Trump is the final triumph of neo-conservatism after almost fifty years of trying (Nixon’s “silent majority”). What looked to be on its last legs was able to grab the only thing worth having: power to implement its program. Neo-conservatism has been the populist sugar coating covering neo-liberalism’s class warfare, its cultural ally. From its origin neo-conservatism has been the counter to the sixties rebellion, which makes Trump America’s Nicolas Sarkozy, who in 2007 came to power in France with the promise to end “the spirit of 68” for good. Since it was neo-conservatism that galvanized the base, Trump, the neo-liberal minus the persuasive multi-culturalism, must fulfill it.
In 2008, when I heard Obama say at a local rally “and there will be poetry in the schools,” I openly wept–he hit my vulnerable spot right there. Now that even that dream is a laughing matter is of prime significance to artists and art-musicians today, for the grand celebration going on right now is at their expense. For those who want their music to be media-visible it should bring them to re-examine their relation to that sixties heritage and the place they might have in the new regime. Where Obama was a gentle neo-liberal, who promised a place for art, the new regime promises to be a brutal, authoritarian version, censoring anything that reminds us even vaguely of the free-wheeling artistic movements of the past. The compromise by which the sixties “artistic critique” was promoted in order to suppress its “political critique” is now abandoned. Say goodbye to “Everyone is an artist,” the populist mantra that has filled art and music schools since the 90s and was linked to social and even economic progress.
That puts artists who achieved careers under the old regime on the spot, since they owe their positions to a tacit agreement to represent the enshrined sixties heritage. They can either survive by taking a more submissive position (no balking at cutbacks),* or moving towards more politicized art (unambiguous propaganda), or hiding out (the honored position of modernist “internal exile” where invisibility is the price of doing art). A fourth option is to take the arts out of the safe, gentle-neoliberal mold all art and art music careers have depended on. That would create an avant-garde that is truly outcast and no longer playing the role of marginalized outcast, innovative experimenter, entertaining a self-confident liberal population. It would mean repudiating any position attained by fulfilling the needs of media and credentialing institutions. (Some of us are already there and have been for some time.) Unlike today’s, that avant-garde would have, as De Kooning put it in 1950, “no position in the world except that we just insist on being around.”
* I should add that the bastion-institutions on which professional artists rely will still have considerable largess to dispense. They will probably picture themselves in the anti-Trump camp (“culture vs. the state”) and reinforce funding of their usual recipients. This will demonstrate that “freedom of expression is still alive.” For that the institutions will get the credit for their symbolic act, and the artists for playing their role. However, these institutions have already been hard at work in the job of curating–censoring–whatever is not to their advantage.