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The Inaugural Playlist

January 19, 2017

       It may be that Trump has already set a presidential first: it is hard to imagine any president-elect before him ever had such trouble lining up an inauguration show.

        A presidential inauguration, being a free publicity banquet, is usually a sought-after gig for chart-toppers. Only a few years ago, Barack Obama was sworn in to the sweet sounds of Beyonce, U2, Bruce Springsteen, and Stevie Wonder. But it seems that Trump’s situation represents a new trend: now artists from California to Trump’s hometown of New York are lining up around the block to say “no.”

       Among those scheduled to not perform at Trump’s inauguration are Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, Welsh singer Charlotte Church, and English flamboyant Elton John. Techno legend Moby said he would accept Trump’s offer only if Trump released his tax returns. Ice T claims to have blocked Trump’s number without even picking up the phone. Comedian George Lopez publically turned down his invitation on Twitter, capping off his response by insulting Trump in Spanish. The politically active Dixie Chicks refused immediately. According to NBC news, Trump’s inaugural committee has not even received many applications from local school marching bands.

       So far, the inauguration has managed to line up Jackie Evancho of America’s Got Talent to sing the national anthem. The concert will also boast early 2000’s headliners 3 Doors Down and Toby Keith, the man who brought us “Red Solo Cup.” Also slated to perform are YouTube musicians The Piano Guys, The Rockettes, and The Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

       Even within that list, enthusiasm has been varied; at least one singer has publicly resigned from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, saying that she “could not continue in good conscience” with a group that would “throw roses to Hitler.” Similarly, some of the Rockettes have voiced concerns about being forced to take part in the event. Amidst public outrage, the Rockettes’ management issued a statement that any of their high-kicking dancers may opt out of the inaugural show if they see fit.

       All of this highlights an interesting phenomenon that has taken place in America for almost a century: the mass defection of artists from the political right. Aside from country music and, strangely enough, Meat Loaf, the conservative right does not claim the loyalty of that many artists. This is not a new phenomenon; earlier this year, Queen joined the long list of artists who have attacked the GOP for using their music without permission. The same goes with celebrities: while the Democrats have no trouble booking any number of well-known activists, the RNC has had to make do with Clint Eastwood and members of the WWE.

       Even more interesting is that the GOP has not suffered such extensive brain drain in other important areas. The party has undeniably suffered in the past from public faces such as Sarah Palin who have typecast them all in the liberal eye as bullheaded, obnoxious, and prone to foot-in-mouth syndrome, but the party still holds on to many competent, self-aware, and experienced souls. One could argue all day about whether red economists are better than blue economists - but at least the Republican party has economists, just as it has its share of teachers, soldiers, civil servants, and entrepreneurs. The one group they lack, the one that seems to have deserted en masse from their ranks, are the artists.

        What is the reason that creative, talent seems to have jumped ship? Certainly, the arts tend to be a fairly diverse field in all respects, and the party has polled increasingly poorly among blacks, latinos, immigrants, women, and LGBTQ Americans. Many come from liberal areas, and in particular cities. The Republican ideal of small government cannot have helped either; between the two parties, artists know which one is more likely to subsidize them.

        But there’s another aspect to consider. When VP hopeful Paul Ryan expressed his love for Rage Against the Machine in 2012, the band issued a scathing public denouncement of Ryan and his fellows as “the machine”: the institution that rock has sworn to take down. Like it or not, the Republican party has asserted themselves as the status quo, the institutional party. A party that is resistant to change tends to look like infertile ground for creativity.

        This is not a new point; alarmists have already likened this trend to Nazi book-burning and so on. But savvy Republicans should still beware this tendency. The inauguration may only be an annoyance for the Donald, but when creativity defects from one’s ranks, it may be a warning sign that your party is at risk of intellectual quagmire.

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