Soundtracking the Resistance - Six Months Down

Examining a Half Year of Trump (Plus Radiohead, Michael Stipe, Coldplay, Randy Newman, and Dirty Projectors)

Jul 21, 2017 Web Exclusive By Stephen Mayne Bookmark and Share


It's the half-year Trump anniversary so we're leading with that this week. Mix in a little summary of his various misdeeds, and a collection of protest tracks the man has inspired and we've got ourselves a column.

The Big Event

Have only six months passed? It feels like forever and yet no time at all since Donald J. Trump stood in front of his self-inflated crowd and promised to make America great again. Has he though? Well no one can have that much impact in only half a year but Trump is an interesting example of someone managing to have a huge influence while achieving very little.

This week is a fitting summary of the Trump era so far. The aftershocks from the latest scandal (thanks Junior) continue to be felt even as the major legislative measure of the year grinds to a halt yet again, and Trump, either through nefarious behavior or an inability to understand how situations might be perceived, continues to chain himself to Vladimir Putin.

Throw in the usual Twitter barrages, the first meeting of his entirely unnecessary electoral fraud party that is gearing up to try and out #fakenews even the fakest of news stories, and the usual negative comments aimed at one of his own associates (sorry Jeff, in the great to recuse or not to recuse debate, it seems you came down on the wrong side for your boss) and its every week of the first six months condensed into one.

In practice then, aside from the appointment of a new Supreme Court Judge, which is no mean feat, all the rest of his blustering meanness hasn't seen much in the way of feats. The travel ban is sitting in awkward limbo, having dragged on far longer than the quick win it was supposed to be, China seems not to be quite as pliant as Trump thought, and the decision to pull out from the Paris climate agreement has roused an anti-Trump camp amongst foreign leaders. There seems little point in asking where that wall is either.

There is no sane world in which even a fraction of the things Trump promised could be delivered in six months. The problems come with his never-ending boasting that sees grandiose claims and little in the way of follow-up.

But then here comes the influence. Whatever he does is reported, and not just in America. Few people stand on the fence when it comes to the 45th President of the United States. Record low approval ratings show how disliked he is, while the stubborn support of around a quarter of respondents also demonstrates the depth of feeling he inspires amongst his much-hyped base. Politics is crueler, meaner, smaller, and more divisive under Trump, and it's certainly louder. It's turned yet further into the kind of reality show he made much of his reputation off the back of and still no one seems able to look in any other direction.

So, in many ways, as we hit this half-year checkpoint, he's been exposed as the political incompetent many thought him to be without much in the way of mediation when it comes to his behavior. He's no leader of anything beyond his own ego. But Trump has had a huge cultural impact, dominating conversation and forcing all eyes his way. It's not possible to say he's done nothing, even if the something he has achieved is to focus all attention on himself, a lightning rod for friend and foe alike.

That's still something though, and it can be a huge distraction when important issues are swept aside in favor of chortling/growing enraged/offering fulsome support at whatever latest outrage he's perpetuated.

Then again, for all his cynical unpleasantness, he's also provoked protests from multiple groups, rousing more than just his own base. Feminists and scientists have marched, public figures have spoken out, and in our own space, musicians continue to use him as a jumping off point, either to find a way to engage in politics, or as a route to introduce other people to ideas that have often been left by the wayside. From Algiers to Angel Olsen, Aimee Mann, Gorilaz, Kendrick Lamar, and EMA, there is plenty out there already with far more to come. Even Todd Rundgren has been in on the act.

As for what to expect in the coming months and years, well that's anyone's guess. Some people have been shouting impeachment from the moment Trump won the election. Others have been slapping each other on the back, secure in the knowledge America will be great again. Neither looks like happening any time soon, though the former seems a more likely outcome than the latter right now.

There will be legislative setbacks and possibly wins. Scandals are unlikely to disappear anytime soon, nor is Trump in any danger of toning down his trigger-happy tweeting and developing into a decent human being. American healthcare remains in peril without anyone knowing how it will work out. Taxes might be in the firing line next and who knows where that one will end up. And lest we forget, the man incapable of going a day without offending someone keeps a grip on the nuclear codes.

In short, after six months it remains as bitter, divisive and confusing as ever. But hey, at least we're getting some good music out of it.

What's Going On

We've been dancing around the latest developments in the repeal and replace Obamacare car crash already this week. To shed a little more light on the situation, it seems replace is now taking a backseat to repeal, which itself looks unlikely. After the number of Republican Senators jumping ship on the new healthcare bill left it comfortably short of a passing majority, moves are now being made to vote on straight repeal. The CBO has been out quickly to put the increase in uninsured Americans under such a proposal at 32 million. Even if it doesn't pass, the Trump administration can throw numerous spanners in the works to derail the functioning of the Affordable Healthcare Act. Dark times still lie ahead.

It really does look like Donald Jr. won't be allowed to go quietly into the night. The boy wonder Jared Kushner has also been dragged in as both of them, along with Paul Manafort, look set to testify in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Given the ever-shifting set of explanations/excuses for his son's meeting with someone who may or may not have Kremlin ties, it's bound to raise a few awkward questions for the Trump administration.

Not that Senior hasn't been keeping the Russia spotlight on himself of course. Another week, another Russia scandal, or at least the hint of one it seems. This time it has emerged Trump had a second meeting with Putin during the closing dinner at the recent G20 event. It could have been innocent of course, but neither Trump nor the White House mentioned a conversation that lasted upwards of an hour according to one onlooker. If it's innocent it's still dumb behavior, and if it's not, then who knows what's going on? 

Speak Up! 

Coldplay recently released a new EP and accompanied it with a video for the track "Miracles (Someone Special)" also featuring Big Sean. The video includes a moving homage to the American immigrant experience. In border closing, wall building, foreigner bashing times, it's a nice plea to hear.

From the slightly odder end of the spectrum, Randy Newman has been talking about his upcoming record that will include a song about a shirtless Vladimir Putin. One cut that didn't make it apparently focused on Donald Trump's penis. Here's a little sample of the lyrics:

My dick's bigger than your dick
It ain't braggin' if it's true
My dick's bigger than your dick
I can prove it too
There it is! There's my dick
Isn't that a wonderful sight?
Run to the village, to town, to the countryside
Tell the people what you've seen here tonight

Yeah, it's pretty odd stuff. Sadly, it won't feature on Dark Matter in August as Newman decided it was too crude.

Okay, we still have time to sneak in another mention of the Radiohead Israel show controversy. Michael Stipe has entered the fray to come out for Yorke and co.

I stand with Radiohead and their decision to perform. Let's hope a dialogue continues, helping to bring the occupation to an end and lead to a peaceful solution. Sincerely, Michael Stipe

A post shared by @michaelstipe on Jul 16, 2017 at 2:46pm PDT

In the midst of all this, Radiohead actually performed the show on Wednesday, incidentally playing their longest set in 11 years.

Song of the Week: Dirty Projectors - Death Spiral

Back in February David Longstreth brought a much-stripped down Dirty Projectors back with the release of the band's self-titled eighth album. Really focusing on the end of his relationship with former band member and now solo star in her own right, Amber Coffman, we're going to steal "Death Spiral" for song of the week, because what else has the Trump administration been in for the past half a year? Longstreth isn't talking about Trump when he sings "Tailspin, nose down/Now it's a race to the bottom" but it fits all the same.

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