Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail

It is a real shame that Hunter S. Thompson is not around anymore. He would have loved the 2016 Presidential campaign. It is weird enough even for him.

If you do not know who Hunter S. Thompson was, you can read his Wikipedia biography, although simply reading the opening paragraph of his novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas will give you a general idea of what he was about:

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive…” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?”

Hunter-S-ThompsonIn 1971, Rolling Stone magazine sent Thompson out to cover the 1972 Presidential campaign. The result was a series of articles that he collected in the book Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. Some critics have hailed it as a masterpiece of American journalism. When it was published in 1973, the New York Times review said “‘Fear and Loathing’ lets us understand why the men we elect to the Presidency may have needle tracks on their integrity.”

Nothing much has changed in 44 years. The needle marks are still there and some of the folks running this time are more terrifying than the bats swooping down on Thompson’s car.

Hunter S. Thompson practiced what he called “gonzo journalism.” He did not mince his words.  He did not strive for objectivity and he didn’t believe in ‘off the record.’  He was off the wall. I don’t have the book anymore but I did find some quotes at rollingstone.com, including this one:

fearandloathing-campaignSome of the scenes in this twisted saga will not make much sense to anybody except the people who were involved in them. Politics has its own language, which is often so complex that it borders on being a code, and the main trick in political journalism is learning how to translate – to make sense of the partisan bullshit that even your friends will lay on you – without crippling your access to the kind of information that allows you to keep functioning.”

I don’t know if politics really has a code, I think it is mostly bullshit. One piece of BS that I am really tired of hearing, and Ted Cruise is one of the worst offenders, is the idea that Obama has weakened the military. Total crap. The truth is that U.S. military spending is at a historic high and far above what Reagan spent.

I suppose there are political journalists with clean arms integrity-wise, but I don’t know who they are. In recent years, I have gotten my political news from CNN and MSNBC (once in a while for a good laugh, I will watch Fox), but these outlets are more about generating revenue than genuine reporting. And they contributed to the rise of Donald Tramp.

For months now whenever I turn on one of the channels, there he is, with that thing on his head and orange skin, saying something outrageous and disgusting. In America, and probably elsewhere, outrageous and disgusting sells advertising time. If the cable news networks had had any integrity, they would have ignored Tramp. This crude and immature con-man does not stand alone as being responsible for inciting violence and hatred. All he wants is attention and he will do anything to get it. If we had ignored him, he would have gone away. It’s too late now.

But you don’t care about my take on politics. I don’t care much for it myself. Too cynical. Plus, I have no insights or great political acumen. The only thing I know is that just twice in my life were there presidential candidates I truly supported; one was assassinated, and the other is currently the Governor of California, which at least is something.

When it comes to politics, I mostly know what I fear and loath . . . you know, politicians . . . So, I leave the final words to Dr. Thompson:

When the going gets weird, the weird turn professional.”

steadmanArtwork by long time Thompson collaborator, Ralph Steadman.