Ted Rall is among the most competent and confident voices in the new progressive movement emerging in America. As a noted author and editorial cartoonist he produces smart and strident sarcasm aimed at waking people up. His most recent book – entitled The Anti-American Manifesto – contains the rationale and strategy for taking back control of our country from the corporate-government regime that threatens to destroy our country and the world. As more people experience relative deprivation they will become angrier and ready for revolution.
Ted Rall outlines the challenges and opportunities that progressives face as they try to change the corrupt and decaying capitalist system. This BLOG post contains reviews and excerpts from this excellent book – along with interviews Ted has recently conducted . You will also find two his most relevant syndicated columns. I also have included some of his cool and creative cartoons – many more of each can be found on his website. Click below to be enlightened, entertained and enraged!!
We are here because the U.S. is going to end soon. There’s going to be an intense, violent, probably haphazard struggle for control. It’s going to come down to us versus them. The question is: What are you going to do about it?…
Christian fundamentalists, the millennial end-of-the-worlders obsessed with the Left Behind series about the End Times, neo-Nazi racists, rural black-helicopter Michigan Militia types cut from the same inbred cloth as Timothy McVeigh, allied with “mainstream” gun nuts and right-wing Republicans, have been planning, preparing, and praying for the destruction of the “Godless,” “secular” United States for decades. In the past, they formed groups like the John Birch Society and the Aryan Nations. Now the hard Right has a postmodern, decentralized non-organization organization called the Tea Party.
Right-wing organizational names change, but they amount to the same thing: the reactionary sociopolitical force—the sole force—poised to fill the vacuum when collapse occurs. The scenario outlined by Margaret Atwood’s prescient novel The Handmaid’s Tale—rednecks in the trenches, hard military men running things, minorities and liberals taken away and massacred, setting the stage for an even more extreme form of laissez-faire corporate capitalism than we’re suffering under today—is a fair guess of how a post-U.S. scenario will play out unless we prepare to turn it in another direction…
A war is coming. At stake: our lives, the planet, freedom, living. The government, the corporations, and the extreme right are prepared to coalesce into an Axis of Evil. Are you going to fight back? Will you do whatever it takes, including taking up arms?…
The millions of partisans who follow Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and right-wing televangelists happen to be the best-armed people around, and they despise just about everyone who doesn’t think and pray like them. They will see collapse as affirmation of their beliefs that secular liberalism is destructive. They will also see it as an opportunity to create a new, ordered world atop the ashes. They will act to stop teenage sluts from getting abortions, teach niggers a lesson, and slaughter those spics, dots, and everyone else who doesn’t fit into their vision of what and who is right…
I want to kick people in the ass. To get them thinking. To get you thinking. I want you to understand the situation—your situation. I want you to see that revolt is a good idea, and that it has never been more necessary. I also want you to size up the opposition (both the government and 28 The Anti-American Manifesto the extreme right): They will never get weaker.We have as good a chance at taking them on as ever.
“The story of the United States of America as we know it — not merely as the world’s dominant superpower, but as a discrete political, economic, and geographic entity — is drawing to a close due to a convergence of emerging economic, environmental, and political crises.”
“We can wait for the system to collapse of its own accord, for the rage of the downtrodden and dispossessed to build, for chaos of some sort to expose and destroy it. But implosion might take a long time. And when it happens, we may find ourselves even more powerless than we are now. So let’s do something. Let’s seize power now, before it’s too late.”
“Why not us? Why shouldn’t we free ourselves? Why shouldn’t we seize the mansions and bank accounts of the rich/thieves? Why shouldn’t we nationalize corporations? Why can’t we take the CEOs who pay themselves millions while firing workers, put them on trial, and throw them in prison? Why shouldn’t we bring home the foot soldiers of the military-industrial complex, close the bases overseas, end the wars, and use the resulting peace dividend to build schools and pay teachers decently and heal the sick?”
And that’s all from Chapter 1.
Rall writes with a sweeping fury that makes it easy, sometimes even irresistible, to pause for a minute in busily producing the boot-strapping, can-do, everything’s-gonna-be-all-right facade most of us have plastered over whatever disasters the Great Recession has brought us. If privation hasn’t actually knocked on our door (or thrown us out on the street), chances are good we’re so worn out from keeping it at bay that when the evening news reports record corporate profits in the same breath as record foreclosure rates, we don’t have the energy to plumb the visceral twang of wrongness it provokes.
His skewering of “the American way of life” as it’s currently practiced is exhaustive, from an eight-page listing of U.S. military interventions to descriptions of children’s deaths by profit-maximizing environmental standards to a scalding characterization of the bipartisan collusion against taxpayers known as TARP.
Even worse, he contends, is what’s poised to step in to fill the void once the system finally eats through its last supports: gangster capitalist plutocrats who control all the resources, supported by the thousands of militant right-wing citizens who have been arming themselves for years in preparation for just such a day. It follows, he says, that the American left better mobilize — and fast.
“I am getting huge crowds,” he answered by phone from his home in New York City. “This is my 16th book, and I never have crowds like this. My turnouts are three to four times higher than usual; the percentage of people who buy the book is much higher. The thing is, the enthusiasm and desperation of people is palpable. People are so sick of the Democrats and the Republicans and more so with the mainstream left, which they view as impotent and worthless, and they’re looking for better options. The sense is that the anger is on the Tea Party’s side, but the people on the left are just as mad about the bank bailouts and the wars. They’re just mad about different things. … My instincts told me that by the time it was published, people would be ready to hear it, and I was right.”
“We all know someone who’s out of work. For the first time, we’re really feeling the effects of global capitalism. Nothing brings it home like getting fired so your boss can give himself a raise. I think that’s the point that’s so pertinent. It’s going to be an interesting couple of years. My theory is, this system is out of answers. They have them, but they just can’t use them. The capitalist imperative is to steal and rape and pillage. They know when they should take a break, they really do, but they just can’t.”
“Of course the official left is unhappy about (the call to arms),” he said. “I was reading thousands of posts as a result of my Dylan Ratigan appearance and people are saying, ‘But if the right was advocating violence’ — which they do — ‘the left would be yelling at them.’ And I’m like ‘Yeah, but not me.’ … The truth is that violence is always there, even if you swear that you will never act violently. If I were having a street demonstration and I went on TV and said, ‘We promise not to be violent. No matter what happens, we won’t be violent,’ does that mean the mayor shouldn’t send the police? No. They don’t know you.”
For all of his righteous rancor, it’s both jarring and a little poignant when Rall refers to Barack Obama as the smartest and most well-intentioned president we’re likely to ever get. Rall wasn’t always so radical — as recently has half a decade ago, he wrote a book advocating for more liberal power within the Democratic party in the same way that the far right has organized for influence within the Republican party. But there was one moment after the economic crisis, he said, in which everything changed.
“It was when Obama said he was going to continue the Bush bailouts of the banks. They’re not going to work. They can’t work. They’re not a jobs program. … The system had broken beyond repair. We have this crazy situation with the real unemployment at 20 percent — even at the height of the Depression it was 25 percent — and neither party can do anything about it. Republicans are trying to fire more public workers (and add them to the unemployment rolls), and Democrats can’t get anything done on jobs. You know this, you’re in Michigan where it’s been going on for decades. And nationally, the U.S. is becoming a giant Michigan and neither party can do anything. They view this as an opportunity to loot the system through the banks! They know this is increasing social and political instability and opening a gateway for people like me, but they can’t help themselves.”
Did I say this book would probably make you mad? I forgot “exhausted” and “utterly despairing.” The facts and arguments in it are many, and some are remarkably convincing, but the vision of a confederation of Daily Show-watchers succeeding at a task more ambitious than the one the Rebel South failed at is pretty hard to conjure up.
Washington City Paper (WCP): What’s your new book about?
Ted Rall (TR): It’s about the desire to replace the two-party system with something better. Understanding the fact that’s not going to happen by marching in the streets, or writing poetic letters to the editor, made it obvious that as it has always been and as it always will be, that if we want to improve our lives we’re going to have to take some radical chances.
WCP: To get a little wonky on you, it seems as though you’re more a Jeffersonian than a Hamiltonian?
TR: Oh absolutely. Absolutely. I think Thomas Jefferson is the finest leader this country has ever had.
WCP: I must say that personally I have a little trouble trusting the mob, much like the founding fathers did.
TR: Well, yeah, if the United States proves anything, it’s that democracy doesn’t work. You can look at California’s referendums to prove that. I’m being droll there, but in reality the country is too undereducated to have a functioning democracy. As Toqueville said, you need a well-educated, well-informed electorate in order to make democracy work and we don’t have that. In fact it’s considered geeky or dorky to be an intellectual, and if you are, you’re supposed to pretend that you’re not.
WCP: Right, but that’s a long-standing trend in America. It goes back at least until the 1820s and Jackson.
TR: Yeah, for sure. Anti-intellectualism has a long history.
WCP: Populism is on the rise, which honestly I expected when Reagan was president, but this time it’s the right-wing, a modern Know-Nothing party essentially. Did you expect that?
TR: I guess I didn’t expect the exact configuration of the Tea Party. Who would have thought that people would think it was cool to dress up like Paul Revere? Certainly that strain in American politics has always been there, and probably always will be so it’s not that surprising. It’s also not surprising that the right is better prepared and organized than the left. That’s also been the reality for a long time. …
WCP: In your first chapter, you talk about this being late-stage capitalism, but to me it looks vaguely like a return, at least during the Bush years, to early-stage capitalism with less rules, less taxation, and the like. I would have said something like FDR’s New Deal would have starting moving us to a late-stage capitalism. Can you talk about why you think we’re in a late-stage capitalism now?
TR: It’s the classic Marxist model, where the trend toward monopolization has gone to an extreme, to the point where competition has been stifled, and where new generations of young people find their road to advancement cut off and are unable to find work or start new businesses. Capital has frozen. You know the country’s still rich. In 2008, money didn’t go away. We didn’t become poor. The lifeblood of the economy stopped circulating and rich people stopped investing. It’s really quite crazy if you think about it. The thing about American capitalism is that it does everything exactly backwards. When it should be audacious, like now, it’s timid, and when it should be timid, like during the late 1990s, it’s profligate. It’s really an incredibly stupid system. The reason I wrote this book is that it’s become obvious to everyone. You couldn’t call for revolution in 1989—well you could call for it, but no one would have cared. I think more people are open to the message now. Someone asked me the other day, ‘well, how are you going to radicalize people?’ and I said ‘you don’t have to radicalize anyone.’ Once you get a pink slip and an eviction notice from a bank that is paying its CEO $40 million a year, you’re radicalized. You don’t to need read Mao’s Little Red Book. …
WCP: I think part of the problem is that we no longer have a functioning alternative to our soldiers. There is no Civilian Conservation Corps for America, nor a functioning State Department which could help people set up a government anymore.
TR: Right. But there could be obviously. As millions of American learned after marching in the streets after 2003, peaceful protest does not work anymore. The system is not going to change by itself.
WCP: When you call for revolution, what would you see replacing the current system? Parliamentary democracy?
TR: I’m all the way on the far left, as far as you can get, so I would like to see a completely leftist proletariat dictatorship, but what I want is neither here nor there. I don’t think that what I want is important, or relevant, or realistic to even discuss, because once you unleash the forces of revolution, anything could happen. You could end up with a right wing coup. Who knows where you’re going to end up? You could end up with a Christian theocracy. What the revolution does is create the physical and ideological space for the discussion to take place. Right now, we don’t really know what Americans want, but what we do know is that this system is currently broken, and what we need is to come in with a clean slate, start from scratch and undergo the difficult process that the United States has not undergone for 200 years of figuring out how we really want to live in the year 2011. …
WCP: I wanted to ask you about the decline of unionism in America. Somewhere along the line, workers seemed to feel as though their bosses had their best interests at heart.
TR: You really think they feel that way?! That’s a little more than I think most people would say.
WCP: Sometime I have conversations with people who seem to think that the 40-hour work week was just a god-given right that was handed down to them.
TR: There’s probably very little awareness of how things were before, but there’s little awareness of the rights that they have now that are being trampled. The Fair Labor Standards Act entitles everybody to a fifteen minute break in the morning and in the afternoon and also paid overtime, unless you supervise at least three workers. Most people who don’t supervise three workers and are on a set salary are not getting paid coffee breaks and they’re not getting paid overtime. American business is stealing millions of dollars from the American worker every week and everybody goes to work and shuts up because they’re scared to lose their job. These companies should pay it back, retroactively.
Ted Rall’s “The Anti-American Manifesto” reveals an angry writer. He’s angry that President Obama has no inclination “to push for the sweeping reforms that might save American late-stage capitalism from itself”; he’s angry that Obama has continued the Bush wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that have killed an estimated one million people; he’s angry that “environmental apocalypse” looms just around the corner and few people have the will to do what is necessary to stop it or even slow down its arrival; he is angry at corporations, including “big sharks of capitalism” who “pay themselves millions in bonuses while firing workers,” and he’s angry that many who may agree with him aren’t talking about the dangerous predicament of our country.
On the first page, he states openly: “The government has become so undemocratic and unresponsive that the only reasonable means of opposing it is to strive for its violent overthrow.” On the other hand, he insists he will not lead a revolution. “I want you to think, damn it! Figure out for yourself what is wrong.”
The author believes the U.S. as it is today will not survive much longer. And when the government and economic system collapse, it will be “Us” against “Them” for control. He defines “Us” as “Hard-working, underpaid, put upon, thoughtful, freedom-loving, disenfranchised, ordinary people.” And “Them” as “Reactionary, stupid, overpaid, greedy, shortsighted, exploitative, power-mad, abusive politicians and corporate executives.”
“The Us,” he further explains, means the people who favor a secular nation and agree that the great disparity of wealth between the rich and the poor must be changed, and that a world economy based on exploiting the earth’s resources to make consumer goods that people must be convinced they need must not be sustained.
“The Them,” he further explains, are racist and religious fundamentalists who want to form an ethnically white Christian country with a religious agenda similar to the agenda of the fundamentalist Muslims our troops are killing in Iraq and Afghanistan. …
According to the author, a new system will mean the elimination of corporations where individuals can hide behind laws that protect them from criminal behavior involving the exploitation of people or the environment. It will mean the end of the military interference in other countries that is a detriment to the interests and well-being of American citizens.
AMAZON READER REVIEWS:
The Anti-American Manifesto is a “wake up call” for all Americans to stop deluding themselves with all that American Dream drivel and propaganda. Our country is fundamentally collapsing around us as once cherished institutions frantically fray about trying to maintain a minimal sense of order. We need to start a serious dialogue amongst ourselves about how crappy things really are in our country and take action. The Anti-American Manifesto is no Declaration of Independence and Ted Rall is no Thomas Jefferson, but the spirit and remedies of both resonate the same. The concept of “revolution” shouldn’t remain unmentionable or considered subversive. The Great Recession is the culmination of decades worth of mismanagement, corruption and chicanery by the “powers that be” and WE THE PEOPLE are the victims (or chumps) of this bold face malfeasance. I recommend this book to any American who loves their country and who are willing to rise up and save it before it’s too late. When words won’t win action will.
Rall very eloquently but conversationally makes the point that with so much evidence that our current political system is at best a failure, and at worst a malicious beast bent on our domination, the time has come to do something about it. It’s not a “buy and gun and shoot someone in charge” kind of call to revolution, but rather an “establish the need and find your place in it” one. Despite the obnoxious, uninformed, criticisms of this book, it is a brilliant and well-thought out (not to mention well researched) analysis of our current predicament and what may be needed to resolve it. Not a mindless call to violence. This book will do to your feelings about your place in our political world what Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael did to your feelings about your place in our natural one. Read it.
Rall outlines the major problems currently plaguing America with an effort to appeal to the sensibilities of both the left and the right. Rall works to outline how these problems are deeper and more endemic then most Americans realize or would like to admit, perhaps even to themselves. He then tries to prove that these major problems plaguing America have now become so deeply entrenched and self-sustaining that conventional means of socio-political problem fixing and reform (especially those that attempt to work passively and within the system’s acceptable “opposition” standards) are no longer viable approaches (and may never have been). Rall argues that these problems are spiraling out of control faster now, and will eventually result in the collapse of America itself. What will fill the resulting void he worries might be much worse even then what American’s have now, and so he asserts that immediate violent revolution is the only option American’s have for a better future.
Rall points out that revolution is a bit of a roulette spin when it comes to what socio-economic systems and conditions it ends up producing. Both as a result of this, and as an appeal for all Americans of every political stripe to band together for the sake of his proposed revolution, Rall posits in the text that to discuss what will or should come after the revolution is speculative and inherently polarizing in a heavily counterproductive way.
The argumentation is very good, and even if one disagrees with it, the arguments are generally interesting and compelling. I would say Rall has me convinced on all accounts except for the actual need for violent revolution itself over unconventional but non-violent approaches to reform. This is a little ironic as the only thing I am unconvinced by is the idea highlighted on the cover and perhaps the major thesis for the whole book. Realistically though, violent revolution is only one of very many things Rall discuses herein and I am convinced by his argumentation elsewhere. For instance Rall goes on at length about how meaningless protesting and traditional activism approaches have become in light of the current situation in America.
You might think that a book discussing the eventual collapse of the U.S. government might seem wildly speculative, over-the-top, or just plain crazy. But a series of profound national events, starting with the 2000 Presidential Coup by the Supreme Court and continuing forward though 9/11, two failed wars, Hurricane Katrina, exploding national debt, the Great Recession and the BP Oil Spill have shown the U.S. government to be simultaneously corrupt beyond redemption, and wholly unwilling/unable to effectively respond to any sort real crisis facing the population. The icing on the cake was the presidency of Barack Obama, once thought to be the last, best hope for a decent federal government, but now revealed to be the ultimate in cynicism or ineffectuality, whichever way you see it.
Ted Rall is one of the smartest, most honest, best-educated and hardest working of American political thinkers, having put himself in harm’s way twice by traveling in Afghanistan unescorted by the military. He knew from the get-go that the U.S. war in Afghanistan was doomed, and he was among the first to write of the U.S. gulags now circling the globe. He has consistently been ahead of the conventional wisdom and willing to speak of things others fear. Because Rall is honest, well-educated, smart, brave, and factual, he has been partially marginalized by the mainstream media, and is likely to further marginalized as time goes on. Before our corporate/military/media complex succeeds in banishing him down the memory hole, however, we are afforded a chance to read his Magnum Opus.
Rall is one of many serious thinkers arguing the federal government no longer serves the people of the U.S. What distinguishes him from others is his argument that the system has deteriorated beyond all repair and that a new system is needed. There is no shortage of facts to aid him in his arguments, and anyone who has paid attention to current events for the last decade will know that financial, military and ecological crisis points are approaching. Rall argues that since our government is doomed, that it is the responsibility for people of good will and good conscience to create an ideological framework and strategic plans so that when it all comes tumbling down, there will at least be the possibility of something better.
At least, Ted Rall says it’s time for change. Thomas Jefferson himself suggested liberty needed periodic revolutions to survive. And yet, the country founded on revolution hasn’t seen a serious revolutionary challenge in its entire history, with the possible exception of the Civil War (and even then, the South seceded, without trying to change the federal system itself).
Over time, the unchecked power of the federal government has bred incompetence and corruption. According to Rall, the American military, economic and political system is rotten to the core, and the decay grows more evident by the day. From the dot com bubble, to 9/11, to the war of choice in Iraq, to the federal government’s failure to save New Orleans, to the housing bubble, the bailouts, the exploding deficits, the unimaginable national debt, the failure of the Obama administration to put people back to work, and the new talk of drastic cuts to Social Security and Medicare: the failures are everywhere.
Make no mistake: the system is going to collapse even if you do nothing about it. Eventually, the bills will come due on all this debt. Eventually, the hyperinflation will set in. Eventually, America won’t be able to afford its global empire. Eventually, the corporations will get too greedy, and the income disparities too vast, that people will starve. Eventually, the planet’s resources will be stretched to the breaking point. And when it all starts going wrong, the U.S. government as we know it will come crashing down anyway. But it’ll be so much worse if things get to that point, and there will be so much suffering in the meantime, that it’s not worth the wait. The time to act is now.
Like it or not: Rall advocates action. You can and should act to change your country for the better. Resist this government and the economic and military system that empowers it. The government has no answers to our problems, and no one working within this system can change its course now. It’s too late for that. No election will fix what’s broken, and no amount of apathy will give our children a brighter future. Many on the political right are already starting to think in these terms, and Rall’s contribution is to try to wake some on the left that a violent overthrow of the existing regime may be inevitable. While many won’t agree with Rall’s conclusions, nevertheless the book is worth reading as a challenge to one’s way of thinking about the America of the 21st century and the prospects for meaningful reform.
Rall’s book, with such an intentionally provocative title, is supposed to be a wake-up call. His core point is that the political system that “runs” the United States in this age, i.e. the plutocracy of corporate interests and their government servants, is in a political “vapor lock.” By this, I mean to say that it is spinning faster and faster, but producing less and less of any value, and there is no form of input by regular folks that seems to be able to break it out of this cycle. There is no incentive for change in Washington D.C. as the political class is now wholly owned and vested in the continuing success not of the American people, but of their corporate sponsors.
Rall’s book has much food for thought. He presents no easy answers (anyone who tried to would be full of it). But he does try to sound the alarm, and prepare the reader emotionally for the coming times of trouble. His warnings are foreshadowed by the turmoil occurring in Europe which, he points out, has a long history of changing govts when the people’s needs are not met by the existing power structure.
While not openly advocating violent overthrow of the current system, Rall does make the point that the American way of politics has become rather docile in the last half century. Marching in the streets is easier for politicians to ignore, now that they effectively work in a closed “bubble” where they are fed “facts” and “opinions” that do not include those of the majority of their constituents. His point is that the govt must fear the people in order to respect them. As someone recently said to me, “democracy sometimes smells like burning tires.”
RALL’S COMMENTS DURING DISCUSSION OF HIS BOOK
“The Anti-American Manifesto” attempts to create the space in our national politics to think outside the Democratic-Republican duopoly. There are other options. In the last year alone, there have been 12 revolutions in other countries. Why not here? Only revolution or the credible threat of revolution can bring about the scale of radical change needed to salvage the grim state of our economy and environment. I don’t attempt to predict in the book how the revolution would occur or conclude. I agree that revolution is frequently bloody, horrible, and can lead to something even worse than what we have now. It’s a Hail Mary pass. You shouldn’t start a revolution unless there’s no other viable option. Which is exactly our situation.
The far right is poised to fill the vacuum. In “The Anti-American Manifesto” I argue that the economic and political system is heading toward collapse, something analogous to what happened to the USSR in 1991. If that’s going to happen, factions to the right of the Tea Party are armed and mentally prepared to take over. I’m suggesting that we act first.
In “The Anti-American Manifesto” I say that–and this is really hard for me–we should make common cause with the Tea Party and anyone else who gets it, i.e. is angry and understands that the existing system is broken and cannot be reformed (Obama has demonstrated that). As Massoud, who led the Afghan resistance to the Soviets during the 1980s famously said, “First we kill the Russians. Next we kill each other.” If we can work with the Tea Partiers, who not? They’re wrong about who to blame, but they’re right that something’s wrong.
Neither Ghandi nor King were in movements that eschewed violence. Both the Indian independence movement and the civil rights struggle required violence and the credible threat thereof to succeed. There have been pacifist leaders of successful liberation movements, but no radical movement has ever succeeded using non-violence alone. People who get foreclosed upon should move back into their homes and be protected against the banksters by their neighbors. Foreclosures should end permanently.
“If everyone…” is always a recipe for failure. You can’t get everyone to do anything. That said, national strikes and boycotts, and local ones too, are always part of the revolutionary toolbox. They can be very effective as part of a concerted mass movement. We also have a responsibility to future generations. It wouldn’t be right, now that we have the chance to make things better, to abdicate that job merely because it’s hard or scary or icky. Why should only crazy Islamists be willing to fight and die for an idea? Why shouldn’t those of us who care about equality and justice–far better ideas–be willing to do the same?
Most people who benefit from the system tend not to want to see it overthrown. Liberal elites would prefer reforms, tweaks. As would I! I earn a higher-than-average income. I am white, male, Ivy League-educated, and in perfect health. If the system is overthrown, the odds are that I will lose a lot. Personally, I’m willing to press forward because I would rather sleep outside than live in a society that is so manifestly insane and wasteful and brutal and unfair. But most people tend to follow their narrow self-interest. Revolt, when it comes, will have to come from those with more to gain than to lose. With unemployment over 20%, however, there are plenty of those.
Remember, the only difference between the Tea Party and the real Left (not to be confused with the Obama pseudo-liberals) is who’s to blame. They think it’s immigrants and minorities. We think it’s the rich and the corporations. If we can agree on the problem, perhaps it’s less important that we agree about its cause.
“The Anti-American Manifesto” doesn’t really address strategy in detail. I am, however, planning a follow-up book that suggests how to implement a post-American government that would transition into a better way of life for most people. A lot of 1960s activists have been coming to my book signings. Some great discussions have taken place there. An amazing number of them are still energized and ready to finish what they started.
If I were Obama, my first act would be to shut down the banking system and securities markets for a week or two. Why? To prevent the capital flight that might follow what comes next. I’d announce that any attempt to transfer money or securities overseas during this period would be prosecuted as an act of treason.
Next I’d order an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops, contractors and sub-contractors from Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, and all foreign military bases around the world. We’re an overextended empire inviting blowback all over the place. No more.
It would be moral. The world would be happy. It would make us safer. However, my primary motivation would be to stop chucking hundreds of billions down the military rathole while Americans are losing their jobs and their homes. $4 to $6 billion a week on Afghanistan and Iraq alone. Can anyone explain why we still have thousands of soldiers in the DMZ between the two Koreas? Or in Okinawa? Bring the 600,000-plus men and women in uniform, and the millions of support personnel who aren’t, home.
Obama doesn’t need congressional approval. He can bring the troops home by executive order.
Next up: nationalizations. “Tough on crime” shouldn’t be limited to individual citizens. Rob a 7-Eleven and you go to prison for many years. If it’s your third felony, for life. You lose everything. Companies deemed “too big to fail,” many of which are run by criminals whose monstrous deeds make Charles Manson look like a piker, should get the same treatment or worse.
Jail the executives. Seize their personal assets. And nationalize their companies. Citigroup alone is worth $14 trillion. That should pay for some extensions of unemployment benefits.
BP’s North American operations? Ours. Sell off the assets. Use the cash to pay for the cleanup in the Gulf of Mexico and to compensate the victims. Too harsh? Corporations can easily avoid this awful fate. They can obey the law.
Once the U.S. government has added BP, GM, AIG, Goldman Sachs, and other miscreants to its portfolio, trillions will be rolling into the treasury. China will start borrowing money from us.
What to do with all that loot?
Well, we’ll have a bunch of unemployed soldiers and military contractors. Between them and those who lost their jobs during the last few years we’ll need to create between 10 and 20 million new jobs. So we will. Let’s build the high-speed rail system the U.S. should have created 40 years ago. We’ll be able to afford true healthcare reform, a.k.a. socialized medicine. That means more hospitals, more doctors, more jobs.
Let’s rehab the 20 million abandoned homes nationwide so that the world’s richest nation can finally house its homeless. Let’s repair and update long-neglected infrastructure.
Oh, and let’s put an end to the insanity of home foreclosures. Not only do evictions speed downward mobility, empty houses ruin neighborhoods. If you can’t pay your mortgage or rent because you lost your job, don’t worry—we’ll work out a solution. After all, we the people will own your bank—and thus your note.
The U.S. economy is broken. But the U.S. remains spectacularly rich. Let’s stop pretending we’re poor. All we need to do to save ourselves is unlock the wealth being hoarded by corporate pigs.
Will Americans Act To Prevent Economic and Environmental Collapse?
I am touring to promote my new book. “The Anti-American Manifesto” lays out America’s biggest problems and what we can do to fix them. Before I started out, I knew that Americans were angry. With a real unemployment rate of 20-plus percent and a government that gave $1.4 trillion to banks instead of people in need, how could they not be?
Americans have lost faith in “their” government’s willingness or ability to address their needs and concerns. But Americans’ pessimism is deeper and broader than I thought. And their rage is burning white hot. At the beginning of each event I ask attendees to answer two questions:
Question One: What is the worst problem that you face? Something the government could solve or at least mitigate? The top response is healthcare; either or they or someone they know can’t afford to see a doctor. Other answers include making college affordable and improving mass transit. Some are arcane: at the top of one man’s wish list is the metric system.
Question Two: What is the biggest problem the world faces today? Whether or not it personally affects you, what should be job one for government? Most people say global warming or ecocide in general. Many complain about poverty and income inequality.
“Now think about your two top issues,” I ask them. “Do you think you will see any improvement, on even one of those two problems, in your lifetime?” I ask for a show of hands. “Raise your hand if you have any faith, any optimism at all.” Depending on the city, between 10 and 30 percent of my audiences raise their hands.
According to the latest Gallup poll 54 percent of Americans expect the economy to be the same or worse by this time next year. If you’re one of those 54 percent of Americans (or 70 to 90 percent of Ted Rall fans) who see the government as unwilling and/or unable to alleviate their suffering, what should you do?
If you don’t think the government will do anything for you, why not get rid of it? There is one logical answer: because it could be reformed. Well? Could it? Barack Obama is living proof that it cannot, that the system is broken beyond repair. Because, like him or not, this system is never going to give us a better president. We will not end up with a smarter, more well-intentioned person in charge. He’s the best they’ve got. …
So now Americans are faced with a choice. They can accept that nothing will ever get better, watch the rich get richer while they get poorer, sit on their butts as the planet heats up and the coral reefs die off. Or they can act.
Author David Swanson and I have authored a back and forth about some of the views expressed in The Anti-American Manifesto: namely concerning whether violence is an appropriate tactic for those engaged in resistance. It begins with David’s original review of the book, followed by my reply and one more exchange:
1. Don’t You Know That You Can Count Me Out – In By David Swanson
Ted Rall’s new book “The Anti-American Manifesto” advocates for violent revolution, even if we have to join with right-wingers and racists to do it, and even if we have no control over the outcome which could easily be something worse than what we’ve got. We have a moral duty, Rall argues, to kill some people. …
Rall’s book is packed with great analysis of our current state and appropriate moral outrage. I highly recommend it for the clear-eyed survey of the tides in this giant pot of slowly boiling water where we float and kick about like frogs. … I recommend Rall’s manifesto as a call to action. The only question is what action?
There, the book is much weaker. As people come to terms with the need for radical action, we need to provide them with a serious debate of the alternatives. Many will drift inevitably toward violence, unaware of any choice. To not present the alternatives, whether to argue for or against them, is less than helpful.
According to Rall, “no meaningful political change has ever taken place without violence or the credible threat of violence.” And, “without violence, the powerful will never stop exploiting the weak.” From these statements, scattered throughout the manifesto, one would have no idea that anyone else believed there was a third choice beyond violence or doing nothing. There is no indication here of the role of nonviolence in hundreds of examples from around the world. …
Rall does make the following claim about U.S. political struggles: “[P]acifism has been the state religion of the official Left since the end of the Vietnam War. Can it be a coincidence that progressives cannot point to a single significant political victory since the early 1970s?” It could be a coincidence, yes, or it could be that what we have lacked since the early 1970s has been serious resistance to power — which does not answer the question of which would have been more effective and which still could be, violent or nonviolent resistance.
The two points I found most persuasive in Rall’s case for violence were points he may not have intended as planks in that argument, an argument that — again — he does not so much make as assume. The first point is that, even as people are refraining from killing CEOs and politicians, they are not refraining from killing. In increasing numbers, they are killing themselves. They are losing their homes, their healthcare, their savings. They are being forced into debt-slavery, humiliating misery, and hopelessness, and — for lack of any other approach — are killing themselves. It’s not clear that assassinating the powerful wouldn’t make things even worse, but it is worth noting that people are killing the innocent and not the guilty.
The second point is that people are not just killing themselves. They are killing random innocents as well, former coworkers, family members, and strangers. We are perfectly capable of ending such violence. Redirecting it is not our only available option. But in contemplating violence, we are not starting from a nonviolent state. And, of course, the impoverishment of millions of people has resulted in a shortened life expectancy in the wealthiest place on earth, a place where some are able to indulge in the greatest and most wasteful luxury ever seen.
I share with Rall his concern that people think they have no choices and his conviction that something must be done. If it were impossible to organize committed, independent, uncorrupted nonviolent resistance with the dedication necessary to succeed, if violence were our only option, we’d certainly have to look into it. But I suspect organized violence would be even harder to bring forth than organized nonviolence. Rall attempts no argument to the contrary. He predicts a hellish nightmare with or without his violent revolution. I predict peace, sustainability, and justice if we nonviolently resist. A deeper debate is needed.
2. My Rebuttal to David Swanson’s Review of “The Anti-American Manifesto” By Ted Rall
It is not my usual practice to reply to book reviews, particularly not when—as with this one—the review follows a thoughtful reading of my work and is largely positive about its intent. Since many activists or would-be activists on the Left share Swanson’s critique of my proposal for how we should move forward, however, I would like to address his take.
Swanson prefers nonviolent resistance to violent revolution. And so do I. … Swanson implies that I see violence as The Answer. But I’m sane. I’ve been victimized by violence. As an occasional war correspondent (I just got back from Afghanistan) I’ve seen more violence than many Americans, all of which I wish I could erase from my memory. Killing and maiming and terrorizing are the worst things in the world—indeed, the fact that our government and economic system do those things is why I oppose them—and should, in an ideal world, never be used by anyone for any reason. We do not live in an ideal world. But an ideal world is the goal.
I’m against violence for its own sake or, for that matter, as anything other than one of many tools in the revolutionary toolbox. It goes without saying that a revolutionary movement that eschews forms of struggle we typically identify as “nonviolent”—demonstrations, strikes, verbal statements in the mass media—while relying exclusively on armed struggle denies itself essential tactics in the drive to liberate ourselves from the tyrannical terror of America’s corporate ruling classes. However, it is equally absurd, as the American Left has done since the Kent State shootings—an act of state violence against unarmed students—for the Resistance to deny itself the use of violence and the credible threat thereof.
As I have written in my Manifesto, it is no coincidence that the Left can point to no significant victories during the past 40 years. Though incremental progress is possible through exclusively nonviolence means, nonviolence alone has never prevailed in the struggle for radical, revolutionary change. You can use the courts to win the rights of gays to serve openly in the military, for example, but it’s hard to imagine how the right of gays and lesbians to be treated as equals in U.S. society could have moved forward had the Stonewall riot (or something similar) never occurred.
If the existing Democratic-Republican duopoly and the gangster corporatist form of capitalism it supports were capable of reform, I would not call for revolution. If the problems we faced weren’t massive, I would cross my fingers and hope for improvement someday somehow. And if there was a snowball’s chance in the hell of a heating planet of either forcing our rulers out of power or of changing their policies to something approximating sanity without having to use force, I would be all for it.
I am, however, a student of history. As there has never—never!—been an example of fundamental change as the result of exclusively nonviolent attacks against an oppressor, I refuse to be so arrogant or naïve as to suppose that we Americans could succeed in 2010 where hundreds of millions of our fellow humans have failed every single time. …
If the last 40 years have proven anything, it is that it is/has been “impossible to organize committed, independent, uncorrupted nonviolent resistance with the dedication necessary to succeed.” At least in America. I cannot think of a period in modern history in a modern nation-state where an organized opposition was so militantly committed to nonviolence as the Left since 1970. And here we are—really, with no Left at all. “Nonviolent resistance”? What’s that? By itself—without allowing yourself the right to fight back, yes, violently fight back, is there any other way?—nonviolent resistance is no resistance at all.
The real violence, after all, is the system itself. Most of us mourn the murders of Afghans and Iraqis at the hands of the U.S. military. Many understand that the millions of Americans who die due to lack of medical care end up just as dead, just as brutally murdered, as if someone had walked up behind them on the street and shot them in the back of the head. Fewer of us consider the incalculable toll of the mental and physical illnesses, not to mention the suicides, caused by the viciousness of the system. The streets are already running with blood. The question is: are we going to fight back?
3. Reply to Ted Rall’s Reply By David Swanson
The only alternatives are not to be an advocate for war and violence or to be dead. There is another possibility: that of being a nonviolent activist. Now, maybe that’s what you intended to say and you can’t see the difference. But pacifism is passive. A pacifist could sit home and do nothing, perhaps refrain from paying war taxes, perhaps not. A nonviolent activist does a great many things. You believe that all of those many things are insufficient to effect lasting change, but that doesn’t make them pacifism in the sense in which most people hear that word. In fact, you seem to think that many of them are actually violent.
You write that “much ‘nonviolent’ protest relies upon violence real, implicit or threatened. The CEO of a company whose workers go on strike sees a certain brutality against his bottom line. Whether caused by smashed windows or stilled machinery, his losses are the same.” As someone who supports the right to strike and thinks it needs to be used with much greater frequency, I’m glad you recognize it as a useful tactic. I’m much less concerned with whether you now consider me an advocate for violence. But, just to be clear, in my vocabulary violence involves direct physical harm to people. You’re right that nonviolent tactics, such as strikes or boycotts, can result in harm to people — even more serious harm that a CEO’s reduced profits. The question is what sort of tactics tend to do the most good with the least harm, and it seems to me that in making that calculation the distinction between violent and nonviolent is a useful one. Nonviolent activism often does more good than violence. …
4. Reply to David Swanson by Ted Rall
As you say, David, we agree that nonviolence tactics can be effective. However, we disagree about the nature of nonviolence. First, movements that seek radical political change—the restructuring of society and/or the redistribution of wealth and power—are rarely successful when they limit themselves to nonviolent tactics. I say “rarely” because anything is possible. But I’m a student of history and I can’t think of any. Nonviolent movements have won incremental change, i.e. reforms that, while welcome, did not require the wholesale reordering of society. Gay marriage is an example.
The problems faced by the people of the United States, however, are grave and urgent: imminent environmental, political and economic collapse precipitated by the shortsighted greed of an increasingly avaricious ruling class. As we agree, neither the brutal state security apparatus nor its corporate overlords will voluntarily relinquish power or wealth. Yet they must be removed. Otherwise, they will murder the planet. We will die unless we defeat them, and defeat them soon. Considering their nearly limitless control, shall we tie one hand behind our collective back by eschewing violence as one of the tactics available to us? A revolutionary struggle, however, involves interim skirmishes on the road to ultimate victory against the tyrants. Nonviolence can and should be part of such battles. When you mail a letter to the editor, you don’t have to break the post office window.