Predations of the Corporate State
(Brooklyn, New York) The “American Dream” is a lie. So goes the argument at the root of Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, a survey/graphic novel set in the hardest-hit communities of our United States. The book documents and tells the stories of people left behind, abused, and exploited in the name of National Progress. The authors, Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco, are eminently suited for this task: Hedges is a veteran war correspondent and Sacco, who met him in Bosnia, has most recently put together a volume called Footnotes From Gaza — where the devastation within sometimes seems to mirror that seen in Days in a place called Camden.
Ghosts haunt the Badlands. Despair lurks in the rust belt. Agony suffuses the southern tier. One unifying thread that ties together these torn-up towns is hope. One of the characters we meet is described as “a gentle, broken soul whose life has been marked by horrible poverty, abuse, and tragedy.” Compounding the tragic circumstances of one individual is the fact that his story seems to be replicated many thousands and thousands of times across the land, “a story that, with a few variations, we could have heard from most,” as the authors put it in another scene from Immokalee, Florida, where we get tomatoes but do not get the human reality of what it takes to get them. For that matter, also unseen is what it takes in terms of social impact to get coal.
Destruction and revolt, respectively, is the reality and the imperative of whoever is lucky enough to have been born into these social deserts, the book suggests.
American history gets a thrashing in their observations and interactions; it is hard to imagine how it could be conversely. The reader witnesses the remnants of vanquished Indians living in the Lakota reservations of Pine Ridge, South Dakota, descendents of slaves and freemen alike still trapped in decimated ghettos, mountain folk losing their “hollers” (valleys) to an unsustainable addiction to coal, and the wage slaves who pick our fruit. A patriot would especially feel disinclined to belt out the bars of “America the Beautiful” at these vignettes.
Days is a travelogue of the oppressed and dispossessed, whose misery makes our dream possible. Mountains must be blown up for our office parks; the natives and the underclass, reminders of our original sins of enslavement and extirpation, must be removed from sight by the freeways. Yet amid all the devastation and brokenness, dignity remains. It is all that even the most “wretched of the earth” (to borrow from Fanon) can still possess.
When asked by telephone if revolt is the only remaining option, as Hedges writes, Sacco lets out a heavy sigh. “There has to be a pushback,” he says. “Revolt can have a negative connotation,” he adds. “But I believe something like a movement of people that shifts the debate in some other direction is the way to go.” For the last 30 years, Sacco says, “the debate keeps moving to the right.” The faith of believers in the book was “eye-opening” for him, seeing people connect with an ineffable divinity to “keep those embers alive.” As for Hedges, after several attempts to reach him at his Princeton residence the reviewer was unable to reach him.
By visually describing the people under the heel, Sacco could portray human beings as human beings, and not as “victims with a capital V.”
A political agenda is at work: defining and exposing the ‘Corporate State,’ an oligarchal elite that, in effect, disenfranchises swathes of the citizenry. “This is a warning of what we may all be heading toward,” Sacco says. Hedges writes that our republic is by now a ward of “the corporate state,” of which “[e]lected officials at the state and federal level are paid employees” — via legalized bribery, i.e., campaign contributions. At the start of the year, the president sternly told the country that those who see us in decline “don’t know what they’re talking about.” This book seriously begs to differ: “No one is immune. We will all be sacrificed,” as Hedges concludes.
Where is the ray of light? We can see it in the prayer of people who have nothing but whose faith is the only thing keeping them going. We can see it in glimmers, flickers. A glaring contrast presents itself between the beleaguered and downtrodden and the final chapter, situated in last year’s brief occupation of a small slice of the financial district, finally put down by force.
Now only a few months out before a pivotal choice between two very different visions for the role of state, it is worth noting that the choices are stark. But too many cannot decide. Days is a radical text. What resonates most between the pages, amid broken glass and broken hearts, is the indominitability of the human spirit. If the American Dream is truly a “lie,” it is a beautiful lie that even the most oppressed in our land of the free hope against hope to hold onto — and then, if they can, organize.