Debate of Chris Hedges and Robert Reich on Democracy Now July 26, 2016

Hedges and other radicals imply that reformism undermines the potential for revolutionary consciousness and effort. But whatever forces are actively trying to subvert the social order don’t know what it is they are fighting, just “it” whose names are legion. To be analytically specific is not the point, nor what might lie beyond that if successful. They are like free improvisers enjoying what they do, including playing with fire. Those like Hedges who have picked out the target remove themselves from the fight, don’t want to risk getting burned. His version of a radical vision sees corruption everywhere, adopting Trump’s line that the system is broken. Every politician is eventually discovered as corrupt, so one sure thing is to not be a politician, certainly not ambitious and playing the game. Then what game are the radicals playing? One that is internal to them. They form a league of observers who can predict what will happen so long as they don’t mess things up by participating. The rule is, “don’t ever be swayed by others.” Beneath that is a very middle class, even Republican self-image of righteousness based on principled decisions, unlike the dirty negotiating in the marketplace, testing how far you can go. That is what built the Democratic Party, its European-immigrant and lower class urban roots.

Trump is more effective in getting across “the system is broken,” for by being careless and inconsistent where evil lies specifically he can access the despair people feel. Hedges really has no argument against Trump, says we should not vote out of fear, yet he offers no hope. That is what both nominees do: escape from fear by eliminating what is feared, which for Trump is whatever he’s saying in the moment. Hedges is the rationalist in an emotional situation, telling people to calm down, don’t get rattled by personalities, as if he isn’t one himself. He is right that politics is corrupt, but it’s impossible to make change without entering it, getting smeared in the spectacle, and fighting back. He and the radicals remind us that politics is messy and will not change things fundamentally — it’s all part of the system — but they’re safely outside.

No one who’s pure can be trusted; they will never have to take reality into account since they are operating from the perspective of purity, which is the one stake they have, to speak “the truth” and maintain their consistency. It’s however not the truth about them. It’s like the history of the left, which worked better in the older system — keep repeating the message and it will be picked up. Advertising has evolved far beyond that. Thinking they know exactly what is wrong makes it impossible for them to represent the blind hatred and misery that people awakening to political struggle and awareness feel about the way things are.