O Hitchens, where art thou?
Bill Maher’s lazy comparison between Milo Yiannopoulos and Christopher Hitchens shows just how much we need ‘the Hitch’.
Donald Trump performs the astonishing feat of “covering 90% of his head with 30% of his hair”, and Hillary Clinton is “hopeless on health care, and flippant and fast and loose with national security.” These are the verdicts of Christopher Hitchens, who died in 2011, several years before the world lost its mind and came to desperately need his.
The victory of an unlettered charlatan, and the defeat of Hillary Clinton, who Hitchens loathed viscerally, has given his death a new lease of life. This election was calling his name throughout. Everything from the candidates, to the exceptionally vapid slogans, to the liberal complacency, was ready made for him to attack. You can’t help but wonder whether voting in such an apocalyptic race would have felt like a second dose of waterboarding to him.
As someone who consumed as much election coverage as I could without having an existential crisis (I failed) there was something missing from it. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was for a while, but then I noticed. There is, by and large, two types of political commentator; exciting but totally nuts, and boring but well-informed. Hitchens was that oh-so-rare full-package; exciting, super-literate, challenging, and knowledgeable.
For the best part of fifteen years he was our foremost polemicist, at a time when “polemicist” wasn’t a term appropriated by chichi right-wing Twitter trolls that abuse students for retweets. Blasphemy is an immoral concept, as Hitchens would argue himself, but Bill Maher did his best imitation of a blaspheming heathen when he told Milo Yiannopoulos last week: “you remind me of a young, gay, alive Christopher Hitchens.” Excuse me? There is no comparison. Maher was confusing a brilliant polemicist with an egotistical troll, and anyway, “alive” is a generous term for Milo’s career right now.
But Hitchens is needed more than ever for reasons beyond his ability to eviscerate the two worst presidential candidates in living memory. As Emma Green wrote in The Atlantic:
Donald Trump was elected president with 81 percent of white evangelical voters. Mike Pence, the champion of Indiana’s controversial 2015 religious-freedom law, is his deputy. Neil Gorsuch, a judge deeply sympathetic to religious litigants, will likely be appointed to the Supreme Court.
The reality is that Christian America, politically speaking, is currently the strongest it’s been in quite some time.
Remember that evangelicals had two great victories: the banning of Darwin in schools and prohibition. Both of these were regressive, authoritarian, and babyish. In the upper echelons of sinister Christian politics (see Mike Pence) absolutely nothing has changed. Wouldn’t an unapologetic anti-theist with a pile of bones to pick be much appreciated right now?
I think so. His prose was magnificent, his speeches electric, and his punchlines were laugh-out-loud funny:
If you gave [Jerry] Falwell an enema he could be buried in a matchbox.
It is a shame beyond proportions that Christopher Hitchens isn’t here to witness this clown-car crash and burn at the expense of us all. As he used to say so wryly at the end of a debate he’d usually just won, he had barely taken his trousers off.