Between Enemy Lines- Hunter S. Thompson & The 2016 Election
What’s this thing you call me
It’s scratching just beneath the surface
It’s that thing that makes up everyone
Every snowflake is unique until it melts
And there’s no stopping the sun
Mudhoney, “What’s This Thing?”
I don’t make a habit of writing politics (writing music leaves you hanging around with plenty of degenerates as is), but this election has made political junkies out of the most apathetic. Unfortunately, the coverage of this election is a Kardashian type of reality that ignores almost all of the real story lines as you help to hijack your own family jewels.
Slimy Octopus Rich Kid vs. Dr. Jekyll & Mrs. Duchess of Wall Street. It’s quite the quandary, and the internet has never been so hot-blooded and claustrophobic—like the Vegas strip on New Year’s Eve, it’s no place for any functioning human being. After being mentally and spiritually drained by all the endless word vomit online (in articles like this one), I reached for an old Hunter S. Thompson hardback on my bookshelf, titled Hey Rube, a published collection of his ESPN column he held from 2000 up to his death-by-suicide in 2005.
In it—like Nostradamus armed to the teeth and always betting on the 49’ers no matter what the spread—he made some uncanny predictions about sports and politics in America, two things he perhaps feared and loathed, but was hooked on with junkie fervor, nonetheless.
I was 16 when the Twin Towers went down, and I came of age in what Dr. Thompson dubbed the Kingdom of Fear: that American historical dead zone when ‘Thou Shalt Not Bash Bush’ nearly became the 11th Commandment, and Rock Music sucked more than it ever sucked since its inception.
The day after the 9/11 attacks, Thompson was more lucid than most, broadcasting from his Colorado compound what we needed to hear, as much as we didn’t want to:
“The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the U.S. or any other country. Make no mistake about it: we are At War now—with somebody—and we will stay At War with that strange and mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives. It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy. Osama bin Laden will be a primitive ‘figurehead’—or even dead, for all we know… We are going to punish somebody for this attack, but just who or where will be blown to smithereens for it is hard to say. Maybe Afghanistan, maybe Pakistan or Iraq, or possibly all three at once. Who knows? Not even the Generals in what remains of the Pentagon or the New York papers calling for war seem to know who did it or where to look for them. This is going to be a very expensive war, and Victory is not guaranteed—for anyone, and certainly not for a baffled little creep like George W. Bush. All he knows is that his father started the war a long time ago, and that he, the goofy child-President, has been chosen by Fate and the global Oil industry to finish it off.” (September 12, 2001)
I was 20 when Thompson put a revolver to his head and pulled the trigger at the same desk at which he had written for years. It’s not too common for a literary hero to be walking amongst mortals, and that one stung. The only other time I had cried over a celebrity’s death was River Phoenix when I was 8. This was different. Not only was I a budding wordsmith in a land where writers are condescended and exploited, but Thompson’s death marked an unspoken doom that only he could have articulated.
I don’t know what he would’ve said of this election. The prospect of a very different Clinton administration, the prospect of Trump with his finger on the button and, oh boy, never have the American people wasted so much psychic energy loathing one man.
The only reason Trump has any edge on Clinton’s corrupt political history is because he hasn’t had the chance to amass one himself. Never mind that he’s running as a businessman who’s record in business is one likened to a ponzi scheme of debt and bankruptcies, in which other businessmen point out that his brand isn’t one that’s synonymous with happy employees and investors making returns. And make no mistake, a Trump presidency would be worse than when the Bush’s took back the White House in 2000, and nobody thought things would get worse after “goofy child-President” George W. stole not one but two elections.
Not that #ImWithHer diehards are going to be any more righteous. And it’s a no-brainer that a woman should have just as much of a right as a man to seize a presidency from her nemeses through dirty tactics, let the Military-Industrial Complex loot the treasury, and then lie to the American public about it for the next four years. But banking on “Hope” is an old hat, and at this point, it’s worse off than paranoia. We know mass surveillance is now the norm, we know big banks have our precious monthly nut’s by the balls, and we know no matter who’s elected, bombs will still be dropped in the heart of the Muslim world, and economies will be plundered.
It would take only a spoiled and lecherous slimer like Donald Trump to make Clinton appear less like America’s version of Margaret Thatcher, and more like the Hindu goddess Lakshmi (the motherly archetype here to provide us with abundance and prosperity in our time of post-apocalyptic despair…especially when you throw the prospect of legal weed into the mix), and who knows, maybe that was the plan from the start.
Trump’s greedhead father was a demonic tycoon whose exploits are only surpassed by the likes of Prescott Bush, the Bush uber-patriarch whose firm profited handsomely during WWII from its dealings with the financial architects of Nazism. Trump’s father made life miserable for any poor bastard unfortunate enough to rent from him. Woody Guthrie’s “Old Man Trump” gives us a good idea of what four years of living on Planet Donnie would be like.
Trump’s playing a good ‘ol boy card, too. He ripped off Nixon’s “law and order” rhetoric, spread the “Southern Strategy” to all 50 states, and he outright stole Reagan’s promise of making America great again (referring to a time when hippies didn’t exist, and racial prejudice was so morbidly obese it actually squashed rock ‘n’ roll). To boot, Trump’s biggest ambition is a promise to wall us in and isolate us from our Latino neighbors, like some rabid, drunken frat boy who doggedly shoves you into his bedroom and locks the door behind him.
Trump isn’t dangerous simply because he’s a racist pig—that, too, is an old American hat—he’s dangerous because, as Matt Taibbi recently pointed out, the spectacle of his downward spiral is only going to reinforce the very system he claimed to take on. After November 8th, under a likely Clinton administration that’s proclaiming a new (and grossly marketable) women’s liberation and the shattering of glass ceilings, anyone who takes the time to read between the lines, or question the Wikileaks/Putin/Russian hackers/Trump connection will be branded a Tin-Foiled Sexist Basement Troll that hates the LGBT community and supports anti- Semitism and sexual assault. Just like doing so during Obama’s rise branded one as a Palin-Loving Racist. Just like doing so during the dumbed-down Bush years branded one as an Un-American Pinko Commie who deserved to be waterboarded alongside terrorist suspects. Though I sense a radical feminist backlash is already boiling—but let’s first deal with the coked up, orange-haired pig man who wants to drag us back to the dark ages of Nixon.
No matter how many times Bernie tells us it was never his revolution, but ours, people in a self-described democracy will still look to political messiahs over themselves or their own communities. We’ll take another 9/11 and send our boys to destabilize three more third world countries before we’ll take a sincere look in the mirror. Count on it.
And as young Americans grow warier of corporations, who are currently scrambling for monopolistic imperialism (no longer competing against each other because we are the opponent now), we will indeed see whether our votes matter, but not before our planet is gutted for all she’s worth.
In the eyes of advertisers, I’m a millennial, though I don’t much relate to my assigned signifier, and I’m not sure any of my friends do either. My generation is currently erecting the new status quo, and aside from neo-fascist redditors, its outliers are still undetermined.
Despite Occupy, it seems corporations are still trusted and respected more than the arts. Unless they’re bankable, no artist in America is respected, and things like satire and humor are now lost to both sides of the political spectrum. It’s a bad time to be an artist in America—or maybe it’s a great time—either way, the king wants the jester’s head.
The way I see it, generational identity is ultimately a poisonous thing. Already, brands and marketing agencies are desperate to pigeon-hole and corner the up-and-coming Generation Z.
On December 4, 2000, nearly a year prior to 9/11, Thompson had some poignant thoughts on this new batch of Americans:
“Let’s get back to Generation Z & its Lush & Extravagant birthright in this year of Our Lord 2000…. It may be a Mixed blessing to be hatched at the top of the Heap. Indeed. The Stock Market might crash, crazed Muslim terrorists might put Nerve Gas or Anthrax in your drinking water, Your daughter might get rabies or turn into a famous Porno slut with two Junkie boyfriends who will hack in your secret Computer Code & loot your Bank Accounts…. But these are Uptown Problems, for sure, compared to being born in a Great Depression or forced to join a Hitler Youth Brigade at the end of WW2. Nobody is ever going to feel sorry for the gilded little sots of Generation Z.”
The good doctor’s predictions proved eerily accurate, and since they have, Gen Z may prove to be more meek and stoic than Americans have been in maybe a hundred years. A stark contrast to reactionary millennials: us poor, overeducated bastards who embody the epitome of spoiled Western privilege without any of the perks. (We missed out on ludes for chrissake!) Gen Z, along with most millennials, are to be the first wave of Americans to have a lower standard of living than their parents.
If you need proof we’re living in a strange and different dimension since the last election—and you’re all for ignoring the significant planetary shifts—consider the simple fact that L.A. has a pro football team. I doubt even Thompson would’ve seen that coming. And who else but the Rams, who’ve come back home to roost like an old cooze who’s just marrying you for your McMansion- Or, in this case, a lavish new stadium. Come 2019, L.A. looks to construct the most expensive stadium complex in the free world, and the city’s dubious one-percenter future along with it. A projected 300-acre “NFL Disney World” where discriminatory pat-downs and TSA screenings of your social media for any hints of radicalization are as common as the $12 beer. Meanwhile, Downtown L.A.’s skid row continues to be squeezed and condensed into fewer and fewer blocks, as the city hopes investors simply won’t come across the two square blocks of the crack fueled third world country that’s smack dab in the middle of Downtown.
In the meantime, the Rams are stuck in a crumbling Coliseum (indicative of the city’s current state), sharing a field with what’s left of ruinous Troy. USC will always attract volatile, jaw-dropping talent, but who knows if it’ll ever be a team again. In the meantime, Colorado just beat a McCaffrey-led Stanford team, and is not only bowl-eligible for the first time in a decade, but is a PAC-12 champion contender. Strange world, indeed.
Through it all, though, I somehow still hold a Zen optimism for the future (but then again, I’m not betting on the House).
We have on our hands a cultural crisis, or maybe just all-out Civil War. Every cultural subset wants war with every other. We’ll have a woman in the White House at long last, and it’s hard to imagine where feminism will be in four years, or four months. Digital capitalism has bred bourgeois feminists who don’t read past headlines, let alone bothering themselves with the work of Virginia Woolf.
There’s an anti-intellectualism afoot that dwarfs 1980 and even 2001. Demi Lovato calling out Taylor Swift’s faux feminism, for instance, was rife with irony. I doubt any self-proclaimed feminist listening to Beyonce’s Lemonade knows how much Modernism did to salvage the human spirit, let alone Post-Impressionism, and its abstract evocation of “aesthetic emotion.”
Nowadays, it’s all about mere aesthetic. We’ve fallen into a regressive fatalism where everything and everyone is defined solely by their outward appearance and cultural signifier, which we desperately cling to like bums in a snowstorm, as if we’ve abandoned the fruits of Deconstruction entirely. Deconstruction itself has no answers, it’s hardly a philosophy, but rather a tool used to strip away everything you think you are, and puts your agency and your fate back into your own hands (and not in the hands of crypto-fascist social engineers). If we’re the most educated generation this country has seen, we’d better fucking act like it.
This, though, often leads to an existential funk: the realization that there’s life after ego-death- that there’s still a world in the wake of personal apocalypse, and that it’s yours for the making.
Which brings me back to this election, and why we shouldn’t be fearful, no matter what the outcome. A lack of faith in the system should foster faith in each other.
Bearing witness to Desert Daze a few weekends ago was a big tip-off that we haven’t completely lost our shamanic roots, and our connection to the high-frequency strangeness and animate intelligence that is resident with us in the deserts and forests of this planet. I imagine it’s the same for Burning Man devotees and those who dare make the pilgrimage to that great dancing Void.
We could certainly use some feminine energy in the White House, no matter how bunk. But instead of adopting the hyper-masculinization that we claim to reject, and begging for a place at the table like some abused dog looking for scraps, let’s tip the whole fucking table over and go sit somewhere else- like, outside.
Let’s turn our backs on the Solar Masculine for once—that Apollonian wrecking ball that’s brought us rationality, genocide, and a dying ecosystem. It’s time to become vampires, and seek out the wisdom of Mother Moon. As our world burns by day, we’ll rebuild it in the image of our intuitive shadow selves by night, forging an orgiastic Burning Man future of supernova proportions, in which we aren’t boxed in by our culturally-sanctioned notions of self (bequeathed to us by the very patriarchy we wish to dismantle).
As beat writer and punk godfather William S. Burroughs wrote, “Smash the Control Images, Smash the Control Machine.” Sometimes that means you. How do I short-circuit my life? Is my own identity just someone else’s control image?
Whoops, careful, can’t get too heavy. Not this week anyway. It’s Halloween, and the LAPD hasn’t been this edgy since the entire city burned in ‘92. Want to really give ‘em a scare? Dress up as Chris Dorner. Wait, scratch that. Again, not too heavy. Our heroes onscreen are always villains in real-life. But that’s another story for another time.
Caveat emptor. Bugger the Queen. And vote. As the good doctor once said, “it’s one of the few weapons against these greedheads that we’ve got”—unless you plan on starting a commune and never buying gas again (in which case, let me know!)