Protest Music in the Trumpian Era


Prior to the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, there was a popular (if dumb and inconsiderate) thought that was passed around: that if Trump were elected, at least there would be some great protest music. At the time, this seemed like a funny and cool and not dumb and inconsiderate thing to say, because there weren’t many people who thought it a legitimate possibility that Trump might win—thus the threat of his proposed policies and ideals causing actual pain to actual people was more like a “darkest timeline” scenario than a potential reality.

It’s less funny now, obviously, but as expected, there has been an explosion of protest music by artists from wildly disparate genres. Starting with the “30 Days 30 Songs” project and reaching forward into at least the next four years, musicians in disagreement with the Trump administration have banded together to entertain, to comfort, to rebel, and to raise money for a bunch of respected charities, none of which seem to contain the word “Trump” anywhere in their names, weirdly. Almost as if the Trump Foundation existed to cycle charitable donations into President Trump’s many lawsuits, as evidenced by the 18 sections on the Foundation’s Wikipedia page chronicling its legal and ethical controversies. One of these being a 2015 IRS Form 990 in which the Foundation admitted to self-dealing, this being easily Google-able, but I digress.

The “30 Days 30 Songs” project is now the “1000 Days 1000 Songs” project, by the way, and it’s possible that the artists who have contributed so far are one of the most artistically diverse groups of musicians to ever land in the same collection—the list ranges from late legends John Coltrane and David Bowie, to slightly esoteric artists like Jesu/Sun Kil Moon and clipping., to regular ol’ rock bands like The Cold War Kids and Mission of Burma, to comedian/television persona/all-around weird dude Tim Heidecker.

Individual record labels have gotten in on the fun as well. Some are simply donating their proceeds to organizations like Planned Parenthood, while others are putting together their own collections of protest music like the “30 Days” project. The funniest of these is probably Barsuk Records’ compilation album titled “Sad!” although props must be given to Allergy Season/Discwoman’s co-released collection “Physically Sick,” the cover of which includes the statement:

“Use to alleviate symptoms of:

At least one music streaming service is pitching in: on Feb. 3, donated all their proceeds from the day to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), as a reaction to an executive order signed by President Trump which sought to bar nearly all immigration to the U.S. from seven (primarily Muslim) countries for 90 days. Many Bandcamp users, like the group Coma Cinema, also chose to donate their proceeds—in this case to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

And then there are the artists like Son Lux and Rafiq Bhatia, who are donating the proceeds from their respective debut albums to the ACLU for the entirety of President Trump’s first term in office.

Some musicians have chosen to protest outside of their most well-known art form. Folk pop eccentric Sufjan Stevens, a prominent Christian musician, has taken to his Tumblr blog in recent weeks to preach a doctrine of love and humility, and to denounce the idea of a “Christian Nation,” which he describes as “absolutely heretical.” One of the more succinct posts is titled “AMERICA YOU WILL PAY FOR YOUR SINS,” and opens with the line “Friendly reminder: Jesus Christ was a refugee baby.” I suggest checking out one of his more recent posts, which was picked up by the “Washington Post” as an Op-Ed on Feb. 9.

All of this is to say, there’s a lot of wonderful, positive things being done by a wide array of compassionate artists. None of this stuff is exactly earth-shattering, but the sheer number of musicians, labels, and corporate entities trying to combat the legitimate dangers facing minority groups in the United States is at least kind of comforting.

And if you’re a Trump supporter, don’t be too down in the dumps! You lost Kanye West, but you’ve still got Toby Keith and Three Doors Down, I guess!

As a side note, I’d be thrilled if some of our local musicians would put together a charity compilation of some sort. The Berkshires have a great history of protest music, after all—you need look no further than Arlo Guthrie’s 1967 magnum opus “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” about how he dodged the Vietnam draft.

May the resistance continue in whatever forms are most effective, in this humble writer’s opinion.