From the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt:
The Rap on Trump
Somewhere in the music industry, recently:
PRODUCER ONE: This is terrible! Every morning I wake up and hear about our president, an egomaniacal celebrity who is vulgar, obnoxious, rude and disrespectful to everyone, ignorant of anything about policy, says terrible things about women, mocks people’s appearances, encourages violence, and whose long history of provocative behavior suggests he’s out of his mind!
PRODUCER TWO: I know exactly what we need to put a stop to this: A denunciation from Eminem!
Look, I’m no connoisseur of rap, and I’m not the target audience… although as a longtime Trump critic, one might think I would be a lot more receptive. But Eminem’s anti-Trump performance at the BET Hip-Hop Awards sounded pretty terrible. If Eminem had focused on any other topic, the buzz this week would have been about how awful his performance was and how he had lost his touch. But because he’s attacking Trump, he’s getting hosannas and glowing non-music mainstream media coverage.
CNN called it “the fiercest and most exhaustive attack” on the president. The Washington Post declared it “delivers more blows than even the most scathing talking-head could on a cable-news hit.”
It reads better than it sounds.
When Eminem says “he’s orange” and “sick tan”, is he giving Trump a taste of his own medicine, or is he simply verifying Trump’s method, that the best way to discredit someone you oppose is to ridicule the way they look? Can you applaud those lines and denounce Trump for his nasty tweets about Mika Bryzynski, his comments about Carly Fiorina, his calling Chuck Todd “sleepy eyes”? Ironically, at one point Eminem declares, “like him in politics, I’m using all of his tricks.” You can choose to do that, but if you’re making that choice because you believe his tricks are effective, that’s a form of endorsement and validation.
Eminem refers to Trump’s mockery of John McCain:
He says, “You’re spittin’ in the face of vets who fought for us you bastards,”
Unless you’re a POW who’s tortured and battered,
’Cause to him, you’re zeros,
’Cause he don’t like his war heroes captured.
Trump made his infamous remark in July 2015, two years and two months ago. Welcome to the party, Eminem.
Eminem delivered his litany of criticism in a tone of near-sputtering frustration, exasperation and outrage… which is how a lot of people across the political spectrum from gays to feminists to cultural conservatives reacted to Eminem’s more incendiary lyrics back in the day.
Trump thrived in the pop culture and media world that Eminem helped create. It’s not like Eminem’s audience wants to hear about the long-term unsustainability of the entitlement system, or how it’s nearly impossible to keep health insurance coverage of preexisting conditions and reduce premiums. The pop culture audience is as allergic to policy details as the president is, so the president rarely if ever talks about them.
Instead he sticks snide nicknames on his foes and critics: “Little Marco”, “Lyin’ Ted,” “Low Energy Jeb.” Trump’s method of returning fire on his rivals is not light-years away from the style of a freestyle rap showdown. Trump’s style on the campaign trail in 2015 and 2016 was a lot more like Eight Mile than the Oxford Debating Society. And it worked, because people prefer sneering insults to well-constructed arguments with supporting evidence.
Eminem complains about Trump’s obsession with pop culture disputes…
…this is his form of distraction,
Plus, he gets an enormous reaction,
When he attacks the NFL, so we focus on that,
Instead of talking Puerto Rico or gun reform for Nevada,
All these horrible tragedies and he’s bored and would rather,
Cause a Twitter storm with the Packers.
When he says, “he gets an enormous reaction,” Eminem comes right up to the line of recognizing that Trump wasn’t some conquering alien invader but a dark reflection of what Americans really wanted in a president. Why do Trump’s fights with pop cultural figures like professional athletes and late-night hosts and ESPN commentators get so much more attention than, say, his fight with the mayor of San Juan? Because as a whole, the American public cares more about celebrities than the mayor of San Juan. Trump alone among Republican presidential candidates was a figure of the world of prime-time network television, reality shows, People magazine, TMZ, Page Six. Most of the rest of the candidates wasted their pre-campaign careers working in governor’s mansions and the U.S. Senate and studying government; Trump studied America’s celebrity culture. He was the only presidential candidate who had already hung out with the Kardashians.
Notice Eminem’s form of response, a performance at a music awards show. He’s keeping the fight in the realm of pop culture, right where Trump wants it.
Finally, I notice the one area where Eminem didn’t criticize Trump was his misogyny and treatment of women. Credit Eminem for having the self-awareness to recognize he was a deeply flawed messenger for that argument.