A couple of weeks ago, we noted how C&W radio and TV had moved quickly to kick country music star and racist Trump-supporter Morgan Wallen off their airwaves. Today, The Atlantic reported, in effect, that country music fans love Wallen for his racism and he has gotten even more popular. His latest album is #1 on the country charts and "Thousands of people are, at this moment, streaming Wallen’s songs, buying his records, and watching his music videos-- putting money in the pockets of someone who has admitted to saying one of the most noxious things imaginable. So whatever happened to cancel culture?
Coming after a year in which country music’s-- and America’s-- racist history was under a microscope, the industry’s disavowal of Wallen seemed intended to send a message that times are changing. The singer-songwriter Luke Combs apologized for previously featuring the Confederate flag in performances; stars such as Maren Morris began saying that Wallen’s offense was a sign of a racist status quo that needed to end. A press release from the Black Music Action Coalition praised the industry’s expulsion of Wallen, saying, “The message was loud and it was clear: racism will no longer go without consequences.”
Wallen’s fans appeared to want to send a different message. Sales of Dangerous: The Double Album tripled in the days after the TMZ video was posted. Streams of Wallen’s music videos shot up as well. The listenership boost more than offset Wallen’s loss of radio spins, major-label marketing, and streaming-service support. With six weeks in the country’s top spot, Dangerous is the longest-running No. 1 album for a male artist since Drake’s Views in 2016. In the nine days after TMZ published the video of Wallen, his music brought in more than $2 million.
What’s going on? One common theory from inside and outside the industry is that Wallen’s continued popularity is a referendum on “cancel culture,” that poorly defined but ubiquitous topic of argument. For example, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee said that listeners “are fed up with the ‘cancel culture’ trying to destroy people’s lives and careers because they made a dumb mistake for which they have publicly apologized.” Really, though, Wallen’s situation simply shows the term’s incoherence. Conservatives often portray “cancellation” as the fascistic tool of an all-controlling elite, and progressives often reply that cancellation is another word for healthy things such as consequences, accountability, and justice. Yet powerful forces in media and entertainment have hardly erased Wallen for his offense, and whatever consequences Wallen is facing seem at least equal to the rewards that he appears to be reaping. As it so frequently happens lately, the term cancel has hijacked a much thornier discussion about culture itself.
...What’s striking is that a big part of Wallen’s appeal in the first place lay in how he resisted cultural change. Country music is generally in love with location and tradition, but Wallen’s lyrics are especially fixated on the idea that he’ll never move on from the place that raised him, and that that place will always stay the same. It’s now hard not to hear the 2018 track “The Way I Talk,” a salute to his own accent, somewhat differently than before: “It sounds a little bit like my daddy / It don’t cuss around my mama / Some words you’ve never heard / ’Less you come from down yonder.” By attempting to put Wallen’s career on ice, the country-music industry has forced a discussion about why the most hateful word in America turned out to be part of the way Wallen talks. Some of the people still playing Wallen’s music may want that discussion silenced—but really, they’re only amplifying it.
This morning, the same magazine published an essay by Tom Nichols, The Republican Party Is Now In Its End Stages, conflating the Republican Party to the old Communist Party of the old 1970s Soviet Union (vremia zastoia-- "the era of stagnation." He wrote that "the Republicans have entered their own kind of end-stage Bolshevism, as members of a party that is now exhausted by its failures, cynical about its own ideology, authoritarian by reflex, controlled as a personality cult by a failing old man, and looking for new adventures to rejuvenate its fortunes. By the '70s, "the Soviet Communist Party was a spent force, and ideological conviction was mostly for chumps and fanatics. A handful of party ideologues and the senior officers of the Soviet military might still have believed in 'Marxism-Leninism'-- the melding of aspirational communism to one-party dictatorship-- but by and large, Soviet citizens knew that the party’s formulations about the rights of all people were just window dressing for rule by a small circle of old men in the Kremlin."
“The party” itself was not a party in any Western sense, but a vehicle for a cabal of elites, with a cult of personality at its center. The Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev was an utterly mediocre man, but by the late 1970s he had cemented his grip on the Communist Party by elevating opportunists and cronies around him who insisted, publicly and privately, that Brezhnev was a heroic genius. Factories and streets and even a city were named for him, and he promoted himself to the top military rank of “Marshal of the Soviet Union.” He awarded himself so many honors and medals that, in a common Soviet joke of the time, a small earthquake in Moscow was said to have been caused by Brezhnev’s medal-festooned military overcoat falling off its hanger.
The elite leaders of this supposedly classless society were corrupt plutocrats, a mafia dressed in Marxism. The party was infested by careerists, and its grip on power was defended by propagandists who used rote phrases such as “real socialism” and “Western imperialism” so often that almost anyone could write an editorial in Pravda or Red Star merely by playing a kind of Soviet version of Mad Libs. News was tightly controlled. Soviet radio, television, and newspaper figures plowed on through stories that were utterly detached from reality, regularly extolling the successes of Soviet agriculture even as the country was forced to buy food from the capitalists (including the hated Americans).
Members of the Communist Party who questioned anything, or expressed any sign of unorthodoxy, could be denounced by name, or more likely, simply fired. They would not be executed-- this was not Stalinism, after all-- but some were left to rot in obscurity in some make-work exile job, eventually retiring as a forgotten “Comrade Pensioner.” The deal was clear: Pump the party’s nonsense and enjoy the good life, or squawk and be sent to manage a library in Kazakhstan.
This should all sound familiar.
The Republican Party has, for years, ignored the ideas and principles it once espoused, to the point where the 2020 GOP convention simply dispensed with the fiction of a platform and instead declared the party to be whatever Comrade-- excuse me, President-- Donald Trump said it was.
Like Brezhnev, Trump has grown in status to become a heroic figure among his supporters. If the Republicans could create the rank of “Marshal of the American Republic” and strike a medal for a “Hero of American Culture,” Trump would have them both by now.
...This comparison is more than a metaphor; it is a warning. A dying party can still be a dangerous party. The Communist leaders in those last years of political sclerosis arrayed a new generation of nuclear missiles against NATO, invaded Afghanistan, tightened the screws on Jews and other dissidents, lied about why they shot down a civilian 747 airliner, and, near the end, came close to starting World War III out of sheer paranoia.
The Republican Party is, for now, more of a danger to the United States than to the world. But like the last Soviet-era holdouts in the Kremlin, its cadres are growing more aggressive and paranoid. They blame spies and provocateurs for the Capitol riot, and they are obsessed with last summer’s protests (indeed, they are fixated on all criminals and rioters other than their own) to a point that now echoes the old Soviet lingo about “antisocial elements” and “hooligans.” They blame their failures at the ballot box not on their own shortcomings, but on fraud and sabotage as the justification for a redoubled crackdown on democracy.
Another lesson from all this history is that the Republicans have no path to reform. Like their Soviet counterparts, their party is too far gone. Gorbachev tried to reform the Soviet Communist Party, and he remains reviled among the Soviet faithful to this day. Similar efforts by the remaining handful of reasonable Republicans are unlikely to fare any better. The Republican Party, to take a phrase from the early Soviet leader Leon Trotsky, should now be deposited where it belongs: in the “dustbin of history.”
This morning, Aaron Blake, Washington Post columnist asked how much Republicans are endangering themselves by obstructing Biden's very popular COVID-rescue package. Yesterday we named 10 GOP incumbents in districts Biden won and where the proposed rescue package is very popular, wondering what will happen to them if they follow McCarthy, Scalise and the Gang-Greene into ideological opposition to the bill. Blake noted that "As some have logically argued, opposing such a popular bill could pose problems for the GOP. The legislation, after all, even has significant support among Republican voters — close to half favor it, in some polls. It also deals with a very obvious threat that Americans recognize and generally agree on. Republicans may object to the specifics of the measure, but politically speaking, they would be voting against something the vast majority of the American people want. That said, the passage of the bill, in many ways, is just the beginning of the political (and electoral) fight."
But Blake doesn't think they really have much to worry about. Polls were also in favor of Obama's stimulus to rescue the economy from Bush's [and the GOP's] Great Recession. Every single House Republican voted against it. A Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that Americans supported the plan 64% to 35%. Two years later the GOP wiped out the Democratic House majority, the Dems losing a net of 63 seats. He noted that "by the time 2010 rolled around, about 75 percent of Americans said half or more of the stimulus money had been wasted. In April of that year, 62 percent said the legislation had not created jobs, with just 51 percent of Democrats saying it had. And on Election Day, only about one-third of voters said the package actually helped, according to exit polls. Republicans won the House in a rout and gained six seats in the Senate, after running in many cases on their opposition to the bill."
What Blake doesn't mention is that Obama and the Democrats, negotiating with themselves, allowed conservative Democrats from the Republican wing of the Democratic Party to water down the legislation and make it far less effective. The Democraps who lost their seats were overwhelmingly these very conservatives who most deserved to lose their seats-- garbage members of Congress. Some realized it was all over and retired, like Blue Dogs Marion Berry (AR), Dennis Moore (KS), Brad Ellsworth (IN), Bart Gordon (TN), Bart Stupak (MI), John Tanner (TN), all in seats that flipped red. But among those who decided to stand and fight, were dozens of conservative assholes who helped wreck Obama's rescue plans-- and lots of other progressive initiatives: Bobby Bright (AL), Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ), Harry Mitchell (AZ), John Salazar (CO), Betsy Markey (CO), Allen Boyd (FL), Suzanne Kosmas (FL), Jim Marshall (GA), Walt Minnick (ID), Melissa Bean (IL), Debbie Halvorson (IL), Bill Foster (IL), Baron Hill (IN), Frank Kratovil (MD), Travis Childers (MS), Gene Taylor (MS), Ike Skelton (MO), John Adler (NJ), Harry Teague (NM), Michael MacMahon (NY), Mike Acuri (NY), Bob Etheridge (NC), Earl Pomeroy (ND), Steve Dreihaus (OH), Charlie Wilson (OH), John Boccieri (OH), Zack Space (OH), Kathy Dahlkemper (PA), Chris Carney (PA), John Spratt (SC), Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (SD), Lincoln Davis (TN), Glenn Nye (VA) and Rick Boucher (VA).
Blake wrote that "Republicans will surely focus on supposedly extraneous spending in the bill-- an effort that has begun to pick up steam. They have suggested that the money for reopening schools isn’t targeted enough and pointed to funding for things such as the arts that they argue do not belong in the bill (even though that accounts for a tiny portion of the funding). Thus far, those arguments clearly haven’t won the day. But we’re also just starting to get into the nitty-gritty of debating the bill, as we wait for final word on whether it might include Biden’s proposed $15-an-hour minimum-wage increase." That's the piece of the bill that is extremely popular with voters-- that conservatives from both crap party establishments are trying to kill-- and an early litmus test for many voters trying to decide if Biden and the Democrats are worth supporting or not. If they give in to right-wing pressure and give up on supporting the working men and women who put them in office, they can expect another 2010 midterm result.