By Chris Hedges

If what happens in courtrooms across the country to poor people of color is justice, what is happening in the Senate is a trial. If the blood-drenched debacles and endless quagmires in the Middle East are victories in the war on terror, our military is the greatest on earth. If the wholesale government surveillance of the public, the revoking of due process and having the world’s largest prison population are liberty, we are the land of the free. If the president, an inept, vulgar and corrupt con artist, is the leader of the free world, we are a beacon for democracy and our enemies hate us for our values. If Jesus came to make us rich, bless the annihilation of Muslims by our war machine and condemn homosexuality and abortion, we are a Christian nation. If formalizing an apartheid state in Israel is a peace plan, we are an honest international mediator. If a meritocracy means that three American men have more wealth than the bottom 50% of the U.S. population, we are the land of opportunity. If the torture of kidnapped victims in black sites and the ripping of children from their parents’ arms and their detention in fetid, overcrowded warehouses, along with the gunning down of unarmed citizens by militarized police in the streets of our urban communities, are the rule of law, we are an exemplar of human rights.

The rhetoric we use to describe ourselves is so disconnected from reality that it has induced collective schizophrenia. America, as it is discussed in public forums by politicians, academics and the media, is a fantasy, a Disneyfied world of make-believe. The worse it gets, the more we retreat into illusions. The longer we fail to name and confront our physical and moral decay, the more demagogues who peddle illusions and fantasies become empowered. Those who acknowledge the truth—beginning with the stark fact that we are no longer a democracy—wander like ghosts around the edges of society, reviled as enemies of hope. The mania for hope works as an anesthetic. The hope that Donald Trump would moderate his extremism once he was in office, the hope that the “adults in the room” would manage the White House, the hope that the Mueller report would see Trump disgraced, impeached and removed from office, the hope that Trump’s December 2019 impeachment would lead to his Senate conviction and ouster, the hope that he will be defeated at the polls in November are psychological exits from the crisis—the collapse of democratic institutions, including the press, and the corporate corruption of laws, electoral politics and norms that once made our imperfect democracy possible.

The embrace of collective self-delusion marks the death spasms of all civilizations. We are in the terminal stage. We no longer know who we are, what we have become or how those on the outside see us. It is easier, in the short term, to retreat inward, to celebrate nonexistent virtues and strengths and wallow in sentimentality and a false optimism. But in the end, this retreat, peddled by the hope industry, guarantees not only despotism but, given the climate emergency, extinction.