Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Trump-Guns N Roses connection

I have been politically perplexed.

I mean truly befuddled.

There are at least a few people in my social circles who are supporters of Donald Trump. Granted they are relatively few in number, but there are enough there to cause me concern. These are people who, on the whole, are really quite nice and have shown no previous interest in bringing about the apocalypse. In a few cases, I actually have close relationships with these people. I thought I knew them. What gives? After a period of serious meditation and a herculean effort in "giving the benefit of the doubt," I think I just might have an answer. To explain it, I need to engage in a protracted simile.

Huddle up, kids. It's storytime with Uncle Jonny and he's going to tell you all about an era called the Eighties.

There might never have been another era more about appearances and conspicuous consumption. The clothes were neat and angled. No baggies. The hair was high, about a whole can's worth of Aquanet a day. If you were a musician then the need for a sharp, glamorous appearance was all the more important for after all, your face had to play well on MTV. There was quite a health craze as well with aerobics and Jane Fonda asking if we were "ready to do the workout."

Five guys pop up in the middle of this image-conscious society. They run contrary to the whole regime. They don't care what they look like in their tattered t-shirts and ripped leather pants. They don't care about health and they aren't going to be doing dancerise any time soon as cigarettes dangle from their lips and they drink entire bottles of Jack Daniels through a straw. They don't care about society. They don't care about rules. They don't care about you. And why would they? Given the sheer volume of drugs and alcohol they consume, they don't even care about themselves.

They are Guns N Roses. When they were firing on all cylinders in 1988-89, they were probably music's finest example of heavy, trashy, rock n roll. Their legendary record Appetite for Destruction is still a model for any band wanting to release a set of dirty, raw, rebellious, in-your-effin-face rock. Do yourself a favor. Find a copy of Appetite, either digital or vinyl for the faithful, and just play the first track. "Welcome to the Jungle" starts out with that ragged riff from Slash then builds with Duff's thunderous bassline until Axl basically spits into the mic and the band launches into the main song. Tell me you aren't playing air guitar when you hear it.

I loved it. If you asked me why at the time, I probably would have made statements similar to many other fans. "It's raw! It's real! They tell it like it is!"

Sound familiar?

To really make this comparison with Trump, I need to examine just where 18 year-old Jon was emotionally and psychologically when this band arrived on the scene.

I was hurt, I was scared, but I wanted to be strong. High school had just ended, mercifully bringing to an end four years of bullying. I knew I never wanted to go through that again. I was also very angry. No, filled with hate is probably a more accurate description. Something had been taken from me. I would never feel completely secure or trusting around people again. I figured that if I listened to Guns N Roses, looked like them, and behaved like them, it would act as a form of sonic and visual barbed wire, projecting a message of "stay away." "Sure, that kid is real skinny. But look at him. He's probably carrying a knife and he's just crazy enough to use it." There's a strength in that and when you've felt threatened long enough, the mind tends to see things in binary terms. I either stand now and protect myself or suffer more.

I can't help but think that many Trump supporters might feel the same. They may have been dealt serious losses in a faltering economy and have yet to find relief, despite whatever the numbers might show. The world is also changing, becoming something radically different. For many, that can be scary. Trump provides a sense of security, a bulwark against this change amid a nation that seems to have lost its way. He also projects strength and promises to protect with said same strength anyone who hitches their wagon to his team.

Being an adolescent at the time, I was also very anti-establishment. You can't take GNR because they're loud, rude, crude, and profane? Then you're part of the crusty old establishment and you've got to go. You can't stand lyrics like "Your daddy works in porno and your mommy's not around/she used to love her heroin and now she's under ground"? Well they're just saying what's on everybody's mind and you can't tell me these things don't happen. By the by, GNR were not above a few racist and homophobic statements, either.

Once again, why do so many profess to like Trump? "He might be loud and sometimes crude or even profane, but at least he's honest." Also, a big part of his platform is being anti-establishment and can you blame anyone for finding appeal in that? We are quite possibly looking at a second Clinton as president and that comes after two men from the Bush family. Wasn't the point of America's formation to rid ourselves of an aristocracy? Well what do we have now?

Trump rails against this, seeming to scream out "Hey! I'm blowing up the program! I can't go off message because I have no message. Hold on, everybody!" Look out! He's crazy! He's unpredictable! He might even crash your church! You can't get much more rock n roll than that.

By the way, GNR were notorious for having no pre-planned setlist for their concerts. Like Trump, they could never go off script either for the pure fact that there was no script.

When viewed through this lens, I'd like to think I'm a little closer to understanding why people I know are voting for this man.

But I still don't agree with it.

I went through my heavy metal phase as a sort of infantile response to things I didn't like, things that hurt me. It might have exorcised a bit of my anger but I can't say that it really helped me much. In fact, I'm rather embarrassed by much of it (what was I thinking with that hair??) I was operating purely from some remainder of the reptilian brain buried deep in my cerebellum. That can't be good form for any governmental policy, be it either foreign or domestic.

There's also another factor. It may be that many Trump fans are indeed fearful of a changing world but that in turn scares me. Ta-Nehisi Coates argues...and I think his thesis is likely...that the rise of Trump was directly caused by President Obama's election in 2008 (remember Trump embracing the birther movement?) A black man has been elected President of the United States. Twice. And there are those who simply cannot and never will stomach that fact.

So go to Trump. Make sure it never happens again. That, from as near as I can tell, is their thinking.

Is that what my friends are thinking as well? I can't say for sure for I cannot see inside their hearts and minds. I will say that it is entirely possible to be a perfectly nice person while still holding a few absolutely vile views. That's called the complexity of human nature.

It frustrates me to no end but there it is.

Speaking of complexity...and perhaps even dichotomy...I still listen to GNR from time to time despite everything I have just said. Maybe it's because I like that raw and aggressive rock sound now and then. Maybe it's because I still get mad, I still get scared, and all of a sudden I'm that 18 year-old kid in rural Indiana again, grabbing on to anything he can find to use as both armor and weapon.

I'd like to think I now have a few more productive tools of thinking at my disposal...and maybe that's why I just can't go in for Trump.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

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