Words by James Novello
Donald Trump is one of the most hated men in America. In the eyes of many, he is the most misogynistic, hateful, and racist stooge to ever waltz into the lenses of so many cameras for a national debate. His successes have drawn ire from both sides of the political aisle, with the average Republican – as well as any other Democrat – turning their support towards what is perceived as a lesser evil. Donald Trump, by all definitions, looks as though he is the absolute antithesis of what our society holds dear, and what our society believes to be great and wholesome. For that reason, Donald Trump is punk.
PUNK IN THE MODERN ERA
Counterculture takes many forms. The Beatniks, Hippies, Yuppies, and a whole myriad of social groups all took it upon themselves to challenge the establishment and break away, in order to facilitate the degradation of long-standing ideals that were superior. Beatniks fought corporatism, Hippies fought war, and Yuppies fought idleness. All counterculture exists as a response to the establishment, which is thought to be created by the elites, who are motivated by such vices as greed and wrath. The groups created within countercultural philosophy are just that: directly opposing the mainstream culture that is created by the established powers. Within another layer of cultural change, new countercultural movements also exist as responses to old countercultural movements. At their core, countercultures exist as reactions.
Common countercultural rhetoric depicts established culture as a ruthless figurehead. The cries against “the man,” “corporatism,” and “entrenched elites” all focus on personifying the monolithic culture that the counterculture seeks to oppose. Most, if not all, counterculture has concentrated on a few aspects: minority rights, uprooting the establishment, and ending malicious control by large third-party actors (normally corporations or the government at large).
The countercultural movement of recent memory has been focused on Hipsters, a group of individuals that have beards, shop at thrift stores, listen to avant-garde music, and live in cities like Portland. That is, of course, the mental image brought to mind through the flanderization of the movement, crystallized in the show Portlandia, which features various stories of Hipster individuals encountering wacky scenarios.
Like groups before Hipsters, the arrival in the mainstream signals a counterculture’s demise. Hippies were gone by Woodstock, Yuppies were hidden before the publishing of Friday Night Lights, and Disco was dead by Saturday Night Fever. Like the rest of them, the social bonds developed by Hipsters were quickly gone. The idea of the “true hipster” is stereotypically represented and paraded around. The movement is posthumously (Post-Occupy) represented by what are almost akin to Elvis Impersonators, in the form of Urban Outfitters, Portlandia, and Starbucks. The ethos is gone, but the look, sound, and mental image of a “hipster” counterculture is still present in America’s shared cultural consciousness.
The current counterculture is merely a shell of its former self, now kept afloat by the same corporations and institutions that the original members sought to oppose. The corporatization of modern counterculture has gentrified the true believers, leaving groups filled with people who look hip and cool, but follow none of the self-sufficient ideology that once mattered so much. In essence, these people wearing plaid and old-school glasses, growing scraggly beards, buying the latest tech updates, and picketing for the generic cause of inclusion are nothing more than people following a trend that has become a tool of corporatism. In this countercultural vacuum, a new sort of anti-establishment movement must take its place; specifically, one that, like Yuppies to Hippies, defies the old mantras.
This is where Donald Trump steps in, championing for, in a strange sense, rights of a political minority, an uprooting of the establishment, and an end to malicious control by large third-party actors.
THE END OF THE ESTABLISHMENT
The Republican Party does not support Donald Trump. Since his bid for president, the mainstream Republican Party has opposed Trump entirely, instead throwing their support behind safer establishment stooges: first Jeb Bush, then Marco Rubio, and lastly Ted Cruz.. Against the voracious loyalty of Trump’s supporters, the old guard of the GOP continue to oppose the clear frontrunner in many states.
This, of course, hasn’t been the first time that a grassroots movement has threatened the Republican Party from within. The rise of the Tea Party in 2010 showcased a batch of angry Republicans proposing traditionalist values in politics in ways that were a response to, but did not copy the tactics of, the Occupy Wall Street movement. The Tea Party, which has slowly faded from popular consciousness in recent years, seems to be rearing its ugly head within the Republican Party once more with a popular force against the GOP elites, in the shape of the masses that have fallen into the Trump camp. Unlike the decentralized phantom of the Tea Party, which has been accused of being a completely astroturfed movement anyways, the Trump phenomenon is a very real threat to the elites that helped cultivate the ideology of the Republican Party.
Conflict arises around Trump because he is not the establishment. Unlike individuals such as Marco Rubio, Mitt Romney, or in the most extreme case Jeb Bush, Trump has no powerful family nor many respected voices of support that will help push him through the primaries, and instead, heattempts to remain aloof from all outside involvement. In essence, Donald Trump threatens to break away from the old, established values of the Republican Party, as well as the miscellaneous financial backers and familial oligarchies that make up the stimulant of operations behind the scenes of the GOP.
With Trump, there is no compromise with the old sages. Trump has openly dragged the Republican Party through the mud in his rudely-ran race to the presidential nomination. The danger in his lack of cooperation is two-fold, and a double-edged sword towards the Republican establishment. If Trump refuses to listen to the establishment, the party has no bargaining power for its constituents as a whole. If the establishment refuses Trump the nomination, Trump’s base will not compromise, and could possibly crash the general election, with no survivors.
In a vacuum, one could question why the Republican Party does not throw its support behind The Don and ride his enthusiasm all the way towards a battleground with the Democrats. He’s galvanizing different voters to show support, he has personal wealth that could be amplified by funds from the establishment, and he’s shaken up the political climate enough to confound the possibility of an easy Democrat victory. Without the vacuum, the lack of GOP support becomes evident, and the crux of the conflict shows that Trump is wholly incompatible with the establishment, much like any sort of populist leader attempting to shake up the game in his favor.
ENDING CORPORATISM MAKES AMERICA GREAT AGAIN
The stereotype of the Republican voter most frequently shown in popular media is that of a sort of passably-educated, blue-collar, mildly-traditionalist, religion-favoring white male or female. Why is it, then, that the Republican establishment refuses Donald Trump the nomination for President when his support base seems to exemplify the values of the party?
Cutting through the media smokescreen surrounding Trump’s campaign, one can see that Trump’s core beliefs oppose the Republican establishment. The beliefs parroted by Trump may not be against the official values of the Republican Party, but go against the unsaid hidden rules that make up any organization, as seen in the tax platform outlined on his official website. By openly coming out against the various backdoor ways corporations can rake in enough profits to become sizable forces to influence politics, Trump in practice seeks to limit the power that corporations have on individual political representatives, to break from the established Republican identity, and to ensure that his minority voters are protected. Although these ideas sound inherently populist and representative of Republican ideals, the values do not coincide with those at the top of the Republican Party, and threatens their ability to represent the ideas of both their constituents and themselves personally.
Donald Trump’s anti-corporatist view, and why it would inherently hurt the Republican Party, is easy to understand. It goes hand-in-hand with the idea of bringing down the mysterious, shadowy figure referred to as “The Man.” In popular social consciousness, “The Man” is a representation of all corporate and social interests rolled into one. One of the largest instances of “The Man” is mass media, which is already known to be controlled by only a few huge media corporations. As it is popularly seen, one of the many hatreds Donald Trump has is against the ever-present peddler of political correctness, the “liberal media.” This anti-establishment policy mentioned before goes hand-in-hand with the anti-corporate stances of Trump, since the two forces prop one another up. This clear opposition to the two large forces of corporatism and establishment allows Trump to attract the most fervent fans, ones whose social positions make them need a candidate like Trump now more than ever.
DONALD TRUMP AND “MINORITY VOTERS”
Voters surrounding Donald Trump have been paraded around popular media as buffoons, as single-issue voters seeking knee-jerk reactions to complex political problems. Contrary to the simplistic overview presented, the individuals that make up Trump’s base is a hodgepodge of people that self-identify as a marginalized group in the face of modern political change.
Although not popularly seen as a marginalized group, the individuals that make up Trump’s supporters are a demographic that has been relatively ignored in the past few years. Both in academia and popular culture, the wind of change has ousted the traditional isolationist forces in favor of a multicultural nation with heavy critiques of pure capitalist ideology. In response to the changes of popular culture, which includes the popularization of safe spaces, political correctness, and multiculturalism, the forces of traditionalism view themselves as under fire, and sequentially support the candidate that wages war on this new popular culture.
The best example of Trump supporters is the diverse cast presented in the video interview on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. This group of diverse voters all identify as an ideological minority under attack, one that is against the mainstream in ways that reject political correctness, are in contrast to the mainstream Republican establishment, and wish to assert the beliefs of their minority faction upon the rest of the United States. Although the interview is mainly used as a comedic piece to show that Trump supporters are without a single intelligent thought, the beginning of the interview paints the picture of the model populist minority. In order to entice the supporters to be interviewed, they must be bribed with a party, and must be told that they will be treated fairly in the eyes of the interviewer, which brings sighs of reliefs from the Trump supporters. This is the truest showcase of supporters of an ideological minority.
Although Donald Trump’s incendiary rhetoric makes the general populace reluctant to give Trump the title of “countercultural,” the overarching views that Trump proselytizes covers the basis of what is truly countercultural. His strict rejection of corporate lobbying, his ambitions to uproot the establishment, and his niche community shows a minority that rejects the current popular American views. Trump’s most startling connection to counterculture, however, is his absurd similarity to another candidate in the presidential race, Bernie Sanders.
DONALD TRUMP IS COUNTERCULTURE
The average voter would not compare Donald Trump to any other candidate. This is mainly due to Trump’s unconventional, and often jarring rhetoric. In this election cycle, the true “countercultural” candidate is none other than Bernie Sanders.
Although a Democrat, Sanders has found his place with millennial voters, and has campaigned on a background of a fighter for the rights of minorities. Like any good anti-establishment candidate, Sanders has a platform of minority rights in the more traditional sense, a very real anti-corporate attitude that borders on socialism, and a deep distrust of the establishment within the Democratic Party. Although both candidates are anti-establishment and don’t receive praise from mainstream media, unlike Trump, Sanders’s main support group is college-age millennials, due to Sanders stealing this election cycle’s coveted crown of anti-establishment attitude among the youth vote. Due to the ruthlessness of Trump’s campaign, many political analysts believe that Trump and Sanders are on two opposite spectrums and are unrelated to one another. However, in the ways both the candidates themselves and their voter bases act, the two are nearly clones within their respective parties.
The first connection between the two candidates is the way both candidates appeal to their audiences. Both candidates reflect the attitudes that their support bases believe are not presently in politics. Bernie Sanders is heralded as, for lack of a better phrase, a nice grandpa who is both honest and inclusive. To the groups that support him, this persona is exactly what is needed in a climate of institutionalized hatred and political dishonesty directed at younger generations. Conversely, Donald Trump is, equally as colloquially, an angry old man who represents hard work and financial success. Trump’s support base continuously harkens back to the lack of a powerful leader who will unabashedly defend the country and call for a return to the old successes of American identity.
Unsurprisingly, the fervor of the support groups of the two candidates put them at odds with one another. Although the similarities between the two candidates exist, Trump supporters are not willing to accept a “socialist,” while Sanders supporters are not willing to accept a “fascist.” The two groups, ideologically polar opposites yet both supporting similar countercultural candidates, also utilize the same form of political attack: both sides have used the internet to further their candidate.
For Bernie supporters, the utilization of the Internet to drum up support has been a resounding success. By making online phone banks and creating online content for young voters to view, they have made the movement easily accessible to the average millennial. If anything showcases the usage of popular internet motifs, it’s the subreddit r/SandersForPresident, which has accumulated almost 240,000 subscribers. With user-generated content hitting the front page of one of the most popular websites in the world on a regular basis, the content put out by young internet-savvy millennials is easily picked up by the rest of the youth vote, which is normally found online.
Showcasing the opposite side of the spectrum is Trump’s underground popular campaign. Although less within popular social media, Trump supporters go about rigging online polls, buying merchandise from Trump’s website, and have genuine fervor on sites such as Twitter. The ultimate description of Trump supporters is the shocking, comedic description of them by Rick Wilson on MSNBC, claiming that Trump’s online supporters are simply childless single men who spend all day masturbating to Japanese animation. Although the spread on popular social media is not that great, Trump’s online support comes mainly from anonymous sources such as poll rigging and content creation, relying, like Sanders supporters, on individual action and promotion.
The two support bases, however, have two different ideal mantras. Sanders supporters, in following popular Democrat precedence, focus on equality and inclusiveness. Conversely, Trump supporters focus on self-focus and success, with the movement summed up in the tagline “Make America Great Again.” Although there is little concrete backing, the tagline, which plays heavily off of the conservative infatuation with Ronald Reagan, highlights the broadest difference between the two countercultural groups. Unlike Sanders supporters, Trump’s camp wants to win a war not only against the entrenched elites, but popular culture, and focuses on victory at any cost, hoping that Trump will be the leader to overturn the current climate of anti-success and political correctness. In this way, Donald Trump and the campaign he leads showcases a dramatic change in popular culture, and an even more startling trend in counterculture.
AN AMERICA MADE GREAT AGAIN
The current climate of counterculture is dominated by Hipsters. In the earlier explanation of the natural rise and fall of countercultural movements, the popularization and codification of Hipster thought propagated by corporations in both Portlandia and Urban Outfitters signal the end of the movement. In conjunction with the corporatism of the movement, the movement’s political ideals have become indistinguishable from popular political movements, another signal of decline leading to the eventual re-joining with popular culture. Donald Trump’s campaign hails the possible shift from one counterculture to another, one focused on individual success in the face of the collective.
Like how Yuppies acted as a response to Hippies, so too the next group of countercultural individuals will react against the Hipster generation. If Donald Trump is as ground-breaking as he seems, his arrival heralds a new generation focused on personal success and a rejection of politically correct culture. In the same way Satanists were heralded by the mass media of the late 70s and 80s as the reaction to overprotective parents, the wider Trump generation, these New Age Yuppies, seek to oppose the collective instead of adding to its inclusiveness.
The change from a counterculture of common working together into a counterculture of individuals focused on success is a subtle change. Counterculture is normally defined as collective action, and, historically, the rise of Yuppies defied this movement because the counterculture was not within a single group or collective. The massive shift away from collectivism towards individualism was not heralded as a good thing, and most Yuppies declined to call themselves the bastardization of young urban professionals. There was no identity, no values to fight for; there was only a common overarching acceptance of consumerism and the realities of corporate life, with a lifestyle that is remembered in popular culture through American Psycho.
This sort of withdrawal from the collective could come in many forms. One major instance could be that of secrecy and the shunning of social media. Outside the walls of one’s home, the discarding of mainstream politically correct attitudes lead to someone being fired from a job, or ostracized from friends. The focus on success, therefore, would be a subtle change. Instead of one having to constantly make strides towards a collective good, the rising Me, Me, Me Generation would simply focus on themselves within their private lives, effectively shunning the proliferation of politically correct culture, and discarding thoughts of privilege for their own personal success in return.
The subtle changes towards success are seen as the antithesis to the bastardized Hipster culture that is currently dominant, a culture which focuses on the needs of the many and a rejection of mainstream beauty. The first is seen in the ideologies that stem from the first major political movement the generation was involved in, Occupy Wall Street, where ideas such as the progressive stack gave way to mass nonviolent action in groups like Black Lives Matter, all focusing attention on minority groups and demanding that those in positions of privilege step down willingly, and allow those without large claim to take the spotlight. The concept of willingly stepping down out of goodwill to others directly contrasts the ideal of success that Trump propagates. In demanding success at any cost, Trump follows Millennial cultural norms, summed up earlier in the mention of the Me, Me, Me Generation, which focuses power selfishly towards the individual. Self-restraint in the face of victory and power, which is a component of late-stage Hipster counterculture, attempts to suppress those of success at large. Trump’s willingness to unabashedly call for the United States to become a nation of winners and not losers is a demonstration of a thought process that is borderline self-centered, and reflective of the attitudes that social analysts believed would come out of the new Millennial generation.
Although Donald Trump doesn’t represent a countercultural movement in its entirety, he signals a shift away from the now self-censored Hipster culture of the early 2000s towards the self-centered millennial generation that mirrors the selfishness of the Yuppies. The antithesis of a counterculture of anti-beauty, anti-corporation, and anti-success is a white media mogul that doesn’t care about the feelings of statistical minorities, with a model for a wife. Trump is not the conscious leader of this counterculture, which will most likely be found in areas that were once Meccas of success and American exceptionalism like fraternities, businesses, and the tops of graduating classes. He is instead the blunt reminder that beneath all mainstream politically correct culture propagated throughout the election cycle, there is a new breed of counterculture growing in response to the too-far-aged Hipsters and their Democratic allies that focus on equality instead of individual exceptionalism.
In an age where many individuals believe political correctness stifles the efficiency of the nation, corporations have a massive chokehold on the democratic process, and the Republican majority is constantly at stake, it is no surprise why voters move towards Trump’s policies and rhetoric. After years of fear over terrorism, declining race relations, and an overall shift to the left, specific groups of individuals have been marginalized and left on the opposite side of the cultural spectrum. In this cultural shift, with the current countercultural climate in its twilight, the vacuum will be filled by those who are rejects of popular culture. Although seen as vulgar, crass, and backwards, these individuals exemplify what is expected from countercultural philosophy, which includes being shunned by mass media and the majority of individuals. In an age where politically correct culture has won out, it is no surprise that billionaires running for president exemplify all the qualities of counterculture and punk.