Chris Hedges: Society of Spectacle

The televised Jan. 6 hearings will not restore democracy or halt the rise of the far right. They are a desperate ploy by a doomed political class.

Original illustration by Mr. Fish, “The Pupper Master.”

By Chris Hedges

The Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, whose first of six televised hearings began last Thursday, is spectacle replacing politics. There is nothing substantially new in the accusations. The committee lacks prosecutorial power. No charges have been filed by Attorney General Merrick Garland against former President Donald Trump and none are expected.

The choreographed hearings, like the two impeachment trials of Trump, will have no effect on Trump voters, other than to make them feel persecuted, especially with more than 860 people already charged (including 306 guilty pleas) for their role in storming the Capitol. The committee echoes back to Trump opponents what they already believe. It is designed to present inaction as action and substitute role-playing for politics. It perpetuates, as Guy Debord writes, our “empire of modern passivity.”

The committee, which most Republicans boycotted, hired James Goldston, a documentary producer and former president of ABC News, to turn the hearings into engaging television with slick packaging and an array of pithy sound bites.

The result is, and was meant to be, politics as reality television, a media diversion that will change nothing in the dismal American landscape. What should have been a serious bipartisan inquiry into an array of constitutional violations by the Trump administration has been turned into a prime-time campaign commercial for a Democratic Party running on fumes. The epistemology of television is complete. So is its artifice.

The two established wings of the oligarchy, the old Republican Party represented by politicians such as Liz Cheney, one of two Republicans on the committee, and the Bush family, are now united with the Democratic Party elite into one ruling political entity.

“What should have been a serious bipartisan inquiry into an array of constitutional violations by the Trump administration has been turned into a prime-time campaign commercial for a Democratic Party running on fumes.”

The ruling parties were already in lock step for decades on the major issues, including: war, trade deals, austerity, the militarization of police, prisons, government surveillance and assaults on civil liberties. They worked in tandem to pervert and destroy democratic institutions on behalf of the rich and corporations. They desperately work together now to stave off the revolt by enraged and betrayed white working men and women who support Donald Trump and the far right.

Committee members cloyingly seek to sanctify themselves and their hearings by holding up the Constitution, democracy, the Founding Fathers, due process, the consent of the governed and the electoral process.

Bennie Thompson, chairman of the committee, talked about “domestic enemies of the Constitution who stormed the Capitol and occupied the Capitol, who sought to thwart the will of the people, to stop the transfer of power.” Liz Cheney called the Capitol “a sacred space in our constitutional republic.”

Congressman Bennie Thompson in 2016. (AFGE, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

There was no acknowledgement by committee members that the “will of the people” has been subverted by the three branches of government to serve the dictates of the billionaire class. No one brought up the armies of lobbyists who are daily permitted to storm the Capitol to fund the legalized bribery of our elections and write the pro-corporate legislation that it passes. No one spoke about the loss of constitutional rights, including the right to privacy, because of wholesale government surveillance. No one mentioned the disastrous trade deals that have deindustrialized the country and impoverished the working class. No one spoke of the military fiascos in the Middle East that cost taxpayers over $8 trillion, the for-profit health care system that gouges the public and prevents a rational response to the pandemic, already resulting in over a million deaths, or the privatization of institutions of government, including schools, prisons, water treatment, trash collection, parking meters, utilities and even intelligence gathering, to enrich the billionaire class at our expense.

Spectacle Taking the Place of Politics 

The gaping hole between the reality of what we have become, and the fiction of who we are supposed to be, is why spectacle is all the ruling class has left.  Spectacle takes the place of politics. It is a tacit admission that all social programs, whether the Build Back Better Plan, a ban on assault weapons, raising the minimum wage, ameliorating the ravages of inflation or instituting environmental reforms to stave off the climate emergency, will never be implemented. Those who occupy the “sacred space” of “our constitutional republic” are capable only of pouring money into war, allocating $54 billion to Ukraine and passing ever higher military budgets to enrich the arms industry.

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The wider the gap becomes between the ideal and the real, the more the proto fascists, who look set to take back the Congress in the fall, will be empowered. If the rational, factual world does not work, why not try one of the many conspiracy theories? If this is what democracy means, why support democracy?

The right-wing also communicates through spectacle. What were the four years of the Trump presidency but one vast spectacle? Spectacle versus spectacle. The aesthetic of spectacle, as in the dying days of the Roman Empire or Tsarist Russia, is all that is left. “Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business,” Neil Postman writes in Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. The current ruling class, blinded by their hubris and pomposity, however, is not very good at it.

The far right, which believes vaccines cause autism; angels exist; a cabal of satanic, cannibalistic sexual abusers of children that run a global child sex trafficking ring are trying to destroy Trump; and the inerrancy of the Bible, is far more entertaining, even as it accelerates the solidification of corporate tyranny.

If the republic is dead, do you want to watch President Joe Biden mumble his way through another press conference or the burlesque of Sen. Rand Paul chain-sawing the tax code in half and Sen. Ted Cruz accusing former President Barack Obama of trying to provide “expanded Medicaid” to ISIS? Do you want to wake up to the newest rhetorical outrage by Trump, who when he campaigned for president accused Obama of founding ISIS, suggested Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, argued that noise from windmills cause cancer and recommended ingesting disinfectant to fight Covid, or pay homage to a set of values long ago discarded by the ruling class for lies, corruption and greed?

In short, since the system has betrayed and fleeced you, why not take it down with the vulgarity and crudity it deserves? Why not be entertained by political arsonists? Why engage in the polite civility and political decorum demanded by those who destroyed our communities, wrecked the nation, looted the U.S. Treasury, oversaw a series of costly military debacles and took away our ability to make an adequate living, as well as our children’s future?

Weimar Germany

Nazis who participated in the Beer Hall Putsch: Adolf Hitler, Emil Maurice, Hermann Kriebel, Rudolf Hess, Friedrich Weber at Landsberg Prison, 1924. (Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Wikimedia Commons)

In 1924, the government of Weimar Germany decided to get rid of Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, or Nazis, by trying Hitler for high treason in the People’s Court. Hitler was clearly guilty. He had tried to overthrow the elected government in the botched 1923 “Beer Hall Putsch,” which, like the Jan. 6 riot, was as much farce as insurrection. It was an open and shut case. The trial, however, backfired, turning Hitler into a national martyr and boosting the political fortunes of the Nazis.

The reason should have been apparent. Germany, convulsed by widespread unemployment, food riots, street violence and hyperinflation, was a mess. The ruling elites, like our own, had no credibility. The appeal to the rule of law and democratic values was a joke.

Joe Biggs inside the U.S. Capitol; taken from video footage live-streamed on Parler on Jan. 6, 2021.   (Wikimedia Commons)

There was a revealing moment in the hearings when Capitol police officer Caroline Edwards, who suffered a concussion during the storming of the Capitol, related an exchange she had with Joseph Biggs, a leader of The Proud Boys who was indictedalong with four other Proud Boy leaders, for seditious conspiracy in connection with the storming of the Capitol.

“The tables started turning, once the — what is now that — the Arizona group — that’s what you said — the crowd with orange hats, they came up chanting ‘F-U-C-K antifa!’” Edwards told the committee. “And they joined that group. And once they joined that group, Joseph Biggs’ rhetoric turned to the Capitol Police. He started asking us questions like, ‘You’ve — you didn’t miss a paycheck during the pandemic,’ mentioning stuff about — our pay scale was mentioned, and, you know, started turning the tables on us.”

The brief exchange highlighted the yawning gap between the haves and the have nots, which, if not addressed, will turn Trump, his supporters, Biggs, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers into martyrs.

Congress is a cesspool. Corrupt politicians whore for the rich and get rich in return. This reality, which the hearings ignore, is apparent to most of the nation, which is why the hearings will not bolster the flagging fortunes of the ruling political class, desperate to prevent displacement.

The old ruling class is slated for extinction, not that what follows will be better. It won’t. But the game of pillage and corruption in the name of sacred democratic values no longer works. A new game is taking its place, one where narcissistic buffoons, who stoke the fires of hate and only know how to destroy, entertain us to death.

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 show “The Chris Hedges Report.”

Author’s Note to Readers: There is now no way left for me to continue to write a weekly column for ScheerPost and produce my weekly television show without your help. The walls are closing in, with startling rapidity, on independent journalism, with the elites, including the Democratic Party elites, clamoring for more and more censorship. Bob Scheer, who runs ScheerPost on a shoestring budget, and I will not waiver in our commitment to independent and honest journalism, and we will never put ScheerPost behind a paywall, charge a subscription for it, sell your data or accept advertising. Please, if you can, sign up at so I can continue to post my Monday column on ScheerPost and produce my weekly television show, “The Chris Hedges Report.”

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16 comments for “Chris Hedges: Society of Spectacle

  1. Prince
    June 16, 2022 at 09:25

    “The far right, which believes vaccines cause autism; angels exist” are you implying that belief in angel constitutes holding far right beliefs? Isn’t this the kind of intolerance that flourished in the soviet union and in many political systems today where religious beliefs are mocked under the guise of intellectual gibberish? What was the purpose of pointing out angels exist and would the negation of that point would not have affected your argument at all.
    It’s rather insulting to imply even in a subtle manner as you have that faith in angels is in anyway connected or a precondition to far right beliefs. By the same analogy, I could say “the far left which believes vaccines cause a higher iq ;socialism is superior ” your assertion was uncalled for and it is a reflection of the false know it all mentality that has brought us to the political disarray we are facing as a nation; the refusal to acknowledge each other’s convictions and find a reasonable middle path.

  2. Caliman
    June 14, 2022 at 18:09

    It’s “bread and circuses” … circuses w/o bread will eventually fail. I think that’s where we are now. Too many people are seeing themselves or their children or grandchildren join the precariat class, one missed paycheck or bad health issue away from landing on the street.

    And all the while they are blamed for their ancestors’ sins against others about which they can do nothing but feel guilty, they are being told they must welcome tens of millions of new residents to their country as services, infrastructure, and nature itself visibly get more rundown, they are even told that their very concepts about the basics of life, such as there are two sexes, are wrongheaded.

    People are tired and just want to get off this ride they never volunteered for.

  3. June 14, 2022 at 08:55

    …and no one spoke of the privatized monetary system that gives the rich power over industry, government and all public policy. The corporate money bribing of Congress, creating the puppet show, was mentioned but not where the corporate money comes from, nothing about the Money Power, those who rule over the creation and allocation of money. No mention of the legislation already written and even introduced in 2011 that could change this privatized power structure to one serving the people, as if there were none. Even our great journalists ignore this in favor of the spectacle.

  4. lester
    June 13, 2022 at 23:25

    Thank you, Mr. Hedges! As usual, your column is unusually honest and frank.

  5. Don
    June 13, 2022 at 22:30

    Oh man, is there anything that might follow containing some small glimmer of hope?

    With all due respect to the depths of horror brought by the original Nazis, the stakes are so much higher now, and, perhaps foolishly, millions then never lost sight of the glow of victory ahead.

    How do we not now perish under the thickest, darkest, dankest blanket of despair?

    We must at least be able to imagine a faint possibility of emerging into some weak light.

    I sincerely thank you for this, Chris Hedges.

  6. daryl rush
    June 13, 2022 at 22:24

    stunningly important analysis and commentary on our down fall.

  7. CNfan
    June 13, 2022 at 20:43

    Having watched a lot of video footage from Jan 6, my impression is that a large crowd of essentially peaceful protesters were infiltrated by a small number of provocateurs who generated violent events. At one point the crowd even identifies one such provocateur, chanting, “Fed, Fed, Fed!” while pointing at him. One such person has been identified as a known FBI asset, and has not been arrested or tried.

    I’m also struck by the fact that normal security was missing. Col. J. Fletcher Prouty, in his discussion of the JFK assassination, noted that in CIA assassinations a key part of the plan is to arrange for the normal security to stand down. Specifics of the JFK security stand down are given by Prouty and also by James Douglas in his book on the JFK assassination.

    There is also evidence that the Uvalde massacre involved a stand down of normal security procedure. Thus it also resembles “terrorism theater”. “Crazy shooters” look very much like the products of the CIA’s MK-Ultra program. That is a mind control program to turn a human being into a hypnotized, robot-like killer who will forget everything after killing his target. Strong evidence suggests Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan were products of that program, presented in Tom O’Neil’s book “Chaos”.

    Terrorizing the public is a longstanding tool of control. And the well coordinated lies of our mainstream press and politicians are organized and directed. They are engineered by a cabal of sociopathic criminals, not by a amorphous “system”.

    • Realist
      June 14, 2022 at 23:52

      In an unlikely stretch, if this was actually a bungled putsch rather than simply some political activists merely acting out their frustrations of having absolutely no confidence in the election results about to be formally recognised under the constitution on that fateful 6th of January, I would remind everyone that American politicos (or more precisely their allies from the dungeons of the intel agencies) are proven masterminds of genuine coup d’etats. What lessons had Cookie Nuland’s putative seditionists apparently forgotten after they had only recently guided the hapless Ukrainians through the process? Even if their purpose was only to make the production look like a FAILED coup to discredit Trump, they failed miserably at that. Fear not, however, the “talent base” for restoring the American knack for spinning an efficient regime toppling is still there. The “White Helmets” of Syria were rescued and many resettled in the United States. No doubt the most efficient of the Azov Battalion will be snapped up to continue their careers working for Uncle Sam. What the agency can do seamlessly in foreign lands will be revisited upon America sooner than you might think or want.

  8. Duane
    June 13, 2022 at 19:47

    “The trial, however, backfired, turning Hitler into a national martyr and boosting the political fortunes of the Nazis. The reason should have been apparent. Germany, convulsed by widespread unemployment, food riots, street violence and hyperinflation, was a mess.”

    Hannah Arendt saw Nazism as a movement rather than an ideology (although she saw Hitler maintaining the facade of an ideology). The distinction is important because, as Arendt understood, a movement doesn’t really care about what direction it’s going, as long as it’s in motion. Whereas followers of an ideology typically care a lot about the direction they’re going, even if they aren’t moving very fast.

    In our present situation, MAGA represents a movement not an ideology. The GOP may have some residual ideology, but MAGA has hijacked the GOP bus and the Republican ideologues are just getting carried along. Read about the ‘Burnitdown’ woman in Rome, Ga. in the Washington Post and you’ll get the idea. There is a large movement of disaffected people who are, like the Weimar Germans, upset about unemployment, downward mobility, and the pervasive attitude among ‘progressives’ that white people are responsible for everything that’s wrong in America.

    On the other side is a progressive movement, and yes it is also a movement because progressivism requires constant progress against the perceived injustices of the social order. So, after on injustice is repaired the movement must ‘problematize’ another issue and agitate for repair of that. Superficially, the progressives claim an ideology of social justice but in practice that philosophy is so thinly woven that it could be torn by a passing bumblebee. There is some direction (also true for MAGA) but in the actuality the progressive movement is, no surprise here, another movement.

    Those of us not sucked into the vortex of either movement have the experience of watching our country devolve into a civil war which might make Ukraine look like a Sunday picnic in the park. The hatefulness on both sides is staggering, and growing rapidly.

    I am not optimistic about the American prospect at this point.

  9. Joe Grange
    June 13, 2022 at 17:55

    It could be a ‘final desperate ploy’, or it could be just a big charade.

    Remember, Joe Biden was always very friendly with Republicans. His best friends in the Senate were reported to be Jesse Helms and Strom Thrumond. Joe used to brag about this, probably until some political consultant pointed out to him that he got single digit support in his previous Presidential runs, and that he should shut up about his great Republican friends. Today is about the only person to the right of Trump who keeps saying that ‘we need a strong Republican Party.’

    There are by now famous film clips of Joe, turning from a podium on an empty stage, talking to some one, and putting out his hand like for a handshake. I think the invisible friend that he is talking to is his old buddy Jesse Helms.

    The point is, don’t assume that Joe wasn’t planning all along how to turn this over to the Republicans. I think as long as the family hedge fund has a good balance when he leaves, Joe doesn’t really care what happens afterwards. And, the biggest enemy of Joe and the rest of the right-wing, Democratic Centrists, was always the left of their own party. Time after time the centrists have shown that they will happily support the Republicans to help stave off a threat from the ever-to-be-feared left. When a progressive wins a primary, it is almost standard for the centrist Dems to team up with the opposition to block the progressive. And the man once known as the Senator from MasterCard is to the right of most of the right-wing, “centrist” Dems.

    If the Democrats decided internally, that at the end of 2020 they had to chose between Trump or the Progressives, they’d have chosen Trump. And we don’t know that they haven’t. The political path Joe has deliberate chosen appears to lead straight to another Trump Presidency, with a Republican majority in the Congress. The simple answer, and thus Occam’s, is that this is by design.

    It could be, and it is very dangerous what appears to be ‘the left’ in America not to take that possibility into account. At some point the only course that possibly avoids fascism in America may be a complete break with the very right-wing, corporate Democrats, and that continuing to support them is just walking deeper and deeper into a very deadly trap.

  10. Mary Dean
    June 13, 2022 at 17:14

    Read Thomas Mann’s “The Clown” for a similar warning, but in the form of a short story.

  11. jeff montanye
    June 13, 2022 at 17:13

    trump was better than bush, obama, or biden. he didn’t start a new war, introduced the one-state solution for israel/palestine, tried to wind down syria, negotiated a withdrawal from afghanistan with the taliban (which biden did not follow), prosecuted the first violators for fraudulently pricing gold, exposed enormous malfeasance by the fbi, doj, nsa, and cia, clearing out the top echelon of the fbi.

    • J Anthony
      June 14, 2022 at 04:48

      That is a delusion; in fact he did little to wind down any of the “abroad-wars” and never tried that hard. In fact he tried to get another one going with Iran when he assassinated one of their generals. Not to mention he has incited violence all over the country with his rhetoric. No, Trump and his neofascism is no better than what we have now. A shame we can’t do better than either.

  12. June 13, 2022 at 15:37

    But for the obligatory bashing of Trump and the Tea Party, the article would have been meaningfully important. The distractions made it somewhat less than coherent. Stay on point Chris.

    • Daniel
      June 14, 2022 at 19:50

      Been reading Hedges a long time. Have to agree with you.

  13. LeoSun
    June 13, 2022 at 14:48

    “Society of Spectacle,” A JumboTron. FREE Ice Cream. Summer attired Democrats, People…

    Roll ‘Em……“January 6, 2021, Scene of The Crimes,” starring: Liz Cheney

    Masks/Optional. IF, it weren’t for the 10 Ft. High, topped w/Razor Wire, fences surrounding the perimeters of The People’s House, the “Watch” party could have been even closer to The People’s House aka Capitol grounds.

    Sponsored by Ben & Jerry’s, Not Above The Law, Citizens United, and The DNC. (Find an Event Near You and/or Host Your Own “Watch” Party).

    Feeling disgusted? Barf Bags, Available.

    Imo, in R E A L I T Y, it’s, “The Useful Idiocy of Donald Trump” (Chris Hedges, January 29, 2018)

    – “Trump provides the daily entertainment; the elites handle the business of looting, exploiting and destroying.”

    Consequently, “the only thing we have to fear, is reality itself.” (Chris Hedges)

Comments are closed.