The 15 rounds of voting it took to install Kevin McCarthy as speaker of the House is part of the carnival of folly that passes for politics.
By Chris Hedges
The U.S. political class does not govern. It entertains. It plays its assigned role in our fictitious democracy, howling with outrage to constituents and selling them out. The Squad and the Progressive Caucus have no more intention of fighting for universal health care, workers’ rights or defying the war machine than the Freedom Caucus fights for freedom. These political hacks are modern versions of Sinclair Lewis’ slick con artist Elmer Gantry, cynically betraying a gullible public to amass personal power and wealth. This moral vacuity provides the spectacle, as H.G. Wells wrote, of “a great material civilization, halted, paralyzed.” It happened in Ancient Rome. It happened in Weimar Germany. It is happening here.
Governance exists. But it is not seen. It is certainly not democratic. It is done by the armies of lobbyists and corporate executives, from the fossil fuel industry, the arms industry, the pharmaceutical industry and Wall Street. Governance happens in secret.
[Related: Who Determines What’s ‘Disinformation’?
Corporations have seized the levers of power, including the media. Growing obscenely rich, the ruling oligarchs have deformed national institutions, including state and federal legislatures and the courts, to serve their insatiable greed. They know what they are doing. They understand the depths of their own corruption. They know they are hated. They are prepared for that too. They have militarized police forces and have built a vast archipelago of prisons to keep the unemployed and underemployed in bondage. All the while, they pay little-to-no income tax and exploit sweatshop labor overseas. They lavishly bankroll the political clowns who speak in the vulgar and crude idiom of an enraged public or in the dulcet tones used to mollify the liberal class.
“Trump’s legacy is the degradation of political discourse to the monosyllabic tirades of Shakespeare’s Caliban, which simultaneously scandalize and energize the kabuki theater that passes for government.”
Former President Donald Trump’s seminal contribution to the political landscape is the license to say in public what political decorum once prohibited. His legacy is the degradation of political discourse to the monosyllabic tirades of Shakespeare’s Caliban, which simultaneously scandalize and energize the kabuki theater that passes for government. This burlesque differs little from the German Reichstag, where the final cri de coeur by a mortally ill Clara Zetkin against fascism on Aug. 30, 1932, was met with a chorus of taunts, insults and jeers by Nazi deputies.
H.G. Wells called the old guard, the good liberals, the ones who speak in measured words and embrace reason, the “inexplicit men.” They say the right things and do nothing. They are as vital to the rise of tyranny as are the Christian fascists, a few of whom held the House hostage last week by blocking 14 rounds of voting to prevent Kevin McCarthy from becoming speaker. By the time McCarthy was elected on the 15th round, he had caved on nearly every demand made by the obstructionists, including permitting any one of the 435 members of the House to force a vote for his removal at any time, thus guaranteeing political paralysis.
The internecine warfare in the House is not between those who respect democratic institutions and those who do not. McCarthy, backed by Trump and far-right conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene, is as morally bankrupt as those trying to bring him down. This is a battle for control among con artists, charlatans, social media celebrities and mobsters.
McCarthy joined the majority of House Republicans in support of a Texas lawsuit to void the 2020 presidential result by preventing four states — Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia — from casting electoral votes for Biden. The Supreme Court refused to hear the lawsuit.
There isn’t much in the Freedom Caucus extremist positions, which resemble those of Alternative fur Deutschland in Germany and Fidesz in Hungary, McCarthy doesn’t embrace. They advocate greater tax cuts for the wealthy, further deregulation of corporations, a war on migrants, more austerity programs, champion white supremacy and accuse liberals and conservatives who do not line up behind Trump of treason.
“I want you to watch Nancy Pelosi hand me that gavel. It will be hard not to hit her with it,” McCarthy said in audio posted to YouTube by a Main Street Nashville reporter in 2021. Pelosi, for her part, called McCarthy a “moron,” after he said that a possible renewed mask mandate was “a decision conjured up by liberal government officials who want to continue to live in a perpetual pandemic state.” This is what passes for political discourse. I yearn for the time when political rhetoric was geared to the educational level of a 10-year-old child or an adult with a sixth or seventh-grade education. Now we speak in imbecilic clichés.
This political vacuum has spawned anti-politics, or what the writer Benjamin DeMott called “junk politics,” which “personalizes and moralizes issues and interests instead of clarifying them.” Junk politics “maximizes threats from abroad while miniaturizing large, complex problems at home. It’s a politics that, guided by guesses about its own profits and losses, abruptly reverses public stances without explanation, often spectacularly bloating problems previously miniaturized (e.g.: [the war in] Iraq will be over in days or weeks; Iraq is a project for generations).”
“A major effect of junk politics — its ceaseless flood of patriotic, religious, macho and therapeutic fustian — is to pull position after position loose from reasoned foundations,” DeMott noted.
The result of junk politics is that it infantilizes the public with “year-round upbeat Christmas tales” and perpetuates the status quo. The billionaire class, which has carried out a slow-motion corporate coup d’état, continues to plunder; unchecked militarism continues to hollow out the country; and the public is kept in bondage by the courts and domestic security agencies.
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When the government watches you 24 hours a day, you cannot use the word “liberty.” That is the relationship between a master and a slave. The iron primacy of profit means that the most vulnerable are ruthlessly discarded. Supported by Republicans and Democrats, the Federal Reserve is raising interest rates to slow economic growth and increase unemployment to curb inflation, exacting a tremendous cost on the working poor and their families. No one is required to operate under what John Ruskin called “conditions of moral culture.”
But the second result of junk politics is more insidious. It solidifies the cult of the self, the amoral belief that we have the right to do anything, to betray and destroy anyone, to get what we want. The cult of the self fosters a psychopathic cruelty, a culture built not on empathy, the common good and self-sacrifice but on unbridled narcissism and vengeance. It celebrates, as mass media does, superficial charm, grandiosity and self-importance; a need for constant stimulation; a penchant for lying, deception and manipulation; and an inability to feel guilt or remorse. This is the dark ethic of corporate culture, celebrated by the entertainment industry, academia and social media.
“The cult of the self fosters a psychopathic cruelty, a culture built not on empathy, the common good and self-sacrifice but on unbridled narcissism and vengeance.”
The essayist Curtis White argues that “it is capitalism that now most defines our national character, not Christianity or the Enlightenment.” He assesses our culture as one in which “death has taken refuge in a legality that is supported by both reasonable liberals and Christian conservatives.” This “legality” ratifies the systematic exploitation of workers. White excoriates our nationalist triumphalism and our unleashing of “the most fantastically destructive military power” the world has ever known with the alleged objective of “protecting and pursuing freedom.”
“Justice, under capitalism, works not from a notion of obedience to moral law, or to conscience, or to compassion, but from the assumption of a duty to preserve a social order and the legal ‘rights’ that constitute that order, especially the right to property and the freedom to do with it what one wants,” he writes. “That’s the real and important ‘moral assessment’ sought by our courts. It comes to this: that decision will seem most just which preserves the system of justice even if the system is itself routinely unjust.”
The consequence is a society consumed by excessive materialism, pointless soul-destroying work, suffocating housing developments closer to “shared cemeteries” than real neighborhoods and a license to exploit that “condemns nature itself to annihilation even as we call it the freedom to pursue personal property.”
The billionaire class, for the most part, prefers the mask of a President Joe Biden, who deftly broke the freight railway unions to prevent a strike and forced them to accept a contract a majority of union members had rejected. But the billionaire class also knows that the goons and con artists on the far right will not interfere in their disemboweling of the nation; indeed, they will be more robust in thwarting the attempts of workers to organize for decent wages and working conditions. I watched fringe politicians in Yugoslavia, Radovan Karadži?, Slobodan Miloševi? and Franjo Tudjman, dismissed by the political and educated elites as buffoons, ride an anti-liberal wave to power in the wake of widespread economic misery. Walmart, Amazon, Apple, Citibank, Raytheon, ExxonMobile, Alphabet and Goldman Sachs will easily adapt. Capitalism functions very efficiently without democracy.
The longer we remain in a state of political paralysis, the more these political deformities are empowered. As Robert O. Paxton writes in The Anatomy of Fascism, fascism is an amorphous and incoherent ideology. It wraps itself in the most cherished symbols of the nation, in our case, the American flag, white supremacy, the Pledge of Allegiance and the Christian cross. It celebrates hypermasculinity, misogyny, racism and violence. It allows disenfranchised people, especially disenfranchised white men, to regain a sense of power, however illusory, and sanctifies their hatred and rage. It embraces a utopian vision of moral renewal and vengeance to coalesce around an anointed political savior. It is militaristic, anti-intellectual and contemptuous of democracy, especially when the established ruling class mouths the language of liberal democracy but does nothing to defend it. It replaces culture with nationalist and patriotic kitsch. It sees those outside the closed circle of the nation-state or the ethnic or religious group as contaminants who must be physically purged, usually with violence, to restore the health of the nation. It perpetuates itself through constant instability, for its solutions to the ills besetting the nation are transitory, contradictory and unattainable. Most importantly, fascism always has a religious coloring, mobilizing believers around rites and rituals, using sacred words and phrases, and embracing an absolute truth that is heretical to question.
Trump may be finished politically, but the political and social decay that created Trump remains. This decay will give rise to new, perhaps more competent, demagogues. I fear the rise of Christian fascists endowed with the political skill, self-discipline, focus and intelligence that Trump lacks. The longer we remain politically paralyzed, the more certain Christian fascism becomes. The Jan. 6 mob assault on the Capitol two years ago, the polarization of the electorate into antagonistic tribes, the economic misery afflicting the working class, the rhetoric of hate and violence and the current dysfunction in the Congress is but a glimpse of the nightmare ahead.
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 News, The 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 chrishedges.substack.com 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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And so many myths about America’s ‘greatness’ headed for the dust bin.
Looking for fascism in all the wrong places. It is here. It is now. No need for a politically savvy “demagogue”.
Obviously morality doesn’t matter to knee-jerk partisans. No surprise there.
Very clear and blunt, as ever, Mr. Hedges. You are right, this IS how the Roman Repuiblic turned into the Empire.
Mr. Hedges continues his bleak bleating without offering anything like a call to action or even the outlines of a program to respond to this absurdist theater covering up the drive to fascism. He doesn’t even seem to see the reality under which we are living. The best part of the McCarthy Show was that for a week Congress was unable to do more harm. I wish it had lasted a year. The problem is not that the anti-McCarthy-ites interrupted the fake democratic process with their unprincipled opposition to that charlatan McCarthy. The problem is that they did not shut down the whole farce, which of course was never their intention.
Just think of the revenues this “Theater of the Absurd” brought to the MSM.
I suppose no one missed the fact that the party of “no” managed to dominate the airwaves with a display of more and more foot dragging obstruction of the governing process.
Pity the fool who buys into this process, or more correctly is bribed to buy into it.
20 hr ago
I considered myself slung out of the left/right political division years ago and created my own categories: PP, Political vs Public interests. It has been clear that all of our politicians are mere ventriloquists dummies operating on the voices of unseen interests. I was called a conspiracy advocate in the darkest of terms until it is now clear to a number of public voices such as Hedges in this article.
ALL of our politicians have become corrupt, the once Left, Right and Center. Their allegiances go to those who give them money. Everyone forgets that it was Obama who first declared, “I’ve got a billion dollars for this campaign.” He shocked the Hell out of everyone, public and private. The money race was on and soon the Republicans declared they had more than Obama. The pretense of campaigning and following through on public interest was over. Campaigns were about raising money.
Nomi Prins has exposed how Congress members actually make investments just before and after bills they have worked on are signed into law. She’s named names, given dates, amounts, and names of stocks bought. It’s insider info of the most unscrupulous nature. Unfortunately, her audience is limited to investors who subscribe to her newsletter., but it has indeed become a subject treated openly in a few other newsletters.
As Chris says, the Politicians politic is unrelated to its purported purpose.
and the Public Interest Politics are hung out like wash forgotten on the line. Andrew Yang proposes an honest third party, but a group capable of giving a new party a Russified name of the Forward Party is not likely to muster a winning number of votes any more than Bernie’s one-line interest was (he also had no chance, because Hillary owned the DNC.)
There seem to be only two ways out. One, conceivable for the rightist, Trumpist, White Nationalists is an armed coup d’état. Unfortunately, that would only serve a minority of the public interests.
The other would be a completely new form of making leadership decisions without political parties. I had the basics sketched out in a manuscript on the evolution of human behavior that the Editor-in-Chief of Little Brown bought in 1972. It was never finished due to the assassination of a close member of our family. But there must be other people with the necessary global perspectives who could develop realistic, workable systems of making functionable forms of decision making – which is all that “government” is. It would be complicated, but feasible to do.
And people like Chris Hedges would certainly be in the circl
“Nomi Prins has exposed how Congress members actually make investments just before and after bills they have worked on are signed into law. She’s named names, given dates, amounts, and names of stocks bought. It’s insider info of the most unscrupulous nature. Unfortunately, her audience is limited to investors who subscribe to her newsletter., but it has indeed become a subject treated openly in a few other newsletters.”
This (probably giant) fraud should be much more exposed, and is quite worth an extensive article here at CN. And very likely it is not concerning U.S. politicians “only”.
Democracy is nothing but an idea which has turned into a persistent delusion. It has never existed as a system that governed in the interests of the masses. Elections mean nothing when the elected do not represent their electorates, and are neither transparent nor accountable.
It is a fundamentally deceptive and dishonest system, deliberately deceiving the masses.
The more things change they remain the same; as Chris says we can only blame the “…political and social decay that created Trump.” Trump is our ugly baby–we all own him. Our culture has urped him up. He is one of us, a “one” that we have always been. Somehow Chris imagines that it might have been different decades ago. Not true. It was just better concealed. Cronkite relied upon Pentagon experts to explain things, just as Judy Traitor Woodruff does today. The measured words of an Adlai Stevenson or other 50’s America- firster were masked by gentility, by the language of Ivy League advantage. But their intent than the intent today. Neither they different than the well documented experiences of Greece, Rome, name any empire you wish. Meet the old boss, same as the new boss.
The most dangerous aspect of this reality is that now (with our fucking gadgets) we are poised on the cusp of successfully managing and enslaving huge populations world wide. Covid training was a rehearsal: the Fauci inspired cancellation of the Great Barrington, the incessant media ranting about the new variations, the hand over of government to agencies such as NIH and others who could decree what all must do. It was a great rehearsal for the future, and every leader in previous centuries going back to the beginning would have been both astonished and pleased by the ready willingness we Americans had to participate in the Panic Demic escapade. As E.O. wilson has said: Human kind evolve to have a ridiculously easy indoctrinability.
The only good thing I see is this: At least the Republican minority resisted and forced the speaker vote to 15 rounds. Whereas the progressives, on the other hand, caved instantly and without murmur to Pelosi’s toxic replacement nominee unanimously–just like they voted for Ukraine or pork laden spending bills unanimously.
Chris is wasting his time talking about Republicans. There is nothing we can do about them. He is right to criticize the spineless progressives, led by chief apologist Pramila who quickly withdrew her groups timid, smarmy letter, slid under the door sill of the Oval Office, asking that please couldn’t we consider not continuing this war?
My god Chris that is some fine writing. I couldn’t believe that this dog and pony show was taking place in the most powerful country in the world. What an embarrassment for you citizens who live there. I hope that it can be turned around at some point, but I think that as a country, you have passed the point of no return.
“The Squad and the Progressive Caucus have no more intention of fighting for universal health care, workers’ rights or defying the war machine than the Freedom Caucus fights for freedom.”
Whether it’s because he suffers from PTSD due to his life experiences Chris ought to rein in his propensity for denigrating others by stating what their motivations are simply because their actions aren’t what he believes his would be in a situation which he has never experienced: responsibility for using the position they occupy to best address (and express) the needs of their constituents and follow their own consciences in a large group environment which is capable of negating their efforts if they make themselves too bothersome.
Using such an excuse for logic, Chris himself could be accused of promoting himself in order to try to increase his visibility, influence, and income. I have no acquaintance with the Freedom Caucus but can easily imagine that its members often stand for what they consider to be freedom, but I have plenty of acquaintance with the Progressive Caucus and excellent reason to believe that many of them (aside from some PINOs of convenience) stand for what they claim to stand for as best they know how to in the environment in which they must operate. At least twice over the past dozen years they have tried to take strong stands on very significant issues and been bamboozled by the Democratic establishment into reneging on promises to hold up legislation if it did not meet their requirements which that establishment felt it needed for political reasons, which mostly proves that they don’t know how to pick winnable battles and stand their ground to win them against a far more experienced and intractable opponent. While such intransigence (hardly an unknown quality in their opponents) would entail non-negligible risk it would likely make future effectiveness easier for them to achieve.
It’s worth noting that Shakespeare’s Caliban did not speak in monosyllabic tirades but almost exclusively in heroic blank verse. He was a monster but an eloquent one.
“McCarthy, backed by Trump and far-right conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene, is as morally bankrupt as those trying to bring him down.”
The Pwogwessive Dems should have used the exact same withholding technique Boebert and Gaetz used to wrestle concessions from corporate-Zionist-warmongering-Wall Street bootlicking Pelosi. But of course the entire Dem Party is owned and controlled by the intel agencies, military-industrial-complex, big pharma, Silicon Valley, and the parasitic financial elite.
“McCarthy, backed by Trump and far-right conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene, is as morally bankrupt as those trying to bring him down.”
Yes, Boebert and Gaetz are awful on certain issues, however regarding funding the most dangerous proxy war since the end of World War 2 the two of them are generally on the moral side. At least the two of them are much closer to morality on this seminal issue than the warmongering McCarthy who hasn’t seen a multi billion dollar Ukie funding bill from the Washington empire he hasn’t wholeheartedly championed.
Distinctions are important when it comes to temporary alliances that could keep the world from ending in nuclear war.
Assigning Boebert, Gaetz and the few other Republicans who oppose funding the Ukraine war as being closer to the ‘moral side’ might be a bit of a reach. Are we certain of a principled anti-war stance from these lawmakers? Similar to the vote for Speaker, would these GOP members gladly vote for war funding in exchange for rules changes/provisions that strengthen those fascists hand?? I dunno.
Hedges certainly has a way with words. His assessments are often bleak. Appropriately so, unfortunately.
It’s not a reach at all: either politicians are for funding this incredibly perilous war or they are not, case closed. Anyone against sending billions of dollars to this proxy atrocity is taking a decent moral position on this specific issue.
I agree, there is no morality whatsoever; this is hardcore politics. Assuming Boebie and Greenie et al. are anti-war is incredibly naive and plays into their gross hypocrisy. They just hate China and Iran more than Russia and they are just playing politics. Both political factions hate Palestinians equally, for example. The system is rotten to the core – it is not possible for a moral or honest person to gain access to power. Still some cling to the desperate belief that these folks are somehow different.
Boebert and Gates are for cutting funding for the disgusting abomination known as the Washington-Zio-militarists’ proxy war on Russia. That’s a moral position whether your partisanship can handle it or not. Are B&G saviors, of course not. Should we make alliances with them on this specific issue, absolutely.
“Moral” how quaint
Since your ability to read competently the post to which you’re responding, it’s hardly surprising that your response suggests that your ability to grasp that the distinction between a vote against funding a war engineered for convenience and supporting it is a moral one, regardless of your opinion of the people casting that vote.
Drew nailed it. The democrats are officially and unapologetically the war party. Republicans’ aim to cut defense spending is a welcome breath of fresh air.
Thank you for acknowledging the truism that cutting funding for this dangerous war is desperately needed.
Generally speaking, Republicans have focused more on CHINA as a, er, ‘threat’, while the Dems clearly have been focused on demonizing RUSSIA for years. The likes of Boebert and Gaetz will snap to attention when their party leadership calls for a vote to fund military action/support against China, presumably over instigating a conflict vis a vis Taiwan similar to how a Russian response was engineered over Ukraine….. Will you then still be singing the praises of those two oh so moral anti-war champions?? Do not confuse political games with morality.
Ah, The Amazing Criswell believes that he can foretell the future, where you and I will spend the rest of our lives. Of course, Criswell’s prediction record is notoriously spotty, likely because he pays so little attention to reality – such as the fact that Freedom Caucus Republicans are nowhere nearly the sheep herded by their establishment that Progressive Caucus Democrats (unfortunately) are, plus the fact (clear right here on this page) that the poster to whom he’s responding has made it crystal clear that he is referring to the morality of voting against funding this U.S. war of convenience, not praising those who cast those votes in any more general sense.
Hard to believe they’re genuine in their stance, easier to believe it’s merely political posturing. We’ll see, I’d like to believe it’s the former.
what you and “drew” seem to conveniatly leave out is the rep.hard charge for WAR against China,also costing billions and mass death for no return
We’re not specifically discussing China right now. As far as the proxy war against Russia, Boebert and Gaetz are on the correct side, regarding any saber rattling toward China they should be fought. And by the way, the Zioc0ns and militarists dominating Biden’s admin are hardcore Sinophobes themselves.
After reading this comprehensive piece with all its “absurdity” therein, I could think of nothing else but this song and lyrics released 56 years ago:
“Strange days have found us
Strange days have tracked us down
They’re going to destroy
Our casual joys
We shall go on playing or find a new town”
Spot on, Chris Hedges. I’ve shared this widely. And thank you.
Since Democracy Inc. is nothing but the world’s biggest and most lucrative PR stunt, we have the illusion of choice: between two crooked kakistocrats. The contrived, cheap drama is both laughable and embarrassing.
I do my best to avoid and ignore the surreal theater of the absurd, but it’s not easy. US politics has become a carnival freak show. Reality is better than any fiction: we don’t need to read any dystopia novels as we have the real thing unfold before our eyes.
On the bright side: these freaks provide loads of comedy material. Living with kakistocracy can be a (tragically) humorous experience. For example, I sometimes open a mainstream news outlet site and ruthlessly ridicule the stories (which are now mostly BS and tabloid fluff). Pity the fools and laugh in the face of neo-fascist tyrants. What else can we do?