The late 1960s were a bad time for the United States. We were in a fiercely unpopular war in Viet Nam. I had gotten radicalized and joined the Resistance, which not only protested the war but attempted to interfere with the draft induction process. I returned by draft card to the Selective Service System in Cleveland and told them politely what they could do with it. Running for president that year was Richard Nixon for the Republicans, with Democratic candidates to be chosen later in Chicago.
Reporting on that convention was Norman Mailer, who within a short time became like a god to me. (So he went off the rails a bit later: He was human after all.) Mailer had come out with a number of nonfiction books that I read and re-read religiously. They included:
- Advertisements for Myself (1959)
- The Presidential Papers (1963)
- Cannibals and Christians (1966)
- Armies of the Night (1968)
- Miami and the Siege of Chicago (1968)
I just finished re-reading Miami and the Siege of Chicago, which made me shake my head sadly that there was no such quality reportage during the ongoing train wreck that is Trumpf. Mailer died ten years ago, and the only other candidate—Hunter S. Thompson—blew out his brains two years earlier. There are thousands of voices raised against Trumpf, but they seem tinny in comparison to what Mailer and Thompson were capable of.
Take this prophetic quote from Mailer’s description of Nixon’s convention win in Miami:
Of course, Republicans might yet prove frightening, and were much, if not three-quarters, to blame for every ill in sight, they did not deserve the Presidency, never, and yet if democracy was the free and fair play of human forces then perhaps the Wasp must now hold the game in his direction for a time. The Left was not ready, the Left was years away from a vision sufficiently complex to give life to the land, the Left had not yet learned to talk across the rugged individualism of the more Rugged in America, the Left was still too full of kicks and pot and the freakings of sodium amytol and orgy, the howl of electronics and LSD. The Left could also find room to grow up. If the Left had to live through a species of political exile for four or eight or twelve good years [try 50!], it might even be right. They might be forced to study what was alive in the conservative dream. For certain the world could not be saved by technology or government or genetics, and much of the Left had that still to learn.
Perhaps the biggest lesson they had to learn was unity. The Left is known today as a circular firing squad, wounding itself repeatedly over minor issues and leaving the major ones to the Right.
The conservatives of 1968 were nothing compared to the Alt-Right, the Ku Klux Lan, and the other fascist forces brought into prominence by Trumpf’s 2016 victory. I will write what I can, when I can, but I am far from being either a Mailer or a Thompson.
And in this, our time of maximum danger, the media have failed America by bowing instead to the wishes of their corporate overlords.