Fifty Years on and Hunter S. Thompson is still right.
It’s been fifty years since the father of Gonzo Journalism begrudgingly followed the Democrat Presidential Campaign of ’72, and buried within the paranoia and cynicism of Hunter S. Thompson’s wild accounts are some striking parallels with our contemporary political sphere.
I don’t claim to be very knowledgeable when it comes to either American or my own British politics, but even an apolitical youth such as myself couldn’t fail to see some eerie similarities between George McGovern vs Richard Nixon and our own Red vs Blue showdown. In fact, it was my very disenchantment with politics that made Thompson’s analysis resonate with me.
Thompson began following the Democratic Primaries at the behest of Rolling Stone Magazine, and the results are astonishing. From the prologue all the way through to the resigned ‘epitaph’, the musings of a man being dragged through his work like a child forced through summer school are absurd and poignant.
What struck me the most was the sense of apathy from voters. In particular, the youth vote was barely accounted for, sitting dormant, waiting to be tapped. That America in ’72 was faced with a ‘lesser of two evils’ vote could be scarcely different from the choice (or lack of choice) British voters face today. Hunter is crying out for someone or something to vote for. I find myself yearning for the same.
A vote cast in modern Britain is more a vote against one party than for another. The anti-Tory sentiment that’s rife amongst the youth does not mean there’s positive support for Labour, just that an ‘anyone but the Tories’ feeling is prevalent.
The similarities do not end there. While it may be so obvious as to now be cliché, the scale of corruption and mendacity in the Democrats and particularly Nixon’s Republicans is frighteningly similar to our own government. From Watergate to Partygate, two leaders ousted for criminal dealings. Breaking lobbying rules, sexual assault, watching porn in parliament, to fiscal neglect, the ‘dark, venal, and incurably violent side of the American character’ has infected our own government with striking efficiency.
And yet, they remain in power. If, however, recent polls are accurate, they may not be after the next general election, but still they have their supporters. Thompson asks: ‘How low do you have to stoop in this country to be President?’
I think we can safely ask the same question of our own recent Prime Ministers.
In true Gonzo style, the political analysis is interceded with tales of drugs, alcohol, trashed hotel rooms, police, and just about any grade of moral depravity imaginable, yet I find Thompson to be the only man I can trust in this lurid trip. The ‘Press Wizards’ as he calls them are to be trusted even less than Nixon and his evil henchmen. There is no such thing as objective journalism, and the bias that infiltrates the media is as bad as the bias in the White House itself.
They say the press are really the ones in power, and I can’t help but feel the media’s savage attacks on McGovern and the Democrats are no different than those levied on Jeremy Corbyn during his turbulent time in charge of Labour. He was doomed from the start, as was McGovern, because the press wizards had already passed judgement.
While much of the inner workings of US politics drifted over my head like a swarm of acid-induced bats, even a political troglodyte such as me could see that very little has changed in these last fifty years. At times Thompson was rendered either mentally or physically incapacitated by the whole ordeal, to the point where he couldn’t even type up the articles before the deadline. His nosedive into depression, despair and resentment oddly resonated with me. The constant U-Turns, scandals, suspensions, failings and political undercutting of the Tories has rendered me in much the same way, only I had little political interest to begin with.
Fear and Loathing has crept into the British psyche, and as Thompson proposed in his run for Mayor of Aspen, we need to rip it all up with jackhammers and start again.