Books by Gore Vidal
City and the Pillar /
Point to Point Navigation: A Memoir /
Lincoln: A Novel /
Burr: A Novel
Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace /
Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams, Jefferson
* * *
with Gore Vidal
It's lucky for George W. Bush that he wasn't
born in an earlier time and somehow stumbled into America's
Constitutional Convention. A man with his views, so depreciative
of democratic rule, would have certainly been quickly exiled
from the freshly liberated United States by the gaggle of
incensed Founders. So muses one of our most controversial social
critics and prolific writers, Gore Vidal.
When we last interviewed Vidal just over a
year ago, he set off a mighty chain reaction as he positioned
himself as one of the last standing defenders of the ideal of
the American Republic. His acerbic comments to L.A. Weekly about
the Bushies were widely reprinted in publications around the
world and flashed repeatedly over the World Wide Web. Now Vidal
is at it again, giving the Weekly another dose of his dissent,
and with the constant trickle of casualties mounting in Iraq,
his comments are no less explosive than they were last year.
This time, however, Vidal is speaking to us
as a full-time American. After splitting his time between Los
Angeles and Italy for the past several decades, Vidal has
decided to roost in his colonial home in the Hollywood Hills.
Now 77 years old, suffering from a bad knee and still recovering
from the loss earlier this year of his longtime companion,
Howard Austen, Vidal is feistier and more productive than ever.
Vidal undoubtedly had current pols like Bush
and Ashcroft in mind when he wrote his latest book, his third in
two years. Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams, Jefferson
takes us deep into the psyches of the patriotic trio. And even
with all of their human foibles on display -- vanity, ambition,
hubris, envy and insecurity -- their shared and profoundly
rooted commitment to building the first democratic nation on
Earth comes straight to the fore.
The contrast between then and now is hardly
implicit. No more than a few pages into the book, Vidal unveils
his dripping disdain for the crew that now dominates the capital
named for our first president.
As we began our dialogue, I asked him to draw
out the links between our revolutionary past and our imperial
* * *
Marc Cooper: Your new book focuses on
Washington, Adams, Jefferson, but it seems from reading
closely that it was actually Ben Franklin who turned out to be
the most prescient regarding the future of the republic.
Gore Vidal: Franklin understood the
American people better than the other three. Washington and
Jefferson were nobles -- slaveholders and plantation owners.
Alexander Hamilton married into a rich and powerful family and
joined the upper classes. Benjamin Franklin was pure middle
class. In fact, he may have invented it for Americans. Franklin
saw danger everywhere. They all did. Not one of them liked the
Constitution. James Madison, known as the father of it, was full
of complaints about the power of the presidency. But they were
in a hurry to get the country going. Hence the great speech,
which I quote at length in the book, that Franklin, old and
dying, had someone read for him. He said, I am in favor of this
Constitution, as flawed as it is, because we need good
government and we need it fast. And this, properly enacted, will
give us, for a space of years, such government.
But then, Franklin said, it will fail, as all
such constitutions have in the past, because of the essential
corruption of the people. He pointed his finger at all the
American people. And when the people become so corrupt, he said,
we will find it is not a republic that they want but rather
despotism -- the only form of government suitable for such a
But Jefferson had the most radical view,
didn't he? He argued that the Constitution should be seen only
as a transitional document.
Oh yeah. Jefferson said that once a
generation we must have another Constitutional Convention and
revise all that isn't working. Like taking a car in to get the
carburetor checked. He said you cannot expect a man to wear a
boy's jacket. It must be revised, because the Earth belongs to
the living. He was the first that I know who ever said that. And
to each generation is the right to change every law they wish.
Or even the form of government. You know, bring in the Dalai
Lama if you want! Jefferson didn't care.
Jefferson was the only pure democrat among
the founders, and he thought the only way his idea of democracy
could be achieved would be to give the people a chance to change
the laws. Madison was very eloquent in his answer to Jefferson.
He said you cannot [have] any government of any weight if you
think it is only going to last a year.
was the quarrel between Madison and Jefferson. And it would
probably still be going on if there were at least one statesman
around who said we have to start changing this damn thing.
Your book revisits the debate between the
Jeffersonian Republicans and the Hamiltonian Federalists, which
at the time were effectively young America's two parties. More
than 200 years later, do we still see any strands, any threads
of continuity in our current body politic?
Just traces. But mostly we find the sort of
corruption Franklin predicted. Ours is a totally corrupt
society. The presidency is for sale. Whoever raises the most
money to buy TV time will probably be the next president. This
is corruption on a major scale.
Enron was an eye-opener to naive lovers of
modern capitalism. Our accounting brotherhood, in its entirety,
turned out to be corrupt, on the take. With the government
absolutely colluding with them and not giving a damn.
Bush's friend, old Kenny Lay, is still at
large and could just as well start some new company tomorrow. If
he hasn't already. No one is punished for squandering the
people's money and their pension funds and for wrecking the
So the corruption predicted by Franklin bears
its terrible fruit. No one wants to do anything about it. It's
not even a campaign issue. Once you have a business community
that is so corrupt in a society whose business is business, then
what you have is, indeed, despotism. It is the sort of
authoritarian rule that the Bush people have given us. The USA
PATRIOT Act is as despotic as anything Hitler came up with --
even using much of the same language. In one of my earlier
Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, I show how the
language used by the Clinton people to frighten Americans into
going after terrorists like Timothy McVeigh -- how their rights
were going to be suspended only for a brief time -- was
precisely the language used by Hitler after the Reichstag fire.
In this context, would any of the Founding
Fathers find themselves comfortable in the current political
system of the United States? Certainly Jefferson wouldn't. But
what about the radical centralizers, or those like John Adams,
who had a sneaking sympathy for the monarchy?
thought monarchy, as tamed and balanced by the parliament, could
offer democracy. But he was no totalitarian, not by any means.
Hamilton, on the other hand, might have very well gone along
with the Bush people, because he believed there was an elite who
should govern. He nevertheless was a bastard born in the West
Indies, and he was always a little nervous about his own social
station. He, of course, married into wealth and became an
aristo. And it is he who argues that we must have a government
made up of the very best people, meaning the rich.
So you'd find Hamilton pretty much on the
Bush side. But I can't think of any other Founders who would.
Adams would surely disapprove of Bush. He was highly moral, and
I don't think he could endure the current dishonesty. Already
they were pretty bugged by a bunch of journalists who came over
from Ireland and such places and were telling Americans how to
do things. You know, like Andrew Sullivan today telling us how
to be. I think you would find a sort of union of discontent with
Bush among the Founders. The sort of despotism that overcomes us
now is precisely what Franklin predicted.
But Gore, you have lived through a number
of inglorious administrations in your lifetime, from Truman's
founding of the national-security state, to LBJ's debacle in
Vietnam, to Nixon and Watergate, and yet here you are to tell
the tale. So when it comes to this Bush administration, are you
really talking about despots per se? Or is this really just one
more rather corrupt and foolish Republican administration?
No. We are talking about despotism. I have
read not only the first PATRIOT Act but also the second one,
which has not yet been totally made public nor approved by
Congress and to which there is already great resistance. An
American citizen can be fingered as a terrorist, and with what
proof? No proof. All you need is the word of the attorney
general or maybe the president himself. You can then be locked
up without access to a lawyer, and then tried by military
tribunal and even executed. Or, in a brand-new wrinkle, you can
be exiled, stripped of your citizenship and packed off to
another place not even organized as a country -- like Tierra del
Fuego or some rock in the Pacific. All of this is in the USA
PATRIOT Act. The Founding Fathers would have found this to be
despotism in spades. And they would have hanged anybody who
tried to get this through the Constitutional Convention in
So if George W. Bush or John Ashcroft had
been around in the early days of the republic, they would have
been indicted and then hanged by the Founders?
No. It would have been better and worse.
[Laughs] Bush and Ashcroft would have been considered so
disreputable as to not belong in this country at all. They might
be invited to go down to Bolivia or Paraguay and take part in
the military administration of some Spanish colony, where they
would feel so much more at home. They would not be called
Americans -- most Americans would not think of them as citizens.
Do you not think of Bush and Ashcroft as
I think of them as an alien army. They have
managed to take over everything, and quite in the open. We have
a deranged president. We have despotism. We have no due process.
Yet you saw in the '60s how the Johnson
administration collapsed under the weight of its own hubris.
Likewise with Nixon. And now with the discontent over how the
war in Iraq is playing out, don't you get the impression that
Bush is headed for the same fate?
I actually see something smaller tripping him
up: this business over outing the wife of Ambassador Wilson as a
CIA agent. It's often these small things that get you. Something
small enough for a court to get its teeth into. Putting this
woman at risk because of anger over what her husband has done is
bitchy, dangerous to the nation, dangerous to other CIA agents.
This resonates more than Iraq. I'm afraid that 90 percent of
Americans don't know where Iraq is and never will know, and they
But that number of $87 billion is seared into
their brains, because there isn't enough money to go around. The
states are broke. Meanwhile, the right wing has been successful
in convincing 99 percent of the people that we are generously
financing every country on Earth, that we are bankrolling
welfare mothers, all those black ladies that the Republicans are
always running against, the ladies they tell us are guzzling
down Kristal champagne at the Ambassador East in Chicago --
which of course is ridiculous.
And now the people see another $87 billion
going out the window. So long! People are going to rebel against
that one. Congress has gone along with that,
but a lot of congressmen could lose their seats for that.
Speaking of elections, is George W. Bush
going to be re-elected next year?
No. At least if there is a fair election, an
election that is not electronic. That would be dangerous. We
don't want an election without a paper trail. The makers of the
voting machines say no one can look inside of them, because they
would reveal trade secrets. What secrets? Isn't their job to
count votes? Or do they get secret messages from Mars? Is the
cure for cancer inside the machines? I mean, come on. And all
three owners of the companies who make these machines are donors
to the Bush administration. Is this not corruption?
So Bush will probably win if the country is
covered with these balloting machines. He can't lose.
But Gore, aren't you still enough of a
believer in the democratic instincts of ordinary people to think
that, in the end, those sorts of conspiracies eventually fall
Oh no! I find they only get stronger, more
entrenched. Who would have thought that Harry Truman's plans to
militarize America would have come as far as we are today? All
the money we have wasted on the military, while our schools are
nowhere. There is no health care; we know the litany. We get
nothing back for our taxes. I wouldn't have thought that would
have lasted the last 50 years,
which I lived through. But it did last.
But getting back to Bush. If we use
old-fashioned paper ballots and have them counted in the
precinct where they are cast, he will be swept from office. He's
made every error you can. He's wrecked the economy. Unemployment
is up. People can't find jobs. Poverty is up. It's a total mess.
How does he make such a mess? Well, he is plainly very stupid.
But the people around him are not. They want to stay in power.
You paint a very dark picture of the
current administration and of the American political system in
general. But at a deeper, more societal level, isn't there still
a democratic underpinning?
No. There are some memories of what we once
were. There are still a few old people around who remember the
New Deal, which was the last time we had a government that
showed some interest in the welfare of the American people. Now
we have governments, in the last 20 to 30 years, that care only
about the welfare of the rich.
Is Bush the worst president we've ever
Well, nobody has ever wrecked the Bill of
Rights as he has. Other presidents have dodged around it, but no
president before this one has so put the Bill of Rights at risk.
No one has proposed preemptive war before. And two countries in
a row that have done no harm to us have been bombed.
How do you think the current war in Iraq
is going to play out?
I think we will go down the tubes right with
it. With each action Bush ever more enrages the Muslims. And
there are a billion of them. And sooner or later they will have
a Saladin who will pull them together, and they will come after
us. And it won't be pretty.
* * *
* * *
Lincoln: A Novel
By Gore Vidal
Gore Vidal's Narratives of Empire
series spans the history of the
United States from the Revolution to
the post-World War II years. With
their broad canvas and large cast of
fictional and historical characters,
the novels in this series present a
panorama of the American political
and imperial experience as
interpreted by one of its most
worldly, knowing, and ironic
observers. . . .To most Americans,
Abraham Lincoln is a monolithic
figure, the Great Emancipator and
Savior of the Union, beloved by all.
In Gore Vidal's Lincoln we meet
Lincoln the man and Lincoln the
political animal, the president who
entered a besieged capital where
most of the population supported the
South and where even those favoring
the Union had serious doubts that
the man from Illinois could save it.
Far from steadfast in his abhorrence
of slavery, Lincoln agonizes over
the best course of action and comes
to his great decision only when all
else seems to fail. As the Civil War
ravages his nation, Lincoln must
face deep personal turmoil, the loss
of his dearest son, and the
harangues of a wife seen as a
traitor for her Southern
connections. Brilliantly conceived,
masterfully executed, Gore Vidal's
Lincoln allows the man to breathe
* * *
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in
By Melissa V.
According to the
author, this society has historically exerted
considerable pressure on black females to fit into one
of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the
Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless
Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to
white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of
those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the
relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable
temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as
an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the
characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television
shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
points out how the propagation of these harmful myths
have served the mainstream culture well. For instance,
the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for
black females to feel a maternal instinct towards
As for the source
of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their
own bodies during slavery given that they were being
auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless,
it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate
the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate
* * *
A Wreath for Emmett Till
By Marilyn Nelson; Illustrated by
This memorial to
the lynched teen is in the Homeric
tradition of poet-as-historian. It is a
heroic crown of sonnets in Petrarchan
rhyme scheme and, as such, is quite
formal not only in form but in language.
There are 15 poems in the cycle, the
last line of one being the first line of
the next, and each of the first lines
makes up the entirety of the 15th. This
chosen formality brings distance and
reflection to readers, but also calls
attention to the horrifically ugly
events. The language is highly
figurative in one sonnet, cruelly
graphic in the next. The illustrations
echo the representative nature of the
poetry, using images from nature and
taking advantage of the emotional
quality of color.
There is an introduction by the author, a page
about Emmett Till, and literary and poetical footnotes to the
sonnets. The artist also gives detailed reasoning behind his
choices. This underpinning information makes this a full
experience, eminently teachable from several aspects, including
historical and literary—School
* * * * *
Ancient, Ancient: Short Fiction
By Kiini Ibura Salaam
Ancient, Ancient collects the short fiction by Kiini Ibura Salaam, of which acclaimed author and critic Nalo Hopkinson writes, ''Salaam treats words like the seductive weapons they are. She wields them to weave fierce, gorgeous stories that stroke your sensibilities, challenge your preconceptions, and leave you breathless with their beauty.'' Indeed, Ms. Salaam's stories are so permeated with sensuality that in her introduction to
Ancient, Ancient, Nisi Shawl, author of the award-winning Filter House, writes, ''Sexuality-cum-sensuality is the experiential link between mind and matter, the vivid and eternal refutation of the alleged dichotomy between them. This understanding is the foundation of my 2004 pronouncement on the burgeoning sexuality implicit in sf's Afro-diasporization. It is the core of many African-based philosophies. And it is the throbbing, glistening heart of Kiini's body of work. This book is alive. Be not afraid.''
* * *
By Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie
Somebody has to tell the truth sometime, whatever that truth may be. In this, her début full collection, Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie offers up a body of work that bears its scars proudly, firm in the knowledge that each is evidence of a wound survived. These are songs of life in all its violent difficulty and beauty; songs of fury, songs of love. 'Karma's Footsteps' brims with things that must be said and turns the volume up, loud, giving silence its last rites. "Ekere Tallie's new work 'Karma's Footsteps' is as fierce with fight songs as it is with love songs. Searing with truths from the modern day world she is unafraid of the twelve foot waves that such honesties always manifest. A poet who "refuses to tiptoe" she enters and exits the page sometimes with short concise imagery, sometimes in the arms of delicate memoir. Her words pull the forgotten among us back into the lightning of our eyes.—Nikky Finney /
Ekere Tallie Table
Her Voice /
Mother Nature: Thoughts on Nourishing Your
Body, Mind, and Spirit During Pregnancy and Beyond www.ekeretallie.com
* * * * *
The White Masters
of the World
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
* * *
Negro Digest / Black World
Browse all issues
* * *
Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /
George Jackson /
* * * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding
* * * * *
* * * *
(Books, DVDs, Music, and more)
update 1 August 2012