I finished Timothy Denevi’s Freak Kingdom today (earlier mentions here and here). The last sections concern Nixon’s reëlection and downfall. Denevi makes the case that the conflict against Nixon and all he represented exhausted Thompson and resulted in his last widely acclaimed work. Denevi is also explicit about the parallel he’s drawing between Nixonian fascism and Trumpian fascism.
The early 1970s quotes Denevi chose for the closing scenes jump off the page as if responding to events of the past week: the uprising following the police shooting of another Black American, Jacob Blake; the white supremacist militias who have trolled Kenosha and Portland escalating tensions; the bizarre Covid-ignorant, Hatch Act-ignorant Republican convention at the White House:
when poor Barry (Goldwater) unloaded that fateful line about “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice…” I remember feeling genuinely frightened at the violent reaction it provoked.
That is Thompson flashing back to the 1964 Republican convention as he writes about the “terrifying crescendo” of the “four more years!” chant at Nixon’s 1972 re-nominating convention. Goldwater’s line could as easily be delivered tomorrow when Trump appears at a Kenosha event its mayor has discouraged. I imagine the militants he’s refused to denounce (there “were very fine people, on both sides” of the deadly racist rally in Charlottesville in 2017, he said).
This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it — that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who makes us uncomfortable…
The math is a little different in 2020. More used car salesmen. More guns.
In May 1974, Republican congressman Charles Wiggins, one of Nixon’s staunchest supporters, tried to contextualize the mushrooming Watergate scandal: “These things go in fifty-year cycles,” he said, “from Grant to Harding to Nixon.”
Add another fifty and here we are. Let’s make sure we don’t have to wait for the Trump scandals to work their way through the courts and Congress after the election.