Vox Populi: A Public Sphere for Politics and Poetry
In his speech at the Democratic National Convention, Senator Bernie Sanders urged his supporters to work to ensure his former rival wins the presidential race. In this video, Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now host a debate between two progressives: Robert Reich, who served as labor secretary under President Bill Clinton and now supports Hillary Clinton; and Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who is a longtime supporter of Green Party candidate Jill Stein.
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Here are a few excerpts:
Robert Reich: I just don’t see any alternative but to support Hillary. I know Hillary, I know her faults, I know her strengths. I think she will make a great president. I supported Bernie Sanders because I thought he would make a better president for the system we need. But nonetheless, Hillary Clinton is going to be the nominee. I support her. And I support her not only because she will be a good president, if not a great president, but also, frankly, because I am tremendously worried about the alternative. And the alternative, really, as a practical matter, is somebody who is a megalomaniac and a bigot, somebody who will set back the progressive movement decades, if not more.
Chris Hedges: Well, reducing the election to personalities is kind of infantile at this point. The fact is, we live in a system that Sheldon Wolin calls inverted totalitarianism. It’s a system where corporate power has seized all of the levers of control. There is no way to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs or ExxonMobil or Raytheon. We’ve lost our privacy. We’ve seen, under Obama, an assault against civil liberties that has outstripped what George W. Bush carried out. We’ve seen the executive branch misinterpret the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force Act as giving itself the right to assassinate American citizens, including children. I speak of Anwar al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son. We have bailed out the banks, pushed through programs of austerity. This has been a bipartisan effort, because they’ve both been captured by corporate power. We have undergone what John Ralston Saul correctly calls a corporate coup d’état in slow motion, and it’s over.
Robert Reich: We’ve got to be very, very strategic as progressives. We’ve got to look at the long term. We’ve got to understand that Bernie Sanders brought us much further along than we were before the Sanders campaign. We owe a lot to Bernie Sanders, his courage, his integrity, his power, the fact that most people under 30 voted for Bernie Sanders. In fact, if you look at the people who voted for Bernie Sanders under 30, that was more people than voted for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton together under the age of 30. We are building a progressive movement in this country. But over the next four years, I don’t want Donald Trump to irretrievably make it difficult, if not impossible, for us to move forward with that progressive movement.
Chris Hedges: Trump is this kind of grotesque figure. He’s like the used car salesman who rolls back the speedometer. But Hillary Clinton is like, you know, the managers of Goldman Sachs. They both engage in criminal activities that have—and Clinton’s record, like Trump, exposes this—that have preyed upon the most vulnerable within this country and are now destroying the middle class. And to somehow speak as if we are in a functioning democracy, or speak as if there are any restraints on capitalism, or speak as if the Democratic Party has not pushed forward this agenda—I mean, Obama has done this. You know, he has been as obsequious to Wall Street as the Bush administration. There’s no difference.
Robert Reich: I find this a frustrating conversation, because I agree with so much of what you have said, but the question is: What do we do about it? I mean, we are in a better position today, in the sense that Bernie Sanders has helped mobilize, organize and energize a lot of Americans, and educated a lot of Americans about the very issues that you have talked and written about and I have talked and written about. But it is—the question is: What is the action? What is the actual political strategy right now?
Chris Hedges: Half the country now lives in virtual poverty—and you continue to essentially run a government that’s been seized by a cabal, in this case, corporate, which uses all of the machinery of government for their own enrichment and their own further empowerment at the expense of the rest of the citizenry, people finally react. And that is how you get fascism. That is what history has told us. And to sit by—every time, Robert, you speak you do exactly what Trump does, which is fear, fear, fear, fear, fear.
Robert Reich: This great antiestablishment wave that is occurring both on the left and the right has an overlap, if you will, and that overlap is a deep contempt for what many people on the right and on the left have called “crony capitalism”. And those people on the right, many, many working people, they’re not all white. Many of them are. Many of them are working-class. Many of them have suffered from trade and technological displacement and a government that is really turning its back on them, they feel—and to some extent, they’re right. Many of them feel as angry about the current system and about corporate welfare and about big money in politics as many of us on the progressive side do.