WHERE DOES AMERICA FALL SHORT OF ITS IDEALS?

This article comes from my most recent book, American Requiem.  These are not encouraging words–but they do demand attention from  responsible Christians and citizens.

Do sign up to receive my posts (look on the lefthand column of the website) as censorship even for moderate posts is rampant.

America: The Farewell Tour

Chris Hedges, a former war correspondent for the New York Times and author of many books analyzing American society, has provided a scathing critique of the American government, the power-brokers of our most prominent corporations, and the moral degradation of our culture. As Pogo, the cartoon character, famously said, “We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us!”  Hedges 2018 book, America: The Farewell Tour, chronicles the seemingly insurmountable challenges we face. For the reader seeking a glimmer of hope, Hedges’ book is simply not your ticket.

Former NY Times Reporter Chris Hedges, Author of Many Books Including, America: The Farewell Tour

Hedges’ training includes Harvard Seminary. Thus, theologically, he holds a mainline denominational point of view, although his political leaning is hard left. We call such political persons “progressive” today. However, Hedges is barely one stop short of Socialist and only two stops short of Marxist. Indeed, he sees the analyses of Marxist academics offering perceptive depictions of our deplorable conditions.  While my political leanings are far from his (I am one stop past center-right), I do not dismiss his analysis. It is incisive. And it is relevant.

Hedges is no advocate for “American Exceptionalism.” The U.S. is not the “last best hope for the Free World” if it ever was. After the murder of John F. Kennedy, things went downhill. Ike’s warning about the growing domination of the Military-Industrial Complex was a point well made.[1] The Kennedy Assassination was the pivot point where the Intelligence operations of the United States became the Shadow Government. While many proponents speak glowingly of America as the life spring of opportunity, Hedges sees America as a happy habitat for the elite rich and the cruelest cauldron for the diminishing middle class and the newly-minted poor, thanks to the 2020 lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

For Hedges, the “acceleration of deindustrialization by the 1970s created a crisis that forced the ruling elites to devise a new political paradigm, as Stuart Hall (with co-writers) explains in Policing the Crisis. This paradigm, trumpeted by a compliant media, shifted its focus from the common good to race, crime, and law and order.”[2]  According to Hedges, “criminal black youth, welfare queens, and social parasites” were seen by the right to be at fault, opening the door to “authoritarian populism” led by Reagan and his partner across the pond, Margaret Thatcher. Donald Trump would champion the cause of climbing into the seat of power.[3]

Hedges relies upon Marxist theory to bolster his argument. Marx believed, says Hedges, that Capitalism would eventually run out of gas when its “Ponzi Scheme” would exhaust the lowest rung of the pyramid and had no more lice from whom to wring their last remaining dollars. Once this occurred, the jig would be up. “Socialism, in other words, would not be possible until capitalism had exhausted its ability to expand and increase profits. That the end is coming is hard now to dispute, although one would be foolish to predict when.”[4]

At this point, capitalist societies would begin to consume themselves. There would be no more “pools of people who could take on more debt.” In a paragraph that recaps the core of Hedges’ book, Capitalism would:

… would prey upon, in the name of austerity, the working class and the poor, driving them ever deeper into debt and poverty and diminishing the capacity of the state to serve the basic needs of ordinary citizens. It would, as it has, increasingly automate or relocate jobs, including both manufacturing and professional positions, to countries with cheap pools of laborers. This would trigger an economic assault on not only the working class but the middle class—the bulwark of a capitalist democracy—that would be disguised by massive personal debt as incomes declined or remained stagnant and borrowing soared. Politics would, in the late stages of capitalism, become subordinate to economics, leading to political parties hollowed out of any real political content and abjectly subservient to the dictates of corporations.[5]

The end would come when capitalist corporations would obliterate free market competition. Then what remains? Primarily, only the war economy. Thus, the final act: Replace our jet fighters, revamp nuclear submarines, and dream up more weapons of mass destruction.

It certainly helps that the Department of Defense wraps members of Congress around its little finger and has disappeared over $10 trillion into a black hole with unaccounted for write-offs enjoying no consequences.[6] One recalls that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld admitted to a missing $2 trillion in Pentagon spending on 9-10-2001. The following day passenger jets attacked New York’s World Trade Center Towers, destroying them (with perhaps some help by controlled demolition— particularly considering Tower 7), which distracted the media from the announcement. Plus, it guaranteed no one would object to even more unaccounted for spending in defense of our country since revenge was the first thing on everyone’s mind. That is, overspending on the military became the very last thing with which we would be concerned. Throw in $100 billion spent annually on ‘intelligence’ (which failed to identify the threat of 9/11), and the US economy now feeds mostly on these tools of destruction.

But the analysis wouldn’t be complete without recognizing the contribution of the blood-sucking US banking system that enjoys irrationally-justified federal subsidies.  Hedges cites Bloomberg News, who reported in 2013 that the ten largest U.S. banks (based on assets) amounted to “a taxpayer subsidy of $83 billion a year.”[7] Said, Bloomberg:

“The top five banks—JPMorgan, Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc.—account,” the editorial went on, “for $64 billion of the total subsidy, an amount roughly equal to their typical annual profits. In other words, the banks occupying the commanding heights of the U.S. financial industry—with almost $9 trillion in assets, more than half the size of the U.S. economy—would just about break even in the absence of corporate welfare. In large part, the profits they report are essentially transfers from taxpayers to their shareholders.”

Stock Sell-Off Wall Street Market Ticker Crash

Where does this government-sponsored malfeasance lead? To what Marx called “fictitious capital” in which we witness our money vaporized. Unable to purchase the products Capitalism creates, corporations can fail, and the government has to bail them out.  Just as bankers enjoyed an endless supply of virtually free capital in 2008-09, other corporations ‘too big to fail’ continue to enjoy the backstop of the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury. We saw this in spades during the 2020 Pandemic. Quantitative Easing (QE) invented trillions just by ‘typing the numbers into the computer.’[8] One example of industry getting handouts was the Airline Industry. It received massive funding from the federal government to forestall layoffs, which the Airlines ultimately could not avoid. Then, once large corporations lay off workers, health insurance disappears for tens of millions. And then the coup de grâce:

Garbage will pile up uncollected on curbsides. Power grids will blink on and off. There will not be enough police, firefighters, or teachers. Pensions will be slashed or paid sporadically. Decent medical care will be reserved for the rich. Those who die because they cannot afford health care—now 45,000 uninsured people a year (in 2018)—will perish in greater numbers. Fuel and food prices will climb. Processed food laden with preservatives, sugar, and fat will become the staple diet. At least a quarter of the population will lack adequate employment. Law and order will break down. Crime will become endemic, and in a nation where nearly anyone can get a gun, death rates from violence will rise. Riots, if the unraveling is not halted, will erupt across the country like wildfires. Random and mass shootings will grow more common. Hate groups will proliferate like lice. And widespread disgust with the political elites, as well as the uncertainty and chaos, will make some kind of militarized solution increasingly attractive to embittered, demoralized Americans.[9]

And then there is the Mainstream Media. Voltaire had it right when he commented, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” Of course, he spoke this regarding religion. But we see this today in our national news. It’s how the riots in America, led by ANTIFA and agents provocateurs in league with Black Lives Matter, are making mincemeat out of portions of our cities. Hedges quotes free-lance journalist Matt Taibbi (formerly with Rolling Stone) who wryly asserts the truth, “It (Mainstream Media) doesn’t know how to turn the cameras off, even when it’s filming its own demise.”

American Requiem: Why the USA Falls in the Last Days

The progressive left (more so than the establishment left led by conventional democrats like Joe Biden) decry Trump’s populism contending that it foments hate crimes and becomes a dark form of fascism among the masses. Despite this knock, there are voices on both the left and the right that agree it is time to address inequities in our society.

Despite Hedges’ disdain toward Trump, Trump’s popularity continues to soar.  No doubt he enjoys a favorable rating among many Americans because he decries inequalities between the elite and the Middle Class, free bailouts for bankers, and do-nothing congressmen and women. Most people believe they care more about their political careers than they do about truly helping their constituents. Hedges is right, however, with his assertions that a true democracy can only exist when there are social institutions that overcome imbalances in society. The New Deal of FDR was a perfect example of installing a safety net until the economy recovered. Granted, making war was fundamental to getting the U.S. industry back on track. But afterward, although invigorated by building naval boats and army bombers, American manufacturing became the backbone of America’s economic strength during the second half of the Twentieth Century. Boeing, Ford, General Motors, and General Electric provided the foundation for America’s global dominion—until it didn’t.

Our manufacturing base diminished, driven by shareholder greed in the 1990s and beyond. This downturn demanded corporate management lock-in lower labor costs outsourced from overseas resources). This outcome has left us with a stock market bolstered only by financial speculation and not by productivity. Certainly, the economic collapse in 2008-09 (“The Great Recession”) was not due to a failure of America’s manufacturers. They had already packed up and left our shores. The crash came when the house of cards fell. It had been built upon layer-after-layer of derivative assets—hollowed out financial instruments—that had no real substance. CDOs (Collateralized Default Obligations) supposed that assimilating scads of junk mortgages into a joint program would magically spin consolidated garbage into pure gold. Of course, this Wall Street alchemy ultimately crumbled, as the movie The Big Short documented so very well.

Hedges concludes his not-so-laconic opening chapter with a recap of Plato. It is striking to realize that ancient Greece, 2,500 years ago, prefigured the processes we experience in our so-called American Democracy in the Twenty-First Century. Plato lamented that Athens’ democracy had been destroyed and would not recover without drastic responses from its leaders. His only proposal to save the Republic would be for those seeking to create the ideal state to “carry out a series of draconian measures, including banning drama and music and removing children from their parents to indoctrinate them.” Evidently, the Brave New World of Huxley 2,500 years later was not so new.

According to Plato (and Socrates), the only way to save Athens’ democracy, beset with decay, was to eliminate personal freedoms and deprive the populace of immoral pursuits. When Socrates visited the Athenian port of Piraeus, he witnessed its taverns and brothels, “its population composed of beggars, thieves, galley slaves, soldiers, mercenaries, criminal gangs, and a riotous collection of (many races) of sailors” enjoying bawdy entertainment instead of the “sober vocation of citizenship.”[10]  In the port were rows of military warships that illustrated how the democracy had turned into an empire. Plato, and later his student Aristotle, understood well that when the empire flourishes, democracy erodes. A massive central bureaucracy arises coupled with a dominant military—and then the citizenry loses its power.

It sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

The Icon of the French Revolution – The Guillotine

What happens next is predictable. Just as the French Revolution taught us, the poor can suddenly rebel and attempt to seize the property of the rich. They may succeed in storming the Bastille and overthrowing the King and Queen, but peasant revolts seldom achieve victory. In America, the 1776 Revolution established a new civilization, thanks in no small part to the exceptional leadership of the Nations’ Founding Fathers as well as a pervasive and staunchly evangelical religion among the Presbyterians, Anabaptists, and other Christian institutions that flowered in the Colonies. But in France, the religion (so-to-speak), was a humanism based upon “the Enlightenment,” which proved not to be a sufficient basis to undergird a righteous society. Eventually, the excesses of Madame Guillotine and the chaotic French Parliament game way to a totalitarian regime led by Napoleon. True: It did restore order in France. But later, a sinister cancer emerged, transforming the Nineteenth-Century complexion of many nations on Europe’s continent. And this eventually spawned the Second Reich in Germany (1871-1918).

Germany’s madness, concurrent with the Twentieth Century’s begetting of the Roaring Twenties in America, was similar to France’s Nineteenth-Century experience. Nostradamus (in the Sixteenth Century) had envisioned the French Antichrist in Napoleon. Likewise, also saw a vision of Hisler (Hitler) that emerged in the Rhineland. Hedges cites Eric Voegelin, who, in his book Hitler and the Germans, challenged the conventional wisdom of historians. He asserted that the populace was not led astray by the Pied Piper of Munich because his oratory mesmerized the audience. Instead, Voegelin argued the German public consciously voted for Hitler and the mediocrity that surrounded him, because it embodied the pathologies of a diseased society, one beset by economic collapse, hopelessness, and violence. People lost touch with reality and became “stupid” due to a loss of a reasonable orientation to their world. Voegelin ultimately blames “illiteracy” as the juice that energized such failure in knowing what is truly right and wrong. Such a society “elevates and celebrates the morally degenerate, those who are cunning, manipulative, deceitful, and violent.”[11]

Hedges concludes his opening with a depressing assessment of a failing leadership inspired by Voegelin’s study:

The idiots take over in the final days of crumbling civilizations. Idiot generals wage endless, unwinnable wars that bankrupt the nation. Idiot economists call for reducing taxes for corporation and the rich and cutting social service programs for the poor. They project economic growth on the basis of myth. Idiot industrialists poison the water, the soil, and the air, slash jobs and depress wages. Idiot bankers gamble on self-created financial bubbles. Idiot journalists and public intellectuals pretend despotism is democracy. Idiot intelligence operatives orchestrate the overthrow of foreign governments to create lawless enclaves that give rise to enraged fanatics. Idiot professors, “experts,” and “specialists” busy themselves with unintelligible jargon and arcane theory that buttresses the policies of the rulers. Idiot entertainers and producers create lurid spectacles of sex, gore, and fantasy.

There is a familiar checklist for extinction. We are ticking off every item on it.[12]

But Hedges saves his best diatribe for Donald Trump. For Hedges, Trump is America’s Hitler (although he does not directly call him that). “The Donald” stands out as the picture-perfect icon of our own sick society. “It is inevitable that for the final show we vomited up a figure like Trump.” Here Hedges unfairly lays blame on an easy target—the billionaire reality-TV-show star that captivated America; and has, in my humble opinion, done more for the common man and woman, the black community, Latinos, and slowing human trafficking than any other modern President. Indeed, we must turn back to Franklin Roosevelt to find equal achievement. However, Hedges argues that MAGA—Make America Great Again—is magical thinking. It is infantilism. There is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. “It is the Disneyfication of America, the land of eternally happy thoughts and positive attitudes. And when magical thinking does not work, we are told, and often accept, that we are the problem. We must adjust. We must have more faith. We must be positive. We must envision what we want.”[13]

Buy AMERICAN REQUIEM in a bundle with MISTAKEN IDENTITY – On Sale Now in the Faith Happens Books Store

Hedges is no friend of The Secret.[14]  And he would not attend Church at the Osteens.[15]

Indeed, in fairness to Trump, America can lay claim to “vomiting up” many failed personalities in our Presidents—sociopaths whose ambition blinded them to the compromised system that spawned them. George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama all apparently embraced deviant sexual behavior (an apparent pedophile,[16] a sexual addict, and a homosexual respectively—in Obama’s case, the consummate politician of our age). Only George W. Bush can be excused of such abominable obsessions (as denounced by biblical, conservative values that I unashamedly profess).

However, “W” had his failures when it came to “elitism,” “militarism,” and bailing out the banksters in 2008.[17] While intelligent, he was blinded by party politics and loyalty to Republican leaders. He often made poor judgment calls. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. And embracing the Bin Ladins and the Saudi Sheiks was a betrayal of the first order owing in no small part to the curious relationship between the Bushes and the Bin Ladins. Hedges is right when he intimates that our biggest failure remains not seeing the precise root cause of our problems and eagerness to buy into the Doctrine of Americana: “The system is never to blame. We failed it. It did not fall us. Our retreat into self-delusion is a career opportunity for charlatans who tell us what we want to hear.”[18]

But still: Isn’t there a happy ending ahead for true believers in the USA?

It all depends. If a real possibility exists that we can avoid the collapse just by knowing about the threat—if we can benefit from the ‘Fourth Turning’ by discovering the ingredients to reset our society—then perhaps all is not lost.  However, if the prognosis is what Hedges says it is, and I’m inclined to agree with him, then we must look elsewhere to find hope.

American Requiem: Why the USA Falls in the Last Days

For Christians who believe in the Bible and the message of Christ, a Hegelian or Marxian historical process does not yield hope; nor do we seek for hope from the greatest minds who probe the cause and effect of our dismal situation and seek to discern a new way forward. Instead, our hope lies outside this world—in the coming Kingdom of God. I say this without any shame. Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher—Christianity is an apocalyptic faith. Holding fast to the imminent return of Jesus Christ is a fundamental element in how Christians must think about their faith—whether He returns in the next month or the next century.

The right question for Bible-believing Christians is to ask whether there are sufficient reasons to believe we live near the conclusion of an eon right now—that the problems we have aggregated during the past three hundred years, and the intensification of these issues in the Twenty-First Century, cannot be overcome by a merely maintaining a positive attitude or by making substantial progress on social justice. While “linear thinking” (as depicted by Strauss and Howe), does indeed flow from an apocalyptic orientation to the world, the biblical argument remains that we are to adopt the religion that Jesus Christ taught us. Cyclic thinking won’t help. That is a shot in the dark and a passive way forward. Instead, as Christians, we are to profess a New World has already come, and it lives through the lives of its members.  When those members effectively model the Kingdom, societal change does happen. When they don’t, society decays.  Christians are to live ‘salty’ lives to preserve civilization. (Matthew 5:13) This advocation constitutes a biblical commandment. It is highly valued.

Few know that salt and salary are related. Word Central provides the monetary history for the word salt:

Salt was a very valuable substance in ancient times. In addition to being used to flavor food, it was also used to keep foods from spoiling. Because of its importance, soldiers in the Roman army were given a special sum of money with which to buy salt for themselves. The Latin word for ‘salt’ was sal, and the ‘salt money’ given to the soldiers was called salarium. Salarium later came to be used for the regular pension or salary paid to the soldiers. Still later it was used for payments made to officials of the empire. The English word salary comes from the Latin salarium.[19]

Salt is valuable—like receiving a pension or paid income. However, the transformation we realize is never 100% and it will not be so until the Messiah comes to rule and reign. Meanwhile: To paraphrase our Lord: “Be ye salt!”

NOTES

[1] Hedges indicates that 50% “of all federal dollars are spent on the war industry. The Pentagon consumes nearly $600 billion a year. Our real expenditure on the military, when military items tucked away in other budget are counted, is over $1 trillion a year.” Hedges, Chris. America: The Farewell Tour. New York: Simon & Shuster. 2018. Kindle Edition. Kindle Location 100.

[2] Ibid. See Hall, Stuart et al. Policing the Crisis. (1978).

[3] Ibid., Kindle Location, 145.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., Kindle Location, 186.

[6] Ibid., Kindle Location, 221.

[7] Ibid., Kindle Location 221.

[8] “Creating digital money by buying Treasury Bonds” the words of the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, Jerome Powell, in the May 18, 2020 episode of 60 Minutes. The purchase is made with invented money by the Fed. See https://www.cbsnews.com/news/coronavirus-economy-jerome-powell-federal-reserve-chairman-60-minutes/

[9] Ibid., Kindle Location 264.

[10] Ibid., Kindle Location 812.

[11] Ibid., Kindle Location 812.

[12] Ibid., Kindle Location 848.

[13] Ibid.

[14] A movie based on the book was released in 2020: “The Secret: Dare to Dream.” See https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4411584/.

[15] Joel and Victoria. Pastors of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas.

[16] See The Franklin Cover-up, John Decamp, 1996, and an article in Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franklin_child_prostitution_ring_allegations

[17] My personal pet peeve was his “absentee landlordism”—i.e., letting Dick Cheney take over the Office of the Presidency on far too many occasions.  On the issue of George H.W. Bush, see The Franklin Coverup, for the sick details of Bush the Elder’s behavior.

[18] Ibid., Kindle Location 888.

[19] See http://wordcentral.com/cgi-bin/student?salar