America: The Farewell Tour - Reviewed by Tony Weller

America: The Farewell Tour Chris Hedges
Simon & Schuster
9781501152672
Hardcover
$27.00

America: The Farewell Tour is a scathing indictment and a call to action.

Chris Hedges’ recently published book will not make you happy, but it is an urgently timely and impressively smart book. Hedges’ writing made me cry, but not as often as it angered me about the failures of our culture. As troubling as Hedges’ book is, it’s important we read it because our nation is facing dire problems that we cannot repair without understanding. According to Hedges, most causes are deeply embedded in the systems of our culture. So grit your teeth for his sobering exposé about what these United States have become. 

Hedges’ assessment of the sickness of our times is searing in its directness. He is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist, author, and activist and educated enough in the fields of sociology, anthropology, religion, and economics to dissect our present socio-political zeitgeist. His rage is palpable in his scolding of the system we take for granted, one we preserve at our own peril. With excerpts from Karl Marx, James Baldwin, Rebecca Solnit, and others, Hedges diagnoses the pathology of our culture.

America: The Farewell Tour occurs in seven chapters: “Decay,” “Heroin,” “Work,” “Sadism,” “Hate,” “Gambling,” and “Freedom.” Each provides analysis of failing systems alongside tragic stories of those affected. 

In the first chapter, “Decay,” we read about the structural reasons for collapses of prominent cultures in eras before ours. Hedges examines the progress of societal systems to show how strong cultures fail, often because encultured assumptions prove unsustainable. “Decay” hits hard as we learn about extractive corporate economies that destroy jobs, lives and communities. He ascribes contemporary tragedies like shootings, suicides, and opioid addiction to the desperation, loss of purpose, hope and self-esteem that accompanies the realization that our system is rigged for the wealth of privileged oligarchs who have a myopic lust for power and sociopathic disregard for consequences. Hedges doesn’t let gun and drug manufacturers off the hooks for the greed that drives their actions, either.

About multi-generational urban poverty he writes, “Most will live, suffer, and die within the space of a few squalid city blocks. No jobs. No hope. No help. They blunt their despair through alcohol and drugs..They never have enough money. They probably never will.”

The personal stories in this book are painful to read. These are bleak topics, but seriously important ones that are too often avoided or glossed over with inadequate, overly-simple ideas that reveal our desire for easy solutions and our attachments to the flawed customs embedded in our culture. Hedges’ stories from the fronts of human despair have saddened me deeply.

In “Hate," one comprehends the militancy with which oligarchs defend power and the dangerous deals they strike with fascists. Hedges earned a Master of Divinity from Harvard and is a Presbyterian Minister. In the book, he expresses shame for the Christians who have abandoned Christian principles in support of apocalyptic fairy tales and tribal fear of diversity. 

After introducing and characterizing our nation's present regressive influences, Hedges groups the KKK, White Supremacists, and Christian Fascists together for the rest of the book. 

America: The Farewell Tour deepened my understanding of the complexities of our plight. Hedges' comprehension of the causes of our societal strife make it clear how hard it will be to alter course. As much as I dislike it, this comes as small surprise to me: history shows that culture changes no faster than generations turn. Most adults defend culturally inculcated principles regardless of evidence and reason. It is the source of our comfort, our security, our dullness and our meanness. Change is disrespectful to culture and this is why we can’t step far enough away from our warped mirror to admit to our own roles in the causes of problems that threaten us. 

The workings of capitalism are only vaguely understood by most of us, yet its dogmas are defended like religion. It is heresy to do less. Publicly traded corporations are virtually obligated to perform psychopathically. They are machines for consolidation of wealth and exportation of liabilities. Those who perform the least labor reap the largest rewards. Economic legerdemain. The working class is catching on. But watch out. Kleptocrats are fortifying against the poor, the working class, the middle class and the future. Near the end of the book, Hedges presents a hopeful and sane vision of the world we could create if we can become clear-headed enough as a society to move beyond our destructive beliefs. At page 304 is a tight and thorough list of the ideals of a sensible and sustainable culture. After such gloom, the reader needs it. 

I can’t resist this condensation: “This is a global fight for life against corporate tyranny.. [The struggle will mean] a huge reordering of our world..that turns away from the primacy of profit to full employment and unionized workplaces, inexpensive and modernized mass transit and universal, single-payer health care. Global warming will become a national and global emergency.. We will divert our energy and resources to saving the planet through public investment in renewable energy and end our reliance on fossil fuels.. We will terminate nuclear weapons programs.. We will demilitarize the police.. We will grant full citizenship to undocumented workers.”

I can’t say I enjoyed reading this book. However, I am awed by the clarity with which Hedges writes. I yearn to live in the society he envisions. One may disagree with his understanding of causes, but few of us are well informed enough to contend his interpretation meaningfully. He is as earnest as he is brilliant. America: The Farewell Tour is an important book. Read it. Let it influence your actions.