PJ O’Rourke says blame the elites for Trump and Brexit and vote for Clinton
In this febrile world, his beloved Republican party in the hands of a reptile, the charming libertarian humourist finds himself endorsing a Democrat
PJ ORourke has long been a certain kind of leftwing womans secret libertarian crush. The Republican on the bookshelf between Chomsky and iek. The kind of guy wheeled out to counter the whole schtick that all rightwingers are as funny as Darth Vader and as pretty as Chewbacca.
Crumpled, rumpled, charming, chaotic, funny, clever, ORourke is best known for his humourous political books: Give War a Chance (1992), Republican Party Reptile (1987) and Parliament of Whores (1991).
His prime decades were the freewheeling 80s and the boring, peaceful, Clintonesque 90s. At 68, his humour is that of a Waspy, Connecticut Benny Hill (A woman should dress to attract attention. To attract the most attention, a woman should either be nude or wearing something as expensive as getting her nude is going to be), which puts him on the wrong side of history.
But history has thrown a bit of a curveball as history is wont to do. His beloved Republican party is in the hands of a reptile, the Tories in Britain are sealing themselves off from the sort of worldly, globe-trotting mindset that ORourke has always shared, and the whole notion of conservatism is being remade by fear.
In this febrile, uncertain world, ORourke also finds himself in the weird position of endorsing a Democrat: Hillary Clinton.
Its the second-worst thing that can happen to this country, he said of her potential presidency in May. But shes way behind in second place. I mean, shes wrong about absolutely everything, but shes wrong within normal parameters.
Of Donald Trump, he has said: I mean, this man just cant be president. Theyve got this button, you know, in the briefcase. Hes going to find it.
But dont think that the writer and humorist has mellowed into a bleeding heart in his old age. He believes the current ills of the world including Brexit and the Trump candidacy can be placed at the feet of those leftwing princelings, the elites.
So the right is right, and the left is wrong as it has been in PJs world all along.
Guardian Australia spoke to ORourke on the eve of his Australian speaking tour.
The rise of populism all over the globe in its various manifestations might seem like a good thing an international revolt against the elites, he says. They [the elites] have been very naughty and they have it coming to them. We have a situation in the Middle East that is utterly out of control, that has resulted in an immigration crisis in Europe that is also out of control. We have a flabby comeback from the great recession and we have a Russia and China asserting themselves quite unpleasantly and out of check.
And that is just the start.
Theres Brexit and Putin its not just Trump one could argue that the totalitarian drift of the Chinese government is part of it. And then theres that jerk that was elected head of Philippines, he says of Rodrigo Duterte.
ORourke believes that the elites are one of the contributing factors in this new populism. We also have a very rapidly changing economic landscape its changing in unpredictable ways. Any type of technological change is disturbing the industrial revolution was more linear than whats going on now.
He believes that the chaos unleashed by elites has resulted in ordinary people turning to demagogues.
Its a deeply confusing time for people. Globalisation while providing a net good, has diffuse benefits. The problems that it causes are concentrated and easily seen and the benefits are the incremental such as lowering the prices of consumer goods. Its a disturbed period so then you have the comical situation where someone like Trump rises.
For a humourist, political watcher and journalist, 2016 must feel like a vintage year albeit a bitter one.
ORourke is sanguine hes seen manifestations of this before.
Ive seen times like 2016 before and it was a good thing the fall of the communist bloc was more amazing and more positive than what we are seeing now. But now, in terms of whats going on around the globe all at the same time this year would be the big bad trend of my lifetime.
He pauses and reconsiders his answer. Actually, I suppose someone who lived between world war one and world war two would say this is the comic version.
Although ORourke is speaking to me while stuck in traffic somewhere south of Brisbane, hes gathering steam, With Trump please dont play the Hitler card hes more like Evita [the Argentinian first lady Eva Pern].
Is he scared of Trump?
I am scared of Trump in two ways. This office of the president has too much power. And then putting a lunatic in power hes just a fool incredibly shallow and a liar hes not even that successful, not even that rich. Theres nothing predictable about him. When you have the outsized power of the president, that unpredictability is unacceptable.
As for the conservatives on the other side of the pond, ORourke is more generous.
Boris [Johnson] is unpredictable and rogue but Boris is well likable and well read he is in fact a thoughtful person. And he was a very good mayor of London.
Brexit occurred because of fear about immigration, he says.
I think they [British people] looked with honest fear at the chaos at that point in France and Germany and said if we dont sever ourselves from Europe, next time well be in for that sort of stuff [terrorism]. Its not all Pakistani dentists.
A traditional curse may you live in interesting times is true for almost everywhere right now, except Australia reckons ORourke. He was following the Australian election campaign but got kind of bored, and sort of drifted off, only to wake up and find that Australia had sort of voted Malcolm Turnbull back in.
Thank your lucky stars it is boring. You are still operating in a narrow bandwidth of disagreement so stay there. I did try and follow the election and I must say I did get bored, but that was all right it was a happy boredom.