What makes a radical? What makes someone give up on moderation, stick to their principles and tell the world to get with it or fuck off?
I have been involved with Gonzo Times and the community around it since roughly 2010. It's been five years of arguing and brotherly bonds. I ran Gonzo Times for a brief time before giving it back to the founder, Punk Johnny Cash, earlier this year.
I think that the members of the Gonzo community have as many disagreements as agreements. I have disagreed with Josh over gun control - although he has made me come around to seeing disarming the police as a prerequisite that is necessary before private citizens are ever disarmed. I have disagreed with Luis about prescription drugs for behavioral disorders.
What is the unitary thing? I noticed, bizarrely, that almost every single member of the Gonzo community had, once upon a time, been a conservative or libertarian. I don't think there are actually exceptions to that.
Libertarianism and conservatism, while the former tries to be sexy and iconoclastic and the latter masked by religion and tribalism, pretty much sell the same thing - a defense of class establishments. People who attract to conservatism and libertarianism and leave that world are often pretty angry and feel a great deal of hate for America. Josh, Luis and I, despite our differences all share a disgust for the system and ideas we defended. Many, like Luis and me, thought we were actually being rebellious. When you go as far as I did, eventually interning at the Heritage Foundation, it's hard to be anything but radical. You've seen and heard the ugly and stupid nonsense that conservatism is really about.
I think this is important to think of when considering today's world leaders. President Barack Obama started out "a pretty radical guy" although he "clearly isn't that person anymore," as my editor Colin Jenkins said to me. What changed?
Whatever radicalism Obama may once have had, capitalism and the American power structure worked for him. He was able to succeed through Ivy League universities, raise millions of dollars through the most commercial election process on the planet and effectively become a trademarked icon. He tasted power and apparently liked it quite a bit. Some of his recent interviews seem to show that he has taken an approach in which the system is actually working despite the chaos we have been seeing in the news and in race relations.
Juxtapose this with Pope Francis, who apparently had an instrumental role in improving American relations with Cuba, a policy shift that may end up being one of the [few] lasting positive changes of the Obama era.
Francis is 78 years old. He has been in the Catholic Church for a very, very long time - long enough to have seen the horror of the far right up close and personal. He has pulled no punches with his radicalism - going so far as to say the Vatican itself is sick with greed and lust for power, something that sounds quite plausible.
The right promises things the left doesn't and can't - wealth, superiority, prestige and power. Even if those things are false, it promises those things to its adherents while the Left demands sacrifice. People become most susceptible to their talk when they have not been exposed to it fully before. This may explain why many liberal politicians become susceptible to Washington D.C.'s national security community, buying in to the money that comes along with vouching for the military industrial complex even if, years before, they would have looked down on the campus ROTC.
Francis has seen enough to know what the Right really promises and to know both how critical the Left has been to Latin America and how to appeal to them. I have my doubts that the breakthrough with Cuba would have happened if he had not made the reported "personal appeals" that he did, although Obama has made progress on his own with Iran.