America’s Election Year Phantasmagoria

It will be 19 years next month since Hunter S. Thompson scrawled a note in black felt tip — “No More Games … Relax — This won’t hurt,” — placed a pistol in his mouth and pulled the trigger. He had asked his wife, to whom he was speaking on the phone, to stay on the line, then reached for the .45. She heard a muffled thump followed by the cries of his son and grandson as they ran in from an adjoining room. Self-absorbed to the end, Thompson made their last memory of him a kitchen wall splattered with blood and brains. One can only guess at his final thoughts, but it may be that  they were not only of declining health but of realising pen and talent had long since run dry. That the once-lionised “guru of gonzo” had made of himself a washed-up and parodic caricature can’t have been an easy thought to live with.

Just now, though, as the process of selecting America’s next president leaves the station and gathers speed towards the summer conventions and November, it might well be that only a writer with the eye of Thompson’s better years can do justice to the phantasmagoria unfolding from the southern border to the snowy north, New York’s courtrooms to the mob-looted stores of Oakland, Chicago, St Louis, Los Angeles and, well, just everywhere. There is no need to hit the hallucinogens; wide-eyed reality mocks illicit pharmacology’s fantasies and distortions.

Start with the Middle East, where the remains of three Americans killed over the weekend as they slept in their Jordan barracks will by now be in Germany and the care of Mortuary Affairs Specialists, the Pentagon’s in-house undertakers. The drone that did for them was launched by what the White House’s team of press-office obfuscators prefer to call “militants”, although there are times when reporters’ questions oblige them to preface that description with “Iran-backed”. Thompsonesque weirdness prevails in the Biden administration’s perception of the situation it is attempting with limited success to sell the American public. “We don’t want a war with Iran,” National Security Council flack John Kirby has repeatedly insisted, despite Iran quite clearly being very much at war with America.

Since early October, US bases in Iraq, Syria and Jordan have been targeted on a near daily schedule — some 160 times in a campaign which might well serve as the very definition of asymmetrical warfare. The drones Iran makes and supplies its proxies costs peanuts; the missiles that have destroyed all but a handful of those incoming threats cost millions and, worse, are said to have been used so often they are now in short supply. That tally of attacks, just by the way, doesn’t include what the Houthis of Yemen have been throwing at Red Sea shipping and, when the opportunity presents itself, US warships. Joe Biden’s response to all this? So far nothing but a series of ineffective air strikes on Yemen targets and his flacks’ vague promise that more action will be taken somewhere, somehow, to some extent.

“I don’t think we need a wider war in the Middle East,” Biden said on Tuesday, “that’s not what I’m looking for.” That comment, like all his interactions these days with the White House press corps, was delivered as he prepared to board the presidential helicopter, those words even harder to make out above the chopper’s turbines than the standard incoherence of any typical public appearance. Would he mount direct attacks on Iran, the reporters shouted? America’s commander in chief stumbled, then landed upon a jesuitical distinction. His “problem” , he said, was that Tehran had provided drones and missiles to those pesky “militants”. That Iran also funds and directs them, from Hamas in Gaza to Hezbollah’s various iterations in Lebanon and elsewhere, was nothing he thought worth mentioning or, just as likely, thought about at all.

Contrast that wait-and-see prevarication with, say, Ronald Reagan, who reacted to just one Iranian provocation, the 1988 mining of a US frigate in international waters, by sinking five of Tehran’s warships and pulverising a pair of former drilling rigs converted to offshore radar stations, That attack, Operation Preying Mantis, came just four days after the USS Samuel B Roberts was damaged and 10 crewmen injured. Or think — and Biden’s people would prefer you didn’t — of Donald Trump in 2020 and how the death of a single US contractor in Iraq prompted the retaliatory and immediate assassination of Revolutionary Guards’ chief Qasem Soleimani,  director of Iran’s regional catspaws. After both those US actions the mullahs made a point to mind their manners. With Biden they see no such need.

Neither comparison with previous presidents does Biden any credit, while the words of a third, Richard Nixon, best describe what Americans are seeing. “If, when the chips are down,” he said in defence of bombing Cambodia, “the world’s most powerful nation, the United States of America, acts like a pitiful, helpless giant, the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy will threaten free nations and free institutions throughout the world.”

Biden’s latest pitiful, helpless excuse for not confronting Iran is that he can’t act without congressional authorisation. That claim is nonsense, a flat-out lie as demonstrated by the first paragraph of the Pentagon statement announcing that Soleimani had been sent to frolic with his 72 virgins (emphasis added):

At the direction of the President, the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization. 


THE FEW Democrat congressmen prepared to go before the cameras and recite White House talking points present no better defence than their president. Putin and Xi, they suggest, want Tehran flattened to keep US attention deflected from Ukraine and Taiwan, so Biden is being very canny in not making their wish come true. As Trump never fails to mention on the stump, those countries’ borders are rated more important by the White House than America’s own. It’s an observation that resonates with anyone who has lately visited a big-city Walmart superstore for socks or undies, which are locked behind glass to foil shoplifting and looters. Likewise almost everything in the major drug-store chains, which have been pillaged so often by organised mob attacks that they are shutting what had been profit-generating locations before the current outbreak of nationwide lawlessness, as per the TV news clip below. Not all the looters are migrants, but many are.

In New York on the weekend, two NYPD uniformed cops were set upon by what news reports described as 11 undocumented aliens from a nearby migrant hotel, where city taxpayers foot the bill for their accommodation. In Chicago, police have just made multiple arrests stemming from the organised mob lootings of chain stores, again featuring miscreants straight from the border. In Denver, another proud and virtue-signalling “sanctuary city” until illegals began to pour in, the local hospital system is at breaking point  as city coffers empty, as the mayor put it, to clothe “people who arrive here in sandals and T-shirts”. Again, these human burdens have Mexican dust still fresh on their sneakers.

Asked by pollsters about the most pressing issues facing the nation, illegal immigration and border security lead the list by a country mile. Yet for reasons that invite talk of conspiracy, the Biden administration does nothing. Last week, the feds took Texas to court for attempting to close the border and won an injunction the Lone Star State has pointedly ignored. As with Iran, Biden & Co., have yet to do anything about such defiance, a reticence no doubt due to the prospect of footage showing federal troops clashing with state national guardsmen on the nightly news. Twenty-five GOP governors have either sent their own guardsmen to help Texas shut down the illegal crossings — 370,000 in December alone — or indicated they will do so if Washington attempts to use force. It is no exaggeration to say America has not seen such a clash between states and the federal government since South Carolina’s militia fired on Fort Sumter in 1861.

Biden denies it, but all this is his doing. Amongst his first actions, along with curtailing oil drilling and pipelines, was the scrapping of Trump’s border wall and revocation of policies that obliged asylum seekers to file applications and wait in Mexico for their visas. During his three years in office, somewhere between seven and nine million illegals have crossed the border. His pitiful excuse is that he has no power to enforce immigration laws because Congress won’t let him.

STAFFERS IN the office of Hunter Thompson’s New York literary agent staffers dreaded his periodic visits, when they were opportuned to join him in sucking on a hash pipe or ingesting whatever latest drug he claimed to be the source of the moment’s inspiration. Handling his back list and estate, one can only assume, is much easier than tolerating their author. He wrote one genuinely good book, The Hell’s Angels, that suggests a strong debt to Hemingway, as did his suicide, and another, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, whose flaws don’t entirely ruin it as a worthwhile read and political backgrounder.

That noted, it really is a pity he’s no longer scribbling. This strange trip America is on, he wouldn’t need any drugs at all.

8 thoughts on “America’s Election Year Phantasmagoria

  • Ken Seton says:

    Thanks Roger. And more to come. I’m half exhausted already. Phew.

  • nfw says:

    As usual, great writing but the photo is wrong. Why isn’t his tongue hanging out of his demented head?

  • Citizen Kane says:

    I wonder if our erstwhile foreign correspondent might be able to test the pulse of his foreign subjects on the increasingly touted possibility of Michelle Obama running in place of Biden. It’s a given that the maleducated folk within the University cohort would whip themselves into a DEI orgasmic lather over such an announcement but what is middle America thinking and feeling about the prospect of MOB rule?

  • Stephen Due says:

    The World’s Most Powerful Nation seems to have too little to do, and therefore spends it’s time getting into other people’s backyards in an effort to intimidate them. Like a belligerent drunkard looking for trouble after closing time, the WMPN, when opposed, acts at first with astonishment, then with indignation, followed with threats and finally with violence. Joe Biden has exactly the right personality for leading the WMPN based on his own record for bullying and intimidation. The problems America faces globally and internally are entirely of its own making. Justice has gone ‘out the window’ both at home and abroad. Its elites have become power-crazed. Hence their ongoing references to their internal political opponents as ‘a threat to our democracy’ and ‘domestic terrorists’. It was no surprise that threat-in-chief Donald Trump failed completely in his original plan to take on the Deep State, which controls the secret levers of American power. His only hope for success in 2024 is first to solve the problem of what promises to be another rigged election, and secondly to put together a sizeable CIA-free team of expert strategists and tacticians to manage his agenda if elected.

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    Gonzo journalism inserts more than a little of the self into the story, and makes no bones that it tells the tale just as it strikes the writer. The results can be vivid, inventive and can even delve into unseen truths, Faulkner-style, where highlighted facts may emerge from the seemingly fictive (h/t Wikipedia). I like it as long as we know what it is. At its best, it is writerly in an entrancing way, melding with journalism. Luckily, our intrepid reporter currently loosed on America is capable of fine experiential writing/reporting even as he remains clear-eyed about the chaos engulfing this great nation, surely local colour enough. More please, and yes, how does the nation view yet another Obama presidency?

    I think it was decidedly unlovely of Hemingway and then his somewhat acolyte Hunter S. to do away with themselves by blowing out whatever brains they had left after years of pickling or jolting them. Someone else is then left to clean up the mess. Metaphorically as well, the wash-up of their writing has to be viewed through the chaos they chose for their lives. Talented writers at their height, but flawed men.

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