The disappointment of Johnny Rotten’s Donald Trump-supporting conservatism
“Despite being the frontman of the most dangerous band in the world, John Lydon was bored – sick of the Sex Pistols’ music, tired of his own ‘Rotten’ persona, and disappointed with how punk as a whole had panned out.” – Simon Reynolds
Is it possible to create an idol out of a person who is supposed to represent the antithesis of an idol? Wouldn’t that be a contradiction of sorts? If you were Malcolm McClaren, a savvy businessman and serial promoter, then you would see the huge monetary potential of a snide, spit-in-your-face, stiff-upper-lipped, confrontational, back-boned, punk-before-it-was-cool, punk. Don’t ever underestimate the philosophy of ‘cool-hunters’ who are essentially those who see the new up and coming trends, who will take these trends, turn them into commodities and sell them back to the trend-setters and the wannabes.
Sid Vicious, the worst of the Sex Pistols, the punk who was the king of the shock factor, used to wear shirts imprinted with the Nazi swastika right on the front of it. He did this, not because he believed in nazism, but because he wanted you to be offended and to look at Vicious with disdain. In fact, Sid Vicious believed in nothing, he was the quintessential nihilist. John Lydon, or better known as Johnny Rotten, is very different from Sid in this regard. Lydon is an artist who takes art very seriously and has a whole variety of philosophical beliefs and varying interests. Having said this, however, as much as he would tell you otherwise, Lydon still contains this strain of iconoclastic behaviour which is so typical of the traditional punk.
The first signs of Rotten’s dissident behaviour within a dissent medium, surfaced when Lydon went on London’s Capital Radio station in 1977 and presented a segment titled, The Punk and His Music, on which he voiced his frustrations with the predictability of punk rock bands, saying he felt “cheated” by “the genre’s lack of diversity and imagination,” according to the music journalist, Simon Reynolds. In addition to voicing his, more often than not, trouble-rousing opinions, Rotten played some of his favourite music that, strangely enough, was not ‘punk’ whatsoever; Tim Buckley, Can, Captain Beefheart, Third Ear Band, were just some of the bands he featured on the show – could it be that one the leading figures of the punk movement, was, instead, a bohemian hippie?
By 1978, John Lydon shed the Johnny Rotten misnomer and sought new musical avenues with his experimental self-proclaimed anti-rock Public Image Ltd. band. Throughout his career as a Sex Pistol and then eventually fronting PiL, which would eventually become his main vehicle for his songwriting, Lydon has always stuck to his roots. Lydon was raised in working-class London and before he decided to shed the ‘punk image’ that was thrust upon him; Lydon was a true punk, at times wearing garbage for clothes in support of the strike that garbage-workers were on. He has described his upbringing as such, “Charlie Dickens with motor vehicles.” John Lydon was in direct support of the Brexit movement, stating: “Well, here it goes, the working class have spoken and I’m one of them, and I’m with them.”
From this perspective, Lydon has always supported the working class. The MO of The Sex Pistols was always to piss off people more so than take a political or philosophical stance, one way or another. One minute The Sex Pistols were screaming “Anarchy in the UK”, the next minute Sid Vicious was seen sporting a Swastika shirt while shooting up heroin in the bathroom stall. If the Sex Pistols were to fall on a political spectrum, they would probably have been anarchists, and if they had to be categorised within a certain philosophy, it would most likely be nihilism. Even that is counter-intuitive to understanding the Sex Pistols and to a larger extent, John Lydon. Once you think you understand Lydon and what he’s all about, he will scream at you and spit on you and tell you you’re wrong.
In the 1970s, it was considered rebellious to curse the Queen; now, perhaps in more of a slightly pathetic way, it is rebellious to wear a “Make America Great Again” T-shirt which he was seen wearing back in September. Perhaps it is more than just saying “fuck you” though. John Lydon once commented that “the main lesson I learned from my mum and dad is no self-pity. Self-pity was unacceptable.”
Donald Trump and his brand of populism are many things, including unapologetic, unsympathetic, and unabashedly self-serving. This particular strand of populism – which usually, populism does claim to serve the working-class – this is sort of an anti-intellectual populist movement, one that seeks to put the finger up to those who have supposedly run the show for so long. Is it really that surprising that Lydon is a Trump supporter? The only thing that would not make sense about this is if Lydon honestly thought Trump was a racist. Lydon – after the Sex Pistols – famously took a trip to Jamaica and became heavily involved in the reggae community and would lend a hand in bringing its influence back to parts of mainstream London. Lydon, however, does not believe Trump is racist, whatsoever. “What I dislike is the left-wing media in America are trying to smear the bloke as a racist, and that’s completely not true.” One of the most common things that are said by those who claim to be unapologetically in support of Donald Trump but which might actually suggest a slight apologetic nature: “There are many, many problems with him as a human being.”
Lydon continues to say that, despite these “many, many problems…something good might still come out of it.” It is an acknowledgement of Trump’s shortcomings, but it is in spite of this, that Trump will do something good. If anything, this suggests Trump’s supporters are completely disillusioned with the system and the results that we have seen during his stint as President.
Trump’s brand of conservatism, which seems to be closely connected with Boris Johnson’s and Neil Farage’s Brexit, is a kind of political action which presents itself as an anti-political political movement; not unlike Lydon’s Public Image Ltd’s “anti-music music”. This would explain Lydon’s support of this new brand of conservatism. Lydon believes Trump is the antichrist, as many do, actually. While this is the reason that so many people do not like Trump, this is the exact reason why Lydon likes him.