Susan McWilliams, grandchild of The Nation's editor who 50 years ago commissioned the piece that became Hunter S. Thompson's Hell's Angels, has gotten the magazine to publish a full-length rumination on the book's relationship to Donald Trump.

No, really.
I had long known that Hell’s Angels was a political book. Even so, I was surprised, when I finally picked it up a few years ago, by how prophetic Thompson is and how eerily he anticipates 21st-century American politics. This year, when people asked me what I thought of the election, I kept telling them to read Hell’s Angels.

Most people read Hell’s Angels for the lurid stories of sex and drugs. But that misses the point entirely. What’s truly shocking about reading the book today is how well Thompson foresaw the retaliatory, right-wing politics that now goes by the name of Trumpism. After following the motorcycle guys around for months, Thompson concluded that the most striking thing about them was not their hedonism but their “ethic of total retaliation” against a technologically advanced and economically changing America in which they felt they’d been counted out and left behind. Thompson saw the appeal of that retaliatory ethic. He claimed that a small part of every human being longs to burn it all down, especially when faced with great and impersonal powers that seem hostile to your very existence. In the United States, a place of ever greater and more impersonal powers, the ethic of total retaliation was likely to catch on.

What made that outcome almost certain, Thompson thought, was the obliviousness of Berkeley, California, types who, from the safety of their cocktail parties, imagined that they understood and represented the downtrodden. The Berkeley types, Thompson thought, were not going to realize how presumptuous they had been until the downtrodden broke into one of those cocktail parties and embarked on a campaign of rape, pillage, and slaughter. For Thompson, the Angels weren’t important because they heralded a new movement of cultural hedonism, but because they were the advance guard for a new kind of right-wing politics. As Thompson presciently wrote in the Nation piece he later expanded on in Hell’s Angels, that kind of politics is “nearly impossible to deal with” using reason or empathy or awareness-raising or any of the other favorite tools of the left.
So, let me take this seriously long enough to ask a follow-on question. How many times in 50 years have 'the motorcycle guys' broken into a cocktail party for a campaign of rape, pillage, and slaughter? Am I right in thinking the answer to that question is "Never, not even one time"?

In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, plainclothes state police have been detailed to protect the lives of the state's 20 electors. You might want to re-examine which set of fears deserve your first attention.


Gringo said...

In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, plainclothes state police have been detailed to protect the lives of the state's 20 electors. You might want to re-examine which set of fears deserve your first attention.

Tongue-in-cheek solution: sic the Hell's Angels on people who are harassing electors.

Grim said...

There is apparently going to be a significant "Bikers for Trump" rally at the inauguration, at least.

Eric Blair said...

It's going to be weird from here on out.

Anonymous said...

She doesn't believe it. Compare how they write about militant Islam. They don't fear the right. They only say they fear the right. If they believed what they wrote, they would avoid talking about iconography that might anger the right among other behaviors. I don't want them to fear the right, but I would like them to be honest.

-Stc Michael

Grim said...

It's never a bad thing to be feared in proper measure. Fear and respect are not quite the same thing, but they aren't completely unrelated beasts either.

Anonymous said...

A campaign that picks an argument with a green cartoon frog, and loses, calls a quarter of the nation "a basket of deplorables," and blames the Russians for leaks by outraged Democratic staffers, now wants to tell us the opposition is really a bunch of retaliatory luddites.

Please. Keep it up.


Ymar Sakar said...

The ones that really want to burn it down are easy to see. They weren't depressed or optimistic about Trum either way, not before not after the election.

That's because of the timing. Most people who jumped on the burn it down wagon had been slow simmering for awhile. They hadn't come to those ideas on their own, the War dance propaganda affected them and pushed them into it.

The people who came up with the burn it down idea, had already calmed down by the time 2012 or 2014 hit. They would be the ones that kept their head, while everyone else around them, Left and Right, were losing theirs.