The movement of the New Journalist was perhaps the defining socio-political movement of the cultural reformation that swept the United States through the 1960’s and beyond. Hunter S. Thompson, the godfather of Gonzo-ism, described the death of Objective Journalism and its relation to President Nixon as the need to “get Subjective to see Nixon clearly, […] and the shock of recognition was often painful.”
It is only fitting then that now, half a century of political strife later, we arrive at another crossroads, questioning of the purpose of the journalist once again. The Capital J Journalists — Thompson, Mailer, Wolfe — made the story as much about the process as the outcome. President Trump, in his persistent railing against the media conglomerates that allegedly perpetuate “Fake News,” is himself the story; this time, however, it arises as a result of the man himself, and requires no artificiality on the part of the press.
It is the uncomfortable truth that our current Presidency is totally unlike any in our history. Other Presidents existed as separate entities from the actions and policies of their administrations; now, to refer to Trump is to refer to the administration as a whole.
For those that find the President morally reprehensible, the Oval Office is tarnished simply by his occupying it; for others, the integrity of the most powerful seat in the world remains unimpeachable even through the myriad of chaotic reports emanating from 1600 Pennsylvania.
They were a group of disillusioned New Age journalists, recognizing that the federal government routinely misled its constituents about everything from taxes to Vietnam. The gaggle in the early sixties may as well have been reporting from the Kennedy estate in Massachusetts, so complicit they were in protecting the administration of young Jack.
Now, the press faces the opposite issue: they are lambasted from every side, enemies of all and friends of none. The President routinely attacks individual journalists and organizations on a regular and personal basis; the press responds in kind, and much of the American people as a general group have totally lost faith in the necessity, integrity and legitimacy of the press corps.
This disillusionment with regards to the press has resulted in a disconnect between the people and their government. Obfuscated by the bluster and vitriol permeating the Inner Beltway is an administration that is running a fairly neutral course. Remove Twitter from this Presidency, remove the unthinking statements, and the 45th President and his administration have done an adequate job of actually running the country. They passed major legislation in the tax reform bill, albeit a year into their tenure. They appointed a Supreme Court Justice. They removed America from a deeply flawed Trans-Pacific Partnership. They have cut through the regulatory maelstrom of the past progressive administration.
This is not to suggest that the current administration has been a success. Trump — as ostensibly Republican as he may be — has set the aims of the GOP back decades. While being under federal investigation may be as American as apple pie, it is certainly not indicative of spectacular quality on the part of the White House in any stretch of the foreseeable future.
One of the great tragedies of our new millennium is that Hunter himself was not around to see the advent of the Trump era. His diatribes against Nixon, Agnew, and their ilk are the stuff of legend, and the Gonzo guru inspired a generation of irreverent journalists looking to be the new critics of the vaunted American Dream. One can only imagine what he would have had to say about Donald.
However, we are not the contemporaries of Hunter and his peers. The reach of a high school monthly does not extend quite as far as that of Wenner’s Rolling Stone, which for a time was the be-all, end-all of political commentary. As the journalism world shifts towards online content, the periodicals of presidencies past have been severely diminished in terms of cultural impact. Astute, eviscerating criticisms of President Trump are published every day online, and are accessible within seconds; the previous analytical realm of the intellectual elite has become the media of the masses. This also means that “Fake News,” as maligned as the phrase may be, is a real concern, and indicative of the extreme polarization that has characterized the past year and change.
The argument about the proper recourse for the current presidency has been hotly debated. Republicans in a stagnated Congress have spoken with much ardor but minimal action, and holy-rolling Democrats have grandstanded and campaigned far more than they have introduced and pursued avenues of redemption for their base. Disingenuity in Washington persists, and the people’s disgust with that fact seems to have little effect on the status quo.
Ultimately, it is difficult to separate Trump the President from Trump the punchline, and harder still to distinguish between both of these and the government as a complete entity. Governance is derived from the people, who have made their voices heard. If nothing else, this can be President Trump’s legacy. Hunter would be proud.