“This may be the year that we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it – that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.”
Hunter S. Thompson
I’ve just finished re-reading ‘Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72’ and I’d commend it most highly to all and sundry. It’s pretty much the ideal time to immerse yourself in Thompson’s masterful account of what it’s like to struggle through the primaries, the caucuses and the conventions before butting up against your opponent for the job of being The Most Powerful Man in the World. Or even Woman, for all that.
Thompson draws the power struggles, the backroom deals, the lust for it all that makes men put themselves through the agonising pressure, the insane, insincere grasping for primacy, for the people, for votes at any cost. Like his cartoonist friend Steadman, Thompson draws his scenarios savagely, imaginatively and incisively. It’s a roller-coaster read, a real road-trip through a drawn-out and wickedly cynical political power game.
He does so as America tries to manage its straggling, disastrous and bloody involvement in Vietnam, the conflict that wouldn’t go away and let Nixon pull out as quickly as he’d like to. And the White House is teetering on the edge of Watergate as Nixon, cynical and calculating, mashes the ‘decent’ Democratic hopeful George McGovern into smithereens ('hamburger' is a favourite Thompson phrase) as McGovern, trying to repair some of the damage done after the long and closely-run campaign for nomination tears the Democrats apart, makes the awful mistake of selecting a running mate who turns out to have had a history of serious mental illness.
Nixon, the foul-mouthed liar whose thugs carried out a midnight raid on the Democrat headquarters, wins the votes of the vast majority of America. It's an exercise in calculated political manipulation that includes leveraging the cosy, controlling relationship which the president has with a political media that Thompson exposes as utterly dependent on the President’s Men for the information, breaks and access that underpin their careers.
Like I say. It’s a timely re-read. Hunter Thompson wasn't necessarily a nice person, particularly as he got older and the bitterness started to eat away at him, but he was a truly great writer. And his voice remains the voice of American Reason.
Tragically, it's a voice that is no longer to be heard...