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My dad thought teenagers were just putting a finger in the eye of grownups.
I thought it was all about the music.
Half a century later the debate about the same kids has a ring to it.
I was just a kid. Beatles were bugs. I had heard the new yeah-yeah song a few times. It was different because it had a hard drum beat at the beginning. Kids like me liked it.
I especially knew one line, mostly because some British politician wanted to show he was cool and had his speech writers write out a line for him from the song. He tried to say it. Instead, he showed he didn’t understand anything. The Beatles sang “She said she loves you and you know that can’t be bad.” He said “The country loves us and you know that can’t be, uh, uh, too bad.”
“Too” did him in.
When the Beatles became something more than a bug, when they held concerts with audiences of screaming teenagers, after we learned the name and the music and the popularity, my dad had a theory:
It was all about homosexuality.
Doesn’t seem like it today, but Beatle cereal bowl haircuts, were considered daring in 1964. Kids were not old enough to think of the style as particularly feminine, but our parents did. Men didn’t wear their hair long, with bangs. The loathing adults felt came from the vaguest impression of homosexuality. Boys will be boys and they damn well better not be anything else!
Kids shared the bigotry. Kids didn’t go through all that with the hair style. The Beatles were cool because older folks, the ones who didn’t dance or rock-n-roll were revulsed for some reason.
There wasn’t much of a civil rights division back then. Most kids held the same views as their parents, who in turn held the views of their communities. McCarthyism was passe, had been since the 1950s. Vietnam was a point on some distant map. So patriotism was only challenged by extremists.
The Beatles presented a chance to tug at adult sensibilities, to get a reaction.
So, my dad’s theory went, the kids might not be particularly for homosexuality, but they were for kid-like rebellion against parental reactions.
It was a friendly family debate, kind of fun. In retrospect it had an undertone of anti-gay bigotry that was not at all controversial in those days. I was raised in that atmosphere. As a young adult, I eventually gave it enough thought to be ashamed of youthful attitudes. Gay people were oppressed by those of us too ignorant to be conscious of the evil we represented.
I argued with my dad. Maybe, said I, maybe kids just liked the music, and the chance to associate it with a group of pop stars. Parents were just against anything new, or couldn’t get with it. Like that British politician. That was all there was too it.
And concerts were fun because it gave us a chance to yell and cheer along with other fans. There was a sort of youthful kinship involved.
We never came to an agreement, my dad and I. The debate went for years, enlivening family dinners. We looked forward to it. The fact that we could argue was, for me, a sign of paternal egalitarianism. It was a sign of respect.
Today, a friend is more sympathetic to Trumpers than am I. Our debates reminded me of the family arguments of my youth.
I get to thinking about the exuberant enthusiasm of Trump crowds, the chants, the shouts, the similarities.
The baby boomers of yesterday are the elderly of today. But we want those years again.
The bigotry goes against grown-up values. So sticking a finger in an adult eye and trying to dial a number can be attractive to some of us. Rebellion shared with other fun-loving folks, apart from those who just don’t get it, the disapproving, finger-waving, old-fashioned adults.
Ted Cruz, and others, take turns trying to be the cool dad, but they’re too polite. They get the lyrics just wrong enough to be pathetic. Trump is the rock star who knows the words.
These are people who hate our country.
HEY JOHN! They Hate Our Country.
They hate it, I think, with a passion.
– President Donald Trump, July 15, 2019
Many of the participants argue about racism and hatred.
Send her back!
Send her back!
Send her back!
They insist it isn’t about that at all.
Come on, of course the President’s not racist.
But he’s frustrated, like so many Americans are.
There is a sort of convivial camaraderie to it. A shared experience by like minded souls. For some it isn’t so much ideology, but rather shared polemical taste.
They like the rhetorical rhythm. They enjoy the bombastic beat. The love the political music.
It’s rock concert rebellion, a return to baby boomer youth.
I see all those red hats and white hats.
It’s all happening very fast.
It’s called Make America Great Again!
You see what’s going on.
– President Donald Trump, August 22, 2017
It’s fun for elderly kids. And it’s a generational plea.
We are fading away. Make us great again!