Hunter S. Thompson is remembered today for his gonzo style: frequently imitated, rarely matched. What is often forgotten is how brave he was, both in what he was willing to say and in how self-critical he was willing to be. A prime example started with this exchange with the president he loathed in February 1972:
Whatever else might be said about Nixon—and there is still serious doubt in my mind that he could pass for Human—he is a goddamn stone fanatic on every facet of pro football. At one point in our conversation, when I was feeling a bit pressed for leverage, I mentioned a down & out pass—in the waning moments of the 1967 Super Bowl mismatch between Green Bay and Oakland—to an obscure, second-string Oakland receiver named Bill Miller that had stuck in my mind because of it’s pin-point style & precision. He hesitated for a moment, lost in thought, then he whacked me on the thigh and laughed: “That’s right, by God! The Miami boy!” I was stunned. He not only remembered the play, but he knew where Miller had played in college.
Thompson goes on to write that once he realized Nixon’s love of the game was sincere, he began to look at the sport with a much more jaundiced eye. If the worst president in American history (at that time) liked it, there had to be something fundamentally wrong with it.
I’ve thought about that episode in recent months each time Evan McMullin and other “principled conservatives” have attacked Donald Trump. If your party’s leaders can set aside their principles to back someone so truly disgusting, isn’t it time you questioned not only those leaders but also those principles? The left faced a similar agonizing reappraisal in the middle of the last century: Stalin’s show trials, the invasion of Hungary, the Cultural Revolution, and similar events led many to realize that there must be something fundamentally wrong with a political philosophy that so frequently produced horrors. If people like McMullin and David Frum cannot find the courage to do the same, their protests are just a game of charades.