Maybe We Should Just Slap a Warning Label on Trump’s Immigration Tweets
Some 30 years ago, I was among the popular music writers arguing that it was foolish, unnecessary and dangerous to put warning labels on record albums with lyrics that someone deemed offensive.
Today I wouldn’t mind warning labels on some of the remarks President Donald Trump has made about immigrants.
So I started thinking about the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), which led the charge for warning labels on record albums in the 1980s, and wondered if I were getting hypocritical, old or both.
After a fair amount of thought, I’ll plead guilty to old. Not to hypocritical.
The core question in both cases is the same: Did 1980s lyrics, or Trump’s comments on immigrants, incite some impressionable listeners?
The core answer is also the same: Sure.
But there’s difference, rooted in the fact that impressionable or hard-core fans have a way of understanding the real message they’re hearing.
In the 1980s — and in every other decade as well — popular music fans have understood lyrics are often theater. They exaggerate to get our attention and make a point.
Ozzy Osbourne’s “Suicide Solution,” which outraged the PMRC, threw out suicide as something that teenagers sometimes think about , which is true, and concluded that no matter how tough those years can get, killing yourself is not a “solution.”
The PMRC missed that part. Fans got it. Fans got that Judas Priest was not embedding subliminal “Do it!” suicide messages into the song “Better By You, Better Than Me,” even though it upset grownups and opportunists enough that the band had to go to court to defend itself against a liability lawsuit.
As long as there has been popular music, songs have been spiced up with lines about violence, drugs and sex, sometimes in impolite terms.
Songs tell stories, and that’s part of stories. Fans know that. They grasp context. They understand what the artist is really saying.
So, I suspect, do Donald Trump admirers.
Among his many tweets and comments on immigration, the president has never said all migrants are rapists, or MS-13 gang members.
What he has said is that current waves of immigration have included rapists and MS-13 gang members — which is like saying some of the avocados in a new shipment carry botulism, thereby sending the unmistakable message that the only way to ensure your safety is to throw the whole batch away. He doesn’t have to spell it out for his supporters to nod in agreement.
His supporters also picked up on what he meant when he tweeted that four congresswomen who criticized his policies should go back and fix their home countries.
Leaving aside the fact that would be “America” for three of the four, his supporters got it right. The president was saying that people who aren’t “us” aren’t real Americans. His supporters also got the unspoken second part of that message: that “they” don’t belong here, underscored when the next Trump rally rocked with chants of “Send her back!”
In a masterful imitation of the 4-year-old who pours chocolate syrup all over his baby sister, then stands with the empty jar and tells Mommy he didn’t do it, Trump said he’d prefer the crowds not start that chant.
He’s lying, of course. He loves it and everyone knows it. Fans understand.
No, I don’t think Trump’s immigration strategy centers on inciting disturbed gunmen to murder dozens of people at malls frequented by immigrants.
His strategy does include painting immigrants as toxic and dangerous — a message that falls apart on every level except one: It works. In a country comprised almost entirely of immigrants, and largely built by immigrants, substantial numbers of American periodically buy into the idea that somehow “they” will undermine what “we” have achieved.
The extreme response to that message is the mass murder we’ve seen over the last few days in California, Texas and Ohio.
Now these perps, like a handful of teenagers who claimed rock music made them do bad things in the 1980s, clearly had serious problems to begin with. A properly wired individual does not hear a speech, or a song, and go out and kill someone.
But just as popular music fans in the 1980s understood what 2 Live Crew or Prince or Madonna was really saying, pretty much everyone today knows what President Trump is saying.
In 1985, that was part of the solution. In 2019, it’s part of the problem.