Trumps Hells Angels

Every mans life is a comedy, a tragedy and a drama” – Mark Twain

Having spent the best part of an entire year assuring folks Trump would suffer a McGovern style defeat; I awoke election morning shell-shocked inside a surreal dystopian nightmare; my thoughts flew scatter-shot like a bag of spilled marbles. What the hell just happened?

I was fond of saying Trump was cancer and now irony compels me to realize that like cancer it’s not one thing but a host of bad results that accompany the disease. I feel obligated to swim in this sewer of confusion and disillusionment long enough to make some sense of it all and deliver a quotient; a final reasoning for why this seemingly insane event occurred; if for no other reason than control of my own sanity.

Not one of the gentle people in my circle, many of whom voted for Trump, gave me any gas about my certitude; making my pontificating all the more stingy. Endless analysis from every stripe of political punditry abounds. How did this nauseating bag of quarters in desperate need of a thesaurus win the highest office by taking the lowest road?

Some say it was racism but there cannot be that many diehard racist in our fine land. Some say it was the message and not the messenger and this idea holds some water since god knows Trump is a reptilian figure. Some say it was the prospect of the undoing of what many saw as political correctness run amok. I’m fairly certain the pack of frenzied acolytes at The Fuehrer’ Nuremberg style rallies tuck in nicely to this hypothesis. But after careful consideration I’ve concluded that Micheal Moore came pretty close calling it the biggest fuck you ever delivered to the system.

However, the most elegant analysis was provided by Susan McWilliams, who opined in an article reprinted in Rolling Stone entitled: This Political Theorist Predicted the Rise of Trumpism. His Name Was Hunter S. Thompson. In Hell’s Angels, the gonzo journalist wrote about left-behind people motivated only by “an ethic of total retaliation.” Sound familiar?

A transcript follows.

By Susan McWilliams

December 15, 2016

In late March, Donald Trump opened a rally in Wisconsin by mocking the state’s governor, Scott Walker, who had just endorsed his Republican opponent, Ted Cruz. “He came in on his Harley,” Trump said of Walker, “but he doesn’t look like a motorcycle guy.” “The motorcycle guys,” he added, “like Trump.”

It has been 50 years since Hunter S. Thompson published the definitive book on motorcycle guys: Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. It grew out of a piece first published in The Nation one year earlier. My grandfather, Carey McWilliams, editor of the magazine from 1955 to 1975, commissioned the piece from Thompson—it was the gonzo journalist’s first big break, and the beginning of a friendship between the two men that would last until my grandfather died in 1980. Because of that family connection, 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.

Thompson observed that the Hell’s Angels were alienated from a changing America in which they felt left behind.

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.

Hell’s Angels concludes when the Angels ally with the John Birch Society and write to President Lyndon Johnson to offer their services to fight communism, much to the befuddlement of the anti-Vietnam elites who assumed the Angels were on the side of “counterculture.” The Angels and their retaliatory militarism were, Thompson warned, the harbingers of a darker time to come. That time has arrived.

Fifty years after Thompson published his book, a lot of Americans have come to feel like motorcycle guys. At a time when so many of us are trying to understand what happened in the election, there are few better resources than Hell’s Angels. That’s not because Thompson was the only American writer to warn coastal, left-liberal elites about their disconnection from poor and working-class white voters. Plenty of people issued such warnings: journalists like Thomas Edsall, who for decades has been documenting the rise of “red America,” and scholars like Christopher Lasch, who saw as early as the 1980s that the elite embrace of technological advancement and individual liberation looked like a “revolt” to the mass of Americans, most of whom have been on the losing end of enough “innovations” to be skeptical about the dogmas of progress.

But although Thompson’s depiction of an alienated, white, masculine working-class culture—one that is fundamentally misunderstood by intellectuals—is not the only one out there, it was the first. And in some ways, it is still the best psychological study of those Americans often dismissed as “white trash” or “deplorables.”

Thompson’s Angels were mostly working-class white men who felt, not incorrectly, that they had been relegated to the sewer of American society. Their unswerving loyalty to the nation— the Angels had started as a World War II veterans group—had not paid them any rewards or won them any enduring public respect. The manual-labor skills that they had learned and cultivated were in declining demand. Though most had made it through high school, they did not have the more advanced levels of training that might lead to economic or professional security. “Their lack of education,” Thompson wrote, “rendered them completely useless in a highly technical economy.” Looking at the American future, they saw no place for themselves in it.

The Angels were the original “strangers in their own land”—clunky and outclassed like their Harley.

In other words, the Angels felt like “strangers in their own land,” as Arlie Russell Hochschild puts it in her recent book on red-state America. They were clunky and outclassed and scorned, just like the Harley-Davidsons they chose to drive. Harleys had been the kings of the American motorcycle market until the early 1960s, when European and Japanese imports came onto the scene. Those imports were sleeker, faster, more efficient, and cheaper. Almost overnight, Harleys went from being in high demand to being the least appealing, most underpowered, and hard to handle motorcycles out there. It’s not hard to see why the Angels insisted on Harleys and identified strongly with their bikes.

Just as there was no rational way to defend Harleys against foreign-made choppers, the Angels saw no rational grounds on which to defend their own skills or loyalties against the emerging new world order of the late 20th century. Their skills were outdated; their knowledge was insubstantial; their powers were inferior. There was no rational way to argue that they were better workers or citizens than the competition; the competition was effectively over, and Angels had lost. The standards by which they had been built had been definitively eclipsed.

We parents tell our children that when you know you’ve lost an argument or a race, the right thing to do is to be a good sport and to “get ’em next time.” But if there is no next time, or you know that every next time you are going to be in the loser’s lane again, what’s the use of being a good sport? It would make you look even more ignorant, and more like a loser, to pretend like you think you have a chance. The game has been rigged against you. Why not piss on the field before you storm off? Why not stick up your finger at the whole goddamned game?

Therein lies the ethic of total retaliation. The Angels, rather than gracefully accepting their place as losers in an increasingly technical, intellectual, global, inclusive, progressive American society, stuck up their fingers at the whole enterprise. If you can’t win, you can at least scare the bejesus out of the guy wearing the medal. You might not beat him, but you can make him pay attention to you. You can haunt him, make him worry that you’re going to steal into his daughter’s bedroom in the darkest night and have your way with her—and that she might actually like it.

It’s not hard to see in the demographics, the words, and the behavior of Trump supporters an ethic of total retaliation at work. These are men and women who defend their vote by saying things like: “I just wanted people to know that I’m here, that I count.” These are men and women whose scorn of “political correctness” translates into: “You can’t make me talk the way that you want me to talk, even if that way of talking is nicer and smarter and better.” These are men and women whose denials of climate change are gleeful denials of scientific expertise in a world where scientific experts have unquestioned intellectual respect and social status. These are men and women who seemed to applaud the incompetence of Trump’s campaign because competence itself is associated with membership in the elite.

Thompson would want us to see this: These are men and women who know that, by all intellectual and economic standards, they cannot win the game. So whether it be out of self-protection or an overcompensation for their own profound sense of shame, they lash out at politicians, judges, scientists, teachers, Wall Street, universities, the media, legislatures—even at elections. They are not interested in contemplating serious reforms to the system; they are either too pessimistic or too disappointed to believe that is possible. So the best they can do is adopt a position of total irreverence: to show they hate the players and the game.

Understood in those terms, the idea that Trumpism is “populist” seems misplaced. Populism is a belief in the right of ordinary people, rather than political insiders, to rule. Trumpism, by contrast, operates on the presumption that ordinary people aren’t going to get any chance to rule no matter what they do, so they might as well piss off the political insiders using the only tool left available to them: the vote.

While many commentators say Trump will have to bring back jobs or vibrancy to places like the Rust Belt if he wants to continue to have the support of people who voted for him, Thompson’s account suggests otherwise. Many if not most Trump supporters long ago gave up on the idea that any politician, even someone like Trump, can change the direction the wind is blowing. Even if he fails to bring back the jobs, Trump can maintain loyalty in another way: As long as he continues to offend and irritate elites, and as long as he refuses to play by certain rules of decorum—heaven forfend, the president-elect says ill-conceived things on Twitter!—Trump will still command loyalty. It’s the ethic, not the policy, that matters most.

The racism unleashed by Trump can be understood as directed at the political elite rather than minority groups.

Even the racism that was on full display in Trump’s campaign should be understood at least in part in retaliatory terms, as directed at the political elite rather than at struggling minority groups. The Hell’s Angels, Thompson wrote, did things like get tattoos of swastikas mostly because it visibly scared the members of polite society. The Angels were perfectly happy to hang out at bars with men of different races, especially if those men drove motorcycles, and several insisted to Thompson that the racism was only for show. While I have no doubt (and no one should have any doubt) that there are genuine racists in Trump’s constituency—and the gleeful performance of racism is nothing to shrug off—Thompson suggests we should consider the ways in which racism might not be the core disease of Trumpism but a symptom of a deeper illness.

Thompson would also direct our attention in the early days of the Trump administration to the armed forces and the policies that will mandate what they do. For one great exception to the Angels’ ethos of total retaliation against authority was the military, just as one great exception to the Trump voters’ ethos of total irreverence is the police. Thompson explains that such institutions, which are premised on brute force rather than the more refined rules of intellectual engagement, maintain both a practical and a cultural connection to people like the Angels. The military and the police draw mostly from poor and working-class communities to fill their ranks, and their use of violence is something the motorcycle guys understand. It is one aspect of American life they can easily imagine themselves being a part of.

For his part, Thompson thought that what might prove most dangerous about the ethic of total retaliation was the way it encouraged the distrust of all authority—except for the authority of brute force. The president-elect’s enthusiasm for waterboarding and other forms of torture, his hawkish cabinet choices, and his overtures to strong men like Vladimir Putin are grave omens. We could end up back where Thompson left off at the end of his book: the Angels, marching with the John Birch Society, on behalf of the Vietnam War.

At the end of Hell’s Angels, having spent months with the motorcycle guys, Thompson finally gets stomped by them. For some offense he doesn’t understand (and which he probably didn’t commit), Thompson gets punched, bloodied, kicked in the face and in the ribs, spat at and pissed on. He limps off to a hospital in the dead of night, alone and afraid. Only in that moment does Thompson realize that as a journalist (and therefore a member of the elite), he could not possibly be a true friend of the Angels. Wear leather and ride a motorcycle though he might, Thompson stood on the side of intellectual and cultural authority. And that finally made him, despite his months of good-timing with the Angels, subject to their retaliatory impulses. The ethic of retaliation is total, Thompson comes to realize. There is nothing partial about it. It ends with violence.

There’s no doubt about it: trouble lies ahead. That Hell’s Angels foresaw all this 50 years ago. underscores the depth and seriousness of Thompson as a political thinker and of ours as a singularly dangerous time. Trumpism is about something far more serious than Trump, something that has been brewing and building for generations. Let us take Thompson’s cautions seriously, then, so that this time we Berkeley types are not naive about what we face. Otherwise, we’re all liable to get stomped.

Susan McWilliams Susan McWilliams is Associate Professor of Politics at Pomona College. She is most recently the editor of the forthcoming book A Political Companion to James Baldwin. #hellsangels #trump #hunterthompson #totalretaliation

Trump Trumps Reagan

And how trivial the things we want so passionately are.”Marcus Aurelius

A dog chases a bus; the bus stops – the dog catches it; what now?

The last time the money changers and the Army guys took over our government was during the Alfred E. Newman What Me Worry presidency of W; and you don’t need me to tell you how that turned out. The two sensational wars and the brilliance of the snouts-in-the-trough types like Dick-less Chaney and the top Wall Street-walkers detritus still lay smoldering at our feet.

This new Trump pseudo-populist phenomenon looks to be a replay of the 1980’s Reagan revolution when it became fashionable among the elite money fetishistic to popularize the bumper-sticker ethos “maximizing share-holder value’. This greed for its own sake origination created an accepted ethos of the T-Boone Pickens Green Mail artists of that era, set free by Reagan’s firing of Air traffic Controllers, signaling labor unions would be crushed.

That message was received by the twisted Orwellian named “job creators” and along with it came the export of manufacturing jobs sent overseas where peasants fresh from their countryside’s pure agrarian economy, paid $1.20 an hour for assembly-line factory jobs, would later land in suicide nets, as in China’s Apple works, after experiencing the sweat-shop working conditions, or as we like to call it, (absence of) regulation; the new drumbeat of the well-heeled mouth-pieces like Mitch McConnell. Americas middle-class lunch-pail voters who put both Reagan and Trump in the catbird seat where left abandoned; dazed and confused. The fat cat scoundrels disguised themselves wrapped in the American flag while secretly masturbating to their money porn financial fantasies under it.

The current zeitgeist buzz-phrase “economic growth” harkens back to the Ronnie-the ray gun Reagan era asleep at the wheel administration touting the maximizing of shareholder value and explains the diversions of Nicaragua, Grenada and soon thereafter Panama and explains why the old man left office in disgrace; a doddering, confused inept; not that dissimilar, save the aggression and vulgarity, to Trump’s persona; Americas’ Eddie Haskell president. The maladroitness of Reagan had him dismiss the Gorbachev plea at Reykjavik to ban all nuclear weapons because he’d seen some reality in the fiction movie that was Star Wars. Trump sees the future of nations as nuclear armed; locked and loaded on hair triggers; saving the USA from the cost of defending them.

Trumps picks for cabinet posts, like Reagan, signals, also well received, that agencies meant to foster our health and welfare will be headed by terroristic bomb-throwers set on blowing them up and killing them off. The Republicans long fantasized wet dream of shrinking government small enough to drown it in a bathtub seems to them closer to fruition than ever before. Their giddiness at the prospect of privatizing everything worth a buck has them caring less that the boss is a no-nothing gasbag shill. Someone might tell these diamond encrusted turds that America is not a business and they should not attempt to run it like one but the dazzling shine off their Gold Rolex watches blinds their cerebral cortex.

The Reagan period of selfishness, like Trumps soon to be phantasy, also laid waste to where we started; when capitalism was first envisioned; the idea that the corporation was a guest in the community. Now we’ll no longer be so crass as to subscribe motives to maximizing shareholder value; no. Now it’s the smoke screen of hire America and buy American “corporate responsibility” for the greater good of us all as cudgel to make their actions sympathetic to “America First” and their motives to lift ourselves up as pure as the driven slush.

There are a whole lot of literati out in the hustings angst filled over current affairs and rightly so. We seem to have elected a jackass bully with self-esteem issues to pull the levers of power and he’s handing those levers off to billionaires and x-generals. Is there another war for profit in our offing? Well; since no one, most of all the King himself, knows his next move; stay tuned.

Seems to me the best detergent against a stain is exposure. Once realized, once hung upon their own jaundiced cynicism; charlatans, most especially the narcissistic variety, fold under the weight of their own self-serving ideology. Shouting them down in the public square is thirst quenching but provides them with persecuted status; the very thing they claim; much like the long-suffering white nationalist Neo-Nazi shit bag fanatics. Let their actions speak I say; good citizens will recoil in disgust. In the interim we are left to hope the nincompoop don’t get us all killed from stupidity while they focus on coming after our social safety net. #TrumpTrumpsReagan # T-BoonPickens #wedon’tgetfooledagain #Newbosssameastheoldboss

Dead Air

“When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too. “ — Paulo Coelho, “The Alchemist”

My woman, prostrate on our bed, is crying; scared she says, that being a woman, a Mexican and disabled, three things she’s heard the president-elect sling hateful rhetoric at, she’ll be deported, or shanghaied to some internment camp to be used as forced labor to build his promised border wall. I tell her not to worry; that such notions are absurd. But since that was the same advise I’ve given her for the past six months, a mortal lock certainty America would never elect such an odious character, she’s less than sedated by my views.

I have mixed feelings. Part of me believes the genius of our three equal branches of government, despite all being controlled more or less by one Party, will restrain the worst impulses of the rabble that has seized the levers of power. Another part of me fantasizes standing on a street corner like Lenin; screaming Revolution. My overarching desire though, is that the losers, the middle-class left-behinds, with nothing but the dead and dying back in their little towns, after delivering the biggest fuck you in American political history, get what they deserve; without the need to have tanks in the streets.

I was tempted to turn on right-wing talk radio today, ubiquitous in my present environs of northwestern Wisconsin, just to see if it was all just dead air; thinking what will Rush and his ilk bloviate about now that they’ve gotten all they ever claimed to have wanted. Their time for bitching is over; time to govern now. Time to deliver.

Meanwhile a nauseous wave of revulsion washed over fifty million voters coast to coast in the past few days; leaving those who voted anti-charlatan bent over retching and bleeding from the eyes. The shock turned to shame at the reality that one so execrable was selected to lead. I suppose my most honest feeling is ashamed; ashamed my fellow citizens, so long aggrieved to be sure, still, would hand over the reins of our government to the epitome of the ugly American.

The winners have triumphed. The battle field has been cleared of the dead and the wounded have all been shot. Now, protocol and good form dictate that the new president get a one year honeymoon from criticism in the hope he’ll do good. The die-hard will oppose, professional opposition will regroup and to the victors go the spoils. Basically the winners get to write the checks.

I’m not big on hope. I believe once you’re down to hope; things are damn-near hopeless. But just maybe, perhaps, the awesome responsibility to provide for the greater good or the daily security briefings that turn every president’s hair prematurely gray or the desire for legacy every seventy year old man harbors will transform in this unlikely mortal a sense of duty and subsequently transform his greed for attention, hopefully finally satiated, into an understanding that history will record his acts and forever taint or tarnish or burnish his much personally coveted name.

Perhaps our attitude ought to be that of the patriotic symbol of the American eagle emblazoned on all our money. In one talon we/the eagle hold 13 arrows and in the other olive branches. It seems certain that the hand we use in future will depend on what actions this accidental president takes. #presidentelecttrump

Friends

Nick Masesso, Jr.

“United we stand-divided we fall” — The Liberty Song, John Dickinson

The test of a true friend is their willingness, upon your request, to offer a hand to one of your friends; someone they may not even know.

As I read Michael Moore’s autobiography “Here Comes Trouble” I was stunned by the avalanche of hate that descended upon him as a result of his acceptance speech at the Oscars after he won the famed prize for his first film “Bowling for Columbine”.  While a few luminaries like Meryl Streep and Martin Scorsese clapped wildly in approval, others like Robert Duvall went on the attack. Upon returning to his hometown in Michigan he and his wife were bared from their own property by three truckloads of horse manure piled waist high in their driveway and signs reading COMMIE and TRAITOR tacked on their trees.

As threats of…

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Football and Gun-Play

“This is a violent civilization; If civilization’s where I am. Every channel that I stop on, got a different kind of cop on; killing them by the million for Uncle Sam.” Gun – Gil Scott-Heron

Boys, some no older than those sacrificed to the worship of guns, wasted at yet another school shooting this week, like almost all boys, were introduced to their first taste of manhood by throwing a ball around the back yard with Dad. Sport for boys symbolize maturity; we compete and watch admiringly and often worshipful, the professionals; a phenomenon corporate, capitalistic and American as “baseball and apple pie”. Professional sports are the military’s number one recruiting tool.

This weekend the NFL will start every game with jingoistic American flag waving extravaganza’s, with flags the size of the entire field, hoisted by spit-shined troops from all the armed-services strutting like real life G.I. Joe props complete with medals and real guns sending a subliminal message to America’s youth to join the army and be tough and brave like the gladiator pituitary cases on the field; about to chance ruining their health for money. All festivities accompanying the games will combine unspoken words of patriotism with multimedia presentations replete with renditions of The National Anthem and God Bless America while Stealth Bombers fly overhead.

What all that pageantry has to do with football, or the other sports that do much the same, is the link of sports to military service; where you’ll get to compete but with a gun; and we’ll give you free of charge a bunk and grub and life long health care, life insurance, subsidized housing for the young wife and child along with a modest paycheck and a chance to blow stuff up just like in those ubiquitous video games that glorify murder that we weaned you on; albeit murder by “the good guys against the bad guys” perpetuating the obligatory obscene xenophobic myth.

But moreover the whip cream on the apple pie is, and this is the accepted politically correct practice of all Americans, honoring our warriors as if they were not just the tip of the spear but the foundation of the nation; you’ll get respect; every young mans quest. Bashing the troops for any reason is akin to treason in our society. So from babies; its sports good, army good, guns good. Is it any wonder we’ve spawned a culture that has resulted in America having half the guns that exist in the world and more guns in the country than people?

I’m not saying sports are bad; I played and I’ll be watching. Nor am I saying ban all guns since it can’t, unfortunately, be done. We are where we are. But guns are for cowboys in Cripple Creek, Wyoming, cops and army guys; they have no place in the modern city in the hands of civilians. Besides; truth is; real men don’t use guns.

In my youth we still had street fights using only our fists. The Italian kids Vs the Polish kids was a regular obligatory match. Every one carried at least one or two trophy scars from earlier fracas, badges of honor for bragging rights and a teenage macho ritual.

Chicago was a city of alleys. In the old days the alleys were the main streets where rag men in daylight clumped along cobblestones in wagons pulled my beat down nags and housewives leaned over dilapidated balconies buying fruit and bartering for worn out second-hand clothes and pots and pans. On dark summer nights turned moist with heady smells, these alleys became battlefields beckoning the warriors.

Car loads of young toughs on the way to match deeds with reputations, or make new ones; the taste of adrenaline in our mouths, all sinew, muscle and bone aching to be unleashed, raw nerves, high anxiety and hot wire tension. Beautiful then, heart breakers and life takers we’d enjoy saying, but no one ever died. Once you conquer the fear of close hand combat you discover that it doesn’t hurt when you get hit, not then when your nerve is up and the adrenaline and hot blood is pumping. You hear the punches but you don’t really feel them, until the next day.

The two boss stallions square off while the pack sizes up the prey. Gradually more guys step to each other and before long everybody is throwing hands. It’s a hell of a thing to watch and everywhere we went there were girls. Sometimes they even got into it, slapping at each other harmlessly and pulling hair. Soon someone would yell “Bulls” and off we’d stagger to our chariots like wounded Spartacus, scrambling to safety to lick our wounds, kiss the girls and lie about the force of each blow. It was how it would be decided who you were, who was who and what you were.

Everybody except the truly psycho even spoke of using knives let alone guns; where no contact is required and nothing is risked, nothing decided, nothing affirmed. We all just wanted what boys today want, to feel like we are somebody, to show what we were made of and in the same way a soldier signals to his mate “I’m here for you” experience the camaraderie soldiers are known to say is why they fight; and when it was over, all that was needed to be known, was.