What happens if the president dies? Devendra Banhart knows.

Moses Berkson/Courtesy

Related Posts

Grade: 4.0/5.0

If the president and the vice president passed away, and the speaker of the House forgot how to speak, who would be in charge?

In his song, “25th,” Devendra Banhart outlines the line of succession for president and asks us to question the current state of our country’s leadership. The song is, of course, based on the 25th Amendment, which was created, “in case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation.”

It’s hard to deny that Banhart’s piece is a reflection of the times, specifically of 2018. It is a work of art that surely should be studied by historians 50 years from now, as Banhart’s song comes at a time when the U.S. presidency is under intense fire.  

With new scandals about the current presidency coming out everyday — namely the recent publication of an anonymous The New York Times op-ed from someone within the Trump administration — discussion about the 25th Amendment could not be more relevant. And herein lies the power of Banhart’s new single.

The melody of “25th” reflects a widespread, deep distrust of our current administration. It’s not too far-fetched for one to ask: If every top-ranking White House official was rendered incapable, what would happen?

The Venezuelan-American singer-songwriter released this song with a hauntingly cheery tune as a part of 27: The Most Perfect Album, an album featuring various artists put together by WNYC’s “More Perfect” podcast.

The rest of the album will be released Sept. 18, but for now, we have “25th” to piece through. The song’s goal is not to charm or to please but to prod. It quite practically walks through the line of succession for commander in chief, as defined by the 25th Amendment, but the song outrageously suggests various situations through which each official would die or become incapable:

“The vice president ate too much drywall”

“And so speaker of the House of Representatives prepared to lead but due to the job’s roles and responsibilities, they rarely spoke. So ironically, when it came time to talk, they clammed up. So the president pro-temporaire of the senate showed up.”

Upon first glance, the tune is whimsical, as Banhart’s grinning voice weaves through with the simple yet lovely guitar line. But at the core, Banhart is describing a world where every catastrophe is possible: It is the world we live in today.

And that’s the crux of the song. In one line, Banhart sings, “After trying to explain that the matriarchy simply means equality, it was all too scary — we had to set ‘em free.” In another, he says “And roughly after 323 million more people were swallowed by the sea, it all fell on me. Now that’s a drag.”

Thus it becomes clear that Banhart released “25th” to share a little bit of the truth. In America, most of our top White House officials are seemingly incapable. In this country, we can’t accept that women can, and maybe should, be in charge. Instead, we’ve created a system in which a series of men will rule the lives of 323 million. Now that’s a drag.

Contact Malini Ramaiyer at [email protected]. Tweet her at @malinisramaiyer.