Political Parallels: From Reagan To Trump – Featuring M.D.C. Frontman Dave Dictor

By Hutch

The imminent doom of a Trump presidency is reverberating through the punk and hardcore community. The vitriol is salient, pumped through speakers. The silver lining mantra appears to be, “We will get great art from this.” A punk only has to dig through their ‘80s hardcore to prove that sentiment. Solidified by its mirroring of the ‘80s and the Reagan Era, Trump’s reign should exact angry reactions. 1980s hardcore took punk’s attitude and stripped the pop aspirations. Hardcore infused politics into rock ‘n’ roll’s youth rebellion against the suburban, homogenized pipe dreams of Reagan’s trickle-down trickery and misdirection. Today’s artist will have myriad fodder if Trump maintains his campaign promises to eviscerate Americans’ civil rights and ability to elevate their social status.

Dave Dictor sang for The Stains—a punk declaration even in name—with lyrics against the norm. The Stains began in 1979, tearing through U.S. hero, John Wayne, in “John Wayne Was a Nazi,” eschewing the imperialist bravado and exposing the true depictions of his films. The Stains moved from Austin to San Francisco and changed their name to M.D.C. That acronym stood for Millions Of Dead Cops, paired with the logo of a half Klan hood and half cop menacing the viewer with a gun pointed at the fourth wall. By 1982, after the Multi-Death Corporations EP, they released a self-titled debut LP with the track “Born to Die.” Its infectious chant—summoning the protest of America’s tumultuous ‘60s—was “No War, No KKK, No Fascist USA.” This rallying cry was resurrected by Green Day at their 2016 American Music Awards performance, caught fire, and is now being chanted at countless rallies. While Reagan was pushing his imperialist ideals of the rich and capitalism into foreign countries across the globe—and in his war on the poor in the U.S.—Dictor and many hardcore kids were playing abrasive, blazing punk to defy those notions.

Dictor reflects on the realization of a Trump Presidency, saying, “God, it has been heart-wrenching to watch this bullying sexist win. Now, he has his ultra-rightwing cabinet with Jim Sessions. Heavy shit is about to go down.” But Dictor is not all gloom and doom. As a survivor and thriving antagonist of Reagan’s ‘80s, he’s optimistic. “You have to get back up,” he says. “I don’t think it will be as bad as the ‘60s with police dogs sicked on protestors.” Well, maybe the bar is set a little low with that comparison. Dictor even corrects, “But it is only a couple steps back from that.”

Dictor does recuperate. “There will be counter demonstrations to coincide with Trump’s inauguration,” he notes. “M.D.C. unfortunately will be in Asia, we have had it booked for four months.” This echoes the left’s smug dismissal of the reality of Trump’s election. Too many people just thought it was so ridiculous. “I would not have gone had we known,” he admits. “But we are going to Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, China. I think it’s important to reach out to punks around the world. We let them know that people are alive and thinking about the world. We must try to build a community that will empower a world built on egalitarian values and environmentalism, gay rights, medical rights, human rights; the good things we as M.D.C. are. It’s a heavy part of history. No one knows how it will work out.”

Dictor continues, expressing stress over the Russian hacks, FBI Director James Comey’s interference, and other curious hints of corruption. But those claims also seem to ignore the fact that a portion of this country wanted Trump to be their president—just not a majority of the popular vote! Dictor admits, “A lot of people like Trump. I have family that voted for him. White people who believe they have been pushed around. They don’t get what it is like to be trans or Black in Ferguson, Missouri, where cops pull out weapons and are ready to take a life. But yeah, these people are disgruntled with politicians. I saw how smug white people were assuming Hillary would win.” Dictor exhales and refocuses, “I hope Americans wake up to his business interests. I just hope he doesn’t blow shit up or encourage global warming to get worse. It’s sickening to me. I don’t want to be the crazy agitator, but we are a political band and we have to walk the talk.”

What we need more than survivors of the Reagan Era confirming the parallels is advice. What worked in the ‘80s to combat the system? Dictor replies simply, “Community outreach. Connect the punks with more mainstream activists. We played Rock Against Reagan.” But with all the fighting and peaceful protests, did that have an impact? Dictor explains what they were up against: “He was a lovable, ‘oh shucks,’ cowboy who got shot. He had a lot of sympathy. We knew he was corrupt.”

That is what frightens many people the most: that large amount of backing that Trump has. The correlating aspect to Reagan is how people praise Trump because “he says what he thinks” and “doesn’t take shit.” He basks in admiration, while admirers ignore every offensive, simpleminded thought or contradictory lie he spews. He has the vocabulary and temperament of a fifth grader, but he was on TV, so people equate him with success. Somehow, he has a successful image. While this snake has earned a miserable reputation in the business world for his decisions, he has a stellar reputation for branding himself. Nowadays, management does not want him involved in the business decisions or operations, but welcome his name on the side of the building. That resonates with voters who want simple answers.

If Trump’s presidency can birth bands half as important as Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat, Agnostic Front, Negative Approach—not specifically a political band, but an angry voice of the underclass, working class Detroit kids and an enemy of conformity—Y.D.I. in Philly, Dicks from Texas, Bad Religion, or Circle Jerks, it might just be worth enduring this man’s wrath. Still, I do not want him to be able to appoint a Supreme Court Justice or install any legislation. I tremble when I think of the power handed to Rex Tillerson, alongside progressive antitheses such as Rick Perry and Mike Pence, dismantling our constitution. I do want to witness a great wave of art in all forms, especially underground music.

The other western power of the 1980s, England, was being run by the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, Reagan’s British reflection. Embracing views on class, censorship, and war, her mostly unemployed youth found voices in Discharge, Crass, Exploited, G.B.H., Blitz, Business, and 4 Skins. They are going down their own rightwing avenue again with Brexit and a surge in nationalism.

The illustrated and hand-pieced iconography of Reagan with a mohawk via Minor Threat and Double O, Wasted Youth’s album cover for Reagan’s In, Dead Kennedys’ persistent imagery, the band name Reagan Youth and their KKK imagery, and the lyrics of The Effigies show how much spite and motivation to oppose Reagan’s country the punks had. FEAR’s blunt words in “Foreign Policy” certainly iterated their concerns. Dicks anti-war songs and the anthem, “Dicks Hate the Police,” and the uber-sardonic criticism of Descendents’ “Suburban Home,” they all ranged in levels of intensity but underlined the young punks’ rejections of the status quo’s settling and submission to those in power defining an American life. These songs, even those as simple as Black Flag’s “Fix Me” or “Room 13,” boasted a dismissal of organized government where one whimsical ego gets to control all aspects and curry favor with indoctrinated parents and institutions.

Trump won by soothing the insecurity and fear of a large portion of the voting public. He promises an undefined version of law and order. He will empower the system. As token and trite as all those punk ideals became as that generation grew and the fashion of Hot Topic was rehashing Malcolm McLaren, it reminds us how that urge to be different and confront still can be a core instinct towards the different, the challenging. The underground and many subcultures’ voice of defiance thrives in a system of oppression.

The scariest aspect is the embracing of conformity by his voters. This is Trump’s loudest, boldest win. He will invigorate the mainstream WASP, and consequently, our regime of corporations and the money of Wall Street. Despite our economy and employment being significantly improved in Obama’s tenure, Trump has convinced these people that Obama did nothing to help America. But it is “OK,” he spurts. “I am a big bad monster to America’s enemies. I will push them to my will.” Meanwhile, none of these constituents who want manufacturing to return to America stop to think what shopping only at Wal-Mart for 30 years, strong-arming for the lowest prices, has done. This mindset has demanded the dismantling of American industry. America wants convenience and cheap crap. They will never pay for what being labeled “made in USA” truly costs. Maintaining the entire infrastructure—treating workers fairly, overtime, the labor costs, healthcare, and production cost—is too expensive for these shortsighted fools. Almost as shortsighted as they are of how civil rights and individual freedom actually work.

Trump’s cabinet is comprised of billionaires, America’s wealthiest cabinet ever. Tillerson, one of the highest paid execs in America, sits in the middle of the wealth spectrum of this cabinet. Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Commerce, and Andrew Puzder, Trump’s labor pick: these heads are worth tens of billions, yet claim to be champions for our working class. They earned their wealth by cutting jobs and placing profit over people for decades. They will take cuts to their income in theory, but get tax breaks—capital gains—to comply with ethics guidelines—conflict of interest laws—that will earn them billions. Trump barked that he will make America great again, but when companies move their headquarters to Ireland or Panama or Switzerland or wherever to get tax cuts, they prove they have no interest in making America great, just their shareholders’ pocketbooks. These are the people who Trump is assigning as heads of major positions. The head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, has had a litigious and critical relationship with the EPA. Now, he will run it. As CNN reports, “The extinction crisis is far worse than you think.”

Another frightening parallel between Trump’s looming term and Reagan’s reign is the echo of our adverse relationship with Russia. The fact is that our intelligence agencies, the CIA and FBI, clearly state that Russian hackers were involved in leaks and false news which directly impacted the U.S. election. Trump’s refusal to accept this and choice to refute Jack Clapper, U.S. director of National Intelligence, is astonishing. Clapper stated on Jan. 5, “We stand by our belief more resolutely […] than in October.” Republican Senator John McCain added, “Every American should be alarmed. There is no National Security interest more vital to America than the ability to have free elections.”

Yet, Trump still denies these statements as he tweets repeated admiration for Putin, who stands defiantly as a cold war leader. Clapper said of Trump’s denial, “There is an important distinction between healthy skepticism and disparagement.” Trump seems to think that if he supports these Russian hacking claims that means he didn’t win the election on his own merit. “This motivated ignorance is from Trump’s wounded arrogance,” notes NPR news analyst, Jack Beatty. Trump’s inability to be objective when information defies his ego or business interests will sabotage this country’s ability to move forward.

Another troubling aspect of Trump which channels the paranoia of the 1980s is his adoration for and willingness to use nuclear weapons. He was quoted as saying, “You want to be unpredictable” with nuclear weapons to John Dickerson on “Face the Nation” and Mark Halperin on Bloomberg News separately. Trump’s hubris appears to be immovable. What he finds important is to be feared, regardless of what catastrophic repercussions will be absorbed.

Back to Trump’s nominated appointee for Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson. In 1998, Tillerson became the director of Exxon Neftegas, ExxonMobil’s Russian subsidiary, until 2006 when he ascended to ExxonMobil CEO. Matthew Rosza of Salon states, “The Guardian U.K. reports a number of reports suggesting that Tillerson has formed a partnership with the Russian oil company, Rosneft, which is majority-owned by the Russian government. Russian dictator Vladimir Putin personally attended the signing of the deal in 2011.” This relationship starkly relays a stunning vision of what the United States could be facing when trying to ferret out Russian malfeasance under a Trump administration.

The truth is, Reagan served as a specific idol of hatred. His canonized figure weighed as a polar opposite to punks, neatly wrapped and focused. Trump can be that. I do worry about all the legislation that could be passed and return us to those Regan days. America, this 2.0 version, equipped with amazing technology and capability of attaining information—when not distracted by what is peddled to us—we could fight harder. And produce some angry, provocative art. Hardcore bands will never sit still. Punk should have the objectivity to not be defined as Democrat or Republican, to think outside the box, to fight bad legislation on its merit and never fall into party lines and adherence.

So, turn the volume to 11, write belligerent riffs, march, protest, write congress, paint, graffiti, yell, dance, tweet, snapchat, do whatever the fuck it takes to make your voice heard above all this bigoted, racist, sexist, classist, ignorant clamor. We shall overcome.

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