Monday, January 25, 2016

Fascism Set to So-Called Music: 'The Official Donald Trump Jam' is No Laughing Matter

Donald Trump has been gifted with a theme song for his 2016 presidential campaign.The Official Donald Trump Jam is sung by a Pensacola, Florida-based children’s singing and dance troupe called The USA Freedom Kids.

The song is a failure on both aesthetic and musical grounds.

Rolling Stone was spot-on in its mockery of The Official Donald Trump Jam:
The surreal, saccharine song boasts the finest in Midi drum loop technology and a pulsing synth melody that Blondie might want to consider taking to court… The crowd was suitably enthralled and jazzed by the performance. In fact, approximately 52-seconds in, a woman in the second row was thrown into such a patriotic fit that she — bless her heart — started clapping on beats one and three.
The song is horrible. But the political vision it signals is no laughing matter. Humor is a universal human experience. However, what a person finds humorous, entertaining, or pleasurable—and how they choose to express those feelings—is shaped by specific social, political, and cultural practices.

The Official Donald Trump Jam’s superficial embrace of empty “Americana” is easily mocked by liberals and progressives (beyond any questions of personal taste) because it signals to a vacuous myth-making about the past and present that they have rejected.

In the United States, conservatives are much more likely to embrace Americana and a belief in “American Exceptionalism.” As a political value system, conservatism reveres and embraces the past. In most political contexts, conservatives are typified by their authoritarian personalities. Together, those elements generate a deep anxiety and hostility toward social change.

Due to a combination of brain structure, insular news media and information sources, child rearing practices, and other cultural habits, American conservatives have constructed their own alternate reality. Phrases such as “red state,” “blue state,” and the “purpling” of America are not empty talking points for the political chattering classes: Said language captures a real social and political phenomenon.
The United States has high levels of political polarization (with an important caveat: elites are far more apart than the general public). Marketing research has shown how these divergences in political values extend even into popular culture.

For example, John Stewart’s The Daily Show featured actor Stephen Colbert in a role where he mocked Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly.

Colbert, to his credit, was able to create a character that effectively exposed the theatrics, lies, duplicity, and broader disinformation campaign of Bill O’Reilly and the right-wing news entertainment propaganda machine. The Daily Show’s viewers (and those who later watched the eponymous spin-off, The Colbert Report) understood the context for Stephen Colbert’s performance because they are 1) outside of the right-wing media’s bubble of epistemic closure and 2) possess a political worldview that is grounded in empirical reality. However, conservatives who watched The Colbert Report actually believed that Stephen Colbert was actually endorsing Bill O’Reilly’s political views. Because conservative viewers of The Colbert Report were/are fully propagandized by the right-wing media, they were unable (or unwilling) to discern the true meaning of Colbert’s performance.

The same dynamic is at work with The Official Donald Trump Jam. Ethnomusicologist R. Serge Denisoff’s work is extremely helpful here. He outlined the relationship between music and politics in the following way:

1. The song attempts to solicit and arouse outside support and sympathy for a social or political movement.

2. The song reinforces the value structure of individuals who are active supporters of the social movement or ideology.

3. The song creates and promotes cohesion, solidarity, and high morale in an organization or movement supporting its world view.

4. The song is an attempt to recruit individuals for a specific social movement.

5. The song invokes solutions to real or imagined social phenomena in terms of action to achieve a desired goal.

6. The song points to some problem or discontent in the society, usually in emotional terms.

This framework is extremely useful for “reading” The Official Donald Trump Jam’s lyrics:
Cowardice, are you serious? Apologies for freedom, I can't handle this When freedom rings, answer the call On your feet, stand up tall Freedom's on our shoulders, USA
Enemies of freedom, face the music
C'mon boys take 'em down
President Donald Trump knows how to make America great
Do it from strength or get crushed every time
Over here, over there
Freedom and liberty everywhere
Oh say can you see, it's not so easy
But we have to stand up tall and answer freedom's call
USA, USA, we're the land of the free and the home of the brave, USA
The stars and stripes are flying
Let's celebrate our freedom
Inspire proudly freedom to the world
Ameri-tude, American pride It's attitude, it's who we are, stand up tall We're the red white and blue Fiercely free, that's who Our colors don't run, no siree

The Official Donald Trump Jam is a statement of purpose for his proto-fascist, right-wing, Herrenvolk, nativist, and racist political project. Strength and national virility are to be restored by Donald Trump. As David Neiwert highlighted in his excellent piece on Donald Trump’s ascendance and questions of American fascism, gestures to masculinity and violence are common elements of right-wing political thought.

Of course, there is also no critical thought at work in Trump’s bromide, “Make America Strong Again!”

[Strong by what criteria? As compared to which country? Military power? Economic power? The United States is the leading global power, by most measures, in both categories.]

The father of one of the girls in the USA Freedom Kids, (who also wrote the Trump campaign song) explained this logic in an interview with New York Magazine. There, he explained:

Why no Democrats? "When you have a business you have to identify who the market is, and the Democrats are not our market," he explained. "They don’t seem to really respond to the patriotic call, if you will, in the way the Republicans do. The Republican people, like me, have tears in their eyes when they hear the national anthem. I think you’re either on the side of freedom or you’re not, the Republicans choose that team more than the Democrats do."

As I suggested in Salon, Donald Trump is a political cult leader. Consequently, for Trump and his supporters, emotions supersede serious policy proposals.

Donald Trump’s theme song contains the lyrics, “Do it from strength or get crushed every time.” As he has explained during debates and interviews, Donald Trump imagines himself as a street enforcer vigilante who uses his gun to “stop the bad guys” while he kills the families of America’s enemies, and tortures “terrorists.” It would seem that Trumpism involves a full daily schedule of war mongering, brutality, and sadism. This is arousing to conservatives, those disaffected and angry working-class white voters especially, who are attracted to such authoritarian rhetoric and promises of action.

The semiotics of the The Official Donald Trump Jam song and performance are extremely coherent. Trump’s sirens are white children. They are the literal future of Trump’s America. It is no coincidence that they are also young girls. Trump’s brand of nativism and racism has repeatedly returned to the idea that white women are imperiled by “illegal immigrants” who only come to the United State to rob, steal, and rape (white) women.

The changing racial demographics and white anxieties about America being a “majority minority country” (a claim that is not true, as the boundaries of whiteness have historically expanded to include new groups)—or what Trump’s white supremacist supporters describe as “demographic winter” for the “white race”—are signaled to by the white children in USA Freedom Kids, girls who will presumably give birth to white children in the future.

If conservatism imagines itself as under siege (and because it’s a belief system most popular among the white, aged, and dying in the United States), Trump’s USA Freedom Kids, with their American flag regalia and recitation of right-wing talking points about strength, nationalism, and militarism, are a symbol of ideological renewal and continuity across generations. Old white American conservatives can watch, smile, and clap along to The Official Donald Trump Jam because the USA Freedom Kids are a reminder of the “immortality” and “permanence” of their “sacred” values, values that they hope will exist once the older generation has died. This is an antidote to worries about both physical mortality and the obsolescence of American conservatism.

Donald Trump’s political policies are incoherent. This is unimportant for his base and the movement conservatives who will likely flock to him in a general election. Like the other 2016 GOP presidential candidates, Trump’s appeal is based on fear, empty symbolism, and the manipulation of white racial anxiety. The Official Donald Trump Jam is a horrendous song, but aesthetic assessments are irrelevant. Trump’s foot soldiers are still happily marching right along to its beat.

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