I sang and wrote the lyrics for a punk rock song called “Donald Trump Über Alles,” performed by the ad hoc band Anti-Trump. Click here to listen to the song on YouTube, which was just released tonight. The song is a parody of the 1970s Dead Kennedys song “California Über Alles,” which warned of dystopian dangers if California Gov. Jerry Brown became president. “Donald Trump Über Alles” is a work of political satire. The creators do not purport that the lyrics are actual representations of Donald Trump’s views, statements, or plans.
As some very eloquent people and organizations have said of late, opposing Trump is not a mere matter of political preference. As Brandon Stanton (of Humans of New York) wrote yesterday, “I’ve come to realize that opposing [Trump] is no longer a political decision. It is a moral one.” As the Reform Movement said yesterday, “Mr. Trump is not simply another candidate. In his words and actions, he makes clear that he is engaging in a new form of political discourse, and so the response to his candidacy demands a new approach, as well.”
I’m reluctant to compare injustices to the Holocaust too readily, in light of the uniqueness of the Holocaust, respect for its victims, and what’s been called Godwin’s Law. I tried not to base my lyrics around the Holocaust specifically but rather around current events, a general portrayal of demagoguery/fascism, and American history, such as Japanese internment camps and the Ku Klux Klan. Still, the song title and the chorus as well as the underlying concept of the Dead Kennedys’ original do invoke Nazi Germany, including the first line of the German national anthem, “Deutschland über alles” (“Germany above everything”). To the extent that “Donald Trump Über Alles” does invoke the Holocaust, I feel it is justified:
- Punk (and Jewish punks in particular) has a long history of invoking the Holocaust as part of social commentary, as I discuss in depth in my book and as I cannot do justice to succinctly here.
- I heed the call of Pastor Martin Niemöller’s famous “First They Came …” poem. Niemöller warned that if no one spoke out when an oppressive government came for other minorities (in the case of the song lyrics, Mexicans and Muslims), there would be no one left to speak out when they came for me. (NOFX invoked Niemöller’s poem in “Re-gaining Unconsciousness,” and Anti-Flag did so in “Exodus.”)
- Invoking Nazi Germany does not equate what can be imagined about a Trump presidency to what actually happened in the Holocaust. In part, it is about using a sensationalized but powerful reference, to point out that the electorate should not play an active role in democratically electing Trump. That is what is at stake between now and November, when Americans do indeed have an opportunity to prevent a Trump presidency. As PopChassid pointed out last week:
When we say “never again” we don’t mean it just for Jews and we don’t mean only in the case of the most drastic extremes of human depravity. We are talking about something bigger, something wider.
The lesson of Hitler, the Holocaust, and World War II is the utter danger we put ourselves in when we allow a despot to rise to power. When we want a despot to become our leader.
In other words, the comparisons to Hitler aren’t about him or Trump. They are about our role in his rise. They are about understanding that Hitler’s rise wasn’t just about one evil man, it was about a country, a continent, and a world, that stood back and allowed him to rise or actively engaged in his ascent.
There are some other connections worth pointing out between the song and Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk, my book, which comes out next month.
Many artists featured in my book talk about the importance of do-it-yourself (DIY) as a foundation of the punk ethos. I was thinking that someone ought to do a Trump version of “California Über Alles,” and then I realized I should write it myself. I wrote most of the lyrics on my phone while on the subway. I used Facebook to try to find a band to record the song, and sure enough, the guitarist/bassist and drummer who volunteered asked me to be the singer. I had never done a proper recording before and I don’t have much background as a singer, but that’s DIY!
When I reached out to Dead Kennedys singer Jello Biafra in 2006, he told me that he was 1/8th Jewish and didn’t identify as Jewish. He does not count as Jewish for the sake of my book, and as I wrote, a Jewish analysis of Dead Kennedys songs is not warranted, as fascinating as it would be in some cases. I was particularly thinking of “California Über Alles” and “Nazi Punks F*ck Off.” It’s interesting how the Dead Kennedys come up in multiple other places in the book, including with the Post Punk Kitchen, Yidcore, Golem, and Hasidic New Wave.
I have to give some credit to Hasidic New Wave for inspiration. They released an EP with five different versions of “Giuliani Über Alles,” which changed the lyrics of the Dead Kennedys song to attack New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Click here for a live version, and click here for the track from their album Kabalogy. When Giuliani was mayor, Hasidic New Wave trumpeter Frank London said, “Sh*t’s getting scary in New York City, so we had to look to our history and our ancestors to give us the song, the niggun, to work with. And that came from Jello Biafra and the Dead Kennedys’ ‘California Über Alles,’ so this is … Hasidic New Wave’s ‘Giuliani Über Alles.'” Between the Dead Kennedys’ original, their later version decrying President Ronald Reagan, and “Giuliani Über Alles,” it’s no wonder I saw the song as the perfect template to speak out against Trump.
“Donald Trump Über Alles” has some humor to it, but I do not view this work of parody and political satire as a joke. I felt compelled to speak out against Trump as a moral imperative.