"Better songs, if nothing else"

*singer-29259__340This was the title of a recent Boston Globe opinion piece by Renée Graham referring to what a Trump Presidency could contribute to the common good: “riling up musicians to voice their political opposition in song.”

It echoes my observation in recent posts that incompetent and duplicitous leadership in the White House is awakening spontaneous resistance in the rock & roll community that hasn't been heard in nearly a half century.

That began last week as a unified boycott of President Trump’s inaugural events and parties by the nation's premier musical talent. (The acts who did perform at those events lacked serious artistic cred and did themselves no favors publicity-wise.) The best rock and pop artists have always had good BS detectors and have been among the first to sniff out deceit in political leadership. (One could argue that rock & roll’s finest hour—at least as a cultural force—was during the reign of Richard Nixon.)

But you might ask, “Why would the centers of political (or commercial or financial) power be concerned about what some pop singers wail about?”

Because these artists and entertainers, when singing from the same hymnal, have an out-sized influence on public opinion, especially with the young. Folk and rock acts in the 60s and early 70s were a force for societal change—including Civil Rights and Women's Rights, and the anti-war and environmental movements. Singers like Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Marvin Gaye, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young—among others—played a key role in altering the conversation about human rights. As a result, actual legislation was passed and, more importantly, lives were changed.

Artists of all stripes provide our early warning system against societal threats. And, as I've said before, business must pay attention. When leaders of commerce fail to stand up to political leadership that is irrational and authoritarian, it's not just their businesses that will pay the price.

Meanwhile, there have been so many head-scratching and head-spinning pronouncements from the new President in his first six days in office, I wonder how we'll keep our collective sanity in the weeks ahead.

I was incredulous to hear the President, in his inaugural speech, expand on his “America First” diatribe, which recalls the isolationist, Nazi-Germany-enabling rallying cry of Charles Lindbergh et al. in 1940, many of whom felt the US should stay out of WWII because they felt Hitler’s triumph was inevitable and that fascism and nativism represented our collective future.

Within a year of its creation, the America First movement had wide anti-Semitic appeal—which goes nicely with Trump’s complaints about the control exercised by “international bankers” (wink, wink). At first I thought this was a dog whistle but now I think even frogs and snakes can hear it. Given the cataclysm that such ethnic and racial prejudice has wrought in the last century, does an American President REALLY want to go there? Or could he actually be unaware of the toxic origins of "America First"? Neither answer is reassuring.

I should add that I always feel badly when I voice these criticisms because I know we shouldn't blame President Trump any more than we should blame any human being for a mental illness that is never chosen. Now the precise diagnosis of his condition is widely debated among health professionals. (Is Trump missing some mental hardware or some emotional software?) But I haven't met any knowledgeable practitioner who doesn't question the President's mental/psychological health on some level.

In my view, the fault lies with family and friends who have seen his pathology for years but have done nothing about it, allowing themselves to become enablers. Not to mention the misguided Americans who voted for him last November (only a quarter of the electorate, but many million nonetheless). It’s some consolation that he lost the popular vote and that he entered office as the most unpopular President (32% approval according to a CBS survey) in the history of polling. But we're stuck with him.

As David Brooks—my favorite conservative commentator and an award winning New York Times opinion writer—succinctly put it:

We’ve never had a major national leader as professionally unprepared, intellectually ill informed, morally compromised and temperamentally unfit as the man who took the oath on Friday.

This only serves to prove O’Leary’s Corollary to Cole’s Axiom: “The sum total of the civics intelligence of the American people is a constant—and the population is growing.”

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  1. The America First Committee had a lot of bipartisan credibility when it formed in 1940. The national mood regarding WW2 was quite non-interventionist then. But after Charles Lindbergh became its spokesman it took a darker turn.

    1. Yeah, it was formed by Yale Law students, including Gerald Ford and Sargent Shriver. Then Lindbergh got involved—after being wined and dined by Goring and others in Berlin the mid-to late 30s—warning FDR not to get into war against the Nazis. He was even in Germany during Kristallnacht but didn't speak out about it.

  2. I'm as spooked as anyone by the entry into office of a thin-skinned, compromised man whose first act was to threaten US business leaders who offshore jobs whilst simultaneously proposing that it would be perfectly OK to flaunt the Constitution by offshoring the job of torturing people he deems as terrorists.


    What if, 4 years hence, he's still making every conceivable gaffe under the sun but US GDP has escalated, unemployment is down, infrastructure is improved and the banking system is returned to health? I guess it might depend on what happens to civil liberties in the meantime but would this justify electing such a compromised President?

    1. Mark, my short answer is: all of the above benefits could be easily produced in the short term if future costs are ignored. But within four years those costs would be evident, even to less educated voters. (My longer answer comes later.)

    2. Ok, longer answer...

      If Drumpf lasts in office 4 years—which is hard to imagine—we can only assume he will not be cured of his personality disorder, so he will continue to contaminate America’s brand in many ways, tangibly and intangibly, as he continues to make pronouncements that are bigoted, xenophobic, nativistic, jingoistic, anti-Semitic, and misogynistic. (But, then again, perhaps America can use some humility?)

      In tangible terms, inequality will almost certainly increase, networks of dark money will bankroll more legislation, the Supreme Court will chop away at women’s rights, trade wars will increase from tariff manipulations, voters’ rights will be further eroded in the name of preventing “voter fraud,” more American lives will be lost and trillions of dollars wasted in Middle East conflicts in the name of “wiping ISIS off the face of the earth,” Russia will ruthlessly expand its borders, climate change efforts will be reversed, and—because the Treasury won’t have the tax revenue to pay for the proposed infrastructure program—the national debt will take off like an ICBM. (But maybe once and for all this will expose the ruse that tax cuts pay for themselves?) In short, the swamp will be restocked for years. All this will leave President Franken or President Harris with one hell of a mess to clean up in 2020.

      It will be some consolation that everyday Americans will finally recognize the importance of civics, history, and science education. And voters will learn to recognize the unmistakable signs of mental illness in a political candidate.

      And this: politically savvy musical artists will revitalize pop music and play a role in mobilizing the public to get this poseur thrown out of office and bring new blood into Congress. I might even have to get on the road myself to take advantage of the new musical landscape. My guitar is tuned up and ready to go.

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