What Trump's Refusal to Stop Using Rolling Stones Songs Says About Him

By Published on .

It seems like it was just a week ago (probably because it was) that President Trump made headlines by going after the Chinese (once again) -- this time in a really specific way. As Variety's Ted Johnson reported on Aug. 14,

President Donald Trump signed an executive order to give the green light to a potential investigation into unfair Chinese trade practices, including the theft of intellectual property, in a move that may eventually lead to tariffs on some imports. "We will combat the counterfeiting and piracy that destroys American jobs," Trump said in brief remarks at the White House.

On the surface of it, this makes sense. Trump, the master marketer, understands IP. (Much of his success in real estate has involved licensing his brand to other developers rather than putting up buildings himself.) And yet, as the Daily News reports,

President Trump played "You Can't Always Get What You Want" after his hour-and-a-half-long speech in Phoenix on Tuesday night despite numerous warnings from the legendary band to stop using their music.

It was a moment of déjà vu for me. In July 2016, I covered the Democratic and Republican national conventions for Ad Age -- and in a column I filed from Donald Trump's coronation in Cleveland, I wrote about the "inexplicable, but perhaps telling, exit music" that closed out the RNC:

The Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" pumped into the arena at a volume so loud I could feel it in my molars as nets holding thousands of red, white and blue balloons released their bounty onto the exuberant RNC delegates.

No, you can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometime, well you might find
You get what you need.

As I noted back then, the Rolling Stones had already demanded that Trump never again use their music after his campaign made unauthorized use of that exact song on the campaign trail. (Does he not realize the song was written and performed by foreigners?!)

Playing "You Can't Always Get What You Want" was a "fuck you" to the Rolling Stones then, and it's an even bigger "fuck you" to them now. But coming so quickly in the wake of Trump's tough talk about intellectual property, this latest "fuck you" is clearly directed at more than just the Stones.

As David David Leonhardt wrote in a June New York Times column titled "The Lawless President,"

Democracy isn't possible without the rule of law -- the idea that consistent principles, rather than a ruler's whims, govern society. You can read Aristotle, Montesquieu, John Locke or the Declaration of Independence on this point. You can also look at decades of American history. Even amid bitter fights over what the law should say, both Democrats and Republicans have generally accepted the rule of law.

President Trump does not. His rejection of it distinguishes him from any other modern American leader. He has instead flirted with Louis XIV's notion of "L'état, c'est moi": The state is me -- and I'll decide which laws to follow.

The very last line of my last dispatch from the Republican National Convention was "Donald Trump always gets what he wants."

He was just a candidate then. Now he's the (theoretical) leader of the free world.

It's not even clear what Donald Trump really wants anymore (Leave Afghanistan! Stay in Afghanistan!). The Lazy Boy President can barely even be bothered to try sometime.

And nobody -- nobody -- is getting what they need.

Simon Dumenco, aka Media Guy, is an Ad Age editor-at-large. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.

Most Popular