Nonetheless, I've waited over a month to write anything about this interesting volume here -- letting my reactions settle. I still think this book makes insightful observations about the country we live in and I'm grateful for them -- but I found Chris Hayes' prescriptions for dealing with the society he describes pathetically inadequate to the magnitude of the problems he lays out.
The problem defined by Hayes is that our society needs to believe that someone running the show knows what they are doing, is running it for the common good, and so deserves, if not to be followed, at least to be respected. But the elites running the country have largely ascended to their positions of prominence without demonstrating real merit; those elites did demonstrate pretty conclusively in the first decade of the the 21st century that they don't know what they are doing; and that their distance from the lives and experiences of the 99 percent is only getting more vast.
Here's Hayes on the failure of "meritocracy" to throw up responsible or credible leaders:
That is, we got a George W. Bush, gifted with powerful forbears and not much else, elevated to a failed presidency. For Hayes, Bush was a symptom rather than the cause of the "fail decade" when establish authorities showed themselves to be hollow. He describes the kind of trouble this leaves us in:
Worse, we've had our noses rubbed in the fact we've been lied to by the people we might have wanted to trust:
Living through this, we're ripe for more confusion and further deception. We resort to unrealistic nostrums to reduce the anxiety of living in a society we feel is reeling, out of kilter.
In an interview with Grist that builds off the book, Hayes applied his understanding of elite delusion to the current Republican presidential candidate.
You have to like this kind of plain speaking -- and Hayes doesn't entirely exempt Barack Obama from his observation that elites are just drifting off in their own world from the rest of us.
Follow Hayes' train of thought far enough, and the logical end result of contempoarary systemic dysfunction is fascism. But Hayes doesn't go there. He sees hope in the emergence of social democratic governments such as that of Brazil in Latin American nations once far further sunk in oligarchy than ours.
And he looks to the disappointed, though comfortable, "creative class" --to "political imagination" -- to find avenues forward:
I love the Internet as much as anyone, but this vision is not how progressive change comes. And anti-hierarchical movements that refuse to develop coherent structures seem to me to lead to exhaustion more often than popular empowerment.
Major changes are made by people who have nothing left to lose and struggle for change anyway, often at great personal cost. These are people like those whose land and water are being trashed by fracking, like people who are losing their homes to rapacious banks, excluded workers like taxi drivers and hotel chambermaids who have nowhere to go but up, and the undocumented newcomers who clean our toilets and harvest our food. These folks carry most of the pain now and they will carry more in order to live better lives. Yes, people enjoying social privilege have to help, but ultimately it will be the determination of those who have no choice that can restore more equality. The struggle for equality generates its own novel expressions of political imagination -- that creativity is one of the by-products of the struggle, not its source.
All that said, Hayes skewers our present elite social system and for that, the book is a fine artifact of our unhappy time.