By Chris Hedges
The midterm elections are over, and two more years of Congressional gridlock are likely in store. Republicans have taken a narrow majority in the House, while Democrats have held the Senate. What do we make of the current political landscape, where rhetoric runs so hot but so little gets done? And what can we expect from the 2024 presidential elections? Ralph Nader joins The Chris Hedges Report for a post-mortem on the 2022 midterm elections, and to discuss how the people can retake Congress from corporate influence.
Studio: Adam Coley, Cameron Granadino
Post-Production: Cameron Granadino
Chris Hedges: The total cost of the 2022 federal midterm elections is projected to exceed $9.3 billion. But what do we get from what must surely be the most expensive electoral system on the planet? There’s little real choice. The dismantling of our democracy which took place over the last few decades on behalf of corporations and the rich has been a bipartisan project, leaving only the outward shell of democracy. The courts, legislative bodies, the executive branch, and the media, including public broadcasting, are captive to corporate power. There is no institution left that can be considered authentically democratic. The corporate coup d’etat is over. They won. We lost.
The wreckage of this corporate coup is appalling, endless and futile wars to enrich a military-industrial complex that bleeds the US Treasury of half of all discretionary spending, de-industrialization that has turned US cities into decayed ruins, the slashing and privatization of social programs including education, utility services, and healthcare, which so over one million Americans account for one-fifth of global deaths from COVID, although we are 4% of the world’s population.
Draconian forms of social control embodied in militarized police functioning as lethal armies of occupation in poor urban areas, the largest prison system in the world, a virtual tax boycott by the richest individuals and corporations, mone- saturated elections that perpetuate our system of legalized bribery, and the most intrusive state surveillance of the citizenry in our history.
How are we to interpret these elections which will create even more political paralysis with Republican control of the House, and what should we expect in the next presidential election? Joining me to discuss the political landscape and the wake of the midterm elections is former presidential candidate and consumer advocate Ralph Nader. You can find him at ralphnader.substack.com.
Ralph, let’s begin with the midterms. It wasn’t the blowout of the Democratic Party that many expected. How do you interpret what happened?
Ralph Nader: Well, coming off the list that you just described about the situation in this country and its impact on the world, my first reaction was there are 535 people in the Congress who could change it all, and they don’t all have to be unanimous. It could just be a plurality or a majority of members. So what are we waiting for? Check off your entire list, Chris, and we got the votes. The corporations don’t have the votes. They have money, but the members of Congress want the money to get the votes against their primary or general election opponents.
So it just is very intriguing that people thrash around groaning, moaning, being sickened, injured, blocked, discriminated against, deprived, and they don’t focus on the Khyber Pass, which is Congress. Whether we like it or not, that’s the institution that has the greatest authority to take on these big corporations and take on the predators and to drive peace in the world instead of war and empire. We’re listening to all these recountings of the ills, ailments, and injustices and the brutish scenarios coming up in the future with climate disruption and reneging on any kind of compact with posterity, and we don’t focus on Congress.
So in the midterm election, they’re running around the campaigns like they’re ward bosses. We’re going to fix this pothole here and we’re going to make sure that there’s a public service there. Instead of looking at the big picture of the concentration of power, they’re doing this piecemeal retail assurances of the public, which of course drives the expectation of the people even lower. When you drive the expectation lower as to what members of Congress are running for election, or challengers running to defeat them, when you control those expectations at such a low level, the members of Congress get away with their responsibility for the country under the Constitution, we the people.
They’re the ones who get to tax new power in Congress, the spending power, the confirmation of judges and officials in power, the right not to go to war. There’s no end to it. So I keep saying if all of these efforts for justice around the country, small, large, national, local, do not focus on Congress and the state legislatures and the town councils, they’re going to be spinning their wheels forever as this country is driven into the ground.
Chris Hedges: I want to talk about the impediments, though. First of all, you have redistricting. So most races are not actually competitive. The Democratic Party redistricted the seat that Dennis Kucinich had to drive him out. Number two, if you aren’t awash in money and you saw this in your own campaign, you were drawing crowds. I think you filled Madison Square Garden. Everybody had to pay $5 to get in. So I don’t know how many thousands of people, but you didn’t have access to television, which would’ve given you an audience of millions. So there are serious impediments to essentially breaking the power of this duopoly.
Ralph Nader: Yeah. But the impediments melt away if people organize in every congressional district to reflect the congruence of left-right opinion in this country, which is deleted from the news accounts who like to talk about polarization, red state, blue state, conservative, liberal. We know that on the fundamental necessities of life, there’s a huge convergence, 70, 80, 90% in the polls. There was one poll a few years ago, Chris, 90% of people wanted to break up the big banks. 90%.
You got 75% or so want universal healthcare even without a major party pushing for it. It just goes on and on. Whether it’s cracking down on corporate crooks, whether it’s changing the campaign finance system, whether it’s controlling what people own, like pension funds and mutual funds which together own three-quarters of the stock of the companies on the New York and Nasdaq Stock Exchanges. So the people have the power, but they’ve allowed it to be seized because they don’t do their homework back home.
They don’t spend time on their civic responsibilities. They don’t say to the members of Congress, hey, we’re the ones who have the sovereign power. You’ve got it from us and you’re using it against us, and we’re not going to tolerate it anymore. So the only place where democracy comes before work is in a dictionary. So we have to stop spinning our wheels and recounting disaster after disaster when we can control the legislative bodies, local, state, and national. Look at the initiatives in Nebraska and right-wing states. They have passed minimum wage increases against massive corporate opposition, saturating the television, Florida, Arkansas.
In one conservative state, South Dakota, the Republican dominated legislature, the governor, and the corporations all opposed an initiative to constitutionalize Medicaid, not just to send a statute, but to put the Constitution of South Dakota. Who won? The people won. Because they started working. They rolled up their sleeves. Otherwise, all we’re doing is documenting despair, perdition, pessimism, which discourages people and turns them into cynics, which leads to withdrawal from the political arena and which makes the corporation’s life all the way to the bank.
Chris Hedges: I want to talk about fear because I think Matt Taibbi wrote that most Americans don’t vote for what they want, they vote against the political figure they hate. The divisions largely, as you point out, there’s a majoritarian opinion on many of the issues you just cited. But there is this cultural divide, and people employ fear. Biden’s own record in the Senate and even as vice president is pretty appalling, from supporting Anita Hill to I think five years before the invasion of Iraq he talked about taking Saddam down. He, of course, as rehabilitated Mohammed bin Salman, a fervent supporter of the apartheid state in Israel. He fought school busing.
Aggressively, he sponsored the 1994 crime bill and three strikes you’re out, third violent penalty law where you can’t get parole, NAFTA, Glass-Steagall. So these are not issues that we look back on and support, but the Democrats, like the Republicans, play on this fear, the fear of – And I do see, as you do, a figure like Trump to be frightening and these fringe candidates to be frightening, but it seems that that is the primary currency at this point of our political system.
Ralph Nader: Yeah. Well, there are millions of people who don’t buy it. We need tens of millions of people who don’t buy it. We need people talking to one another in the neighborhoods. We need people to turn out for town meetings. There are all kinds of jurisdictions in this country that allow for the referendum to be stocked with all kinds of progressive legislation at the state and local level. Most people don’t even know about it. They don’t even use it. Why? Because our schools don’t begin teaching these children civic knowledge, civic skills, and civic experience. Learn by doing.
All of this comes down to how much time do people spend to produce a deliberative democracy that wages peace and justice, equality and foreseeing and forestalling the perils for our posterity like climate disruption. That’s what it comes down to. If we don’t address it at that level, if we don’t highlight the victories of the people over powerful interests that occur from time to time in this country, we’re just documenting despair, producing discouragement, producing withdrawal from the political system, and people then just dive into their own discouraging lives and watch entertainment, bet on sports. We gotta turn it around.
The nice thing about this approach is you only have to turn around a supermajority of 535 people. You know what they want more than anything else. They want to win, and that means votes. So you focus votes to nullify the effect of money. I mean, look at the victory of Summer Lee coming out of Pittsburgh. She’s 32 years old and she’s going to be the next representative in the House from an area around Pittsburgh. She was opposed by corporations. She took on the dark side of the United Steelworkers. They opposed her.
APAC put $1 million to $2 million just before the election to defeat her. She beat them all. How? She developed a grassroots coalition based on the principle that they all bleed the same color. It doesn’t matter what labels they put on themselves. She forged this coalition and beat them all. It’s a spectacular story, which The New York Times is not spending much time reporting on. They’re too obsessed with Taylor Greene, the madcap representative from Georgia, putting her on the cover of The New York Times Magazine.
They give all kinds of attention to crazy right-wing groups and institutes. They give people the impression nothing’s happened on the progressive side during the election period. So Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is not Ann Arbor, it’s not Cambridge. It has a lot of conservatives, and she beat them all. Energy. Civic energy is what’s needed. You have 82% of Republicans against Citizens United, which is a Supreme Court decision over a decade ago that said corporations could give unlimited money for or against candidates in elections. Unlimited. A lot of it dark money.
You got over 80% of Republicans, when they’re polled that, are against. It has to be organized. Otherwise, the divide and rule strategy of the two-party duopoly fronting for giant corporations will forever control the people who are the only people who have the votes. I mean, bad as corporates are, Chris, they don’t yet have the vote. Not yet, at least.
Chris Hedges: Let’s talk about the inevitable paralysis with the Republican control of the House. Biden’s already been stymied by Manchin and Democrats who essentially vote as Republicans. What is that going to mean for going ahead?
Ralph Nader: Well, it’s going to mean that nothing’s going to be done other than the routine stuff of just passing budgets for government agencies. The Republicans have such a narrow margin. They’re not going to get anything done, and they’ll be blocked in the Senate. So it’s two years of very little being done. And it’s the Democrat’s own fault. I mean, it’s the worst Republican Party in history. You cannot find a Republican Party since 1854 that has so many positions that are against the health, safety, and economic interests of children, of women, of workers, of small taxpayers, of communities all over the country, of consumers, of patients.
This is a vicious, callous, inbred, ignorant, corporate indentured, corrupt party. What are the Democrats? They lose to them, and then they say, hey, look at the pundits. They said it was going to be a red wave and it wasn’t a red wave. So it’s a victory. That’s how they fooled the people. Victory? What would happen if there were no polls and no pundits? Would the Democrats have pleaded victory? They lost the House of Representatives, for heaven’s sake.
Chris Hedges: Right. Well, they lost because, on all of the issues they just cited, they have surrendered.
Ralph Nader: Yeah, they lost because it starts with the nomination process. They exclude third parties, okay. Who’s they? Who’s they? It’s the state legislatures. They have these ballot access barriers and allow this to happen. They lost for reasons of their own making. For example, John Larson of Connecticut wanted to increase the benefits of social security. It hasn’t been increased, he said, in 40 years. So he puts in a bill and it’s very comprehensive, and he’s sweet-talked by Nancy Pelosi and his chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, the crypto Republican, but Democrat in name only, Richard Neal from Western Massachusetts.
He starts pressing. He says, why aren’t you passing this through the House? He says, well, it’s not the right time. We don’t want to be accused of excessive spending. So he drafts the letter, which he wants his Democrats in the House to co-sign. He drafts the letter accusing the Senate of sabotaging the whole process, the Democrats in the Senate using the filibuster as an excuse. He says, let the Republicans filibuster. Let them go on the floor hour after hour after hour on natural television against increasing the benefits of social security for millions of elderly Americans. He was blocked and stymied.
Now, any active citizenry, Chris, would’ve dug into that and made it a major issue inside the Democratic Party. That’s the way you start upending these indentured senior Democrats who have concentrated power in the hands of three members: Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and the third one. And they control the subcommittees and the committees and all this started with Newt Gingrich, who did this when he was speaker in 1995, and the Democrats never changed it.
He cut budgets of committees, cut staff, cut the GAO, the monitor of spending, executive branch, waste, fraud, and abuse, eliminated the Office of Technology Assessment, which would’ve exposed some of these massive weapon and civilian technology boondoggles, and the Democrats inherited it. So you always have to go back to the people. What do they think? What do they know? What do they want for their families? You got to organize it. Look, labor never became unionized without rank and file people. Co-ops were never established without rank and file people. It never was top-down. It’s all bottom-up. So we got to focus on the people here.
Chris Hedges: Let’s talk about Trump, who’s just announced. What’s your read on the Trump candidacy and the future tactics of the Republican Party?
Ralph Nader: Well, first of all, under section 3 of the 14th Amendment, any state can ban him from running for election based on this Jan. 6 findings of insurrection. That’s the insurrection section of section 3 of the 14th Amendment. The Jan. 6 committee report is going to be out soon and they could recommend that to the states and say, start enforcing section 3 of the 14th Amendment. If he is banned from running for reelection in four or five states, he can’t possibly compete even at the primary level.
The second thing is, Jack Smith, the new special counsel, people have said that you couldn’t pick someone better for the Attorney General to pursue two criminal violations against Trump which could end in his indictment, and it’s very unlikely that he’s going to have much course to the primary victory if he’s under indictment from those two violations, not to mention the one that’s being prepared in New York state against him. One was stealing classified documents, that’s one that Garland is handing over to the special counsel to pursue. The other, of course, is the insurrection on Jan. 6.
Of course, Garland left out about 10 other violations of federal statutes, including the Hatch Act, which was designed to prevent presidents from using the power of the federal government and property against their opponents. He had campaign events on the White House lawn. He signed millions of checks, twisting arms over at the treasury for the pandemic relief programs. Garland just is giving him a free pass on one violation after another. Bruce Fein and I have written Garland listing all these violations more than once. Never get an answer.
However, two criminal statute violations are more than enough to retire Trump. Now, if that doesn’t occur, Trump is going to want a lot of competition at the primary level. That’s how he wins. He had 16 Republican opponents in the primary in 2016, and he is the best known. He’s the most egregious attention getter, and he would like that. He’d split it 10 ways. He’d say, okay, Youngkin, Virginia, come on board. Primary me. Okay, DeSantis, come on board, primary me. But I don’t think he’s going to get that far.
Chris Hedges: So what do you see happening?
Ralph Nader: I see he’s going to be indicted. There are civil suits against him, obviously, from assaulted women and other people that he’s fleeced. I think there may be a coordinated rebellion in the Republican Party itself. You just don’t get anywhere with other Republican candidates, senators, governors, if the head of the ticket is not only under indictment, but may have actually been convicted.
Chris Hedges: But the Republican Party, which has essentially become this proto-fascist entity, and certainly while Trump held sway, cultish, isn’t going to change its stripes, is it?
Ralph Nader: No, it changes its camouflage. They really pursue everything Trump has pursued, whether it’s immigration on the border. Wall Street, Trump and them are on the same page. The whole plutocratic system, the anti-union system, the tax cuts at an all time low for the super rich and the big corporations. But it’s the camouflage. He embarrasses them. He uses bad language. He attacks people specifically. He doesn’t have their style of control. But that’s serious. That’s a serious problem among politicians. That’s just not a matter of cosmetics. They know they can lose a lot of traction with his kind of blunderbuss and his lying and his mischaracterizing people and accusing people of homicides without a single bit of evidence like he has done in the past.
They’re also afraid of the violence of his audiences that he can unleash, and that can make you lose an election. That could scare a lot of conservative Republicans around the Midwest and elsewhere when they see the eruption of violence. He’s said there are going to be riots in the street if he’s denied the nomination. So there is a real deep conflict, not over economic issues, but over how the party presents itself to a public that it doesn’t want to scare. He scares people.
Chris Hedges: Does the inevitable paralysis now within Congress empower the Republican Party for the presidential elections?
Ralph Nader: No, because they’ll be viewed as the do-nothing House, can’t get anything done. If the Democrats are smart, they’d go on the floor of the House, as the Republicans did against them years ago, and throw the gauntlet down. Why aren’t you supporting Medicare, Medicaid, social security? Why are you against kids? Why don’t you extend the $300 a month child tax credit that went to 58 million kids from conservative and liberal families and you blocked the extension in January? Why are you freezing the minimum wage at a paltry $7.25 cents an hour when you’re making huge money in terms of what the taxpayer is paying you and all the benefits?
They could just throw one gauntlet: Why are you soft on corporate crime? Why are you letting these corporate crooks get away with ripping off the people and endangering their health and safety? That’s what they got to do. If they don’t do that, we’ll just have another very, very close election. Any kind of idiosyncratic event can tip it one way or another regardless of the left-right polls supporting basic change in this country coming in at 70, 75, 80, 80, 85%. I mean, you can’t stop that. That’s an unstoppable coalition.
If the Democrats will get rid of their corporate political media consultants who are losing race after race for the Democrats because they have corporate clients throughout the year and they’re conflicted and because they don’t want to do a ground game, which is what democracy is all about, and they want the 15% huge television buys. Right now in Georgia, there’s this runoff, Chris, between Senator Warnock and Herschel Walker. Warnock has spent $20 million already, charging that Walker is neither competent nor knowledgeable nor fit to be a US senator. Well, they’re going to put $200 million between them from Nov. 8 to Dec. 6.
Just imagine $200 million coming in there. How much of it is the ground game? Well, as little as possible, if the consultants have a say, which is what they do, they want the 15% commission. So Warnock should go around the state of Georgia and change his heavy focus on Walker, everybody knows about Walker now, and start saying, go vote for a raise. Go vote for universal health insurance. Go vote for cracking down on the corporate crooks that are on your back and in your pocketbook every day. Go vote for freedom to vote. Go vote for freedom for women, equal pay for equal work. Go vote for the children. Get that $300 back into poor families’ pocketbooks.
I mean, that’s the way you win an election. But the corporate consultants who should be the subject of major exposes by The Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, they got the reporters. They’re the ones who are destroying the Democratic Party, and they’ve been doing it for years.
Chris Hedges: Well, if Walker or Warnock went around and called for those kinds of programs, that corporate money would dry up, wouldn’t it, Ralph?
Ralph Nader: There’s no time for it to dry up. They already got it. Dec. 6 is the runoff. By the way, the more you can get people on your side by your message and your policies, the less money you need. I mean, the money wasted on these TV and social media ads is just staggering. Not only is it wasted, it’s the same ad, it’s dull, it’s repetitious, it’s not authentic, and it irritates people. In other words, it boomerangs against itself. Summer Lee was tremendously outspent, but she had a ground game.
Chris Hedges: Right. That was former presidential candidate and consumer advocate Ralph Nader. You can find him at ralphnader.substack.com. I want to thank The Real News Network and its production team: Cameron Granadino, Adam Coley, and Kayla Rivara. You can find me at chrishedges.substack.com.
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