Moby on Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and How Few People Are Anti-Establishment | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Moby on Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and How Few People Are Anti-Establishment

In the Trenches

Nov 08, 2016 Web Exclusive Photography by David Studarus (for Under the Radar) Bookmark and Share

Though it’s difficult to remember, now that indie rockers are performing at Hillary Clinton rallies and recording anti-Trump songs, it wasn’t that long ago that the Democratic nominee was routinely vilified as a Wall Street-approved neocon by nearly everyone of an anti-establishment bent. But despite being recognized as an ideologically pure liberal on every conceivable issue, Moby was not one of them. From the start, the electronic music legend was firmly and unrepentantly supportive of Clinton, resulting in considerable heartburn and a number of angry reprisals from his Bernie Sanders-supporting Twitter followers. Six months later, all is forgiven, and Moby has joined a group of celebrities and fellow musicians for “Holy Shit (You’ve Got to Vote),” a rousing anti-Trump anthem that suggests that the Republican nominee has served to unify the Clinton and Sanders camps under one banner. Here he explains his support for Clinton, his admiration for Sanders, and how it’s just about impossible to be truly anti-establishment. Moby’s latest album, These Systems Are Failing, is credited to Moby & The Void Pacific and came out last month via Mute.

Matt Fink (Under the Radar): During the primaries, it seemed like the music world-especially the indie rock worldwas pretty solidly behind Bernie Sanders and against Hillary Clinton. And some people had some pretty nasty things to say to you on Twitter after you made statements supporting Clinton. What do you attribute that to?

Moby: I almost want to look at it from a Marshall McLuhan perspective. Maybe this is too vague and esoteric, but there’s almost a tribal neurochemical aspect to it. I was reading a report about how people’s brains light up when they’re angry and sitting at a computer or engaged and sitting at a computer. Whether they’re doing MFRIs or pet scans on people’s brains, they were seeing that people’s brains light up sitting at their laptop in the same way they do when they’re smoking crystal meth. It’s this really powerful neurochemical reaction, and I think that in the ye olden days of network news, people would spend 30 minutes a day watching network news and 10 minutes a day reading a newspaper, and the media was very moderate. People were opinionated, but they were giving up less than an hour a day focused on politics and news. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, but it was a very moderating influence. Now I have friends who will spend five hours a day arguing their political points on Facebook or on different message boards. And I think it’s almost as if people are conflating two things. They’re conflating the world of politics with their own emotional attachment to the candidates. Because the truth is that Bernie and Hillary are just politicians. They aren’t terribly special people. But it enters this realm where people start to deify or demonize someone, it’s worth taking a step back and saying, “The politicians really aren’t that important.” The issues are quite important. But when people have this weird tribalistic attachment to their person or the Facebook group that they’re a part of and how everyone either agrees or disagrees with each other, it seems like it’s way less about the issues. The truth is that the issues are ideally the only things that should matter.

What about Hillary’s platform attracted you to her from the start?

I liked both of them. I’ve been a fan of Bernie Sanders for a long time. I remember some friends of mine who went to UVM decades ago got to know him, so I’ve always appreciated him, and I was actually happily surprised by how well his campaign did. So if he had gotten the nomination, I would have been thrilled. I just had more personal experience with Hillary. We did some fundraising together in New York, but I would have been just as happy to see Bernie get the nomination. I know in this very polarized world, it’s hard to consider that someone might have an either/or perspective, but I liked them both equally. If we were talking six months ago, I would have said, “Yeah, they’re both great.” If Bernie was our next president, that would have been amazing. If Hillary is our next president, that will be amazing, because they agree with each other 99 percent of the time. But I really don’t care about politicians; I care about the issues. Politicians are basically civil servants who couldn’t get work elsewhere. I have to admit, I find the idea of having our first female president to be very encouraging, considering that 100 years ago women couldn’t vote in the United States.

My great-grandmother was a suffragette, and I was raised by feminists, so I really like the idea of there being the first female president. But again half of my family is Jewish, and I would have liked to have seen a smart progressive Jewish president. Whether it was Hillary or Bernie it was a win-win situation, and I’m mainly nonplussed about how the progressive community has turned it into an either/or situation instead of saying “You know what? They’re both progressive. They’re both Democrats. They’re both pro-choice. They’d both nominate the same people to the Supreme Court. There’s more that they have in common than they disagree on.”

Do you think the support for Sanders and the lack of enthusiasm for Clinton was due to frustrations from the Obama years. Is there a sense that people saw Sanders as the uncompromising, ideologically pure alternative to the struggles of the last eight years?

There is, and it’s a hard thing to say without intentionally offending people, but do you remember the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf? When that happened I remember a friend of mine posting something on Facebook saying, “why isn’t Obama doing more about this?” And I was like, “Well, the last time I checked that’s because that’s not his job.” People forget that we have a tripartite system of government, where you have executive branch, a judicial branch, and a legislative branch. And for over six of Obama’s he’s dealt with a Republican House and a Republican Senate. So people are upset with Obama, but what could he have done? When you have these obstructionist Republicans in the House and Senate, Obama couldn’t really do that much. There is a sort of naiveté on the part of some people where they expect politicians to be superheroes or demigods, and the way the Founding Fathers, for better or worse, structured our system is that it’s very moderating. It moves very slowly, and it’s very hard for one person to do anything, which is really frustrating when you have a Democrat as president but is super encouraging when you have a Republican as president. I think Obama was a solid B or B+ president. I don’t think he’s going to go down as one of the truly great presidents, but he’s certainly very good. But, unfortunately, a lot of people’s disappointment might come from a disappointment in the slow, moderate nature of our system and the way legislation gets advanced and passed than anything to do with Obama’s strengths or failings.

And I like Sanders, too. I was 50/50, either/or. In terms of percentages, I would say that 50 percent of what Bernie Sanders was talking about was spot-on and incredibly encouraging, but, then, unfortunately part of his messaging was sort of demagoguery. He had that interview with The Daily News about his economic proposals, and he had nothing to back any of them up with. It was really embarrassing. And it’s that unfortunate thingand Trump has done this on the rightwhere you say things to your base that the base wants to hear, even though you know deep down that you’d never be able to deliver any of them. Trump knows full well that he’ll never be able to build a wall between us and Mexico, just as Bernie Sanders knew full well that as president he’d not be able to break up the banks. That’s not even saying whether they should be broken up or not, but that’s not the chief executive’s job. There were other things that he was talking about that played really well with the base and that are really exciting ideas, but unfortunately there weren’t specifics. He’s talking about forgiving all college debt, which is a wonderful idea, but he had no specifics on how he was actually going to do that. It’s almost like the Karl Rove approach to campaigning: just focus on the headlines and don’t worry about the details. Because people have short attention spans and love exciting headlines, and they love exciting proposals from a candidate even if there’s nothing to support them or no way to actually implement them. It’s a tricky thing to talk about without slighting or impugning the attention span of most musicians or getting into most public figures’ understanding of how the legislation process actually functions. I’m a policy nerd and a political nerd, so I’m a little obsessed with how the legislative process functions, but I don’t know if there are too many other musicians who are as interested in that.

Do you think there was some hesitance to support Clinton among indie musicians, simply because such artists regard themselves as anti-establishment, and Hillary Clinton is pretty much the definition of an establishment politician?

Yeah. Anti-establishment is funny, and there is a Saturday Night Live quote, and there are these fake hipsters talking, and one says, “Wow! I love how Bernie Sanders is such an outsider after only 35 years in Congress.” So anti-establishment…very few people truly are anti-establishment. Meaning we pay taxes, we use Apple computers, we wear Nike sneakers, we shop in big grocery stores, we are signed up for Facebook, and have cell phone plans and go on Netflix. These are establishment things. This is the establishment. To be anti-establishment, you kind of have to go off the grid and grow your own food. I think what people are talking about is which perception of the establishment do they feel more comfortable with, and oftentimes that’s expressed in consumer choices. Is someone more comfortable with Trader Joe’s or Vons? Is someone more comfortable with Apple or Microsoft? People talk about being anti-establishment, but in all my years of being a weird, progressive, punk rock vegan, I’ve only met a few people who are truly anti-establishment to the extent that they’ve removed themselves from the establishment. It’s hard to drive a car and pay taxes and have a Netflix account and a cell phone plan and consider yourself really anti-establishment. And I’m including myself in that, as well. I do all of those things. I’d like the establishment to change, but unless I’m willing to stop paying taxes and move off the grid I can’t consider myself anti-establishment.

As an artist, do you feel a responsibly to talk about this sort of stuff?

Well, on the one hand politics is like a spectator sport for people who don’t know anything about organized sports. I consider myself one of those people. But also elections and campaigns are very exciting. The actual work of passing actual legislation is so boring, and if you start paying attention to politics, especially on a state or local or municipal level it’s so boring that you want to punch yourself in the face and pass out. That’s why when people say they’re interested in politics, I say, “Oh, really? Tell me who your councilman is. What sewer initiative are they working on?” Because that’s the nuts and bolts of politics. And it’s so boring, but unfortunately it’s how our world functions. So a lot of people, myself included, we get super excited about general, federal elections and then ignore 99 percent of the actual work. That’s what politicians count on. If you really want to be anti-establishment and you really want to effect change, you have to stay involved 365 days a year and actually know who your elected representative are and lobby them. Because politicians, what they want is to get elected so that the people will ignore them and they can get back to the work of doing the bidding of corporations. The corporations, the lobbyists are the ones who pay them. So the politicians give lip service to different issues. Then they get elected, and they go right back to the work of advancing a corporate agenda.

Not always. There are some well-intentioned politicians, but ultimately the people who pay the politicians, which are the corporations and lobbyists, are the ones that get the legislation passed. I thought it was really exciting when Bernie was talking about that. I found his campaign a lot more exciting when he was talking about wage inequality and fracking and climate change and the political process. That was exciting, but then he started talking about Debbie Wasserman Shultz. I was like, “Wow. That’s a lot less inspiring than drawing attention to fracking and climate change.”

When you think about the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency, what stands out to you?

It’s funny because the moment a musician or any public figure speaks out on politics, lots of people say, “You should just stick with making music and not have an opinion about politics.” But a guy at my local gas station, he has an opinion about politics. The guy who drives the UPS truck has an opinion about politics. Everyone should have an opinion about politics and be politically involved and engaged, so whether I had 10 Facebook followers or millions of Facebook followers, I still feel it’s incumbent upon all of us to be educated and aware and speak on things that are important to us. What stands out to me [about Trump] is just incompetence. Ideologically, he’s horrifying. But deep down he’s just incompetent. He’s incompetent in running his own businesses. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that he’d be a deeply incompetent president. And I thought this when George W. Bush was elected. I thought how odd it was that we have higher professional standards for plumbers than presidents. You would never consider hiring an auto mechanic to work on your car just because you liked that person. You would never look at someone to fix the roof on your house and say, “Oh, they seem authoritative. They should fix my roof.” You’d say, “Are you qualified to fix my roof? Do you have experience fixing roofs? Are you smart enough to fix my roof? Do you know how to do it?” I think it’s weird that people have such strange personal and unprofessional criteria. Unfortunately, this mainly exits on the Republican side. I don’t want to be too partisan, but the same party that got George Bush elected is now the party that is going to try and get Donald Trump elected. Clearly, they’re not concerned with competence.


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February 27th 2017

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