An Anniversary Anthology: the 1980s

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

From Commune to Condo Michael Weiss December 1980

A few weeks before the end of 1979 I walked into a title company office and picked up one of those discreet manila envelopes with a cellophane window, the kind that gives your spirits and bank account a lift because it usually holds a check. I opened it gingerly and looked at the figures. It was for twice as much money as I had ever earned in a year and was the profit from the sale of a property that had once been a commune predicated on collective opposition to pernicious capitalism.

Imagine the Worst Kurt Vonnegut October 1984

Mr. Reagan never wanted real power anyway. No actor ever does. He wanted an acting job, and he got it, and he will get it again…. It is a credit to the majority of the American people who vote that they understand the powerlessness of the presidency, realize that their function, for the fun of it, really, is to approve or disapprove hams sent over by Central Casting. Who,for example, could exhibit the truer grit while guiding a team of malamutes through a blizzard of soap flakes driven by a wind machine Fritz Mondale or Ronald Reagan? No contest.

Fever All Through the Night (Positioned right next to a sidebar dubbed “Learning to Live With Herpes”) Nora Gallagher November 1982

Gay men have particularly strong reasons for being cautious. Within the gay community there have been startling rises in gonorrhea, hepatitis, amoebiasis (from an amoeba), and giardiasis…. Added to the more common illnesses is a group of diseases that, while still rare, are causing a trembling among doctors and gay men. They are known by the acronym AID, which stands for acquired immune deficiency…. In the past year, 527 cases of [Kaposi’s sarcoma] and other AID diseases have surfaced in New York, San Francisco, and other cities. Most of the victims are gay men; nearly half of them are dead.

Company Man Scott Armstrong & Jeff Nason November 1988

A careful review of the voluminous investigative record of the Iran-Contra scandal clearly demonstrates that there were only eight individuals, out of the hundreds involved, who were actually “in the loop” of detailed information about both the arms-for-hostages deal with Iran and funding for the Nicaraguan Contras. One William Casey of the cia is dead. Five of the others Robert McFarlane, John Poindexter, Oliver North, Richard Secord, and Albert Hakim have pleaded guilty or been indicted for their involvement in the loop. One is leaving office on January 20, 1989. And the last, George Bush, hopes to take office on that day.

The Best Man June 1989

At least John Tower’s door would have been revolving. Judging from his record, Dick Cheney will take his off the hinges when weapons contractors are near, then bolt it shut when the American people want to look in.

Is TV the Coolest Invention Ever Invented? Matt Groening December 1989 (just pre-“Simpsons” launch)

“If I start doing those windshield stick-on dolls, the disapproval will be deserved.”

Fighting Words on the Future of the Earth Russell Means December 1980

The only possible opening for a statement of this kind is that I detest writing. The process itself epitomizes the European concept of “legitimate” thinking; what is written has an importance that is denied the spoken. My culture, the Lakota culture, has an oral tradition, so I ordinarily reject writing. It is one of the white world’s ways of destroying the cultures of non-European peoples, the imposing of an abstraction over the spoken relationship of a people.

Redemption Day Alice Walker December 1986

I first really heard Bob Marley when I was writing a draft of the screenplay for The Color Purple… I was transfixed. It was hard to believe the beauty of the soul I heard in “No Woman No Cry,” “Coming In From the Cold,” “Could You Be Loved,” “Three Little Birds,” and “Redemption Song.” Here was a man who loved his roots (even after he’d been nearly assassinated in his own country) and knew they extended to the ends of the earth. Here was a soul who loved Jamaica and loved Jamaicans and loved being a Jamaican (nobody got more pleasure out of the history, myths, traditions, and language of Jamaica than Bob Marley), but who knew it was not meant to limit itself (or even could) to an island of any sort. Here was the radical peasant-class, working-class consciousness that fearlessly denounced the wasichu (the greedy and destructive) and did it with such grace you could dance to it. Here was a man of extraordinary sensitivity, political acumen, spiritual power, and sexual wildness; a free spirit if ever there was one. Here, I felt, was my brother. It was as if there had been a great and gorgeous light on all over the world, and somehow I’d missed it. Every night for the next two months I listened to Bob Marley. I danced with his spirit so much more alive still than many people walking around. I felt my own dreadlocks begin to grow.

Nancy Reagan’s White House Diary Published as part of a parody magazine entitled Right Living: A Magazine for the Best of Us Barbara Ehrenreich & Peter Biskind April 1981

Yesterday we had this wonderful group of religious leaders over for brunch and a heart-to-heart talk, during which Ronnie promised to stop the baby killers, but I was so busy shaking hands I never did find out who the babies are killing or how they manage to do it.

Inside the Slaughter: El Salvador’s Victims, El Salvador’s Butchers Adam Hochschild June 1983

Afternoon. The men’s prison, La Esperanza “The Hope” 576 political prisoners here, from age 15 up. The prison is more crowded than the women’s, and dirtier; there is trash lying about on the walkways and under the stairs. The corridor ceilings are a tangle of home-rigged wiring to bring electricity to the cells. Again, there are no guards in the “political” section.

There are slogans on the walls, a poster of Che Guevara, a bulletin board of political news, and even a large map of the country showing what territory is now controlled by the rebels.

One of the prisoners wears a T-shirt that says “Yosemite National Park.” Another’s bears the name “The Athlete’s Foot.” The man with the latter is a former public school teacher, Rafael Antonio Carrias, once active in the teachersÕ union. Arrested February 1981. Tortured by the National Guard. He takes off his T-shirt to show us garish, ridged scars that cross his chest and back like long ruts gouged in dirt: the effects, he says, of hydrochloric acid burns.

The prisoners at La Esperanza give us a set of documents to take away. They are copied by hand in neat, almost microscopic printing, the writing of a scrivener in a society without typewriters. They are a tabulation of all the political prisoners held here, written out afresh for each delegation allowed to visit: name of prisoner, occupation, age, place of capture, date, branch of armed services involved. At the end there are neatly ruled charts summarizing information from the list, just as tables of data might accompany a scientific article. One lists the abuses inflicted and what percentage of prisoners have suffered them torturas: golpes en el cuerpo (beatings), 96 percent; choques electricos (electric shock), 32 percent; colgados (suspending or hanging), 14 percent; asfixia (suffocation), 8 percent; drogas (drugs), 6 percent; fracturas por golpes (broken bones), 3 percent.

Stunned by all of this, we finally ask the prisoners: Why has the government let us see you? “They want to demonstrate to the world,” says one, “that not everyone who is captured is assassinated.”

I pose the question later to a veteran American correspondent stationed here. He says: “This country has a very strange sense of P.R.”


Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and billionaires wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2022 demands.

payment methods


Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2022 demands.

payment methods

We Recommend


Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.