The other day I posted on Mann and Ornstein’s It’s Even Worse Than It Looks. I’m just about through that book, and I’ll do a direct follow-up in a day or so. But here I want to take issue for a moment with a really powerful work that I finished reading on Saturday, Chris Hedges’ and Joe Sacco’s Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt.
That’s a riveting book, an important one, and I commend it to you all. You can’t read it without being radicalized, in a good way. Hedges and Sacco travel to the most destroyed, exploited, misery-infused places in the United States and document both wrecked lives and those lived in opposition to the various arrangements of power that have extracted the last scrap of cash out of their communities. If ever there were a document that drove home the need for a true transformation in the relationship of our government to private capital, this is it.
There’s a corollary to the stories Hedges and Sacco deliver: in their telling it becomes clear that the government we have is complicit with the particular individuals and/or corporations that have wrought and continue to wreak havoc on the people they encounter. And so, near the end of his text, Hedges writes this:
We must stop being afraid. We have to turn our backs for good on the Democrats, no matter what ghoulish candidate the Republicans offer up for President. All the public disputes between candidates in the election cycle are a carnival act. On the issues that matter there is no disagreement among the Republicans and the Democrats.
Bullshit. Pure and deadly dangerous nonsense.
Tell that to Caleb Medley. The status quo will most likely — and the Republican health care plan would definitely leave him, his wife and his newborn daughter in debt peonage for the rest of their lives. Obamacare, though it leaves much yet to be done, would not. That matters deeply at least to the ~30 million Americans who now lack health coverage, but will get it, if and only if Obama wins re-election
Tell that to any woman who believes that they have agency over their own bodies (and all the men who agree with them, of course), who have to confront rulings like this one. This matters really to all Americans, I would say, but surely at least to that (slightly) larger half that possess two Xs.
Tell it to all those who got stiffed by their credit card company, and actually are going to get some payback, thank you very much — thanks to something only a Democratic President and Congress would have approved, and the GOP is still actively trying to kill. That one case alone translates into stolen money returned to two million Americans, which is nothing to sneeze at, and which would not occur under a Republican regime.
And there’s more, of course, all issues that matter in for-real, tangible ways to lots and lots of people. No arbitrarily begun and ended list of accomplishments or crucial acts of opposition can capture the full impact of the choice to be made here.
Sure, it’s true, monied interests buy stakes in both parties. But it is also true that not all those with resources are the same, and a party that depends on the Kochs and the Adelson’s of the world is demonstrably worse than one that doesn’t. What’s more: one that is capable of appointing judges who, for example, know that Citizens United was a crock — not to mention health care reform and all the other quite remarkable list of Obama legislative victories — is not the lesser of two evils but is rather an unequivocal (if not unmixed) good.
And anyway — if we are in our defiant moral certainty must reject the Democrats as being insufficiently less evil than the GOP, what do Hedges and Sacco think we should do to advance the cause of of all those who so clearly need real change? Hedges again:
We have to defy all formal systems of power. We have to create monastic enclaves where we can retain and nurture the values being rapidly destroyed by the wider corporate culture and build the mechanisms of self-sufficient that will allow us to survive.
I’ve not edited either of the two passages quoted above. In the text, they form a single paragraph, running from the bottom of page 266 through the top of 267. So really that’s it: in the face of all the ills of the American present he and Sacco have so powerfully documented, and facing the potential catastrophes of its near-future, Hedges would have us head for the hills, pace our cloisters and tend our gardens, secure in the purity of a life lived in seclusion, day following day according to whatever rule to which we submit.
To hell with society; to hell with the very fellow citizens whose awful circumstances Hedges and Sacco have spent 260 pages making real for their readers. Let it all go down while we seek a “survival” that seems to me to be merely acquiescing in loss.
Don’t get me wrong. Almost all the way through Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt is a hugely courageous book, and I have no doubt of the bravery, moral and physical, of its two authors — in excess of mine, I have no doubt. In fact, most of the last thoughts of the book belie what Hedges has written here. For example, he sees in the Occupy movement a real possibility for useful action.
But here, this call to inaction is to me worse than an error. This election counts. The differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are real. There are consequential differences in the America and the world my son will inhabit that will come down to what happens on November 6 — and of course, what happens after, what we do to inside and outside the conventional power apparatus to force the change whose necessity Hedges and Sacco make crystal clear.
Do not party, or Party, as if it were 1999. It’s 2012, and there is a decision to be made.
Images: Elihu Vedder, Corrupt Legislation, mural in the lobby to the main reading room, Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Bldg. 1896.
Edmund Körner, In the Convent Library, c. 1910