Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Professor Eric Cheyfitz dissects the sources of "disinformation" at a lecture on Tuesday.

February 15, 2018

Cornell Professor: The American Dream Is a ‘Hallucination’

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The “American Dream” has now become a “hallucination,” according to Prof. Eric Cheyfitz, the Ernest I. White Professor of American Studies and Humane Letters.

During an event hosted by the Institute for Comparative Modernities on Tuesday, Cheyfitz introduced his most recent book, The Disinformation Age: The Collapse of Liberal Democracy in the United States, which paid particular attention to the Obama Administration, of which Cheyfitz is highly critical.

“If I were to sum up the book in one sentence,” Cheyfitz said, “I would say it is a historical explanation about how and why the United States is still trying to live a narrative, American exceptionalism, that fails to rationalize the state any longer.”

Obama’s speeches, he said, are classic examples of what Cheyfitz defines as “disinformation,” or the “rupture of political rhetoric from political reality with fatal results.”

In other words, Trump and our current political situation are not, contrary to what many people may think, the causes of disinformation.    

“Trump is not the problem — he is the latest symptom of the problem,” Cheyfitz explained. Rather, the country’s major issue is the overlapping, “imbricated pair of income inequality and climate change.”

Cheyfitz also said that despite the widespread disapproval of the Democratic and Republican parties, the groups themselves are not the root of the issue.

“Their collusion in the militarized corporate hegemony is the problem, and neither of the two parties can address the problem because they are constituted by it,” he said.

The capitalist story of the American enterprise, in Cheyfitz’s mind, is a key contributor to the rise of disinformation because many believe capitalism and democracy are synonymous.

“This story has always confused capitalism with democracy when in fact the two systems are fundamentally at odds,” he said.

Cheyfitz also stressed the lack of accurate information available to people, which leaves them unable to fight back.

“People know they’re poor, but nothing has been put into place for them to join together and fight against this narrative,” he said. “That’s disinformation for me.”

When asked what inspired him to write the book, Cheyfitz said he was motivated by the condition that the country has fallen into and the need to write a history that reflected these current conditions.

“I am an activist in my work, so I’m concerned with these issues as practical and political and social issues. And of course I work with students here and am concerned about [their] futures.”

According to Cheyfitz, the model for a just society and the solution to disinformation can be found in the ways and practices of indigenous peoples.

“Here in the juncture of history we are in desperate need of another story, one that answers the question: what is a just society?” The answer, Cheyfitz said, is “one of extended kinship that has been told in Native American societies for thousands of years.”