Whatever your opinion on him, Donald Trump is the President of the United States because he perfectly harnessed the anger and resentment of anyone who felt uncomfortable with a changing America—not just economically, but culturally. Trump understands the sense of a cultural divide in America, a country of two rather than one, and knows how to exploit it for his own gain. Far from backing down, Trump has continued waging this cultural war long after taking office.
Trump’s army have followed him into war against Hollywood, the major television networks, most of the National Football League, LeBron James—himself the poster boy of America’s other major sport—and numerous communities associated with ethnic minorities, notably the hip-hop community. Whilst this may result in certain career suicide for any other politician, not Donald Trump. The nature of Trump’s rise and his audience put him in a unique situation of being able to shit on almost anyone, and command unequivocal loyalty from his core voters - who don’t care about any of that stuff as much as they care about their idea of the ‘America’ they need to restore.
Eminem represents something slightly different though. Trump, whilst denying holding racist views and having a small but very dedicated following composed of ethnic minorities, has never exactly claimed to be a champion for people of color. This is why it’s never felt particularly effective or groundbreaking when black artists have criticized him - Trump doesn’t seem to care enough for it to put a dent in his image.
Hip-hop has attacked Trump time and time again over the last couple of years, from call-outs from Kendrick Lamar to YG’s hit ‘Fuck Donald Trump’. None of this slowed his momentum and stopped him from winning office, because it didn’t phase his core voters in white, working class, middle-America. As already discussed, this is the America that generally couldn’t care less about what today’s rappers are saying, or the mainstream media in general.
This is where Eminem comes in. If there is a single window from Trump’s America to hip-hop, it’s Eminem. Marshall Mathers has proudly worn the badge of white-trash, trailer park rap in the past, having grown up in working class Missouri and Michigan. Eminem’s rise was characterized by angry, poor, rejected-by-society white boy rap, and people loved it. He’s one of the best selling artists of all time, and nobody sold more records in the 2000s in America than him. For many white kids, he was their introduction to hip-hop, and putting on those headphones was an emotional shelter from the reality of their own white, working class lives.
This is why Eminem’s latest cypher, ‘The Storm’, felt so different. From YG’s ‘Fuck Donald Trump’ music video to the 2017 Emmy Awards, to any late night talk show episode over the past 2 years, all mainstream media mockeries of Trump have had this echo-chamber feeling to them. It’s never felt like a tough topic to address, never an uncomfortable or dangerous opinion. YG, Nipsey Hussle, their friends and their entire combined audience agree ‘Fuck Donald Trump’. Anyone who shows up to a Colbert show or watches John Oliver is bound to hate him. 90% of Hollywood hates him. In all these communities, insulting Trump is the safe thing to do—if anything, it’s starting to get old.
Eminem has always been aware of his mixed audience, and like Trump, understands the anger and resentment certain parts of America feel. Eminem has capitalized on this sense of a broken America too, but in an entirely different way. If Trump wanted a culture war, Eminem was probably the last person he wanted to take up arms against.
This feels like the first celebrity call-out into Trump’s presidency that might actually impact Trump’s followers. We’ve all had enough of LA-NY celebrities insulting Trump from their flashy studios, or from the podium as they accept an award in a $10,000 suit. All of this has played perfectly into Trump’s hands so far. It reinforces Trump’s point that there is such a cultural divide in America, and helps him continue to exploit it—the rich don’t like him, and the unseen poor do. Eminem’s choice to get real with some of his fan base from a grey, dank parking lot in Detroit, with no audience cheering him on, or even a beat, has struck a considerable blow in a culture war that so far, Trump has controlled.
Trump has been accused of undermining the office of President time and time again by over-sensitively responding to celebrities. He’s attacked some of Hollywood’s greatest actors, the nation’s most popular news stations, and even America’s most popular sport. Whenever anyone defies Trump who he sees as vulnerable in some way, he can mobilize his loyal fanbase to tear down. The NFL is already backing down - hushing the kneeling controversy and even going so far as to debate forcing players to stand for the anthem (not to mention a certain quarterback who still doesn’t have a job). The Emmys’ ratings have plateaued, and trust in mainstream media is at an all-time low. Despite all this, I don’t think even Donald Trump can survive a war of words with Eminem - it’s no wonder that Trump totally left Eminem’s latest attack alone on Twitter.
"People are permeable and art is never produced in a vacuum. I like exploring the political and social context of music."