We have begun the election march of the trolls. They have crawled out of the sewers of public relations firms, polling organizations, the commercial media, the two corporate political parties and elected office to fill the airwaves with inanities and absurdities until the final inanity—the 2012 presidential election. Journalists, whose role has been reduced to purveyors of court gossip, whether on Fox or MSNBC, descend in swarms to report pseudo-events such as the Ames straw poll, where it costs $30 to cast a ballot. And then, almost immediately, they blithely inform us that the Iowa poll is meaningless now that Rick Perry has entered the race. The liberal trolls, as they do in every election cycle, are beating their little chests about the perfidiousness of the Democratic Party and Barack Obama. It is a gesture performed not to effect change but to burnish their credentials as moralists. They know, as do we, that they will trot obediently into the voting booth in 2012 to do as they are told. And everywhere the pulse of the nation is being assiduously monitored through polls and focus groups, not because our opinions matter, but because our troll candidates understand that by parroting back to us our own viewpoints they can continue to spend their days lapping up corporate money with other trolls in the two houses of Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court and television studios where they chat with troll celebrity journalists.
The only commodity the troll state offers is fear. The corporate trolls, such as the Koch brothers, terrify the birthers, creationists, militia lovers, tea party militants, right-to-life advocates, Christian fascists and God-fearing red-white-and-blue patriots by proclaiming that unless they vote for Perry or Mitt Romney or Michele Bachmann or some other product of the lunatic fringe of our political establishment, the American family will be destroyed, our children will be corrupted and the country will turn socialist. Barack Obama, who they whisper is a closet Muslim, will take away their guns, raise their taxes and bring homosexual couples into kindergartens.
For those, usually liberals, still rooted in a reality-based world, one that believes in evolutionary science, the corporate trolls offer a more refined, fear-based message of impending doom: If you abandon the Democrats we will be governed by Bible-thumping idiots who will make us chant the Pledge of Allegiance in mass rallies and teach the account of Genesis as historical and biological fact in our nation’s schools.
And underneath it all runs the mantra chanted in unison by all the trolls—terror, terror, terror. The troll establishment spins us like windup dolls and laughs all the way to the bank. What idiots, they think. And every election cycle we prove them right.
“The only people who grasp the distinction between reality and appearance, who grasp the laws of conduct and society, are the ruling groups and those who do their bidding; scientific, technical elites who elucidate the laws of behavior and the functions of society so that people might be more effectively, albeit unconsciously, governed,” wrote James W. Carey in “Communication as Culture.”
The trolls dominate or have neutralized every major institution in the country on behalf of their corporate paymasters. The press, education, Wall Street, labor and our political parties are managed by trolls or have been destroyed by them. Sometimes these trolls speak like liberals. Sometimes they speak like conservatives. Sometimes they are secular. Sometimes they are Christians. But the language they use is a cover for the relentless march toward a totalitarian capitalism and a kingdom where the trolls, if not the rest of us, live happily ever after. Rick Perry and John Boehner overtly make war on Social Security. Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi say they would like to save Social Security but are sadly powerless before the decisions of a congressional super committee they helped form. The result, of course, is the same. We get to choose the rhetoric and manner in which we are deceived and disempowered. Nothing more.
All cloying appeals to the Obama administration to use stimulus money to build public works such as schools, libraries, roads, clinics, public transit and reclaiming dams, as well as to create jobs, are about as effective as writing heartfelt appeals in the era of the old Soviet Union to Uncle Joe Stalin. The trolls have gamed the system. There is no economic, political or environmental reform, from campaign finance to environmental controls, that can be implemented to impede the march of the corporate state. The rot and corruption at the top levels of our financial and political systems, coupled with the increasing deprivation felt by tens of millions of Americans, are volatile tinder for revolt. And the trolls are prepared for this too. They have put in place draconian state controls, including widespread internal surveillance, to silence our anemic left. They know how to direct the rage of the right wing toward the last pockets of the cultural, social and political establishment that cling to traditional liberal values, as well as toward the most vulnerable among us including Muslims, undocumented workers and homosexuals. They will make sure we consume ourselves.
A society is in serious trouble when its political pariahs have at the core of their demands a return to the rule of law. This inversion, with our political and cultural outcasts demanding a respect for law, highlights the awful fact that the most radical and retrograde forces within the body politic have seized control. These forces demand that we serve the dictates of the marketplace. They are destroying all legal impediments to corporate exploitation and profit, as well as dismantling the regulatory agencies that once protected the citizen. They defend torture, offshore penal colonies, black sites and kidnapping (they call it “extraordinary rendition”) of state enemies. They protect and abet financial fraud. They wage pre-emptive war. They refuse to restore habeas corpus. Without warrants, they monitor, eavesdrop on and wiretap tens of millions of citizens. They order the assassination of U.S. citizens. They deny due process. They give corporations the status of persons. They ignore the suffering of the unemployed and the poor, slashing basic social service programs while doling out hundreds of billions in taxpayer funds to corporations. On these key issues, the only ones that really matter, there is no disagreement among trolls from either the self-identified left or the self-identified right. All their public disputes in the election cycle are a carnival act.
All conventional forms of dissent, from electoral politics to open debates, have been denied us. We cannot rely on the institutions that once made piecemeal and incremental reform possible. The only route left is to disconnect as thoroughly as possible from the consumer society and engage in acts of civil disobedience and obstruction. The more we sever ourselves from the addictions of fossil fuel and the consumer society, the more we begin to create a new paradigm for community. The more we engage in physical acts of defiance—as Bill McKibben and others did recently in front of the White House to protest the building of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would increase the flow of “dirty” tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico—the more we can keep alive a new, better way of relating to each other and the ecosystem.
Most important, 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. We have to defy all formal systems of power. We have to listen closely to the moral voices in our society, from McKibben to Noam Chomsky to Wendell Berry to Ralph Nader, and ignore feckless liberals who have been one of the most effective tools of our disempowerment. 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-sufficiency that will allow us to survive. The corporate coup is over. We have lost. The trolls have won. We have to face our banishment.
In William Shakespeare’s play “Coriolanus” the Roman consul is deposed by the mob. Coriolanus, whatever his faults, turns on those who thrust him from power to declare a valediction we should deliver to our class of ruling trolls and all those who remain in their embrace.
There’s no more to be said, but he is banish’d,
As enemy to the people and his country:
It shall be so.
It shall be so, it shall be so.
You common cry of curs! whose breath I hate
As reek o’ the rotten fens, whose loves I prize
As the dead carcasses of unburied men
That do corrupt my air, I banish you;
And here remain with your uncertainty!
Let every feeble rumour shake your hearts!
Your enemies, with nodding of their plumes,
Fan you into despair! Have the power still
To banish your defenders; till at length
Your ignorance, which finds not till it feels,
Making not reservation of yourselves,
Still your own foes, deliver you as most
Abated captives to some nation
That won you without blows! Despising,
For you, the city, thus I turn my back:
There is a world elsewhere.
Chris Hedges is a weekly Truthdig columnist and a fellow at The Nation Institute. His newest book is “The World As It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress.”