Thomas S. Harrington: « No new future ever comes out of thin air »

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Dr. Thomas S. Harrington. DR.

Mohsen Abdelmoumen: In societies under total domination of ultra-liberalism and banks like Goldman Sachs and others, can we still talk about democracy and social justice?

Dr. Thomas Harrington: While I will not say it is impossible, it is certainly very, very difficult to do so in the present context.

The US defeat in Vietnam, followed shortly thereafter by Watergate, truly frightened the US elites. They realized that if the expectation of real democracy–rooted in the simple idea that the government should be accountable to the citizenry–were to continue to grow among the general population of the country as it did in the late 60s and early 70s, their ability to pursue the project of dominating the world’s economy and the world’s resources would be heartily diminished.

So they re-grouped, centering their efforts on controlling the US citizenry’s perceptions of reality, insuring that they would never again come « face-to-face », as they had in the case in Vietnam, with the fruits of their government’s brutal and sustained attacks upon those around the world who had done nothing more than to defy what the US, or what the US and Israel, unilaterally define as their « vital interests ».

A reading of the so-called Powell Memo, written by corporate lawyer and future US Supreme Court justice Lewis Powell in 1971, provides wonderful insight into the elite’s concerted, and ultimately highly successful, efforts to control the parameters of–to use Chomsky’s wonderful phrase–“thinkable thought » in American public life.

The US attacks on Grenada(1983), Panama(1989) and Iraq(1991) were designed, as much as anything else, to test the US military’s newly developed media control techniques, methods designed to sanitize war, and in this way, rehabituate the US population to the « beauty » and « honor » of destroying the cultures of those who do not accept the plans we have for them, their resources and/or their strategically-placed geographies.

The success of these « culture-planning » efforts in the military sphere, greatly emboldened the financial elites. They reasoned–quite correctly I am sad to say– that if they the Pentagon could successfully sell war as beautiful and noble a mere 15 years after the absolutely senseless, brutal and ultimately failed campaign in Vietnam, it would be quite easy to convince people of the benefits of tearing apart the institutions and programs that created America’s first, and really only, period of sustained middle class growth between 1945 and 1970.

Starting in the early 90s, Wall Street set itself to the task of convincing average people (the well-planned and well-financed rise of talk show host Rush Limbaugh is instructive here) that the very government whose policies generated the middle class under Roosevelt and his post-war successors was, in fact, their enemy, and that moreover, that the only philosophies the country has ever truly had were « dog eat dog » and « every man for himself », and that, finally, anyone who believed otherwise was a hopelessly naive and « impractical » (a big insult to an American) dreamer.

Today, proposals for ambitious collective solutions to our many grave problems are not even mentioned in the corporate-controlled media.

Any journalist desirous of having a good career knows that, as in the case of Israel, one cannot afford to step outside the implicitly agreed upon boundaries of acceptable thought, norms which, in the economic realm, forcibly exclude any idea that might come close to suggesting we should tax the country’s obscenely rich plutocrats to help make the lives of the great mass of people more comfortable and dignified.

The result is a populace that knows on an instinctive level that it is getting screwed, but that, owing to the corporate and military enforcement of the media’s ideological parameters, generally lacks the ability to understand how they got to this anxious place. And because of this lack of historical and analytical knowledge, most Americans generally also lack the ability to imagine a different type of future.

Why is this? Because no new future ever comes out of thin air. Rather, new futures are generated when people look into the past for clues as to how those before them generated successful solutions to similar problems. Because of what Henry Giroux calls the « organized forgetting » of neo-liberalism, a forgetting essentially orchestrated by the corporate media, most American citizens, including a lot of putatively well-educated ones, no longer know that the strong middle class that characterized the country in the middle of the 20th century did not just happen, but was constructed through conscious policy decisions.

And as a result of this intellectual vacuum regarding the structural drivers of past social change, they find it similarly hard to understand that the same middle class did not just spontaneously disappear in recent decades owing to the faceless force of « the free market », but, rather, was made to disappear through the carefully planned efforts of the wealthy and their increasingly compromised political servants.

The only way out of this situation is a massive education program designed to help young people understand how their information environment really functions, that is, to help them understand how, and through what means, the elites generate, and enforce the adoption of, self-serving master narratives within a cyberworld that still appears to most of them to be a free-wheeling and largely unrestricted cultural space.

But who is going to undertake such a program? Certainly not the wealthy elites who are profiting handsomely from Americans’ general critical and historical disorientation.

And certainly not the public schools which after three decades of quite purposeful underfunding are struggling to a) just teach the basics and b) fend of attempts by corporate interests, heartily backed by the Obama’s White House, to remake the schools into vocational training centers devoid of any emphasis on developing critical and/or historical perspectives on social realities.

For these reasons, I am quite pessimistic about our collective ability to put democracy and the pursuit of social justice at the center of the US social agenda any time soon.

In 2016, the Democrats can they lose the presidential elections because of rapprochement with Iran and their distance with Israel, knowing the weight that represents the Zionist lobby in the US, like AIPAC, etc. ?

At this point, the outcome of the 2016 elections is largely irrelevant to the shaping of US foreign policy, and for that matter, US domestic policy. Both parties are completely beholden to the same interests. The differences between them are largely a matter of tone and socio-cultural branding.

If Hilary Clinton wins the presidency, she will likely restore any of the leverage over US foreign policy that Israel might have lost (for all the verbal and symbolic fireworks I still have not seen any meaningful US reduction of support for Israel) in the recent confrontation between Obama and Netanyahu. Her campaign is quite heavily dependent on Zionist-centered funders and, since she usually always puts power over principle, she will likely do anything The Lobby wants her to do to « make things right » again. And if the Republicans win, as we know, they will be even more pro-Israel than before.

Yes, Obama will probably forge some deal with Iran, and this will be good. But once he’s gone, the pressure will be enormous from the Israel lobby to effectively nullify (through either direct action or calculated neglect and subterfuge) this important development.

In your opinion, what are the hidden intentions of the United States to want destabilize Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil?

It is very simple. The US wants to destabilize these countries because, each in their own way, they have questioned the logic and morality of the US-led turbo capitalism that has run roughshod over the world during the last three decades.

On a some psychological level, US elites are keenly aware of the core fragility of the system of organized looting over which they currently preside.

They are also aware that, for various historical and cultural reasons (not the least of which are the still quite vivid memories of the brutal « made in Washington » dictatorships which were imposed on the region in the 70s and 80s), the peoples of Latin America are much less susceptible to the campaigns of « perception management » that, as I explained earlier, have effectively neutered the US citizenry’s ability to understand just what their corporate and military masters are doing to them.

The US elites know that if these left-leaning governments succeed in generating a more humane and less degrading model of economic progress, it will spread like wildfire around the world.

And should this happen, it would mean the end of the US imperial system. This is why the US bullies these countries, and constantly uses its institutional might to « throw sand in the gears » of their attempts to create new models of social progress.

With US hegemony that seeks to destabilize Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina on one side and the US troop movements in Ukraine, can we avoid all-out war between Russia and the United States?

I certainly hope so.

That said, I have no reason to believe that those making policy decisions in Washington at this moment have anything remotely resembling an adult sense of prudence. Adult prudence is engendered by an understanding of the fragility of life, and the ease with which one false move can lead to unspeakable and unredeemable tragedies. The people calling the shots in the US have very little, if any of this important and life-supporting quality.

Probably the best comparison for the world view of people like Rice, Nuland, Power, McCain, Schumer and Graham, just to name a few, is that of a drunk eighteen year-old. Like those tipsy young kids, they see themselves, and by extension the country in whose name they create policy, as essentially immortal, and thus permanently immune to the consequences of their own actions.

We have been lucky so far that Mr. Putin–for all his much commented-upon shortcomings in the realm of democratic governance–has demonstrated a much deeper sense of history, and from there, a much more measured and statesmanlike approach in matters relating to the use of military force.

Were he less aware of the seriousness of the matters at hand, and more like the swaggering adolescent-adults currently making policy on the other side of the Atlantic, we might already be engaged in an all-out war.

A final note. In an odd twist of fate, I am responding to your interview questions from Sarajevo in Bosnia.

This afternoon I walked to the place where Gavrilo Princep fired the shots which triggered the staggeringly horrific and staggeringly pointless event that was the First World War. I then walked up the hill to the cemetery where thousands upon thousands of victims of the Bosnian War (1992-1995) lie in silence.

As I walked along and pondered the preciousness of life and, conversely, how cavalier ideologies can make us about this essential reality (perhaps the only essential reality), I wondered how many of the people making policy in Washington, like the ones I mention above, mostly living in the comfy confines of the city’s wealthy northwest quadrant, have ever come here, and if they did, were they able, just for a minute to put themselves in the place of the people who were shelled and shot at from the mountains that ring the city day after day, month after month, and year after year?

The answers I got back from myself were not encouraging. Yes, I am sure several of them had been here. But, I was equally sure that all had found a way, not to connect the pain that this city begs you to hear, acknowledge and cry about, to any of the policy decisions they make in their daily lives.

Tipsy 18 year olds don’t do introspection. They just push the limits until someone or something breaks. Then they usually expect someone else to clean up the mess.

Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen


Ph.D. in Hispanic Studies in Brown University, Providence (Rhode Island), recipient of many grants awarded for his research, Thomas Harrington is Professor of Hispanic Studies at Trinity College in Hartford (Connecticut) where he teaches courses on 20th and 21st Century Spanish Cultural History, Literature and Film. His areas of research expertise include modern Iberian nationalist movements, Contemporary Catalonia, cultural theory, the epistemologies of Hispanic Studies and the history of migration between the so-called peninsular periphery (Catalonia, Galicia, Portugal and the Basque Country) and the societies of the Caribbean and the Southern Cone. He is a two-time Fulbright Senior Research Scholar (Barcelona Spain and Montevideo, Uruguay) who also has lived or worked in Madrid, Lisbon and Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. In addition to his work in Hispanic Studies, Harrington is a frequent commentator on political and cultural affairs in the US and abroad. He published Livin’ la vida barroca: American Culture in an age of Imperial Orthodoxies (March 2014) and Public Intellectuals and Nation Building in the Iberian Peninsula, 1900-1925: The Alchemy of Identity (December 2014).

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