It’s not just politicians who are getting older; satirists are, too. Near the end of this book PJ O’Rourke lets slip the startling revelation that he is just a few months younger than Hillary Clinton and only a year behind Trump, who at 70 became the oldest ever first-time president. Long gone is the O’Rourke of yore, a Republican answer to Hunter S Thompson, travelling the world’s danger zones in search of drink, women and leftwing stupidity. Now he operates more in the mould of HL Mencken, one of his heroes, who rarely felt the need to leave his beloved Baltimore in order to lambast the idiocy of his fellow Americans. O’Rourke lives, as it says on the dust jacket, “in rural New England, as far away from the things he writes about as he can get”. This is American politics as viewed from the back room in front of the TV, feet up on the recliner chair.
“O’Rourke has a nice, world-weary way with the US’s present political follies.”
It’s an approach that gives the book some of its charm but also explains its many failings. O’Rourke has a nice, world-weary way with the US’s present political follies. He describes watching the first Republican presidential debate with his elderly father-in-law, who had the benefit of being deaf and half-blind, but still managed to find Carly Fiorina an impressive candidate. Now that Trump dominates everything, it’s good to be reminded of a time when he was just one hopelessly flawed candidate among many, each of them a wholly improbable future occupant of the White House. O’Rourke spends as much time on the losers as the eventual winner, skewering Chris Christie and Marco Rubio, Ben Carsonand Scott Walker. They deserve it, of course, but somehow it feels a bit easy – after all, the voters have already done much of the skewering for him.
Photograph: Anne Ryan/Polaris