Music Writing in the Trump Age: What’s the New Normal?Photo by Ethan Miller for Getty Images Music Features Donald Trump
I don’t know about you, but I barely got any work done last Tuesday—Election Day. My stomach was tied up in a series of knots; I kept breaking out in cold sweats; all I could do was compulsively scroll through Facebook and Twitter looking for election updates (which, as I know now, was not an ideal plan, to say the least). I got even less work done the day after the election. My email was quiet as a tomb. The—no, MY—entire world felt enshrouded in an impenetrable layer of shock, disbelief and anger. News feeds that had once looked so optimistic had, literally overnight, evolved from people triumphantly fist-pumping to despairing in lengthy essays and organizing protest rallies.
Now it’s about a week later, and those who are still disappointed and scared about Donald Trump’s win are being forced to contend with finding The New Normal. Some particularly vocal Trump supporters interpret this as being let off some kind of politically correct leash, free to deface homes, storefronts and vehicles with hate speech and swastikas or, even in a “sanctuary” city like New York, harass women and minorities on the subway. Some Hillary Clinton supporters have tried to practice empathy toward Trump voters as a way to better understand Why This Happened. Some show solidarity with minorities with safety pins. Others argue that the safety-pin gesture is just a way for the white population to feel better about themselves. And throughout it all, Trump readies his cabinet with a hellish buffet of alt-right figureheads and regressive Washington insiders.
As for my new normal? I’m wavering between going about my day-to-day (albeit making an even bitchier bitchy resting face on the subway) and sinking into a chest-clenching panic and researching the cost of rent in Montreal (not bad at all, as it turns out).
I write about music for a living. But I’ve been lucky, having had the ability to turn the thing I’m most interested in into a full-time job. I’ve never been a heavily political person, but frankly I haven’t had to be: I grew up in the ‘90s, a progressive era where Jewish girls and plenty of other minority groups were told that they could be anything they wanted. I took my gender and my culture for granted—limitations placed on us in the past were exactly that: limitations of the past. We were smarter than that. We knew better now. The world was far from the sort of class-free utopia presented in shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation, but at least we had history books to teach us about historical right and wrong.
Now, it suddenly feels like those history books never existed. Post-election hate crimes are more numerous than after 9/11, according to USA Today. Trump has appointed Stephen Bannon, a fringe alt-right winger and Breitbart News executive, as his Chief Strategist. This man has allegedly called Jews “whiny brats” and has run a number of anti-Semitic articles on Breitbart.
So tell me: How do I turn my attention back to things like music end-of-year lists while all of this is happening? How, when interviewing a musician, can I ask them about anything but the election? How can I write album reviews and record anniversary essays while my Muslim, Jewish, female, and LGBTQ friends are being openly harassed?
Some argue that the Trump era may be a fruitful time for music. Others counter that it will not. (My own view falls somewhere in the former camp.) But it’s finding the will to get up and create again that will be the challenge. They say that when someone close to us dies, the pain never goes away, but we learn to live with it. That’s what Trump’s victory feels like, even just a week later. Like something or someone has died, and all I want to do is curl up on the couch and contemplate the end of the world as I know it. But like others have pointed out, that simply isn’t an option. Musicians will keep making music, and journalists will still want to talk to them—maybe now more than ever.
What’s more, female music journalists are still fighting for their rightful place at the boys’ table—our work is hardly done there. Who knows what latent, subtle sexism is waiting for us in the years to come, even in the liberal entertainment industry? But a Trump presidency arguably gives us even more cause to work, to write, to push, to sit at that table. It won’t be easy. But it’s the best possible reason to stand up tall and keep writing.