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American Oligarchy

Journalist Chris Hedges describes the U.S. today:

    “There is no national institution left that can accurately be described as democratic. … Our transformation into an empire, as happened in ancient Athens and Rome, has seen the tyranny we practice abroad become the tyranny we practice at home. We, like all empires, have been eviscerated by our own expansionism. …
    “Liberals, socialists, trade unionists, independent journalists and intellectuals, many of whom were once important voices in our society, have been silenced…. The uniformity of opinion is reinforced by the skillfully orchestrated mass emotions of nationalism and patriotism…. This means no questioning of the $1 trillion in defense-related spending. It means that the military and intelligence agencies are held above government, as if somehow they are not part of government. The most powerful instruments of state power and control are effectively removed from public discussion. …
    “The America we celebrate is an illusion. It does not exist. Our government and judiciary have no real sovereignty. Our press provides diversion, not information. … Capitalism, as Karl Marx understood, when it emasculates government, becomes a revolutionary force. And this revolutionary force…is plunging us into a state of neo-feudalism, perpetual war and severe repression.”

Hedges’ point is that the three branches of government no longer answer to the American people, they answer to powerful corporations. Borrowing a term from political philosopher Sheldon Wolin, he calls this “inverted totalitarianism.” The traditional term for it is “oligarchy” — government by the few.

This has been noted by left-wing populists (progressives), who have no real voice in today’s politics — and by right-wing populists (the Tea Party movement), who just elected Scott Brown as the new senator from Massachusetts. But the populists on the right, despite their justifiable anger at special interests in Washington, tend to support policies that will skew things even further to the wealthy and well-connected. Meanwhile President Obama, who promised during the election to fight for “you the American people” against “corporate lobbyists,” has proven to be the ultimate insider and tool of the oligarchs.

The cost of empire is eroding American democracy. Poverty at home, or the deaths of innocents in foreign wars, used to be scandals requiring profound change in our system — no more. Perhaps that’s why I’m in Morocco, which is arguably moving towards democracy rather than away from it. It’s time for the smaller, poorer nations to move beyond American leadership. It’s time to find new models, and a better way.


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