In the November 9, 2016, “President-Elect Trump” issue of TIME Magazine, Princeton Professor Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. predicts that most pundits and scholars “will talk about the discontent of working-class white Americans, how elites dismissed them with scorn and treated them with condescension, and how they, in the end, rejected the status quo and the economic philosophy that has left them behind.”
And, indeed, most of TIME’s elite “insider” pundits, whether part of the Democratic or Republican establishment, in licking their wounds over their erroneous predictions, explore both the economic and cultural split between whites. Zeke Miller writes of those who don’t “feel like you’ve had a 2.5% GDP growth this quarter.” Charlotte Alter claims, “Trump’s victory was fueled by a supersurge of white voters from rural areas, motivated by economic anxiety with strong undertones of racial resentment” as well as “the stench of sexism.” David Von Drehle alliteratively calls it, “the rust belt’s revenge.” But on who? On blacks, and other people of colors? On white elites? Or both?
J.D. Vance, in “What we can learn about---and do for---the white working class,” states that the phenomenon of “The white working class” in this election (the sequel to the “colorblind” post/racial media echo chamber show of 08/09) is “a consequence of this incredible geographic and cultural segregation we have in this country.” Vance appeals to the “elite” he assumes that the primary readership of TIME magazine is more likely to identify with than the working class. “We can’t have an elite culture isolated from the rest of the country. It’s not a durable way to have a well-functioning society.” Since we underestimate this segregation (between whites) at our peril, he calls for a “cultural reconciliation…that can’t just happen in one direction.”
The only specific suggestion he offers is that “our country would really benefit if those who went to elite universities, who started businesses, who started nonprofits weren’t just doing so on the coasts.” Vance’s suggestion may work for some, especially given the stratospheric rent increases that is forcing many out of these “coastal elite” cities (I know quite a few blacks feeling forced to repatriate the same south their grandparents left only to find different forms of racism here in Oakland, and I know many whites---mostly of the creative class—who are also being driven out of the cities, but would these folks find open arms in what Vance calls these “white working class” areas, or would they justifiably be called carpetbaggers, colonizers?)
I believe that if we are genuinely interested in overcoming “this incredible geographic and cultural segregation we have in this country,” we first need to do away with the reductive distinction between “elite” college educated (as if that’s “blue”) and non-college educated “white working class” (as if that’s red), which still clings to anachronistic equation of “blue collar” to “working class” to further fragment worker solidarity in this “consumer era.’
Beyond that, I agree that it’s largely true that corporate mass media, as well as its social media spinoff, has done little to nothing to create channels that could reach across this cultural divide (between north and south, city and rural, for instance) and has, in fact, created walls. This has been the function, and achievement, of Mass Culture America for almost 50 years. Often, this is most profoundly played out in the ostensibly apolitical areas of culture. Since so much of our cultural (mis)understandings are mediated by mass culture, I think back to a time when American culture was more regional than national, when different regions could use the national media to dialogue with each other.
Today, we have football, and some local character is maintained (“They like to boo in Philly”), but think of today’s national music, which is mostly centralized in Hollywood. Before 1970, in the 1950s and 60s (which may be the era some Trump followers would call “great”), we see an America in which Chicago had a series of overlapping scenes connected to locally owned radio stations and record labels to brand a “Chicago sound,” and the same was true for Detroit, Memphis, New Orleans, Houston, Philly, etc. Today, as has been largely the case since the 70s (with a few brief challenges), LA has swallowed up the nation’s music culture, with the possible exception of Nashville, or Atlanta (and kinda sorta Austin).
This network of regional cultures didn’t totally bridge the geographic and cultural segregation, but it at least put them in dialogue with each other. Music at its best is a uniting force that relishes cultural differences, but today’s LA based music industry prefers we forget this (as do the Silicon Valley folks invading my town with their Pandora algorithms). Furthermore, it’s no accident that most local economies (both in big cities and smaller towns) did much better when the music industry was less centralized in L.A.
Yet Vance, like the vast majority of pundits in TIME, fails to take non-white America into account, and thus ignores the more complex triangular relationship. For if we’re going to talk about the necessity of healing the rift between the “blue” whites and the “red” whites (as more important than, say, the rift between the “red” working class whites and “blue” working class blacks, or between the “blue” whites and the “blue” blacks), it’s hopefully with the understanding that this is not to unify a divided white culture at the expense of people of color (as has been done far too often, going back to Bacon’s rebellion in the 17th century).
So, in order for this reconciliation to occur, we cannot simply have a two-way reconciliation between the white working class and the white coastal elites, but also with blacks and other communities of color. In contrast to Vance, Eddie S. Glaude believes the deeper meaning of the election results is that “White America—and I mean those who see themselves as white people, not as those who happen to be white—has struck back.” While the first argument claims a class conflict within “the white community” was more responsible for Trump/Pence than race and race-ism, Glaude emphasizes stats that show that 45% of college educated white women and 54% of college educated men preferred Trump to show that these other “insider” scholars and pundits in TIME and elsewhere are overemphasizing the split between college educated and non college-educated whites, in order for the white “elites” to “other” the white working class (to say nothing of non-whites).
In other words, the non-college educated white “rust belt” (or rural) working class men and women do not have a corner on racism, and many of the white ‘elites” (whether Democratic or Republican) in the pundit class that claim so, are doing so in order to hide their own racism: “The ugliness of so many white elites can’t be hidden behind the veil of so-called white working class resentment. Black people know that business owners and politicians donned white sheets and sat on White Citizen Councils. The election of Donald Trump is just the latest instance of this collective sickness.”
Racism, first and foremost, is a policy pushed down by the economic elites. While Joel Klein warns Trump (and his voters) that the future must be “multi-ethnic and globalized,” Glaude knows that the future must be multi-cultural, but that doesn’t mean it has to be globalized. “We announce the bankruptcy of an economic philosophy that has decimated workers, no matter the color of their skin.” Glaude suggests that the non-elite whites, and the non-elite blacks may have more in common and points to an anti-racist future. He holds out an olive branch to the white working class, who may or may not be blinded by racial hatred. In a sense, he’s doing more to reach out to, and understand the “white working class” more than any of the elites in TIME are.
The rift between white “elites” and white “working class,” but also between whites and non-whites that may have played a greater role in this election, may be understood better if we consider, for instance, the relationship between the 3 popular music genres that have largely come to dominate America’s musical landscape for 70 years now (post WW2): “Pop,” R&B, and C&W.
In the 1940s, northern media networks and record label conglomerates (say RCA/NBC) created a sense of American popular music that excluded the vast majority of “race” records in Jim Crow America. It also excluded much southern C&W. Both R&B and C&W made a virtue out of necessity, and developed their own networks. C&W had a rebel separatist pride that goes back to, say, 1861. R&B and its networks helped create a mid-20th century black middle class.
This happened in an a “pre-corporate era,” when some New Deal regulations remained intact, and the corporate media conglomerates had foolishly abandoned radio for the seemingly more lucrative TV. In retrospect, some, like Nelson George, have argued that this era of a more segregated music culture—between R&B and C&W, and between R&B (and gospel) and pop allowed not only more cultural self-determination, but also enabled more money to flow into the black community than the subsequent (ostensibly less violent) assimilationist regime, and certainly folks like Merle Haggard, who made millions without ever really crossing over into white pop, witnessed analogous trends happening in the “white working class.”
And though these two genres, and the cultures (or “races”) they implied did certainly not work in tandem (for instance whites would terrorize black radio stations, especially once they found their kids were listening to them), it’s interesting to note that they shared a common enemy. Most of the anger or defiant pride in C&W lyrics (from Loretta Lynn to 2004’s “Redneck Woman”) was/is not directed against black folks, but rather the northern hypocritical white who thinks he’s less racist, the white that applauds Martin Luther King when he’s fighting against “Bull” Connor and Gov’ner Wallace, but that turns on him after his Chicago Campaign targeting northern racism (while smug former Rick James sideman Neil Young pontificates).
Yep, I ‘get that strain of white resentment. The white elite corporate pop industry, which often tended to be a tepid compromise, and had a watered down lowest common denominator sense of “America,” tried to seduce both southern C&W, and southern R&B to the glorious elevation of “crossover,” but even many white youth found this “talented tenth” of black artists plucked for the white pop culture by elitist assimilationist “Svengalis” like Ed Sullivan or Dick Clark not nearly as engaging as the R&B that was only played on the black stations (like, say, James Brown Live At The Apollo), as well as the C&W that hadn’t crossed over from the country stations (“’and up north ain’t no-one who buys them,’ and I said, ‘but I will.’”)—and this state of affairs was threatening to the elites.
They had to lure these whites, as well as these blacks, to their idea of national pop culture. RCA’s “Elvis” did some of this work. The “British Invasion” did too, yet when the Pop Industry elites declared the end of a separate R&B (“Race”) playlist in 1964 (as Malcolm X was popularizing the word separatism), there was a tremendous push-back against a move many in the burgeoning black music industry saw as a sign of forced assimilation—so soon they had to reinstitute a separate R&B chart and devise more insidious ways to undercut black self-determination.
From the perspective of rhythm & blues, the invention of FM/Album-Oriented, “counter culture” Arena rock was even more successful in helping effect a kind “backlash” (or “white-wash”) or “white flight” from the AM/Top 40 multi-racial communities. From the perspective of country & western, this FM/Album-Oriented cultural revolution paralleled the invasion of the suburbs and exurbs onto what had once been rural America. Pop artists started “going country,” but more profoundly they were “going LA” (The Eagles, for instance), or going suburban.
In the 70s, two trends that may seem to be opposite occurred. First, radio was, as James Brown put it, re-segregating—not just between blacks and whites, but by genres. Soft Rock/Southern Rock/Heavy Metal; Quiet Storm V. Funk. Second, R&B and C&W became more like “pop.” There seemed less variety as the music industry centralized in the coastal elite city of LA. By the end of the decade, funk became whitewashed into disco (Frankie Crocker added Queen to the playlist of the nation’s premier black radio station), and country became countrypolitan (Kenny Rogers’ #1 hit by Lionel Ritchie, for instance). Newer technology and increased corporate control had allowed the elites to declare victory over the small town (or even bigger city) C&W and R&B stations where the DJS had some autonomy and could break local talent like back in the days of Johnny Cash and Rufus Thomas.
Both C&W, and R&B suffered from this, and, in retrospect, one might ask, just how great America could have been if these two genres could have (strategically) united against the northern, and Hollywood, culture elites (the closest they got was that both the black and white churches criticized The Beatles “Bigger than God” stunt).
Soon, these elites could go further and take music off of AM radio, and replace it with Rush Limbaugh and the like. As a music lover, this would signify an anti-populist trend even if Rush Limbaugh had been as “left-leaning” as, say, Amy Goodman. Why? Because too much talk, and not enough music, divides!
Donald Trump certainly knew music’s power to unite as well as to divide, and it’s not really an “accident” that Trump’s soundtrack is largely that of the northern (& LA) corporate assimilationist backlash to (and baby boomer white flight from) the threatened de-segregation, or musical “miscegenation” of the 60s between black and white (and created a culture war between rock and roll and country). His largely 70s/80s white rock soundtrack included working class anthems like Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” but was certainly not going to include a black working class anthem like 1982’s “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash.
When considering Trump’s playlist, it might seem a little odd that a man who promises to make America great again would emphasize the songs by a band that was part of the phenomena known as the British Invasion, The Rolling Stones, over, say, Merle Haggard or Motown songs. According to The Washington Post:
Before he's taken the stage at his events, and as he's worked the crowd afterward, those who come to hear him speak are reminded that they "can’t always get what [they] want" via one of more than half a dozen Rolling Stones songs in regular rotation, including the eyebrow-raising “Brown Sugar” and "Let's Spend the Night Together," the pill-popping anthem "Mother's Little Helper" and the patiently confident “Time Is On My Side.” (“Now, you always say that you want to be free. But…you'll come running back to me...”)” Some of his song choices “might come across as a wink of sorts -- perhaps a self-aware mogul poking fun at his public caricature. “Sympathy for the Devil” is a Trump trail standard: “Please allow me to introduce myself. I'm a man of wealth and taste,” Mick Jagger sings -- in Satan’s voice.”
Indeed, Trump could “laugh at himself” in his Mick Jagger clothes in the “eyebrow-raising” song where he identifies with the plantation owner who rapes the slave women (and then calls them fat), while certainly not making equal (or any) time for a black perspective as in, say, “Bid Em In,” by Oscar Brown, Jr.
Trump’s Stones playlist also features the first song that really allowed the Stones’ to “invade” America’s top 40 in 1964. The song was a cover of a follow-up to the first big crossover hit of American artist, Irma Thomas (known as The Soul Queen of New Orleans); or might say “cover up.” The Stones, with help of the northern and LA based national musical establishment, were able to secure more play for their version than she did for hers, and money drained out of America (both black and white, after all, there were quite a few white people making money off of Irma Thomas) to the land of the Anglo-Saxons.
For the Stones, the rest is rock and roll history (while Irma Thomas got a job in a K-Mart or was it a Montgomery Ward?). This was not an isolated incident in the music industry of this time, yet if Trump truly wants to make America Great again, why not at least play the Irma Thomas original (made in USA) over the Stones?
It seems for Trump that part of the essence of this era when America was great is that exhilarating feeling when Northern White elites, like the teenage New York Donald Trump who first started wearing his hair all more Beatle-esque, could be rescued by the British from the fearful onslaught of southern R&B, and (I might add) southern C&W. Ah, 1964, when both C&W and R&B had more self-determination (and some whites in power who didn’t like that were plotting). Musically speaking, the north always had a hard time seducing the south (whether black or white) to its playlists. And over the previous decade these forms of music rooted in the south had been seducing white northerners away (to say nothing of the northern migration of blacks changing northern white culture despite itself).
Using Jagger, however, to erase original versions of both R&B and C&W tunes (he certainly could rock more than, say, Pat Boone) could seduce more into the arms of assimilation in the classic rock (70s and 80s) era Trump emphasizes--the generation that smoothed over—if not resolved-- the culture wars between the white north and white south (in ways hauntingly similar to the unification of southern and northern a century earlier) with “southern rock” (and don’t get me started on so-called “fusion”); the generation who even considered disco (or “Funk in Bee Gees whitefoot”) too black (and/or too gay), and worthy of burning, while some black youth, on the other hand, considered it too “corporate white” and the punks had to agree, damning Disco with the same finger they damned dinosaur-yacht rock); ---the generation that was raised on Journey (and not offered much of a black rock and roll alternative by the corporate radio).
Some of them also loved C&W, or at least countrypolitan or so called Contemporary Country (which often sounds more like 70s rock than it does like classic country), but some scorned country as redneck music or perhaps their father’s music, and felt left behind when rock and roll “lost the battle to hip hop.” But Rolling Stones, once allegedly a threatening “counter culture” or “white youth drug culture” band had now before easy-listening, a safe bet, a unifier of white culture.
I, too, still love many Stones songs, just not the few overplayed hits Trump used (and even, perhaps, breathed new life into)….enough black folks like it that it’s not as specifically white, yet the Stones, perhaps more than any other band, could kind of effect a culture reconciliation between southern and northern, or rural and and rust belt working class whites which signified Trump’s coalition….and, for the younger folks, he’s got Adele. But for a man who boldly claimed at his acceptance speech that “the forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer,” he, like many Americans, seems to have forgotten the American musicians (both R&B, and C&W) who made America great (and made the Rolling Stones possible). I’d argue that Trump’s campaign playlist featured more of the kind of white classic rock pushed by the post-regional Hollywood-based music industry than it did contemporary country and R&B for the same reason he favors tax cuts to the richest Americans at the expense of working class Americans of all races. If his choice of music is any reflection, Trump will not be bringing back many jobs to rust belt, rural, much less inner-city America.