I’m Having an Existential Crisis About John Petrucci Admitting He Likes Donald Trump
What do we do when our favorite artists’ ideals do not align with our own?
In some cases it’s easy. We can rail against Varg for being a white supremacist. We can condemn Phil Anselmo for his “white power” salute (and years of shady behavior before that). We can rag on Phil Labonte for his continued insensitivity to anyone except for himself. We can lambast Dave Mustaine and Ted Nugent for the non-tolerant views they’re all too willing to express.
We then adjust our perception of those artists in varying degrees. The extent of those adjustments depends on our initial perceptions of them, and are very much a personal choice ranging from “I can separate the art and the artist” to full renouncement.
I was never into Burzum, so I have no problem avoiding Varg’s music for the rest of my life. All That Remains lost my interest long before Labonte started vocalizing his libertarian views, so same thing applies there. Mustaine’s words have absolutely colored my perception of Megadeth, but not to the point that I’ve completely renounced my fandom of the band (their older stuff, anyway). Pantera have been very difficult to let go of; so much of their music is so important to me, and it’s tough knowing that at least one person that created it has racist tendencies.
In all of those cases, something a band member did or said outside of the music itself colored my perception of the band. Once I’ve seen it, I can’t unsee it. I’m not one of those people who’s capable of separating the art from the artist. I’ve tried with Pantera, but it’s caused cognitive dissonance, and it’s something I struggle with.
Again: it’s a personal decision. I’m not advocating you do it any specific way, other than what works for you.
Which bring us to John Petrucci.
Dream Theater are one of the single most important bands in my musical development. We want to think our heroes view the world through a similar lens as we do, that a late-night drinking sesh would be nothing but affirmations and high fives. Beyond that, we think we know them, and we identify with them: Petrucci is a New Yorker (well, Long Island, but still), an intellectual (he attended Berklee College of Music) and generally seems like a supremely swell, affable guy. So surely we must think along the same lines re: politics, right? Yet then I see this bomb, dropped by JP in the Czech magazine Spark [via Blabbermouth]:
“I like [Trump]. I think that we should give him a chance and see what he can do. He’s obviously very different. He’s not a politician, but he’s a successful man, and let’s see what he can do, and I think great things are in store. So hopefully everybody will give him a chance and see what happens.”
For such a short statement, there’s a lot to unpack here.
For starters, we’ve seen this “let’s give him a chance” line from all corners of the metal world and beyond. It stops short of fully endorsing Trump, but does give him the benefit of the doubt. In most cases, I’d be OK with that kind of assessment; I’m a benefit of the doubt-giving kind of guy.
But Donald Trump is not “most cases.” He does not deserve the benefit of the doubt based on his record of lying, manipulation, disrespect for women and minorities, and his insane, unqualified, and insanely unqualified staff appointments.
But, for now, let’s take Petrucci’s words at face value: let’s give HIM the benefit of the doubt that he’s just trying to be optimistic with regards to Trump’s presidency in spite of his obvious faults. What does that say about Trump’s blatant disrespect towards minorities and women? His tacit endorsement of the alt-right and unwillingness to rebuke the support of white supremacists, and his appointment of an actual white supremacist to a key cabinet position? Does Petrucci agree with these stances, or is he just willing to overlook them?
Either way, Petrucci comes off looking shitty. Agreeing that Christians should be granted priority over Muslims in this country is shitty in all the obvious ways, and looking the other way because “Hey! He’s an experienced business man! Maybe he’ll shake the government up!” is almost as shitty, because it tacitly endorses those obviously shitty outlooks.
And that’s a huge bummer. I don’t want to believe that Petrucci thinks it’s a good idea to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. or to roll back decades of civil rights progress, and I don’t want to believe that he’s so out of touch and/or oblivious that he doesn’t see how “give him a chance” is instead giving Trump a pass on that terrible behavior. I want to think John is smart, that he gets it, that he at least thinks about these issues in depth. But it seems none of those things are true. At best, he doesn’t. At worst, he too, is a bigot. (I don’t actually believe he’s a bigot).
My perception of Dream Theater is now forever colored. I won’t be able to look at John and his big, bushy beard and flowing mane and not think, “Man, that guy believes something other than Donald Trump being a terrible, shitty man-child.” I won’t be able to crank “Metropolis” without thinking about how the man that wrote it is OK with taking away a woman’s right to choose. I won’t be able to go see Dream Theater live without wondering whether any of the money I spent on a ticket is going towards causes that strip good people of basic civil liberties.
This is why some bands (like Metallica, until recently) have policies against political commentary in the press.
Will I stop listening to Dream Theater? Probably not. I won’t stop writing about them either, most likely.
Should I stop listening to Dream Theater? I don’t know.
He’s one of five members of the group. I have no knowledge of where the other four stand politically. They could hold the same views, or different ones. They could have opinions representing any number of degrees in-between. James LaBrie is probably just burying his head in a bowl of poutine.
But I’m not sure it matters. John Petrucci likes Donald Trump! Aaaaaggghhhh! This is like finding out that the girl you’ve been crushing on in high school has the hots for the quarterback and blew him under the bleachers in between plays while you were sitting right above. I feel bamboozled, hoodwinked, conned.
Or just stupid. Maybe I shouldn’t have so much faith in my heroes. Or maybe I shouldn’t fall victim to the relatability fallacy I described above: my heroes are not like me, at least not necessarily, even though I’d like them to be.