The ruling elites no longer have legitimacy. They have destroyed our capitalist democracy and replaced it with a mafia state. What the Roman philosopher Cicero called a commonwealth, a res publica, a “public thing” or the “property of a people,” has been transformed into an instrument of naked pillage and repression on behalf of a global corporate oligarchy. We are serfs ruled by obscenely rich, omnipotent masters who loot the U.S. Treasury, pay little or no taxes and have perverted the judiciary, the media and the legislative branches of government to strip us of civil liberties and give them the freedom to commit financial fraud and theft.
The loss of control over our system of rulership, the misuse of all democratic institutions, the electoral process and laws to funnel money upwards into to a handful of oligarchs while stripping us of power, ominously means that the ruling elites can no longer claim the right to have a monopoly on violence. Violence employed by police and security agencies such as the FBI, which have devolved into occupying forces, to protect the exclusive interests of a tiny, ruling criminal class exposes the fiction of the rule of law and the treason of the ruling elites.
“In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience,” Stokely Carmichael warned. And if your opponent is bereft of a conscience, then state violence is inevitably met with counter-violence. Tyranny takes the place of reform. The danger of widespread sectarian violence in America is now very real.
There are three options: reform, which, given the decay in the American body politic, is impossible; revolution; or tyranny. The more things deteriorate, the more the elites feel threatened, the more brutal the police, the National Guard and the organs of state security will become. The longer the serfs defy their masters the more the populations in the jails and prisons, which are already the largest in the world, will swell.
If the mafia state is not overthrown, then America will become a naked police state where any opposition, however tepid, will be met with draconian censorship or force. Police in cities around the country have already thwarted the reporting by dozens of journalists covering the protests through physical force, arrests, tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray. The huge social divides, largely built around race, will be used by the neo-fascists in power to divert a legitimate rage by a betrayed working class to set neighbor against neighbor. Neo-fascist “patriots” will be unleashed like attack dogs against people of color, Muslims, feminists, intellectuals, artists, the media and liberals. Dissent, even nonviolent dissent, will become treason.
The uprisings in the streets of American cities are not only about the wanton murder by police of yet another person of color, but a frantic fight to wrest back power over our own lives. They go far behind police brutality, a daily reality for those trapped in our internal colonies where 1,100 citizens are murdered by police every year, almost all unarmed. The uprisings are fueled as well by the seizure of the institutional and structural mechanisms that once made some form of equality, always imperfect and always colored by an animus towards the poor and people of color, possible.
Half the country lives in poverty or a category called near poverty. The working class and the working poor are priced out of the health care system. The schools do not educate their children, who live without adequate food and often clean water, are repeatedly evicted from their homes, have their utilities shut off, cannot find jobs, are crippled by punishing debt peonage and with the pandemic are dying at disproportionally higher rates. They get the message the oligarchs are sending. They, and their children, are expendable. They don’t count. Their lives are of no consequence, unless they are locked in a cage where their bodies can generate as much as $60,000 a year for the multitude of corporations, including the for-profit medical services, food services, money transfer services, commissary services, phone services, private prisons and prison contractors, not to mention the large corporations and state governments that exploit the cheap and bonded labor of 1 million of our 2.3 million prisoners.
The prison system is a multi-billion dollar a year industry with lobbyists in state capitals and Washington making sure these bodies remain in cages or are put back into cages soon after they are released. The neo-slavery in our prisons is the corporate model envisioned for all of America.
The two ruling parties are equally complicit in this assault. The Democratic Party, in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, is trying to sell us a presidential nominee, Joe Biden, who was one of the principal architects of de-industrialization and responsible for the loss of hundreds of thousands of good, union jobs. Biden and Bill Clinton also destroyed our welfare program, where 70 percent of the recipients were children, and orchestrated the doubling of our prison population and the tripling and quadrupling of sentences.
Biden, as Naomi Murakawa points out in “The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America,” was a driving force behind the notoriously harsh penalties in the Anti-Drug Abuse Acts of 1986 and 1988, and the three-strikes legislation in the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which also provided funding for 100,000 new police officers and the aggressive prosecution of 60 new capital crimes. He sponsored legislation to dramatically curtail the ability of those in prison to appeal and led the passage of the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994 and The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. He oversaw the militarization of the police and the massive expansion of death-eligible crimes, which he has repeatedly bragged about.
Biden was also at the forefront of the re-segregation of our public school system and has repeatedly called for cuts to Social Security. He was instrumental in the disastrous trade deals such as the North American free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and austerity programs as well as establishing the most pervasive system of mass government surveillance in human history. Watching Stacey Abrams, who certainly knows better, twist herself into contortions to lavish praise on Biden, even tossing the #MeToo movement overboard, is another sad example of the corrosive disease of careerism. Biden, one of the most important architects behind the wars in the Middle East, where we have squandered upwards of $7 trillion and destroyed or extinguished the lives of millions of people, is personally responsible for far more suffering and death at home and abroad than Donald Trump.
If we had a functioning judicial and legislative system, Biden, along with the other architects of our disastrous imperial wars, plundering of the country and betrayal of the American working class, would be put on trial, not offered up as a solution to our political and economic debacle. The myopia of the ruling elites is that they think they can foist Biden on us because he is not Trump. But the game is up. The façade of democracy no longer works.
It is only the dwindling and largely white middle and professional classes who still believe the fiction that this election offers a choice or that we live in a democracy. The working class and the working poor know better. Their lives were, as Barbara Ehrenreich wrote, one long emergency before the pandemic. Now they face the prospect of bankruptcy this summer when unemployment and stimulus checks run out, the moratorium is lifted on evictions to double or triple the unhoused population of 11 million people and unemployment skyrockets to 25 percent. Forty-eight percent of front line workers remain ineligible for sick pay, and some 43 million Americans have just lost their employee-sponsored health insurance. Food banks are already overrun with tens of thousands of desperate families.
And in the midst of this crisis, what did our kleptocratic rulers do? They looted $4 trillion on a scale unseen since the 2008 bailout overseen by Barack Obama and Biden. They gorged and enriched themselves at our expense, while tossing crumbs out of the windows of their private jets, yachts and palatial homes to the suffering and despised masses.
The CARES Act handed trillions in funds or tax breaks to oil companies, the airline industry, which alone got $50 billion in stimulus money, the cruise ship industry, a $170 billion windfall for the real estate industry, private equity firms, lobbying groups, whose political action committees have given $191 million in campaign contributions to politicians in the last two decades, the meat industry and corporations that have moved offshore to avoid U.S. taxes. The act allowed the largest corporations to gobble up money that was supposed to go to keep small businesses solvent to pay workers. It gave 80 percent of tax breaks under the stimulus package to millionaires and allowed the wealthiest to get stimulus checks that average $1.7 million. The CARES Act also authorized $454 billion for the Treasury Department’s Exchange Stabilization Fund, a massive slush fund doled out by Trump cronies to corporations that, when leveraged 10 to 1, can be used to create a staggering $4.5 trillion in assets. The act authorized the Fed to give $1.5 trillion in loans to Wall Street, which no one expects will ever be paid back. American billionaires have gotten $434 billion richer since the pandemic. Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, whose corporation Amazon paid no federal taxes last year, alone added $34.6 billion to his personal wealth since the pandemic started.
How long can you expect people to watch their children go hungry? How long can you expect people to watch their loved ones suffer and die because they can’t get medical care? How long can you expect people to be abused by lawless police and a court system designed to railroad the poor into jails and prisons? How long can you watch the rich profit from your misery?
I would prefer that our revolution eschew the poison of violence, which I know too intimately from my two decades as a war correspondent. But I also know that when everything around you conspires to crush you, the only way left to affirm yourself is to destroy, not only the structures and institutions that have oppressed you, but often yourself. I saw this when I lived in the impoverished neighborhood of Roxbury in Boston and when I worked as a reporter in Gaza. This understanding was something Malcom X, who came out of poverty, always understood and Martin Luther King, a product of the black bourgeoisie, learned later.
It is ultimately the ruling elites who will determine the mechanics of resistance. When they close every escape route, when they speak exclusively in the language of force, then the language of force becomes the only form of communication. Trump’s demand that states use the National Guard to crush the protests and threat to deploy the U.S. military in the streets of American cities only heightens the anger and frustration that led to the uprisings.
The ruling elites are, at the same time, desperately seeking scapegoats. The idea that Antifa, which on the spectrum of terrorist groups would rank alongside the Boy Scouts, is behind these clashes is as ridiculous as the idea that Russia is responsible for the election of Trump. This desperate search for explanations that absolve the ruling elites saw Susan Rice, who was Obama’s national-security adviser, blame the violence on “foreign actors,” adding that “this is right out of the Russian playbook.” This trope is always trotted by despotic rulers to discredit dissidents who are branded as the enemy of the people.
The longer the ruling elites refuse to address the root causes behind these protests, the more they loot the treasury to enrich themselves and their fellow oligarchs, the more they engage in futile and absurd efforts to deflect blame, the more unrest will spread. The last desperate resort by the oligarchs to save themselves will be to stoke the fires of racialized violence between disenfranchised whites and disenfranchised people of color. This, I fear, is the next chapter in this saga. I saw this tactic used to deadly effect in the former Yugoslavia. These are dark times. They are about to get darker.
Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.