Middle-fingered the establishment. Railed against "the Queen." Thumbed his nose at manners. Spit on convention. Name-called. Talked dirty. Fought dirty. Fought back. Cursed. Infuriated the press. Didn't need to be liked. Pissed on the old rules. Made mayhem. Made sense.
Donald Trump is the punk rock president.
Trump's raw, paradigm-nuking candidacy was a flip of the bird to the entrenched, systemic corruption of the establishment. He threatened the status quo and the elites in the same way punk rock threatened corporate rock and disco in the late '70s – seeking nothing less, in both instances, than their total destruction. Very Johnny Rotten.
The fire in the belly of punk rock is the same incendiary source that ignited Trump's rise. It is rooted in the rejection of a gamed system and is wedded to confrontation. The disaffected youth of the late 1970s were surrounded by things that infuriated them: dwindling job prospects; staid, safe, bourgeois music on the radio; and a system designed to keep them down. They were angry and insulted – and they weaponized that discontent into a powerful cultural force.
Trump did the same. He was furious about the lies of the Clintons, about political correctness, and about Obama's assaults on the Constitution. He also never forgot or forgave Obama's mean girl mockery of him at the 2011 White House Correspondents' Dinner. All of these sharpened Trump's resolve to upend the apple cart. And so he did – flipping it upside-down proper on November 8, 2016.
Turns out the corrective for "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees was "God Save the Queen" by the Sex Pistols. And the corrective for Barack Obama was Donald Trump.
Trump's ascendancy mirrors punk's hostile takeover of the culture in that both were examples of unskilled outsiders, with little to no experience in their respective fields, rising up with a ton of attitude to lay waste to the powers that be. Punk rockers were often musicians in only the most generous sense of that word. Many had barely played their instruments at all before they threw themselves on stage in front of an audience. They made it up as they went along.
So did Trump. He likewise had zero political experience and was rough around the edges in his debates and during unscripted moments. Trump flew by the seat of his pants and seemed to improvise as he went along, relying on his persona and his attitude. Punk made no apologies for its rawness and its realness – and neither did Trump. Punk bands were often loud and obnoxious, and their lack of calculation was euphoric for the genre's acolytes. This was also true for Trump's supporters who saw their unconventional candidate willing to throw caution, decorum, and political correctness to the dogs.
Like the wave of punk bands who bonfired respect for cultural icons such as the queen of England and American royalty (think the Sex Pistols, the Dead Kennedys) Trump also had no problem insulting war heroes (John McCain), imaginary American Indians (Elizabeth Warren), and the reigning dynasties of American political life for the last 40 years (the Bushes and the Clintons). When Trump emptied his clip, the strafing disrespect was every bit as much a shock to civilized society, the left, and the media as it was when punk bands first roamed the earth with their safety-pinned cheeks and hosanna of "F yous."
But while it spit its discontent with the wild-eyed fervor of youth, punk rock, like so many contra-movements, never had an idea what might replace the corrupted system it railed against. This is true in politics as well: when you change regimes without a cogent plan, anarchy may ensue. We saw this happen in the aftermath of the Iraq War; in the Arab Spring; and in Libya, after Hillary Clinton's, Barack Obama's, and Susan Rice's feckless decision to oust Gaddafi resulted in a country in flames – with a newly established and burgeoning slave trade. (Thanks, elites.)
So did Trump have any plan beyond MAGA when he defeated Hillary Clinton in a clear referendum on Barack Obama's presidency? His critics are a chorus of "no!" on this question, and certainly he's had many embarrassing missteps, including the roll-out of his immigration ban, his turnover of Cabinet members, and his inability to deliver on the promised repeal of Obamacare. But is Trump's presidency the dumpster fire of ineptitude his haters claim?
Even his most ardent detractors would concede that Trump's Cabinet picks have been impressive, by and large, and his nomination of constitutional originalist Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court was a triumph. Precipitous job growth, a booming stock market, and a farewell to the TPP count as unqualified successes. The Supreme Court has now upheld the immigration ban sometime attorney general Sally Yates and the lower courts virtue-signaled and grandstanded against. And Trump has now achieved his first major legislative win with tax reform. So, not unlike the many punk bands who almost inadvertently found themselves becoming decent musicians the more they failed and forged ahead, Trump fought through his mistakes, warmed to the job, and began to notch wins, almost in spite of himself.
Much of this is due to a willingness to roll up his shirtsleeves. Trump is a workhorse. He proved it during his tireless 2016 campaign, when he ran circles around the self-satisfied, moribund Clinton campaign and stayed up late into the night – to the consternation of many of his supporters. But his trigger-worthy tweets and day-to-day incitements of the left belie a wily calculation. Trump often throws a tweet that-a-way to draw attention from what he wants you to miss over here – like a street hustler playing a shell game.
The president is also far more considered than the hysterical media would have us believe. When things were chaotic, he brought in General Kelly to establish order. Trump's clear-eyed agenda enabled him to help win the war against ISIS in Raqqa, roll back Obama-era regulations, sign more bills into law than any president in over a half century, and reduce the power of the Executive Branch to return it to its pre-Obama checks and balances with the other two branches of government.
In his work ethic and his unexpected discipline, Trump recalls the proto-punk gods The Ramones, who toured virtually nonstop for nearly 22 years, barely stopping to even take a breath between songs. As any fan of their live shows can attest, Ramones concerts were essentially one long, awesome song, broken up every two to three minutes by a loud count of "1, 2, 3, 4!" The Ramones turned a Queens-based, outer-borough attitude into a well oiled machine of contempt for convention and the establishment. And they did it with a sense of humor. Sound like someone we know?
And just in case you think comparing the counter-culture anarchy of punk rock to a loudmouth billionaire who wears a (too long) tie is a laughable stretch, consider this: John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) recently stated that Trump "terrifies politicians," which is a "joy to behold for me." He further wondered aloud if Trump might be "a possible friend" and referred to him as a "political Sex Pistol."
My fellow citizens, I give you your president: Donny Rotten.
God save America – I mean it, man