How Hunter S. Thompson Got 9/11 and Politics Right
Posted on September 11, 2016
Hunter S. Thompson, in a haze of drugs and gun smoke, captured in print the loathsome truths of society and politics in the 1960s and 1970s. And it remains as potent today as it did back then. For you see the Fear and Loathing of Thompson’s time never went away. The evil he saw in Richard Nixon transformed into the evil in Reagan, then into George H. Bush, and, finally for him, George W. Bush. His piece for ESPN’s Page 2 remains one of the most profound comments made in the direct aftermath of September 11th and sums up an entire generation eerily without fault.
The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now — with somebody — and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.
It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy.
We are going to punish somebody for this attack, but just who or what will be blown to smithereens for it is hard to say. Maybe Afghanistan, maybe Pakistan or Iraq, or possibly all three at once. Who knows? Not even the Generals in what remains of the Pentagon or the New York papers calling for WAR seem to know who did it or where to look for them.
This is going to be a very expensive war, and Victory is not guaranteed — for anyone, and certainly not for anyone as baffled as George W. Bush. All he knows is that his father started the war a long time ago, and that he, the goofy child-President, has been chosen by Fate and the global Oil industry to finish it Now. He will declare a National Security Emergency and clamp down Hard on Everybody, no matter where they live or why. If the guilty won’t hold up their hands and confess, he and the Generals will ferret them out by force.
Hunter S. Thompson is best known as the journalist with an out-of-control drug habit, love of guns, and, if you’re a younger reader, having two of his characters played by Johnny Depp. But what he should really be known for is turning political journalism not only on its head but inside-out as well. Thompson, who called himself a Political Junkie, ran for Aspen’s Sheriff in 1969. It was a norrow loss on a platform that called for changing the city’s name to “Fat City,” stocks to be set up in order to punish dishonest dope dealers, and for the disarmament of the sheriff and his deputies in public. Thompson was on the ground for the disastrous 1968 DNC, the 1972 RNC & DNC, introduced the world to Jimmy Carter, and was a part of Jann Wenner’s Rolling Stone team that covered Clinton’s campaign in 1992.
A FAN’S LETTER
Thompson’s Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72 was considered by Frank Mankiewicz to be “the most accurate and least factual account of that campaign.” The 1972 Election was an re-election year for Thompson’s foe, Richard Nixon, and it was also the year that 15 Democrats were all vying for residence in the White House.
It was a campaign for the history books… one filled with attempted murder and scandals—one of which was invented by Hunter S. Thompson himself: Democrat and Southern populist George Wallace was shot, vicious rumors were spread that Ed Muskie was addicted to Ibogaine, and George McGovern, the Democratic nominee, selected a running mate who had a history of receiving electroshock therapy… costing him the election.
It was during this time that Thompson received a letter from a fan, Mark LeBeau, asking him about voting for “the best” in a bad lot of candidates.
Thanx for the note & the cheerful upbeat flash that came with it. When you talk about
voting, however, keep in mind that it’s no real trick to vote for “the best” of a bad lot. You’ll get a little tired of that after you’ve voted a few times. I’ve tried it. & my feeling now is that the compromise/lesser-of-2-evils game doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere.
So I’m looking for something in the way of candidates or ideas that might really change the institutionally corrupt nature of politics in this country. So don’t mistake anger for pessimism. I believe the democratic process can work in America – but not as long as the Major Parties keep forcing us to choose between double negatives.
Anyway, keep an open mind. There’s still a chance that something Right could happen in this election … & who knows? You might even want to vote for it.
Hunter S. Thompson
MAKING THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS WORK IN AMERICA:
BE LOYAL TO THE PEOPLE & YOURSELF
Thompson’s brutal and damning political commentary was never objective. Thompson believed that objective journalism lead to the corrupt and greedy politicians—that the only way to the truth of describing politicians like Nixon and G.W. Bush was to throw objectivity out the window and really rip your teeth into the poor bastards. Hunter S. Thompson had hoped his writing would inspire people instead of being a vicious crusader for any political party. Even for the candidates he supported, he wrote about their flaws and any grievous error that might rear its ugly head. Anita Thompson, Hunter’s second wife and widow, called him “a bedrock patriot and loyal to his country and loyal to his friends. […] He believed we were better than what we were electing.”
Although he supported both of the Kennedy brothers, George McGovern, and Jimmy Carter during their Democratic runs for President, Thompson couldn’t stand Bill Clinton. He called Clinton “a traveling salesman from Arkansas who has the loyalty of a lizard with its tail broken off and the midnight taste of a man who’d double date with the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart.” The only reason he ended up voting for Bill was to defeat Bush, who was “guilty as fifteen hyenas, and […] got off.” It was an experience he described as “a dangerous trap to fall into…. [voting for] the lesser of two evils.” In 1996 he would vote for Nader.
TO HELL WITH PARTISANSHIP
There is no real way to polish up a turd. No matter how much work you put into it, it will still be shit at the end of the day. And that is how we should handle politics. It will never be Camelot but we will have King Arthurs… terribly flawed but their hearts are in the right place. The Truth is all that really matters.
Who knows what Hunter S. Thompson would have thought about this election. He might have had fun and it might have been that moment in which we could have really used someone with his wit and insight. Though, it would be easy to speculate (we have a lot of data, dammit!) how he would have felt: Trump, a warped cancer on the Republican Party, and Hillary Clinton, just another solipsistic greed-head like her husband. That last bit might have upset some people, but so what?
Political arguments have mutated into a rhetoric that one’s party is always right. It doesn’t matter who your party is bombing, which regime they are overthrowing, or what is in that bad trade deal they would like pushed through, just as long as they have a D or R next to their name. And this is where partisanship has really damaged how we discuss politics. Democrats like to laugh and point out at this:
But then get angry at this being thrown back:
Another golden one is saying Trump will get us into another war. True, it wouldn’t be wise to bet against those odds. But, unfortunately, the Democrat nominee has a solid record of doing just that—getting us into wars we don’t want to be in.
So, sure, neither candidate is perfect… one being a bit more detached from perfection and even reality. But, we’re stuck with them and it is up to us to hold their feet to the fire…. Just to make sure they know who they work for. It isn’t our job to make them look good. Politicians are already spending top dollar on teams of hungry capitalists to make themselves look better. No, it is our job to make our voices heard and to ensure our needs are met. Anyway…. The Good Doctor also said it best:
Platitudes are safe, because they’re easy to wink at, but truth is something else again.