Archives for posts with tag: Nixon

I’d not read Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in at least twenty years and I’m not sure if before this week I’d ever actually finished the thing. Now I have, and on a certain level, I think I might be too old for it. It’s one of those books like Catcher in the Rye and possibly On the Road that are best enjoyed before the sheer irresponsibility of the story in the telling is too obvious. In the heart of Thompson’s drug-addled tale of not reporting on two events for which his alter ego Raoul Duke is paid, he makes a stunning indictment of what has become of the American Dream™.

In one of the novel’s more cogent paragraphs, Thompson spells out the moment when Hell’s Angels faced off on the Oakland/Berkeley border with anti-war protesters in 1965, somewhat to the detriment of the nascent anti-war movement and to the greater detriment of the American Left in general. Later, he starts discussing those Timothy Leary took down with him, followers ‘who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit’ , certain that some one or some thing was ‘tending the light at the end of the tunnel’ (p. 178).

He goes on to gather several leaders together who followed in the failure of Leary to unite the movement: Jesus, Manson, Hell’s Angels leader Sonny Barger, and concludes with the book’s most potent idea, ‘…no point in looking back. The question, as always, is now…?’ Whatever we’re going to do, we have to do it, rather than bemoaning that we haven’t.

While I put Duke and Dr. Gonzo’s tales of their American nightmare in an unfavourable bucket with Kerouac and Salinger (both of whom wrote some brilliant, long-lasting work, just not those novels for which they’re best remembered), another comparison that comes to mind is Sterne’s Sentimental Journey through France and Italy. In a similar way to Sterne, Thompson invites us into a series of vignettes that insist to the reader that they’re actually going somewhere, but don’t ever really make it there. Whereas Sterne’s volume ends without ever getting to Italy (as promised in the title), and possibly in the middle of a sentence, Thompson ends his without ever producing (as far as the reader can tell) the articles his character promised. The expectation from a book that is at least tangentially about writing is that there will be a submission and maybe even a reaction to it. Thompson subverts this by his alter ego barely attending or participating in the events he goes to Las Vegas to cover. To be fair, there is one extended sequence in which Duke and his attorney, Dr. Gonzo, attend one of the presentations of the National District Attorneys Association’s Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (thoroughly ripped, as the two characters are for the entirety of the book), so our expectations are only partially subverted.

FandLinLVSubtitled A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, what strikes the reader (or at least this reader) about Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is the savagery with which Thompson/ Duke treats primarily the female characters and really most of the book’s secondary characters. One way of looking at the nastiness of the interactions with the waitress in the chapter ‘Back Door Beauty & Finally a Bit of Serious Drag Racing on the Strip’ is that Thompson wants to implicate all of us in the nastiness that America became after the “Main Era” ended. The Main Era is what he names that time in the 60s when ‘You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning’ (p. 68). He continues, ‘We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark – that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.’ (I love the idea of a ‘steep hill in Las Vegas,’ a place in the middle of a desert and nearly as flat as The Netherlands.)

So that moment of mind-altered optimism was undone, or undid itself through subverted protest, Nixon’s treachery, an unwinnable war, and the crackdown of the original war on drugs that Nixon instigated with the help of Elvis Presley. But in the retelling, Thompson says, yes, it all fell apart and to a one, even me, we became nasty and crass.

Thompson shares that, beyond the Strip, you find ‘the shoddy limbo of North Vegas…out there with the gunsels, the hustlers, the drug cripples and all the other losers,’ and here Duke and Gonzo drop into the North Star Coffee Lounge for late night eats. Their waitress, extensively described as, ‘large in every way, long sinewy arms, and a brawler’s jawbone…A burned out caricature of Jane Russell: big head of dark hair, face slashed with lipstick and a 48 Double-E chest that was probably spectacular about twenty years ago…but now she was strapped up in a giant pink elastic brassiere that showed like a bandage through the sweaty rayon of her uniform, (p. 158)’ finds herself on the receiving end of a pass from Gonzo, a napkin with ‘Back Door Beauty’ scrawled on it. On receipt, she lays into our heroes with vitriol. Duke just watches while Gonzo deflects the waitress’ accusations and cuts the receiver off the pay phone with a switchblade when she threatens to call the cops.

Duke understands that Gonzo has struck a nerve, ‘The glazed look in her eyes said her throat had been cut. She was still in the grip of paralysis when we left,’ but doesn’t comment or dissuade Gonzo from his behaviour. We as readers follow along, but Thompson not only lets his narrator off the hook, he relates the events that follow as being drawn verbatim from a tape recording transcribed by the editor. He doesn’t give Duke the opportunity to respond and lets himself off the hook at the same time.

From a wider perspective, Thompson’s after roping the reader into some kind of complicity. The more you enter the heads and the behaviours of the main characters the less you can say that you’re not part of the great destruction being wrought. Thompson attempts, through the excess of his protagonists, to separate the freaks – the ones who stepped out of the mainstream before that wave receded – from the normals who flock for whatever reason to Las Vegas’s casinos from the rest of the country. However, through that excess, he implicates all who see themselves on some version of the correct side of that divide. To what we now call coastal elites as well as those citizens of flyover states, Thompson seems to say: ‘You’re all in on this. We’re all in on this. Through silence or engagement. And I’m in on it as well.’

I’m not sure that this is what the man who famously asserted, ‘I wouldn’t advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me’ meant to imply.

I wanted to add something about how Thompson’s anti-Nixon stance (against all hypocrisy propounded and promoted by the Nixon White House) had come back to taunt him when George W. Bush was selected for a second time, and might have contributed to his suicide a month into Shrub’s second term, but this doesn’t seem to be borne out by a suicide note which indicated that 67 was ‘17 years more than [he] needed or wanted.’ On the other hand, In October 2004, Thompson wrote: ‘Nixon was a professional politician, and I despised everything he stood for—but if he were running for president this year against the evil Bush–Cheney gang, I would happily vote for him.’ Six months after Thompson’s death, there was a hell of a memorial.

I should write something about the truck murder of four young Israeli soldiers by a Palestinian to provide balance of some sort to my recent pro-Palestinian posts. There’s not much to say. The attack was despicable as was the praise heaped on the attacker by Hamas.

A couple of days I started taking some notes towards a discussion of the fascism coming to roost in the US. This was before the latest reports of Trump’s Manchurian nature, coming in the form of possible compromising photographs of Trump with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel. It hasn’t mattered in months how much he’s said and done that positively disgusts most of America. For all her faults, and all the sleaze of her presidential campaign, Hilary Clinton is 100 times the president Trump could ever hope to be, but for a few nasty issues.

An essay I read a couple of years ago asserted that no Republican president since Eisenhower had taken office without the shadow of treason. Nixon subverted the peace talks in Vietnam; Reagan made deals with Iran that subverted negotiations to release the US hostages; George W. Bush rode in on Sandra Day O’Connor’s vote to shut down the Florida recount. (Poppy Bush seems to have defeated Michael Dukakis fair and square. The two justices he put on the Supreme Court, David Souter and Clarence Thomas, voted on opposite sides of Bush v. Gore.) Of course I can’t find the reference now.

(On Nixon: he lost by a hair in 1960, won by a hair in ’68 and only because RFK was assassinated and Humphrey wasn’t up to the task, and committed treasonous acts to win in ’72. Only for those did he and his administration pay. The text in the sidebar doesn’t even come into play, nor does it acknowledge some of the good Nixon did, such as signing the bill to create the soon to be gutted Environmental Protection Agency.)

We seem to have forgotten in the last two months about the highly questionable razor thin margins by which Trump supposedly won key battleground states. Were the actions of election officials treasonable? Possibly. Were the goons challenging every effort at a recount in Michigan. (This is another case of having read an article on the subject and now finding only articles on the challenges to Jill Stein’s recount efforts. My Google-fu has never been great. I gotta start bookmarking those articles.)

Are partisan gerrymandering and the implementation of onerous voter ID laws treasonous? Probably not. Are they (small-d) democratic? Absolutely not. And the fact that many states are gerrymandered now to the point that ten times more votes are needed to elect a Democrat than to elect a Republican now pretty much guarantees Republican majorities in those legislatures and in the federal government. I fear for our ability to recover the country from that imbalance.The allegations of Russian involvement in the election certainly point to treasonous offences on the part of the Republican party. James Comey sitting on this information but releasing that idiotic non-report regarding (again) Secretary Clinton’s emails days before the election certainly points to a misdeed if not an actual crime.

And I would mind the state of affairs less if Republicans behaved honourably. If they took legislative proposals and debated them on their merits. If they worked with the executive branch in good faith. For the last eight years they’ve taken the position that thwarting the president and the needs of the people, as long as it kept some other group happy (insurance companies, bankers, oil companies, racist constituents, for example) was fine. And it’s not as though left-wing legislators were acting that far to the left. It’s become astoundingly rare for any legislation that benefits the working class to make any headway at the federal level. This page is in support of a petition to challenge federal corruption, but the study it quotes finds that public opinion has little to no effect on what actually gets passed into law. Not surprising, but terribly troubling.

Last night I saw Watch on the Rhine with Bette Davis and Paul Lukas from 1943. It’s an interesting counterpoint to Casablanca in which an American woman and her German husband and their three children return to the woman’s home in Virginia in 1940 to connect with family members. The husband fought against Franco in Spain and had been fighting against Hitler’s forces in Germany and Austria trying to keep the resistance alive. The conflict involves a dissolute Romanian count who hangs out at the German embassy and tries to blackmail our hero. While it covers similar ground, Watch on the Rhine lacks Casablanca‘s emotional growth and romantic punch. And the acting (or perhaps the direction) isn’t as good, though Lukas won best actor at the Oscars that year for his role. That said, its clarion call to get on the right side of the battle and to keep fighting is unmistakeable.

I’m not sure I have a point right now, and if I do, it’s that the times ahead are going to get worse before they get better and I’m confounded if I know how we’re going to get out the other end with any kind of national soul intact. And the battle lines are being drawn.