Strong democracy and its base

In his most recent truthdig article, "Do Not Pity the Democrats," Chris Hedges speaks the truth about power in the United States today:

There are no longer any major institutions in American society, including the press, the educational system, the financial sector, labor unions, the arts, religious institutions and our dysfunctional political parties, which can be considered democratic. The intent, design and function of these institutions, controlled by corporate money, are to bolster the hierarchical and anti-democratic power of the corporate state. These institutions, often mouthing liberal values, abet and perpetuate mounting inequality. They operate increasingly in secrecy. They ignore suffering or sacrifice human lives for profit. They control and manipulate all levers of power and mass communication. They have muzzled the voices and concerns of citizens. They use entertainment, celebrity gossip and emotionally laden public-relations lies to seduce us into believing in a Disneyworld fantasy of democracy.

Who, according to Hedges, should we not fear and who actually threatens us?

The menace we face does not come from the insane wing of the Republican Party, which may make huge inroads in the coming elections, but the institutions tasked with protecting democratic participation. Do not fear Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin. Do not fear the tea party movement, the birthers, the legions of conspiracy theorists or the militias. Fear the underlying corporate power structure, which no one, from Barack Obama to the right-wing nut cases who pollute the airwaves, can alter. If the hegemony of the corporate state is not soon broken we will descend into a technologically enhanced age of barbarism.

We should fear, Hedges claims, the American system itself, as it now exists and as it likely will exist tomorrow and the day after. Fear, that is, America's version of Democratic Capitalism. We should fear it because the American system includes as a necessary component a compromised democratic political system. By compromised democracy I mean to refer to the institutions and mechanisms which make the holders of political and socio-economic power unaccountable to the citizens who suffer elite decisions and which insulates the elite from democratic control from below. This is system with a diminished civil society and public sphere. It is a system with a phantom citizenry. And it is a system in which the elite need not perform to the satisfaction of its citizens or, perhaps, subjects. This makes it an unresponsive system, for "A government is 'responsive' if it adopts policies that are signaled as preferred by citizens" (Manin, Przeworski, Stokes, p. 9). It is natural to believe an unresponsive and irresponsible government would be voted out of office by those citizens whom it betrayed. But in America's compromised system, voting out one unresponsive and irresponsible party entails opting for another unresponsive and irresponsible party. This "damned if you do, damned if you don't" electoral mechanism makes immediate and long-term systemic reform an unfeasible goal.

Hedges's solution to America's democracy deficit: Viable political work can occur only when it rejects America's compromised democracy:

Hope is a word that is applicable only to those who grasp reality, however bleak, and do something meaningful to fight back—which does not include the farce of elections and involvement in mainstream political parties. Hope is about fighting against the real forces of destruction, not chanting "Yes We Can!" in rallies orchestrated by marketing experts, television crews, pollsters and propagandists or begging Obama to be Obama. Hope, in the hands of realists, spreads fear into the black heart of the corporate elite. But hope, real hope, remains thwarted by our collective self-delusion.

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