Is Conservatism the New Punk?

Article by Zachary Lipez

The short answer? Hell no.

After the last presidential election, some music commentators believed they had discovered the possibility of a silver lining: “Punk will be better under Trump.”  

We figured that would be the most inane subculture-concerned assertion this decade—at least among those takes that gained a modicum of currency. Nope. Something else had surfaced a little earlier, but seemed destined to shrivel of its own inanity. That didn’t happen. “Conservatism is the new punk” emerged, gained a bit of traction in select right-wing quarters, and now floats like a U-boat moored in a fetid bay of discourse as we approach the next election.

Now, knowing how much those in these aforementioned quarters value the “vigorous exchange of ideas,” or whatever it is they call misgendering trans people and mocking school-shooting survivors, I won’t simply counter this absurd claim by telling these ahistorical nerds to go fuck a jackboot. I will instead try to counter their attempts to appropriate God’s greatest one-chord wonder, punk, with the intellectual dark web’s own cuddly toy—logic. 

First, a concession. Punk, as both fashion and music, has always had a huge reactionary strain. As was pointed out by right-winger Kurt Schlichter in his 2014 column, “Conservatism Is the New Punk Rock” (which, by the way, predated English vlogger Paul Joseph Watson’s now-infamous use of the phrase), the Ramones—arguably the first punk band, if you, incorrectly, ignore Peru’s Los Saicos—had a right-leaning member. Johnny Ramone was a Reagan-loving Republican. 

And while much of early punk’s use of fascistic imagery was driven largely by a petulant need to shock, there was barely any time between punk’s popular inception and the rising of entirely fash movements like Rock Against Communism. If anything, punk arguably would have happily remained a debauched art-school exercise in pissing off the libs if the right’s rise within it hadn’t forced a response. After all, hating the hippies back then was de rigueur. 

Conservatives could use punk’s failure to always live up to its self-mythology if they weren’t more invested in rhetorical points than the music. Though I suppose the admission, “Actually, I don’t just listen to the first Skrewdriver” would be saying the quiet part loud.