Friday night at the Turf Club in St. Paul, as Colin Campbell and the Shackletons roared their way through a set of Replacements covers born during the freedom-stifling Reagan-Bush years, my friend Joe Fahey yelled into my ear his latest reason for disgust at the prospect of an America under Grand Wizard Trump.
“The Impressionists had to go underground during Nazi rule in Germany,” said Joe, in response to my lukewarm take that the Trump sheeple are finally happy because they’ve never embraced things like the Replacements, or indie rock, or hip-hop, or anything considered to be even mildly alternative or emanating from the much-maligned progressive liberal bubble.
Well, the sheeple finally have their Tea Party czar who validates their dim-witted entertainment, misery-loving-company reality TV and endless televised talent shows, so now they can sit back in their La-Z-Boys and go full-on Wall-E and watch the stupidfest while the rest of us wake up every day and find a reason to believe and a reason to continue to make cool things.
“The Nazis banned everything they thought was weird or that they didn’t understand, and so they hated the Impressionists,” said Fahey, a visual artist and songwriter who writes with the sort of nuance and poetry that tends to go unappreciated by fascist regimes. I did an art-history refresher: According to Wikipedia, “Degenerate art was a term adopted by the Nazi regime in Germany to describe modern art. Such art was banned on the grounds that it was un-German, Jewish, or Communist in nature, and those identified as degenerate artists were subject to sanctions. These included being dismissed from teaching positions, being forbidden to exhibit or to sell their art, and in some cases being forbidden to produce art.”
Hear that, sanctuary city artists and musicians? It’s no overstatement to say that this is the history we’re in danger of repeating; for proof we need only look at the chill on thought and expression that’s taken hold in the media over the last month. While the likes of the New York Times’ Charles M. Blow and others continue to rail against the madness of a pending Trump presidency, I’m seriously disturbed by the lack of outrage from the mainstream media, especially around these parts, where speaking truth to power has been a hallmark of the press.
But the combination of election fatigue and not wanting to piss off Trump-loving advertisers or bosses has landed all of us in self-censorship territory and, after putting Trump on the front page or top of the news every day for the last year, our local media has obviously given up and taken to heart what post-election USA Today staffers were told by their brass: “Stick to sports.”
Meanwhile, there is a known white supremacist in the White House, a cabinet that looks like a Klan meeting, and a president-elect who has boasted of sexually assaulting women and who tweeted Tuesday morning, “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag — if they do, there must be consequences — perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”
Never mind that burning the flag is still protected under the U.S. Constitution, this is the sort of seemingly benign censorship and proto-fascism that leaves me wondering where we’ll be a year (month?) from now. Will Marilyn Manson be on trial for his video depicting a violently decapitated Trump? Will Alec Baldwin be in jail for his “Saturday Night Live” lampooning of the Grand Wizard? Will newspaper columnists and talk show hosts be chastised, fired, trolled? Since the election I’ve heard several artists, writers and activists talk about feeling defeated and purposeless in the face of so much fear and loathing, but it says here that — and I’m talking to myself more than anything else, here — we must stay vigilant amidst America’s grotesque growing pains.
In a Facebook post earlier this week, my like-minded friend from the progressive liberal bubble Brian Drake quoted Yale historian and Holocaust expert Timothy Snyder, who offered book suggestions for the growing resistance (“The Power of the Powerless” by Vaclav Havel, “1984” by George Orwell, “The Captive Mind” by Czeslaw Milosz, “The Rebel” by Albert Camus, “The Origins of Totalitarianism” by Hannah Arendt, and “Nothing is True and Everything is Possible” by Peter Pomerantsev) and some point-by-point advice, including:
“Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.”
“Stand out. Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.”
“Make eye contact and small talk. This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.”
In the current psychological landscape of my daily life, I have hope, as always. I hope that Trump proves to be like the aliens in the beautiful new film “Arrival,” who initially serve as a common enemy for humankind, but in the end bring people together. I also take solace in the sort of subversive spirit that sneaks through via outlets like The Current (89.3 FM), who pointedly but without comment played Pere Ubu’s “Final Solution” the other day, as Joe Fahey’s words about the Nazis rang in my ears.
Written and recorded in 1975, “Final Solution” takes its name from a Sherlock Holmes tale and from the name the Nazis gave to its plan to exterminate the Jews. Pere Ubu stopped performing it when Nazi punks adopted it as an anthem, but as it blasted out of my car speakers the other day, it sounded a lot like the soundtrack to America 2016 and provided a sobering reminder of what happens when the proletariat lays down and allows evil men to do their bidding unchecked.
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in South Minneapolis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org