He Told You So

When it comes to the fate of the world, should we listen to Chris Hedges or Jeffrey Goldberg?

Let’s start with Hedges. Here’s the nut of the argument he’s been pushing lately. Warning: It’s a serious bummer.

“At no period in American history has our democracy been in such peril or has the possibility of totalitarianism been as real. Our way of life is over. Our profligate consumption is finished. Our children will never have the standard of living we had. And poverty and despair will sweep across the landscape like a plague. This is the bleak future. There is nothing President Obama can do to stop it. It has been decades in the making. It cannot be undone with a trillion or two trillion dollars in bailout money. Our empire is dying. Our economy has collapsed.”

And so on and so forth.

Goldberg’s response? “Man, That Chris Hedges is Excitable.”

That’s it. That’s his whole response.

I’m not going to get into the merits of Hedges’ argument here, although similarly gloomy thoughts must have crossed the mind of anyone who still reads the newspaper every day. Let’s just pause for a moment to consider who we’re dealing with.

Hedges, a former New York Times war correspondent, launched his Bush-era career as a doom-prophet with a dense philisophical tract called “War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning,” in which he warned against the seductions of state-sanctioned violence. By 2007, he’d sharpened his rhetoric with “American Fascists.” You might be able to guess who he had in mind.

From what I’ve heard, Hedges is, personally, a bit of a know-it-all and a jerk. I’ve never met the man. But I do know that, on the big issues of the era, Hedges turned out to be basically right.

Of course, nobody wanted to listen when it mattered. Now, lo and behold, less than three months into the Obama administration, we get confirmation that Hedges, and all the other “excitable” lefties, were right on target. Bush’s lawyers had decided that he could do whatever he wanted, even deploy the military on American soil. As Scott Horton of Harper’s put it on Olbermann’s show the other night, the United States was a dictatorship for eight years without anybody realizing it.

Part of the reason few people grasped the extent of democracy’s decline is because their ideas were rarely allowed into print during the early years of the “war on terror.” There were a good number of writers who, like Hedges, sensed that Bush’s program was essentially totalitarian before the lies behind the Iraq war were widely understood, before the domestic wiretapping exposes, before waterboarding entered the vernacular.

We’ll never know how many warning bells were muffled by cowardice and complacency.

As someone who had mainstream editors reject his anti-war on terror pitches as “hysterical,” I feel Hedges’ pain here, even as I hope that his predictions are too pessimistic.

It’s bad form to say, “I told you so,” but screw manners–this is too serious. Have we learned nothing from our mistakes during those dark years? Some people were right and other people were wrong. And it’s utterly sickening to see that the people who were wrong, like Goldberg, are still getting paid to mock the people who were right, like Hedges.

Oh yes. What about Goldberg? He egged on the warmongers. Then, after things got weird with the peaceniks at the New Yorker, he moved to the Atlantic, which ran long essays arguing that maybe torture was OK sometimes. Remember those?

But let’s not get personal. Journalists are only as good as their sources, right?

Hedges’ sources, in his first book of the Bush years, were grunts and bomb victims. Excitable, indeed.

I remember sitting in a New School classroom in 2003, listening to Goldberg–suave in a way that Chris “Monotone” Hedges will never be–chummily interview Paul Wolfowitz. Screw that noise.

COREY PEIN writes for the Santa Fe Reporter. He can be reached through his blog.