Perhaps one of the most prolific journalists and writers of the 20th century was Hunter S. Thompson. If you are unfamiliar with his work do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of The Rum Diary or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
The reason I wanted to bring Thompson up is that now more than ever we need to listen to what he had to say. Above all, the man was a political junkie who took as much news as he could and filtered it through his understanding of the weird and twisted nature of the world. Though known for his rabid consumption of drugs and alcohol, Thompson’s criticisms of American life and politics offered a cutting look into the fear held in the American psyche.
As a journalist Thompson challenged the norms of the industry by making himself part of the story. During the riots of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Thompson was in the middle of it all taking beatings by Chicago police along with thousands of other protesters. He rode with the Hell’s Angels, staged multiple protests for judicial rights, all while recording his exploits for publications like The Rolling Stone.
These experiences shaped the lens that Thompson used to view the state of the country. In his first novel, Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, Thompson outlines the hatred bared by a generation disillusioned by the world around them. He saw veterans of World War 2 and other disenfranchised men failing to acclimate to the U.S. economy. Unable to have the education necessary to get a good job, many felt anger towards a system that failed them. Thompson realized that the rise of the outlaw biker was a response to a world that made an unskilled or minimally trained workforce obsolete. With nowhere to turn to, these men became outlaws. They lived on society’s fringes, searching for a total freedom from the power they resented.
It is this observation of hate that is so important. As early as the 1960s, Thompson highlighted what happens when you push people too far. To Thompson the Hell’s Angels were not some opportunistic crime syndicate, but a group of men who felt betrayed by the system and wanted to lash out. This hatred was created when people were made obsolete. We are still seeing this today.
All anyone can talk about is how nobody expected Donald Trump to actually win the presidency. But if we take what Thompson said about the Hell’s Angels, it was an obvious conclusion in response to the state of our country. When people don’t have the opportunity to advance forward, when they feel abandoned and helpless, they begin to loathe those they see as the oppressor. As our world moves forward, often at a faster pace than thought imaginable, more people get left behind. This builds their anger. Their rage begins to be filled by their inability to do anything with their lives. Automation of manufacturing, farming, and services across all industries leaves more and more people without a way to earn a living. Some people prey on this pent up rage. Some leaders gain power by exploiting the fear of those oppressed. Thompson realized this. For the rest of us, the lesson was learned too late.
The wolves have taken over the hen house and we have nobody to blame but ourselves. Perhaps for some, the anger that gave power to Trump has subsided after his victory. Maybe some people really do believe that their suffering and struggles are all but solved. But for most pissed off Americans bills are still adding up, hours are still being cut, and food still needs to be on the table.
Unless we heed Thompson’s warnings now, it’s fear and loathing for decades to come.