Medhi Hasan Made a Sound Criticism of Chris Hedges
And then Dropped the Ball on Biden in a Way Hedges Never Would
Dear readers: it is especially important to read this essay until its conclusion.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is to take many of the guests on the standard-bearing US progressive news show Democracy Now! (DN) with a grain of salt.
The Paul Street Report is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
There’s often a conservative catch or two with the and liberal, often left-leaning folks brought on as guests there.
Here’s a perfect example of what I mean. Last week, DN hosted the longtime semi-progressive MSNBC commentator Mehdi Hasan to discuss a number of topics: Fatherland, I mean FOX, News host Tucker Carlson’s recent absurd Orwellian portrayal of the January 6th Capitol Riot as a peaceful walk in the park by “sightseers;” the menace of Trumpism-fascism; the Joe Biden presidency; and Chris Hedges’ recent essay on the Capitol rioters, which portrayed them as victims of government repression and “judicial lynching.”
“The F-Word…Pure, Unadulterated Fascism” That Can Take Back the White House
Hasan was very sharp Carlson, January 6th, and Trumpism-fascism:
“[the Capitol Riot] was pure, unadulterated fascism. I know some people even on the left don’t like to use the F-word in relation to Trump and Trumpism, but when a candidate for high office, a candidate who has previously incited an armed insurrection, when he stands up on stage and says, ‘You put me back in office, and I will be your retribution,’ that is straight out of the authoritarian playbook. That is rhetoric going back to the 1920s and '30s, I'm sorry to say…saying this stuff out in the open. We know what is on offer from Trump for 2024. We know what this country is in line for, were he to get back in…And let’s not rule it out — people say, ‘Oh, well, he can’t win.’ Of course he can win. This is America. He’s won before. There’s an Electoral College. Of course he could win. It’s a two-party system… it’s chilling rhetoric… not something [to] take lightly. He has created an army of Mini-Mes in Congress, the Marjorie Taylor Greenes of this world. He has people like Kevin McCarthy still covering for him, providing that footage, as you mentioned, to Tucker Carlson, who then lies about it on air — Tucker Carlson who tells Dominion in a lawsuit, ‘I don’t believe in the big lie,’ under oath, but then goes on TV to say he does. The cynicism of Fox and of the Trump enablers never ceases to amaze me, Amy.”
That, to me, is all bang-on, as they say in England. Yes, Tucker Carlson is a lying sack of history-falsifying neo-Nazi sh*t who lies about Trump’s Hitler’s-esque big Election Lie as well as the Capitol “insurrection.”
Yes, Trump and Trumpism are fascist, and so are many if not most in his party.
Yes, many if not most of the January 6th “insurrectionists” were Christian white nationalists and neofascists. They trashed the Capitol and threatened the lives of Congresspersons in order to cancel what’s left (not much) of US democracy and install the maniacal wannabe fascist strongman Donald “Take Down the Metal Detectors Cuz the Guys with the AR-15s Don’t Went to Hurt Me” Trump as dictator.
Yes, Trump has a slew of Republi-fascists lying and otherwise covering for his sick fascist criminality in Congress and at Fatherland, I mean FOX, News.
Yes, Trump could well win again under the ridiculous, right-tilted US party and elections system, though here I would add that the arguably more dangerous fascist Ron DeSantis could also prevail under that regime.
Yes, the domestic fascist menace should be taken seriously, to say the least. And yes, some people on “the left” foolishly “don’t want to use the F-word in relation to Trump and Trumpism.” Tell me about it!! I dedicated a considerable portion of my most recent book This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America to exposing and correcting this denialism.
Gosh, it would have been nice if Hasan had responded to any of my messages volunteering to come on his show and discuss Trumpism as fascism, which I have been writing about since March of 2016 when I published a CounterPunch essay titled “The Donald Can Happen Here: Trumpenstein’s Neo-Weimar Creators.”
“Google the Term ‘White Privilege’”
On my friend Chris Hedges’ piece, unfortunately (see below) titled “Lynching the Deportable,” Hasan scored again, and this without even having read it:
DN’s Juan Gonzales: “Mehdi, I wanted to ask you, in terms of this issue of authoritarianism…there was a piece by Chris Hedges, the former New York Times reporter, recently, where he calls the crowd in the January 6th protest and insurrection deplorable, but at the same time he claims that — he believes that there has been excessive government crackdown on them…I don’t know if you’ve seen the piece, but what [d] you think about [it]…”
Mehdi Hasan: “Yeah, no, I haven’t seen the piece…let’s just have a very simple thought experiment. If the hundreds of people who had attacked the Capitol, injured more than 140 officers, threatened the lives of members of Congress, had been Black, had that been a mass crowd of Muslims, of people who look like me with my name, I can assure you, and I can assure Chris Hedges, the sentences would be far longer, the prisoners would be treated much worse, and there would be no political support, as there is from one political party for these, quote-unquote, ‘political prisoners.’ They’re not. They’re people who launched an armed insurrection on the Capitol…anyone who says that these people have been dealt with excessively needs to google the term ‘white privilege.’”
“Now, has there been an overfocus on the foot soldiers of the insurrection, while the ringleaders and the inciters have gotten off? That, I completely agree with. Has the Department of Justice, has our political and judicial and legal systems and our media gone only after the people who were ransacking the Capitol and going after members of Congress and assaulting police officers? Yes, because — you know, at the expense of the people in charge? Yes. I mean, I’m amazed that we are two years — more than two years out from this, and Donald Trump is running for president.”
Actually, Black and/or Muslim Capitol Rioters Would Have Been Shot En Masse
Here I must say “bang-on” to Hasan’s take though with one caveat.
Yes, the white Amerikaner January 6th rioters, are getting off easy compared to the kind of punishment that would be inflicted on Black and/or a crowd of Muslims who attacked the US Capitol for any reason at all, much less to block the certification of a duly elected US president.
Yes, the more important and relevant unfairness in the January 6th prosecutions is the ridiculous disparity between the punishment being handed out to the “insurrection’s” foot soldiers and the lack of serious punishment to date for the masterminds a the top of the Republi-fascist food chain.
My caveat: Black and/or Muslim rioters would have elicited something far worse than harsher sentences and worse prison conditions by the US state; they would have been met by live ammunition and shot down en masse on the day of the riot. Let’s keep it real, okay?
Maybe Don’t Say “Lynching”
Hasan would likely and rightly have said more in a critical vein if he’d had a chance to read the Hedges piece before Juan Gonzales asked him about it. There Hasan would have seen Hedges skirting with embrace of the false narrative of “entrapment” regarding the January 6th riot and using in his text and even his title – “Lynching the Deplorables” – the racially loaded word “lynching” – yes, “lynching” (never mind the qualification “judicial”) – to describe how he thinks the federal government is treating the white supremacist January 6th rioters. I’m as tired as any other Marxist of excessive politically correct liberal-bourgeois-identitarian word sensitivity, but …lynching? Please see this NAACP primer on the historical meaning of the term – it’s important.
Hasan might also have properly noted that the word “deplorables” was taken from Hillary Clinton by the leading Trump and fascist strategist Steve Bannon precisely to mock the notion that deplorable Amerikaner neofascists might be, well, deplorable, which they of course are – quite deplorably so. Like the notion that whites are victims, the D-word here really belongs now to the (all take and no give) fascists, with whom Hedges mistakenly (in my view) thinks “the left” should and can make worthwhile accommodations and alliances. Bannon and others on the far right have been rallying their Christian white nationalist followers with that term for seven-plus years.
“Lefties Who are Positively Surprised by What Biden Has Achieved”?
So, Mehdi Hasan was more correct than he knew on Chris Hedges essay.
But then Hasan dropped the ball on the current chief executive of the United States Empire, making a mistake that Hedges never would. “A lot of lefties I’ve met,” Hasan told DN,
“are, surprisingly, you know, positively surprised by what [Joe] Biden has achieved…I thought he would be a classically centrist, neoliberal president…You look at what he’s achieved in some of his legislation, from the American Rescue Plan, which was one of the biggest poverty reduction acts in modern memory. You look at what he achieved with the Inflation Reduction Act and the record spending on climate change…I think it’s fair to say he has achieved more legislatively than any president going back to LBJ, maybe even back to FDR. And people just don’t look at the results.”
Say what? Hasan sure knows different “lefties” than I do. The one’s I talk to are actual socialists, Marxists, communists, and left anarchists who have found Biden to be precisely the nauseating capitalist-imperialist president he promised the bourgeoisie he would be when he told Wall Street campaign donors in 2019 that “nothing would fundamentally change” when he became president. As an accomplished and radical US historian recently wrote me:
“Hasan apparently has been pleasantly surprised by Biden and claims ‘leftists’ agree with him. I had extremely low expectations for Biden and he has not met any of them. It began in 2020, when he lost---in practical political terms---Congress. Then, he appointed a mostly ghastly cabinet, seeking diverse, rather than incompetent (Mayor Pete, D-McKinsey & Company, knows nothing about transit and has mucked up every response to a crisis) or venal members, including war-mongering national security members, a ‘labor’ secretary who came out of the traditionally racist building trades unions, and then refused to lobby to get rid of the filibuster, destroyed his own [slightly progressive] ‘build back better act,’ forcing Congress to pass the not really ‘bipartisan’ infrastructure act through first, killing the other act. I didn't expect much of a pro-working class, pro-union administration, but I was horrified that he threw rail workers under the train. I thought he would rejoin the Iran deal, without strings attached---but he didn't. I thought he would change our immigration policy, but by his (with his administration’s greater competence than Trump’s), has made the situation far worse. He refused to negotiate with Russia before the war began, which might have avoided it altogether and now refuses to push Ukraine to ANY type of compromise. He worsened the commercial war against China and (by allowing Pelosi to go to Taiwan, infuriated the Chinese)....I could go on and on....”
On NATO and Carbon Bombs
Indeed. There’s no space here for an exhaustive radical dissection of the Biden presidency – that’s a book I might try to write next year. Such an examination would include a critical look at the eco-cidal boosts that Biden’s infrastructure bill, his drilling and petroleum reserve policies, and his reckless proxy war in Ukraine have given to fossil (fuel) capital and to fossil capitalism more broadly – a system that is turning the entire planet into a giant Greenhouse Gas Chamber.
Speaking of ecocide, Blue MAGA Joe is by all indications about to escalate the exterminist capitalist war on livable ecology by greenlight an enormous $8 billion oil drilling project in the North Slope of Alaska. The “Will project” is locate in the National Petroleum Reserve, a 23-million-acre area 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle that is what the New York Times calls “the country’s largest single expanse of pristine land.” As the Times reports:
“The Willow project…illustrates the tensions he faces as the urgency of climate change collides with the realities of the war in Ukraine and the instability it has created in global energy markets…. Willow would be the largest new oil development in the United States, expected to pump out 600 million barrels of crude over 30 years. Burning all that oil could release nearly 280 million metric tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. On an annual basis, that would translate into 9.2 million metric tons of carbon pollution, equal to adding nearly two million cars to the roads each year… Environmental activists, who have labeled the project [um… try ‘accurately described the project as’ – P.S.] a ‘carbon bomb’ have argued that the project would deepen America’s dependence on oil and gas at a time when the International Energy Agency said nations must stop permitting such projects to avert the most catastrophic impacts of climate change….Over the past 60 years, Alaska has warmed more than twice as fast as the rest of the United States and temperatures there are expected to continue to increase by an average of 4 degrees Fahrenheit over the 30-year life of the Willow project, thawing the frozen Arctic tundra around the drilling rigs.”
And here’s the environmental gut-punch line from the Times:
"ConocoPhillips plans to install devices called thermosyphons in the thawing permafrost to keep it solid enough to support the heavy equipment needed to drill for oil — the burning of which will release carbon dioxide emissions that scientists say will worsen the ice melt."
Read that again. Read it one more time. They know they are melting the planet’s permafrost, which rings a death knell for life on Earth; they will be installing special devices to keep their drilling equipment working as previously frozen material melts and hyper carbon-intensive methane is released.
Carbon Bomb Joe, leading a proxy war that has dramatically escalated Western and US oil and gas drilling (as the Times notes) is down with that.
Betraying Women and Girls
Also meriting special attention is Biden’s crass betrayal of US women and girls with his failure to respond aggressively to the revanchist women-hating Dobbs v. Jackson decision – the Christian fascist Supreme Handmaid Court that ended US. Women’s half-century constitutional right to an abortion – by issuing an executive order directing the federal government to provide safe and legal abortions on federal lands across the country. Look for Biden to abjectly capitulate to the coming Christian fascist federal district court ruling that will any day now (this Thursday is my guess) nationally prohibit the top and safe medical abortion drug mifepristone. A genuinely feminist president would order the FDA to ignore this vicious patriarchal ruling. Biden will cave to the right, consistent with his long neoliberal centrist career, like the good “inauthentic opposition” president of neoliberal Hollow Resistance he is.
Meanwhile the world has come significantly closer to World War III after Biden helped provoke Russia into criminally invading Ukraine and has poured massive US military resources into the US-Russia proxy war in Ukraine and refused to enter meaningful negotiations for peace because he has seen imperial opportunity and a chance to weaken Russia. And now his administration is preparing for a – this while continuing to prep the nation for a more direct war with a bigger superpower rival – China – in Asia.
Ninety Seconds to Midnight
Maybe this counts as some thing that have “fundamentally changed.” The Bulleting of Atomic Scientists thinks so. Thanks to how the Ukraine War has worsened the apocalyptic menaces of both nuclear war and climate change, they have put their ominous Doomsday Clock closer to Midnight than its ever been: 90 seconds to Midnight.
That’s Joe Biden, who Hasan finds “surprisingly” progressive.
Where Hedges Trumps Hasan
Getting and criticizing the corporate and imperialist limits of the Democratic Party and its neoliberal presidents from Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton through Barack Obama and Joe Biden is an attribute that Chris Hedges possesses in eloquent abundance. It’s a topic where Mehdi Hasan’s pithy intelligence and insight tends to peter out. Who knows if Hasan really believes that Biden is a decent, surprisingly progressive president or just smartly knows which side his bread is buttered on? Going where Hedges and I go on the dismal, dollar-drenched Democrats – the “Trumpenstein’s” main “neo-Weimar Creators” in my aforementioned 2016 essay – means jeopardizing employment at places like NBC, CBS, ABC, and “P”BS. To seriously question the American Empire and the Democrats from the actually radical “left” means to blow any shot at making a decent living in the dominant corporate media and in other parts of the ideological establishment. And that’s why Hedges no longer works at The New York Times, why I no longer work in academia or the NGO sector, and why Medhi Hasan will never have me on his MSNBC show despite the considerable degree to which my work supports his takes on Trump, Trumpism-fascism, the Republican Party, January 6th, the US elections and party system, and “the F-word.” Chris Hedges, by contrast, has had me on his show repeatedly, because of our shared ground on US capitalism, US imperialism, the dismal Dems, capitalogenic eco-cide, and much more – this despite differences we might have on numerous topics including January 6th, the Trump base, anarchism, Marxism, Lenin, religion, and the utility and morality of reaching out to the far-right.
Which reminds me: in mid-2008 I published a book (written mostly in 2007) predicting the basic outlines of the coming miserable neoliberal and imperialist Barack Obama presidency and the likelihood that it would spark and elevate a far-right white nationalist fake-“populist” response in the US. I wanted to title that book The Empire’s New Clothes, but my publisher saw that as too provocative at the time (he was right about that in a practical business sense.) We went instead with Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics. (I got my original title back for a 2010 volume I wrote on Obama’s first year in office, which had proceeded exactly as I had foreseen). In early December of 2008, after Obama’s election, I was booked to appear to discuss the first book on DN. I expected to come on the show and forecast the coming terrible and menacing trajectory of US neoliberal policy and politics under and after Obama. As I walked out of the Mid-town Port Authority bus terminal and headed down to DN’s studio for a scheduled taping in lower Manhattan, my cell phone rang and a young intern told me I’d been cancelled. “Is that alright?” she asked. There was no talk of re-scheduling.
“The left” wasn’t ready to hear the whole truth about what was coming with the Obama presidency and its revanchist aftermath in the heady interregnum between Obama’s election and his inauguration, when “progressives” were foolishly dreaming of the “deeply conservative” (Larissa MacFarquhar’s accurate estimation in May of 2007) Obama as the “new Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR)” and the potentual champion of a new New Deal. (Those were the days!) Now we have MSNBC’s pithiest and leftmost talking head Mehdi Hasan likening the nation’s leading strikebreaker Joe Biden to FDR! Geez.
So typical of the liberal left: often pretty good on race but terrible on capitalism-imperialism and class rule.
The Paul Street Report is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.