only deep structural reforms accompanied by New Deal-type legislation can save us, but such changes are an anathema to the corporate state and the Biden administration.  History has amply demonstrated what happens when income disparities of this magnitude afflict a country.  We will be no exception.  Lacking a strong left, the United States will in desperation embrace authoritarianism, if not proto-fascism.  This will, I fear, be Biden and the Democratic Party’s real legacy.  

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for 15 years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East bureau chief and Balkan bureau chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning NewsThe Christian Science Monitor and NPR. He is the host of the Emmy Award-nominated RT America show “On Contact.” 

This column is from Scheerpost, for which Chris Hedges writes a regular column twice a month. Click here to sign up for email alerts.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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10 comments for “Chris Hedges: Bandaging the Corpse

  1. Anne
    March 14, 2021 at 12:30

    Chris – Ta for this piece. As you surely are aware All as in All Empires end, and rarely, if ever, do so calmly, willingly, peacefully….and this one is ready for dissolution (and hopefully taking with it the UK remnant hallucinations re their empire)…But it would seem that those in the ruling elites and their broadcasters of so-called information (really disinformation Orwellian style) cannot yet cope with the possibility…If NPR (and its close buddy the BBC World Service) are anything to go by…Gotta stop/prevent China (population 1.4/5 billion – never mind, of no import) rising to “primacy” in their region of the world (let alone anywhere else) thereby displacing (shock horror) the USA – gawd forbid…So far as I’m aware that part of the world is thousands of miles from the USA…but hey, what are a few miles? And why should North Korea spend any time licking the boots of the USA? Or and even less giving up any nukes??? They’d be totally daft to do so…

    WHY is it Never on the cards that the US gives UP its Nukes???? Huh??? Oh no, can’t have that…we’ve got to show our muscularity, our willingness to obliterate this or that country (not to mention others) in order to demonstrate who is toppy doggy…

    Sick is Not in it…

  2. Arthur Dan Gleckler
    March 13, 2021 at 17:40

    Chris is beautiful, stunning in his analysis … but does little to encourage, which is the essential of a visionary. Tell us, please, over and in detail, again and again, the steps towards healing and creating of a new “stasis.” Otherwise, you play the same game as the one you are describing. One step at a time, but always with a fuller picture in the distance. Giving us this is your true calling. Answer it, for us all, starting with yourself. Blessings.

  3. Rev Dr B Trinlae
    March 13, 2021 at 10:03

    Readers can take care not to gloss over these poignant, carefully selected words and their import:

    “There will be no campaign finance reform to end our system of legalized bribery. The giant tech monopolies will remain intact. The fossil fuel companies will continue to ravage the ecosystem. The militarized police, censorship imposed by digital media platforms, vast prison system, *harsher* and *harsher* laws aimed at curbing domestic terrorism and dissent and wholesale government surveillance will be, as they were before, the primary instruments of state control.”

    Note the phrase “harsher and harsher.” As the war violence cranks up abroad, it will be used as a cover to continue stripping whatever constitutional protections citizens consider their birth right to enjoy, because of “emergency.”

    Prepare accordingly! Chris is our era’s Bonhoeffer in many ways (I suspect he will consider that a prized complement). Go back and read some Bonhoeffer! It is not fun or nice to listen to Chris tell it like it is. The dark despair serves like a window connecting our personal tolerance for our own direct participation in inflicting suffering, through mechanisms and silent consent, and the symbiotic manifestation of the same in the external world.

    Let’s check our inner fortitude to look at the ugly sights of our income tax dollars and mutual funds appropriating military campaigns of death for multi/trans-national profits. Where are we contributing for a vision of peace and prosperity? When will the mechanisms for this last alternative be gone?

  4. Dfnslblty
    March 13, 2021 at 09:53

    An honest and a cautionary look at usa today.
    And a truthful exposé of the economic bandage fed to Citizens.

    I’m grateful for the author’s honesty and for Consortium News.

    Protest Loudly!

  5. DH Fabian
    March 12, 2021 at 23:49

    Americans don’t want to “address those inequities.” As always, not a penny of those government handouts, by any other name, goes to those who are in greatest need, the already poor. homeless. We’re 25 years int the Democrats war on those left jobless/many who can’t work. In 2021 America, they are mere surplus population, not of current use to employers, in a country where job losses had long surpassed job gains.

  6. Jeff Harrison
    March 12, 2021 at 19:36

    Dystopian visions abound! I’m not saying that you;re wrong, Chris. I just can’t see the future clearly enough to have a good guess. I seriously doubt it will be pleasant.

  7. Mark Thomason
    March 12, 2021 at 17:45

    “The political deformities will metastasize.”

    They already have.

    We are deep in denial about what is plainly visible to see all around us.

    • Magdatam
      March 13, 2021 at 05:52

      “We are deep in denial about what is plainly visible to see all around us.”

      Bandaging corpses offers opportunities of deepening denial as illustrated in the process of first perestroika then glasnost in attempt to facilitate perestroika, indicators of the trajectories from fantasyland to wonderland with limited effort on the part of opponents.

  8. Anonymot
    March 12, 2021 at 16:09

    Thank you for a brilliant summary of reality that few are able or willing to write about and few publications are willing to publish.

  9. firstpersoninfinite
    March 12, 2021 at 16:06

    Well done, Chris Hedges. A fair appraisal of our growing darkness. My guess is that the “bailout,” which will not hold back the tide of pain still to come, will allow even heavier tools of surveillance, deeper corruption at the top, and raise censorship of any unmitigated truth to a level we have yet to imagine, all done for the “valorous” effort of uprooting the crime of “state heresy.”

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