Gary Moreau's Reviews > America: The Farewell Tour

America by Chris Hedges
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Throughout history, all great civilizations have ultimately decayed. And America will not be an exception, according to former journalist and war correspondent, Chris Hedges. And while Hedges doesn’t offer a date, he maintains we are in the final throes of implosion—and it won’t be pretty.

The book is thoroughly researched and the author knows his history. And despite some of the reviews it is not so much a political treatise as it is an exploration of the American underbelly—drugs, suicide, sadism, hate, gambling, etc. And it’s pretty dark; although he supports the picture he paints with ample statistics and first person accounts.

There is politics, but the politics provides the context for the decay. And it’s not as one-dimensional as other reviewers seemed to perceive. Yes, he is no fan of Trump or the Republican leadership. But he is no fan of the Democratic shift to identity politics, or antifa, either.

One reviewer thought he was undermining Christianity but I didn’t get that. He does not support “prosperity gospel” theology, but I didn’t see any attempt to undermine fundamental religious doctrine. He is, after all, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and an ordained Presbyterian minister.

He puts the bulk of the blame for the current state of decay, in fact, where few other writers do—squarely on the back of the owners of capital and the super-companies who now dominate nearly every industry. The social and political division we are now witnessing, in other words, has been orchestrated by the capital class; the class of investors, banks, and hedge fund managers who don’t create value so much as they transfer it from others with less power. And I think he’s spot on right.

We have seen a complete merger of corporate and political America. Politicians on both sides of the aisle serve at the pleasure of the capitalist elite because they need their money to stay in power. Corporations enjoy all the rights of citizenship save voting, but who needs to actually cast a ballot when you can buy the election.

And what the corpocracy, as I call it, is doing with all that power is continuing to reshuffle the deck of economic opportunity to insure that wealth and income continue to polarize. It’s a process they undertake in the name of tax cuts for the middle class (which aren’t), deregulation (which hurts the middle class), and the outright transfer of wealth and property (including millions of acres of taxpayer-owned land) from taxpayers to shareholders (the 1%).

I know because I was part of it. As a former CEO and member of four corporate boards I had a front row seat from the 1970s on. The simplest analogy is that the gamblers rose up and took control of the casinos and the government had their backs in a kind of quid pro quo, all having to do with money.

They made it stick because they turned corporate management into the ultimate capitalists. The people who used to manage companies are now laser focused on managing the companies’ stock price and enhancing their own wealth. Corporate executives, in a word, became capitalists, not businessmen and women, giving the foxes unfettered control of the hen house.

They got to that position through a combination of greed—both corporate management’s and that of shareholder activists—but were enabled and empowered by Washington. Beginning in the 1970s the Justice Department antitrust division, the Labor Department, the EPA, and other institutions assigned the responsibility to avoid the concentration of power that Adam Smith warned us about, and to protect American workers and the environment, were all gutted and stripped of power.

They blamed it on globalism, but that was the result, not the cause. Gone are the days of any corporate sense of responsibility to the employees, the collective good, or the communities in which they operate and whose many services they enjoy. It is the corporate and financial elite, and they are now one and the same, who have defined the “me” world in which we now live.

And the process continues: “The ruling corporate kleptocrats are political arsonists. They are carting cans of gasoline into government agencies, the courts, the White House, and Congress to burn down any structure or program that promotes the common good.” And he’s right. And Trump is carrying those cans.

Ironically, Trump’s base, who have been most marginalized by the corpocracy, are the ones who put him there to continue the gutting. But Hedges has an explanation for that. “In short, when you are marginalized and rejected by society, life often has little meaning. There arises a yearning among the disempowered to become as omnipotent as the gods. The impossibility of omnipotence leads…to its dark alternative—destroying like the gods.” (Reference to Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death.)

The economic history and understanding of economic theory here is rich and detailed. Capitalism, as Marx and others pointed out, creates great wealth in the beginning but is doomed to failure due to its inability to continue to find sources of growth and to manage inequities in wealth creation. And you don’t have to be a socialist to see that this is true. Capitalism must be managed. And our government is currently making no attempt to do so. It is, in fact, dynamiting the institutions responsible for doing so.

All told, this is a very good book. If you don’t like reading about underbellies (I found the chapter devoted to sadism personally unsettling, being the father of two daughters.) you will find some of it pretty dark. Having said that, however, the writing is very good and Hedges never wallows in the darkness. He’s clearly not selling the underbelly; he’s trying to give it definition.

I did think that some of the chapters might have been broken down into different sub-chapters and there is a lack of continuity in some places. All told, however, I do recommend the book. There is no denying the fundamental thesis.

The problem is, however, we’re all blaming it on the proverbial ‘other guy.’ Perhaps this book will help us to understand the real culprit—the capitalist collective. “The merging of the self with the capitalist collective has robbed us of our agency, creativity, capacity for self-reflection, and moral autonomy.” True, indeed.
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Reading Progress

August 21, 2018 – Started Reading
August 21, 2018 – Shelved
September 4, 2018 – Finished Reading

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