We Can’t Let Radical Hope Disappear Into the Abyss of Authoritarianism

This interview with Chuck Mertz on “This is Hell!” builds on my Truthout essay, “Amid Apocalyptic Cynicism, Let’s Embrace Radical Hope in the New Year.” It comments on the deeply held sense of cynicism that has been growing in the United States in the aftermath of a right-wing counterrevolution that emerged against the democratizing movements that erupted in the 1960s. This was a reactionary movement, which set the stage to dismantle the welfare state and equated the market with democracy. Before the election of Ronald Reagan, 1980, the ideological basis of the counterrevolution had been established in the 1970s. Powell MemoThe Trilateral Commission, both of which lauded neoliberal capitalism and disdained movements for social change and racial justice as symptomatic of an “an excess of democracy.” I also talk about how, thanks to the Trump era, the U.S. is in the grip of a different element of the counterrevolution, one that not only attacks the welfare state, but also incorporates a fascist politics rooted in a discourse of white supremacy and a politics of disposability.

The current political moment has been dominated by a huge propagandistic machine. It is fueled largely mainly by right-wing social networking platforms that undermine the promise for hope and its fundamental political and educational elements that link truth and the search to justice through mass collective struggles. This powerful, ocular-image-based, pedagogical apparatus erases and distorts history. Manufactured ignorance is now seen as news and performs as spectacle. This sabotage both truth and democracy. Politics has become a form of ethicide — a disavowal of social responsibility and the removal of political, discursive and economic actions from social costs.

The challenging times in which we now live operate as hope’s antithesis by spreading the ideology of regressive individualism, consumerism, deregulation and anti-intellectualism while reproducing a model of gangster capitalism that empties politics of its democratic possibilities. We live in a time when radical hope is confronted by a number fundamentalisms, all rooted in economic and religious forms of repression. These fundamentalisms are all part of gangster capitalism. Accentuated by a growing inequality, uncertainty, fear and distrust of the public good, capitalism hides its ruthlessness and criminogenic power relations by saturating U.S. culture with depoliticizing narratives which echo the fatal notion that it “has no alternative.” In doing so, it has deepened the gulf of shared fears and learned helplessness that enable the formative culture that supports a rebranded fascist politics. In this interview, I analyze how a radical and militant notion of hope — along with certain words such as capitalism, class, power and fascism — have either disappeared or are disparaged as being unhelpful in understanding our current drift into the abyss of authoritarianism.

I respond to the crisis of agency in politics by offering a language for militant possibility. I talk about the need to develop an understanding of politics that engages a robust historical consciousness as well as a deeper understanding of the role culture plays in shaping individual and collective consciousness. I also call for the creation a mass movement that is anti-capitalist and infused with the ideals of democratic socialist society. The subjective and cultural conditions that have led to a new form of fascist politics are often overlooked by left-leaning political commentators and liberal progressives. It is time to revive a discourse of radical optimism by creating a new language to allow us to think about alternative struggles and produce empowering notions for freedom and justice, and to imagine a future in democracy that can breathe again.