Glenn Greenwald: URGENT Report on U.S. Social Unraveling
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The Why and Wherefore of This Unplanned Article
Readers following my series "Leverage Under LOTE: Sane Progressives' Herculean Task" were expecting an article detailing the risks (for member movements) and rhetoric of a united "movement of movements" practicing satyagraha on behalf of a peaceful Green New Deal. Thanks to Glenn Greenwald, instead you get this.
My strategic scheme, you'll recall, unites three key elements: a "movement of movements," Gandhi's satyagraha, and a peaceful Green New Deal. Readers might not understand each item at first sight, let alone grasp them when yoked together for strategy purposes. The yoking of these three elements is rooted in deep, visionary analysis of the forbiddingly hard problem of how progressives--with no recent successful precedent--exercise leverage on Joe Biden after surrendering to him our votes (usually movements' chief source of leverage). Were not four more years of Trump unthinkable to sane progressives, we'd have no sane reason to saddle ourselves with this staggering challenge at all.
Our seemingly insurmountable challenge requires such a complex, "outside the box" strategy--though perhaps not nearly as complex as it initially sounds. What is complex is rationally justifying the strategy, since for movement activists, the proposed diagnosis is probably just as unfamiliar as the remedy. Most progressive movements focus on their concrete aims and don't thinking of themselves as fighting a sneaky, omnipresent propaganda system legitimizing a dangerous "normal" that's hardly normal at all. Citizens' brainwashed adjustment to that normal crushes all movements' morally justified--even desperately urgent--aims. Successfully fighting Joe Biden--Democrats' bland, seemingly harmless incarnation of that "abnormal normal"--requires rapidly educating the general public on the dangerous deficiencies of what seems so routine. Elsewhere, I've referred to that daunting educational task as "radicalizing the mainstream."
Like an unexpected thunderbolt, Glenn Greenwald has unleashed (via his "System Update" podcast) a shocking expose of U.S. social unraveling that provides more compelling evidence for my problem diagnosis and strategic remedy than I had ever hoped to provide. To share that evidence--and explain how it richly vindicates my detailed "satyagraha" strategy--is my purpose in writing this unexpected article.
Widespread Suicidal Despair Is the New Normal
Greenwald remains a centrally important journalist, long after his crucial role in the bombshell Edward Snowden revelations. That's largely because he keeps his finger on the pulse of news stories--urgent for both U.S. and human society--mainstream journalists are too corrupt or cowardly to report. In fact, Snowden made Greenwald the vehicle of his earth-shattering spying leaks precisely because Greenwald was already heroically playing that system gadfly role. Greenwald has richly earned his many establishment enemies; but to activists like me--who view ubiquitous establishment propaganda as the sharpest knife castrating U.S. political movements--it's hard to imagine a better friend. Perhaps only older stalwarts like Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader, and Chris Hedges are even comparable.
In this case, the danger Greenwald's reporting poses to the U.S. political establishment is far more subtle than the Snowden revelations. But--if seized on by alert activists--it's potentially far more damaging. Here, Greenwald's contribution is neither any special courage nor investigative skill nor novelty of revelation, but rather, his keen journalist's eye for important societal trends. Trends Americans must--if they wish to act as informed, responsible citizens--quickly grasp and intently heed.
In a recent piece in this series, I cited songsmith Bruce Cockburn's prescient line, "The trouble with normal is it always gets worse." Poring over statistical reports that might have remained buried and underemphasized, Greenwald alerts us that "the trouble with normal" has recently become unprecedented levels of suicidal despair. And--tellingly--the problem was already quite bad before Covid-19 or President Trump. The Covid-19 pandemic, exacerbated by Trump's murderous mishandling of it, simply amplified a morbid "preexisting condition" silently devastating U.S. society for years. Greenwald, relying here on other writers' investigations, lends his vast journalistic credibility to breaking the deadly silence.
How Greenwald's Revelations Demand the Green New Deal
Of course, what makes Greenwald's reporting valuable-here and generally-is that he doesn't stick to "just the facts, ma'am." Trained as a constitutional lawyer, Greenwald consciously practices advocacy journalism. In fact, he abandoned his career in constitutional law precisely because he thought he'd serve the cause of justice better as a crusading journalist, wearing his bias on his sleeve. Since political questions are unavoidably moral questions, the most insightful journalism--above all, in dark times like these--comes from reporters with the right moral biases. To have one's head in the right place (for crucial insight), one's heart must be in the right place morally.
So, when Greenwald tackles a story like the alarming spread of suicidal depression (and rise of related behavior like alcohol and drug abuse), readers should expect--and Greenwald's fans eagerly seek--analysis rooted in his progressive moral bias. In fact, as hinted above, that bias likely caused him to choose precisely this story for in-depth coverage. His progressive heart pointed his journalist's head toward the devastating, if buried, truth about the unraveling of U.S society-something Americans desperately need to know. But as a crusading journalist, Greenwald doesn't risk worsening our despair by merely reporting it; he seeks, by penetrating interpretation, to offer us a way out.
Of course, few society-wide problems have simple explanations, least of all something as intimate and intricate as suicidal despair. There are as many stories of despair as there are individuals feeling it, but when a crisis reaches society-wide dimensions, there are certainly specifiable background factors precipitating the crisis. Greenwald touches, for example, on the decline of meaning-and-consolation-giving religious belief, and on the replacement of up-close, in-person relationships with the spurious "connectedness" of social media. And doubtless, as Greenwald notes, the social distancing forced on us by Covid-19 has deeply aggravated our pre-existing "connectedness" problem. The anger, frustration, and despair of increasingly isolated people has in turn--and predictably--sought an outlet on social media, making it an increasingly toxic, hostile "place" to hang out.
My saying Greenwald only "touches on" the religious decline and social isolation (and the ever-more-hostile tone of social media) suggests he diagnoses deeper factors behind our widespread desperation. That's indeed the case, and Greenwald's damning deeper diagnosis--of economic inequality and its consequences--is hardly surprising coming from a crusading lawyer who excoriated our two-tiered U.S. system of "justice" in his 2010 best-seller With Liberty and Justice for Some. Add in some crucial factors related to humanity's climate emergency--not really Greenwald's bailiwick (but luckily, his Intercept colleague Naomi Klein's)--and you've got a case that screams to the heavens for a peaceful Green New Deal (from here on, GND).
Not that Greenwald is in any sense weak in targeting economic inequality as a foremost cause of suicidal despair--especially among the young. In fact he's quite forceful; few journalists are ever as forceful as Greenwald in the last few minutes of his podcast. Here, he strongly suggests that our society's driving people to people (especially the young) to despair is structural, a question of political and economic elites not even interested in how their own hoarding of excess wealth is driving tens of millions of their fellow citizens (via unemployment, underemployment, and inadequate pay) to outright despair. No, Greenwald is hardly weak but he's incomplete, not mentioning--while exposing a societal structure ever enforcing widespread economic deprivation--how elite indifference to humanity's climate emergency is aggravating young people's overall despair. To the extent they doubt they have "a future" at all.
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