When Jesse Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota in 1998, Newsweek's Jonathan Alter appeared on one of the interchangeable cable chat shows and bemoaned this descent into populist barbarism. The Harvard boy was stunned that a former pro wrestler would be running a large American state. I recall reveling in Alter's discomfort, partly because most Harvardites I'd met or known were unbelievable snobs and elitists (big shock, eh?), and nothing warmed me more than to see one so anguished by this statement from the lower orders. But the other reason was that, having long before soured on the American political system, I felt Ventura's victory would help to break things up and put added pressure on society's contradictions. There's a little Lenin in everyone, and that was my October moment.
(Alter and I would butt heads via email less than a year later, an experience that taught me how overrated a Harvard education is.)
Since that heady time, things have tumbled rapidly down a steep jagged slope, and I no longer get the kick I once did from watching cultural deterioration. So when I read that Ted Nugent is planning a run for Michigan governor in '10, my inner-Lenin morphs into a grimacing Alter. Not that a lunatic like Nugent wouldn't provide a semi-entertaining show, however crude, nasty and loud. But seeing what I've seen around this state, I wouldn't bet against Nugent should he grab the GOP nomination. His stated views may alarm the genteel and sensitive, but for a large number of Michiganers, esp in the sticks, Nugent is purest mainstream.
I mean, what camo-clad-gubmint-hatin'-heavily-armed-mammal-slaughterin'-good-ol'-boy wouldn't warm to this?
"[C]ops that have their legs blown off and soldiers who are in wheelchairs and children with leukemia, who don't get the money because some fat pig welfare brat is sitting on his worthless ass."
"I'll show you some security and I'll show you some peace: Nagasaki and Hiroshima. You fuck with us and we'll fucking melt you."
"[The Confederate flag] a historical symbol of a lifestyle and a freedom and an independence below the Mason-Dixon line that many great men and women gave up their lives for during the Civil War. To me, it represents a certain defiance against federalism, a certain defiance against other people telling you how to live your life. And I wear it because I'm a big fan of defiance."
"If you can't speak English, then get the fuck out of America."
What an inaugural speech Governor Nugent would give! Raw nationalism and jingoism mixed heavily with musings on the spiritual wonder of killing and gutting wild prey, followed by some Hezbollah-style rapid fire in the air and primal screams to rouse the faithful and put the timid on notice.
Think that wouldn't jolt C-SPAN viewers?
Now, granted, this is all five years down the road, and the future's not fixed, as Doc Brown repeatedly tells Marty McFly. And there are those who point to the growing opposition to the Iraq war, both within and outside of the military, as a sign that the pendulum is swinging away from the grotesque and insane. As a friend told me when I mentioned Nugent's possible run, "No chance. The guy will be totally marginalized way before then. His type is already on the run."
As much as I'd like to believe that, I'm not totally convinced.
Recently, the must-read Billmon meditated on the "genocidal skeletons hanging in the American closet" after being exposed to war-gore-for-porn exchange offered to American combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. He explained that up to that point, he was conflicted about an immediate troop withdrawal from Iraq. But after seeing what the war is doing to the minds and psyches of this generation of soldiers and Marines, Billmon reached a decision:
"We have to get out -- not because withdrawal will head off civil war in Iraq or keep the country from falling under Iran's control (it won't) but because the only way we can stop those things from happening is by killing people on a massive scale, probably even more massive than the tragedy we supposedly would be trying to prevent."
In other words, to achieve what we claim we wish to achieve in this "war on terror," we must go the Full Tilt Gonzo Nugent route. We must open every fascist pore and show no pity on the guilty or the innocent. We must condition ourselves to endless death, torture, misery and destruction. Anything less is abdication and surrender.
While a majority of Americans have, for the moment, turned against the above scenario, one wonders what would happen should even a mini-9/11 occur stateside. Americans are so conditioned to believe that they are uniquely good and that their country exists outside of history that another terrorist attack might send them back to the simple pleasures of "You fuck with us and we'll fucking melt you." Any attempt to put the madness into perspective will once again be seen as treason -- only next time I suspect that attacks on dissenters, who'll be viewed (and already are viewed by many) as a diseased single unit, will go beyond the verbal and rhetorical. Islamic fascists have a lot in common with our domestic Phalange, and any attack unleashed by the former will re-energize and further empower the latter.
Enter Governor Nugent.
Then again, maybe I'm reading too darkly the national soul. I sincerely hope so. But there's a nagging voice within that keeps saying, "You ain't seen the worst of it yet, pal." Such are the thoughts of one trapped in a world of Holy Warriors.
"You see that gut pile?" Ted Nugent recently asked a New York Times reporter profiling him, pointing to a hole in the ground filled with maggot-covered animal parts. "That's my fucking church."
Let us pray.