Backstreet Boys vs. Milli Vanilli


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Watching the presidential debate last Monday was similar to what it would be like to watch the mighty German national soccer team play a match against the tiny nation of Belize* if all the Belizean players were drunk and high on cocaine. Imagine: Germany is far and away the better team, relentlessly and smugly scoring goal after goal after goal on Belize, yet the intoxicated Belizean players refuse to recognize any of the goals scored on them. Belize stubbornly pretends they’re tied and that its an even match. They celebrate furiously every-time they administer a violent slide tackle or use their hands and try to throw the ball in the goal. Also the referee is Lester Holt, and he obviously has no control over this shit-show of a match.

Now I’m not suggesting that Hillary is as precision perfect at debating as Germany is at soccer, nor am I suggesting that Donald Trump debates like he’s drunk and high (although he was sniffling a lot, rambling on and on, yelling… you know what, maybe I am suggesting that). I’m pointing out the vast difference between Hillary and Trump that was exposed by putting the two candidates on stage with each other. One came across as being competent and substantial, and the other came across as being as competent and substantial (and aesthetically pleasing) as a chicken McNugget.

And yet, Trump still has his supporters. No matter what ridiculous, inaccurate, or offensive thing he says, a lot of people are still going to vote for him. The logistical and ethical holes in his policy plans do not deter Trump supporters. They just like the way he talks: simple superlative adjectives delivered in a coarse, firm tone and a healthy dose of xenophobia. That or they just hate Hillary— probably continuing in the ages old trend of hating or distrusting women, what with their vaginas and everything. Hillary can present all of the well-researched, plausible policy plans in the world, she can continue to not say racist or offensive things in public, and she can tout all of her experience in both the white house and senate, but she will not sway some people.

I’m not going out on a limb by saying that Hillary is objectively more qualified to be president than Trump— yet that’s not what matters to people. Do you like Hillary? Or do you like Trump? That’s the question. To use a musical example (this is a music blog after all), let’s address an old question: Beatles or Rolling Stones? Sure you can like both (I do), but everyone likes one a little more than the other. Some people are going to fight me on this, but I’m also not going out on a limb by saying that The Beatles were the more musically advanced group. The Rolling Stones never wrote music in odd time signatures, they never utilized a Bach-influenced piano solo, or borrowed from Indian Classical music— The Beatles did (Here Comes the Sun, In My Life, and Within you, Without You, respectively). Yet I am not going to try to convince you that you should like the Beatles more than the Rolling Stones just because they are more musically intricate. If you like the Rolling Stones more than the Beatles (or vice versa), you do so because you just like the way they sound, and that’s fine. Unfortunately political decisions are a lot like this as well— I contest that they aren’t always (or even often) informed intellectual decisions about who would make the best political leader. Most likely, if you support Trump, you just like his Trumpiness, and if you support Hillary, you just like her Clintinivity (and the truly inspiring fact that she could be the first woman president).

I suppose I was comparing Donald Trump to the Rolling Stones in that last paragraph, and for that reason I would like to sincerely apologize to the Rolling Stones. I also don’t want Hillary to start thinking she’s the Beatles of politics (whenever she reads this blog post). These two candidates are not the Beatles and Stones— we’re dealing with two of the most hated candidates of all time. If I’m searching for comparable musical acts, I’d say this election is closer to The Backstreet Boys (Hillary) vs. Milli Vanilli (Donald Trump). If you don’t remember Milli Vanilli, they were the German R&B duo popular in the late 80’s who were eventually outed for not actually having sung any of the vocals on their album and for lip-syncing at all their concerts. They were just models posing as singers (perhaps not unlike many singers today). Similarly, Donald Trump is just a super rich guy posing as a politician (perhaps not unlike many politicians today). The longer he sticks around, the more likely it is that he will be exposed as the phony that he is— I only hope we don’t have to elect him president for him to be fully exposed.

For as much as I clearly detest the man, I also feel sorry for him. It must be hard to so often stand up in front of people and not know what the hell you’re talking about— Lester Holt’s asking you questions about creating jobs, and you just want to go watch the Bachelor. I admit that I sometimes feel a little bit Trumpy in my NYU jazz studies master’s program. Compared to some of my other classmates, I don’t sight read very well, I don’t know as many tunes, and I’m not as familiar with the Jazz language, and yet when it is my time to take a solo, I have to come up with something to say just like the rest of them. Between trying to simultaneously navigate the song form, the guitar fretboard, and the sound of the band at large, I sometimes get lost and basically don’t know what the hell I’m playing or what I should be playing. I end up just rambling on incoherently.

The difference between me and Trump (well, hopefully not the only difference) is that I am not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. When I suck (and I suck often), I want to do it freely and openly in front of my teachers and classmates, beckoning them to help me. The repeated embarrassment of this experience will motivate me to practice my craft and elevate my level, and (if nothing else) the fact that I’m paying many thousands of dollars for this education will hopefully motivate my teachers to show me the way forward.

Playing jazz, running for president, and challenging Germany in soccer are all enormously difficult tasks. No one is born ready for these endeavors. Sure, you can pretend you are— you can also pretend your sloppy spray-tan looks really cool. The better idea would be to resign yourself to the difficulty of your goal (whatever it may be), embrace a life-time of honest learning, and walk the long path from mediocrity to competency and ultimately to mastery. That’s my plan at least.

*I want to say that I meant no disrespect to the nation of Belize in this blog. Belizeans don’t get drunk or high more than any other nation (although the white tourists who travel to Belize probably do). Just to clarify I picked Belize because they have a pretty bad soccer team and I traveled there once.

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