In a recent dispatch to a writer friend from our days of California dreaming (several years ago he too had returned from L.A. to his native Calgary, Canada, to become, among other cool things, a happy husband and father, a successful advertising executive and award-winning photographer) I bemoaned the passing of such as Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal and Hunter S. Thompson, the indisputable king of gonzo journalism (for crissakes, look it up!).
“Can you imagine what these guys might’ve done with Trump the Grump?” I asked.
Some samples from the mentioned masters, the first from Hunter’s Fear And Loathing on the Campaign Trail: “When a jackrabbit gets addicted to road-running it’s only a matter of time before he gets smashed—and when a journalist turns into a politics junkie he will sooner or later start raving and babbling in print about things that only a person who has been there can possibly understand.”
From the same source: “Covering a presidential campaign is not a hell of a lot different from getting a long-term assignment to cover a newly elected District Attorney who made a campaign promise to ‘crack down on organized crime.’ In both cases, you find unexpected friends on both sides, and in order to protect them—and to keep them as sources of private information—you wind up knowing a lot of things that you can’t print, or which you can only say without even a hint of where they came from.” Hmmmm . . . tell me about it.
“In America,” wrote Mailer in The Presidential Papers, “few people will trust you unless you are irreverent; there was a message returned to us by our frontier that the outlaw is worth more than the sheriff. One was therefore irreverent to the President. But the extent of one’s irreverence was discovered to be also the measure of one’s unsuspected affection: that one discovered the day he was killed; discovered that again during the weeks of depression that followed. For he was no ordinary sheriff; he was an outlaw’s sheriff, he was the sheriff who could’ve been an outlaw himself. Such Presidents can quickly be counted: Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy. One doubts if there are any others.”
This is Gore Vidal writing in 1968: “Ronald Reagan is a well-preserved not young man. Close-to, the painted face is webbed with delicate lines while the dyed hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes contrast oddly with the sagging muscle beneath the as yet unlifted chin, soft earnest of wattle-to-be. The effect, in repose, suggests the work of a skillful embalmer. Animated, the face is quite attractive and at distance youthful; particularly engaging is the crooked smile full of large porcelain-capped teeth. The eyes are interesting: small, narrow, apparently dark, they glitter in the hot light, alert to every move, for this is enemy country—the liberal Eastern press who are so notoriously immune to that warm and folksy performance which Reagan quite deliberately projects over their heads to some legendary constituency at the far end of the tube, some shining Caverville where good Lewis Stone forever lectures Andy Hardy on the virtues of thrift and the wisdom of the contract system at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.”
As I say, watching a Donald Trump performance on TV had brought to mind my Canadian friend who, like me, never could get enough of the remembered chroniclers of political campaigns between 1968 and 1972. In answer to my email, he wrote: “O great One! Uncanny is your timing. I was reading aloud only last night from Mailer’s The Fight, the scene where Hunter S. Thompson thought he could watch a bout with Mobutu in his Zaire hotel room. We all know how that worked out. There’s a first-rate new biography about Vidal just out called Empire of Self by Jay Parini. I’ve read good things about it . . . The mantle of scathing political writing in the tradition of Vidal, Thompson and Mailer has fallen to one Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone. Acerbic, utterly hilarious. Never disappoints.”
By the next day I had purchased and was reading Parini’s book when my own Lapses and Infelicities came to mind. Usually for reasons altogether asinine, some political wags had considered the book especially hard on Kenny Anthony, especially where I had written the following: “The boy’s next move was hell; he and his latest caretakers just didn’t cut it. He prayed for deliverance. Once again the Reverend Smart was his salvation. He placed Kenny in the care of still another friend, this time a fellow Anglican priest. The Reverend Odlum was a strict disciplinarian who taught the young boy to appreciate quality reading. Kenny developed a passion for English literature that never left him, and a keen interest in the Reverend’s favorite hobby: black-and-white photography. When Kenny wasn’t serving in church, he happily assisted the Reverend Odlum in his darkroom.”
As I say, what some people got from the quoted passage was truly mind-boggling. “Gassa,” said an MP who imagines himself especially close to the prime minister, “you simply cannot resist an opportunity to berate Kenny. Did you have to write in your book that Kenny is a bullah?”
When I queried the page that contained the offensive suggestion, he didn’t have to think long. “It’s on page 294,” he said. “End of the paragraph before the last, where you say ‘he happily assisted the Reverend Odlum in his darkroom!’ Why would you say that if not to suggest the man is gay?” Yes, I know, dear amazed reader, hard to believe but absolutely true.
On Monday this week my wife brought back from the States the latest Rolling Stone. Imagine my excitement upon discovering the magazine featured an article entitled ‘R.I.P. GOP’ about how “Donald Trump crushed 16 GOP opponents in one of the most appalling, vicious campaigns in history,” by none other than the journalist my friend Jack had described as “acerbic, utterly hilarious, never disappoints”: Matt Taibbi.
Some choice lines from the piece: “During the campaign, surprising numbers of Americans were even willing to believe Cruz might also be the Zodiac Killer. The infamous Bay Area murders began two years before Cruz was born, but 38 percent of Floridians at one point believed Cruz either was or might be the Zodiac. Were they serious? In an age when Donald Trump is a presidential nominee, what does ‘serious’ mean?”
As for the rest of the herd: “Politicians are like crackheads: You can get them to debase themselves completely for whatever is in your pocket, even if it’s just lint.” I was reminded of Mailer’s description of Vice President Hubert Humphrey “contingents” in front seats at a Democratic convention: “Some of them had eyes like drills; others, noses like plows; jaws like amputated knees; they combed their hair straight with a part in the side in imitation of the Mayor who from up close had a red skin with many veins and hair which looked like dirty gray silk combed out straight—at its worst. Dayley looked in fact like a vastly robust old peasant woman with a dirty gray silk wig . . .”
I should not close this piece without a sample of our own prime minister’s political writing. This from his At the Rainbow’s Edge : “Recent developments have made it imperative that all of us—Latin America and the Caribbean—undertake a collective rethinking of our assumptions about democracy, the relationship between citizens and state and our attitudes to fundamental questions of accountability, representation and participation. It is now widely accepted that the post-Cold War period represents, in many ways, a fundamental change in the international conjuncture—a shift from a bipolar world to a unipolar world in which the Colossus of the North has come to exercise an unchallenged global hegemony. While in so many ways we can welcome the relaxation of the old tensions and the demise of authoritarian structures, there is the fear that a unipolar concentration of power can result in the ostracism of difference. The new paradigm ought not to be monolithic. It must be inclusive and permit the incorporation of wider, more textured modalities of democracy and governance that must, themselves, be consistent with accepted international norms and standards.”
What does it all mean? Why should I know? I didn’t when At the Rainbow’s Edge first appeared in 2004 and some twelve years later I sure as hell still don’t know.
Might as well end with Matt Taibbi’s warning that applies to politicians not only in the United States: “From the Walter Mondale years on, Democrats have eaten from the same trough as Republicans. They’ve grown fat off the cash from behemoths like Cisco, Pfizer, Exxon Mobil, Citigroup, Goldman and countless others, offshored profits, helped finance the construction of factories in rival states like China and India, and sometimes all of the above.”
Do the eating habits of Democrats and Republicans remind of our own politicians, who’ve ostensibly grown fat off the generosity of strangers with Saint Lucian passports and Middle Eastern names?
“The basic critique of both Trump and [Bernie] Sanders campaigns,” writes Taibbi in his Rolling Stone piece, “is that you can’t continually take that money and also be on the side of the working people. Money is important in politics, but in a democracy people ultimately still count more. The Democrats survived this time, but Republicans allowed their voters to see the numerical weakness of our major parties. It should take an awful lot to break up 60 million unified people. But a few hundred lawyers, a pile of money and a sales pitch can be replaced in a heartbeat, even by someone as dumb as Donald Trump.”
Two days after this publication arrives on local newsstands the good people of Saint Lucia will go the polls. In their heart of hearts they know they are victims of a system created by enslavers for the perpetuation of their clones. But even slaves can take only so much before they rebel, regardless of personal cost. As far back as 1972 the departed unforgotten native son George Odlum had acknowledged that already the politicians had fooled the people too many times!
By the way, Jack, just in case you get to read this and are wondering out there in Canada, this note’s for you: “I knew Mailer, I knew Hunter S., and I knew Gore (sorta). I’ve read almost everything they left behind. Taibbi is cool, Jack. But Mailer, Hunter or Gore he ain’t.