I’ve probably written enough at this point that you can make some guesses on my politcal leanings, even those of you who have never met me. You’d be correct to assume I lean to the left on a lot of issues. There are some issues where I’m sure I could find common ground with those on the right, but I tend to be more progressive than anything else. I don’t have the level of venom towards conservatives that the news would have you believe, but I can say there are a lot of things that I disagree with them about. In the seven presidential elections I’ve been able to participate in, along with the thirteen congressional elections and the numerous city and state elections, I don’t think I’ve ever voted for a Republican. I don’t always vote for the Democrat, though. I’ve voted Libertarian and Green party before. I’ve written in candidates. I always just try to find the person whose views most closely resemble my own, and that’s who gets my vote.
In my time, I’ve lived through three Democratic presidents and I’m working through my fourth Republican president. I don’t find myself generally agreeing with presidents from the right, but I can say that they provide a unique benefit. In a surprising amount of genres, music that comes out during Republican presidential terms is better than music that comes out during Democratic terms.
Let’s go all the way back to Eisenhower. Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected president in 1952. He served two terms in office. He was the first Republican to serve since the Great Depression, over twenty years earlier. He was, by no measure, a drastic conservative. It was during his time in office that the infamous “White Flight” started to happen. White people across the country were abandoning the urban centers for the suburbs. A more traditionalist mentality was sweeping the nation. At the same time, though, a new genre was starting to gain traction among the youth. It was called rock ‘n’ roll. Yes, Rock music traces it’s origins to the same time period.
Fast forward to the Seventies, when the country was led by the likes of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Another new genre emerged, a variation on the classic rock music of the Fifties and Sixties. This had a deep core of anarchy and resentment towards authority. It was called punk rock. Bands like The Clash and the Sex Pistols in England and acts coming out of CBGB’s in New York City like the Ramones were forging the way. Meanwhile, Black Sabbath was carving out a heavier sound that would become the basis for metal.
After four years of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan became president in 1980. I don’t think it’s coincidental that punk rock saw a resurgence. The Dead Kennedies did some of their best work in the early Eighties, as did the Descendants. Out in California, groups like Bad Religion were reforging punk into what they wanted, increasing the biting social commentary of it without losing the anti-establishment edge. It was less “fuck the goverment because they’re the government” and more “the government is wrong because of these reasons, so fuck the government.” Meanwhile, a new style called hip-hop was refining itself, and artists like Run-D.M.C were mixing commentary and rhymes, but Public Enemy was doing it better. On the west coast, N.W.A. was just calling it like it saw it and shining a light on the struggles of young black men with just as much poetry but more raw emotion. In Europe, the disco that hadn’t died started to split. Some of it became New Wave, but some of it morphed into something darker to become Industrial and Electro. Bands like Ministry and Nine Inch Nails came out during the early years of George H.W. Bush’s presidency. In the Pacific Northwest, rebellion to the excess caused by yuppie culture from the Eighties turned into a rock style later known as Grunge.
All of these styles saw another resurgence in the first half of the Aughts as well, splitting into new sub-genres and offshoots. Ministry kept coming out with albums in sharp criticism of George W. Bush, each one harder than the last. System of a Down had a video directed by frequent Bush critic Michael Moore. For as much as I malign Emo music, it, too was birthed during this period, giving a voice of rebellion to a new generation. Metal got harder, industrial got louder. Punk returned to it’s roots with bands like Against Me! after it’s detour into Pop Punk with bands like Green Day. Artists like Eminem and NAS were keeping rap as sharp and biting as it ever was, while Mos Def and Talib Kweli tried to continue the cerebral rhymes that Chuck D crafted two decades before.
It’s no secret that many artists tend to be progressive. The conservative media never misses a chance to talk about “Hollywood Liberals.” It would only be natural for people who have that kind of microphone in front of them to use it to speak opposition to the power they disagree with. In times like this, music is not as much a reflection of where we are as it is a reaction to where we are, and a call to change.
We currently have a Republican in the Oval Office, and Republicans control both houses of Congress. I am not pleased with a lot of what I see coming out of Washington, and I’m a little worried about what the next three (or god-forbid seven or please-god-no more) years will bring for my country. There is currently only two people in the highest levels of goverment that I voted for, so I don’t know how much a voice like mine is being heard in the broader conversation. What I am encouraged by is that we could get some really great music out of this.