Beyonce v. Ted Nugent

In the waning days of the 2016 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton appeared at a rally with Beyonce and Jay Z.

Predictably, Donald Trump found something to criticize in the event. The man who induced everyone in the country to start uttering the word, “pussy,” complained about the language Jay Z used from the stage at Hillary’s rally. He then appeared at a rally with aging, seventies rock star Ted Nugent, who grabbed his crotch on stage. We learned recently that the Donald is a big fan of grabbing crotches, at least women’s crotches.

This series of events is a metaphor for the entire campaign. As we have heard ad nauseam, 2016 brings the end of white, Christian America, a broad cultural phenomenon that demographers have been predicting for decades that somehow took “conservatives” by surprise, which is testament to the perils of pretending that the world does not change, or that any individual or small group can control how the world changes.

The Donald, as the Republican candidate, represents this dying, white, Christian America. It is no great surprise that the most prominent celebrities to endorse him, Ted Nugent and Scott Baio, are both aging, seventies has beens who have not produced any notable cultural artifacts in decades.

Jay Z and Beyonce, in contrast, are the popular music darlings of the moment, with Beyonce having recently made a crossover triumph by appearing on the Country Music Awards show. We could perhaps call this the race music revenge. “Race music” refers to the jazz and blues of the 1930s and 1940s that would play a critical role in the advent of rock’n’roll, the defining genre of popular music in the United States since Elvis Presley emerged in the early 1950s.

At least since that time, if not before, the United States has had a love/hate relationship with its African American minority and the culture they create. Elvis was just the beginning of white adolescents adopting the forms of black culture. In the 1950s, overt racism, including racial segregation, was still the prevailing practice in the United States, and white parents discouraged their children from associating with black people or black culture in any way, including by listening to that new rock’n’roll, which still, to older ears, sounded suspiciously like the race music of their youth, which was right out in their day.

African Americans have always been strangers in their own land in some sense. Europeans brought the first Africans here as slaves, creating the horrible dynamic in which a group who’s unpaid labor built much of the country yet do not enjoy a proportional share of the benefits because of long standing practices of discrimination that have proved tenacious in the way that only human culture can. Prejudice against African Americans centered on the cultural construct of “race,” is roving and rapacious and can easily attach to other groups, as it has in 2016.

One of the key issues that allowed Donald Trump to become the Republican nominee for President was immigration. In announcing his campaign, he denounced undocumented immigrants, especially from Central and South America, promising to build a wall at the border with Mexico to prevent further such immigration and making scurrilous claims about Mexican immigrants, including the statement that many of them are rapists. Thus, with his first formal pronouncement as a candidate, the Donald set up what would become a set piece of his campaign — that he often says things that are demonstrably untrue, and seems not at all troubled by their lack of truth. The New Yorker, the favorite periodical of over educated, upper middle America, ran an entire series of reported articles on various topics about which Trump routinely spouted lies during his campaign. Introducing it, David Remnick wrote:

Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for President, does not so much struggle with the truth as strangle it altogether. He lies to avoid. He lies to inflame. He lies to promote and to preen. Sometimes he seems to lie just for the hell of it. He traffics in conspiracy theories that he cannot possibly believe and in grotesque promises that he cannot possibly fulfill. When found out, he changes the subject—or lies larger.

One of the topics they covered in this series was his lies about immigrants. Contrary to his frequent claims that immigrants bring crime, research has shown that higher proportions of immigrants predict less crime.

It should not surprise anyone that the Donald lies incessantly. He is the logical culmination of the elemental lie the Republican leadership has been telling the white supremacist rump who abandoned the Democratic Party after its President, Lyndon Johnson, led the way to major civil rights legislation in 1964 and 1965. Richard Nixon pointed the way in 1968 when he won the presidency by claiming to speak for the “silent majority,” a seemingly anodyne phrase that many people could find themselves in, including that majority in the South who felt aggrieved by federal legislation that prohibited their practice of racial segregation. Nixon then expanded the issue beyond segregation by playing up an apparent disparity of interests between African Americans and white working and lower middle class people. The two groups, blacks and not rich whites, had a lot in common in economic terms, but rich whites had long since mastered the fine art of using racism to prevent effective political coalitions among the not rich people who made up the numerical majority and thus threatened always to elect representatives who would pass yet more federal legislation serving their interests, as had happened during the New Deal.

The Republican Party leadership then did a fine job convincing their new constituents that federal programs only benefited lazy black people at the expense of hard working white people, and that tax cuts were good for everyone, when actually working and lower middle class white people were numerically the majority of the people who benefited from every program, and that necessarily since white people make up the majority of the population by more than five to one. But as long as the Republicans quietly sold white supremacy, they could win the votes of people who voted against their own economic interests. This scheme fell apart suddenly when a relatively young — as Presidents go — man appeared virtually from nowhere and won election as the nation’s first black President. This event struck a likely fatal blow to the idea of white supremacy, although the mortal wound will take some time to effectuate the coup de grace.

So the Donald is the final liar in a long line of liars. Then, of course, lying is the province of the desperate. Trump’s constituents are desperate, which is part of the reason why they are willing to overlook his lies and various other offenses. Or, his supporters are actually fairly secure, but they perceive a dearth of opportunities for the next generation, presumably as the result of the trade deals and immigrants that Trump roundly denounces at every opportunity. The Donald draws most of his support from those parts of the country where the surprising increase in death rates among middle aged white people, apparently as the result of cultural factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and obesity is most pronounced.

These folks are desperate, but it is hard to avoid the conclusion that they have only themselves to blame. They do not bear all of the blame for being stuck in a vicious cycle in which they do not get very much or very good education and thus tend to fear a world that they do not much understand. The leadership of the Republican Party bears significant responsibility for encouraging their worst impulses for the leadership’s own benefit.

It is the constitutive paradox of conservatism, the real kind and the faux, U.S. kind, that whatever change you’re resisting is likely irresistible, not least because the kinds of change conservatives most fear and want to prevent takes the form of large scale changes that no individual or small group can stop. In the case of racial discrimination in the United States, African Americans ever so gradually accumulated the cultural and economic power they needed to demand an end to its worst forms, and they had real grievances. U.S. “conservatives” noticed the successes African Americans earned through hard protest and now try to win the same battles themselves, but without the grievances. Actually, any victory for Trump supporters would come at the expense of racial and ethnic minorities. Trump’s vision of making America “great again” is an America that was not great for a lot of people.

Progress is not inevitable. As with the African American civil rights movement, it comes as the result of lots of hard, sometimes very dangerous work. The good news is that Beyonce v. Nugent offers a reliable indicator of where the energy and creativity lies.

Pity the poor “conservatives” — always on the wrong side of history.


    1. I just hope you’re right about only two years. I doubt the Republicans will choose to impeach him, even if clear evidence of criminal activity shows up, but we can hope we will manage to achieve Democratic control in the next Congress and move forward with it. Cross all your digits.

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