The Disinformation Age, beginning in the present and going back to the American colonial period, constructs an original historical explanation for the current political crisis and the reasons the two major political parties cannot address it effectively. Commentators inside and outside academia have described this crisis with various terms — income inequality, the disappearance of the middle-class, the collapse of the two-party system, and the emergence of a corporate oligarchy. While this book uses such terminology, it uniquely provides a unifying explanation for the current state of the union by analyzing the seismic rupture of political rhetoric from political reality used within discussion of these issues. In advancing this analysis, the book provides a term for this rupture, Disinformation, which it defines not as planned propaganda but as the inevitable failure of the language of American Exceptionalism to correspond to actual history, even as the two major political parties continue to deploy this language. Further, in its final chapter this book provides a way out of this political cul-de-sac, what it terms "the limits of capitalism’s imagination," by "thinking from a different place" that is located in the theory and practice of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas.
Table of Contents
1. Disinformation: The End of Ideology
2. Narratives of the Nation
3. The Palimpsest of History: William Apess’s Anti-Jeremiad Jeremiad
4. The End of Innocence: Jeremiah Wright’s Anti-Jeremiad Jeremiad
5. Barack Obama and the Erasure of Race
6. The Confidence State
7. Melville’s The Confidence Man: His Masquerade
8. Thinking from a Different Place: What is a Just Society? A Brief Manifesto
Eric Cheyfitz is the Ernest I. White Professor of American Studies and Humane Letters at Cornell University.
"Eric Cheyfitz is one of the smartest, wisest, and toughest cultural critics writing today – a teller of difficult but essential truths. The Disinformation Age should become a fundamental text for a new era of resistance."
– Marcus Rediker, author of The Slave Ship: A Human History
"The Disinformation Age should be read by everyone concerned with the obscurantism that has taken hold of US politics. Cheyfitz argues convincingly that promises of the American Dream or claims to US exceptionalism have gone beyond mere ideological rhetoric to 'disinformation' which has no relationship to reality—akin to Orwell’s 'doublespeak' or more bluntly, a 'confidence game.' The study derives its power from the author’s rereading of seminal historical texts that reveal 'disinformation' as an abiding feature of US capitalism that has reached its culmination over the last few decades. If it is to be overcome, we will need to step outside the system to search for alternatives among which indigenous visions provide the most promising. An engaged and engaging study."
– Arif Dirlik, independent scholar, Eugene, OR, USA
"The Disinformation Age contains the brilliance, insight and originality we've come to expect from Eric Cheyfitz. This historical analysis also sheds light on the difficulties of the present moment as well. However, Cheyfitz isn't satisfied with describing and theorizing the path of the crisis of US Capitalism and the failure of the language of American exceptionalism – he also proposes alternatives to be found in the theory and praxis of Indigenous Peoples. This is an urgent and necessary text."
– Farah Jasmine Griffin, William B. Ransford Professor, English & Comparative Literature and African American Studies, Columbia University
"Eric Cheyfitz argues in this wonderful and provocative book that the fact that untruths and lies increasingly pervade U.S. political and public discourse is not due primarily to the dishonesty of any single politician or party. Disinformation, instead, results from the contemporary historical condition, in which the rhetoric of U.S. exceptionalism, although still constantly evoked, has been emptied of all its contents. By posing the problem at such a general level, Cheyfitz forces us to recognize the need for radical social transformation."
– Michael Hardt, co-author of Assembly
"With the election of Donald Trump to the highest office in the U.S., Wall Street has solidified its grasp on power. The puppet masters who were used to pulling the strings behind the scenes are now unabashedly running the show and immediately launched their promised war on the middle class. It's tempting to think that there is something unprecedented about the Trump regime's version of class warfare, yet as Eric Cheyfitz shows in his new book, this is just business as usual in the U.S.
The book's timing makes it appear prescient. Cheyfitz, however, suggests that class warfare has always been thus because the Founding Fathers never intended to structure American democracy on principles of economic justice, deliberately favoring instead an exploitative system that maintains a permanent underclass; this is, after all, what capitalism does. Cheyfitz connects the dots between colonialism and capitalism, not just by showing the rhetorical relationship between the Founders and today's discursive hawkers of economic equity, but by comparing that relationship to Indigenous cultures where social well-being is derived from a life of balance, not from material accumulation. From this perspective, the book suggests, a capitalist democracy can never provide anymore than it ever has--the illusion of equal opportunity--because it is based on a system of Disinformation that maintains a sense of false hope for society's most vulnerable, especially people of color."
- Dina Gilio-Whitaker, Policy Director and Senior Research Associate, Center for World Indigenous Studies