This election cycle was so absurd that celebrated political satirist, journalist, and die-hard Republican P. J. O'Rourke endorsed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. As P.J. put it, "America is experiencing the most severe outbreak of mass psychosis since the Salem witch trials of 1692. So why not put Hillary on the dunking stool?"
In How the Hell Did This Happen?, P. J. brings his critical eye and inimitable voice to some seriously risky business. Starting in June 2015, he asks, "Who are these jacklegs, high-binders, wire-pullers, mountebanks, swellheads, buncombe spigots, four-flushers, and animated spittoons offering themselves as worthy of America's highest office?" and surveys the full cast of presidential candidates including everyone you've already forgotten and everyone you wish you could forget.
P. J. offers a brief history of how our insane process for picking who will run for president evolved, from the very first nominating convention (thanks, Anti-Masonic Party) through the reforms of the Progressive era (because there's nothing that can't be worsened by reform) to the present. He takes us through the debates and key primaries and analyzes everything from the campaign platforms (or lack thereof) to presidential style ("Trump's appearance - indeed, Trump's existence - is a little guy's idea of living large. A private plane! A swell joint in Florida! Gold-plated toilet handles!"). And he rises from the depths of despair to come up with a better way to choose a president. Following his come-to-Satan moment with Hillary and the Beginning of End Times in November, P. J. reckons with a new age: "America is experiencing a change in the nature of leadership. We're getting rid of our leaders. And we're starting at the top."
Caricatures created by DonkeyHotey were adapted from these Creative Commons and public domain images:
Donald Trump, Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Bernie Sanders, Nick Solari/Flickr
John Kasich, Wikimedia
Ben Carson, Michael Vadon/Flickr
Hillary Clinton, East Asia and Pacific Media/Flickr and Department of State
Jeb Bush, The World Affairs Council/Flickr
Carly Fiorina, Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Ted Cruz, Michael Vadon/Flickr
Chris Christie, FEMA
Marco Rubio, Gage Skidmore/Flickr
If you attend Big Lebowski reunions, you will think this is revelatory, especially after you stop coughing from a couple fierce bong hits. Back in my dorm days, I would have thought so, of a guy this glib and clever and flowing over with pop-culture and history references, like a kaleidoscopic 360-degree puking of colorful, fuzzy peyote chunks (not that I would know; to slip into this guy's sly idiom, I never inhaled peyote) but that would be, for me, 42 years ago. It is colorful, it is flashy, it is clever in its way, it grabs images from anywhere even inside of one sentence, from cartoons to great works in poly-sci to whatever is in the guy's head this moment. It is often, IMO, anxiously dancing way, way too hard in such manner as, back in the day, to impress the freshman girls (sexist idiom of those times) in the dorm. This style, gonzo journalism, appeared in politics (once it escaped the oral-crowd-scene college outbursts of the 60s, which are referenced herein) as early as Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72. And here is a guy schlepping this old schtick well into the 21st century. But, given the manifest laughing-crying bad-trip absurdity-scariness of our political times, the fit isn't that bad. If one can wade through all the flying flotsam (and yes P.,J., I got every last one of your pop or history or whatever references, sentence by sentence), this author alongside the over-amped facility with phrasings, does have some serious insights into our times and these players, and he makes a heck of a cartoon of everybody in sight. I needed a laugh. His portrayals of Hillary particularly made me guffaw and almost spit chunks myself. The tedious part happens when he wanders, not infrequently, off into some fantasy digression and one can wonder whether he is flashing-back, like, two-thirty in the morning and the dorm chicks (slang usage of the time, sexist, whatever) have long since gone home and he's still stem-winding some sort of abstruse loopy concept. If you can follow this review, you might actually enjoy this book. I did. But I have a shared experiential background, if a shade less hippie. As for the narration: he did it himself, and he managed to vividly revive in memory those DJs in the early 70s who went to great lengths to sound like the most stoned people on earth, a sort of sly looping baritone. There's something about intonations rooted in those times -- a slice of authentic Americana. Spark up!
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
The writing knocked it out of the box as always... but OK actually narrating his own book... priceless!