Fear and loathing in Washington D.C.

  • President Trump speaks during a news conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the White House in Washington. AP PHOTO

Published: 11/20/2019 9:17:23 AM

I never had a lot in common with Hunter Thompson. As the inspiration for the “Duke” character in Doonesbury, he became famous in the late 1960s and early ‘70s for “gonzo journalism” in which a first-person writer’s experiences and imaginations are inserted into a factual series of events. His drug-fueled adventures and hallucinations were far more extreme than any of mine and his dark, reclusive nature and fascination with guns during his later years left me, and many others, at a distance I was happy to keep. His suicide in 2005 wasn’t surprising to me, as he suffered from painful health problems and his contacts with others became even more fitful and unpredictable.

But like many literary and political outliers, there was always a bit of truth in the vortex of his madness. Beyond a tenuous bond with him as a deeply-immersed member of the “counterculture,” a lover of sports and motorcycles, and a longstanding skeptic of authority, he commands one special place in my mental landscape. He created the most memorable and harrowing book title of any I know: “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream.”

Thompson’s title keeps resurfacing as I struggle to understand and describe my political and social feelings after more than four years of almost daily assaults by candidate, and then president, Trump. As much as I wish I was able to rise above the cancerous emotions in Thompson’s title, I see and feel fear and loathing in myself and in Trump as he leads a savage attack on the heart of the American dream, once symbolized by the Statue of Liberty and her beacon of hope.

It began in his first campaign speech with his attacks on Mexican immigrants as rapists, and continued soon after with his mocking of a disabled reporter who questioned his claims about American Muslim reactions to the 9/11 attacks. Within just a few weeks, he denigrated Sen. McCain’s heroism after suffering severe injuries and enemy torture in Vietnam, and hit a peak (I wish) in an attack on the family of an American Muslim Army captain awarded a Bronze Star for his heroic actions after he died when stepping in front of suicide bombers to protect his squad in Iraq.

He has displayed this savage attack-instinct on so many occasions since that the bar for human decency has been lowered so far that it seems to exist only below ground. Even in the impeachment proceedings, he has continued his attacks on honorable men and women by smearing their reputation with lies and innuendos, including a decorated captain in the Vietnam War.

This callous and self-serving attitude has extended to his policies as well. As part of his savage journey, his subordinates have separated children from their parents and consigned them to cages so they can be used as pawns in a political game, and Trump himself has constructed the most corrupt and chaotic administration in history.

Years ago, as others scrambled to put a positive spin on Nixon’s legacy after his death in 1994, Hunter Thompson rejected the polite, maudlin view generally bestowed on the newly deceased. The title of his obituary for Richard Nixon in Rolling Stone was simple: “He Was a Crook.” His assessment of Nixon fits Trump just as well: “Let there be no mistake in the history books . . . [he] was an evil man . . . . utterly without ethics or morals or any bedrock sense of decency . . . [He succeeded in] disgracing and degrading the Presidency of the United States . . . [and] broke the heart of the American Dream.”

Personally, I see “the heart of the American Dream” crumbling each day under the weight of a damaged president filled with fear and loathing, while he is regularly supported by politicians whose only true goal is re-election. As quixotic as the impeachment process seems, with 51 Senate votes merely a windmill on the distant horizon, it is the right statement to make about our dedication to the Constitution and the rule of law. President Trump is a crook and has turned the treasured ideals underlying our foreign and domestic policies into nothing more than opportunities for his own gain. I only hope we can recover, as individuals and as a nation.

Allen Woods is a freelance writer and author living in Greenfield. Comments are welcome here or at awoods2846@gmail.com.

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