Bruce Springsteen’s music appeals to white working people. It always has and it still does. But many of the young working-class baby boomers who connected with Springsteen in 1970s and 1980s are no longer young working class men and women. Many of them are white middle class and upper middle-class folks who can afford to buy a ticket to see Springsteen in concert or on Broadway. When I go to a Springsteen concert I see a lot of guys in blue dress shirts and khakis. When I saw him on Broadway I am not sure how many working-class people were in attendance–it was hard to see everyone from the cheap seats in the back row of the Walter Kerr Theater. (I did, however, see New York Times columnist David Brooks).
While I am sympathetic to Eric Alterman‘s piece calling the Democrats to appeal to the kind of folks who came of age with Springsteen’s albums, and I am a fan of his written work on the Boss, I also think that a lot of Springsteen fans are conservative (there are a lot of Chris Christie-types out there) and a good number of them may have even voted for Donald Trump.
I will never forget what I witnessed on the night of September 11, 2016 at a Springsteen concert in Pittsburgh. Here is part of what I wrote about that show:
In another revealing moment a fan in the front row threw a copy of the United States Constitution onto the stage. Bruce picked it up and showed the crowd that it had the words “F… Trump” written on it. The crowd cheered and the woman next to me lifted her hands in agreement, but a significant number of people in my section began yelling similar derogatory things about Hillary Clinton. Despite Springsteen’s outspoken progressive politics, his fans remain a politically eclectic bunch.
Here is a taste of Alterman’s piece in the Los Angeles Times:
With Sherrod Brown out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, a crucial question arises: Who will be the Bruce Springsteen candidate?
Who is the one that can win back Trump voters and Clinton-sitter-outers who feel forgotten by the Democrats? They’re the guys who worked the assembly line for decades but now get minimum wage at Walmart; the women feeding their families cold cuts for dinner and trying to make ends meet by selling vitamins from home; the manufacturing employees filled with xenophobic rage because the companies that used to employ them have moved their operations abroad.
Part of the reason Hillary Clinton lost working-class Democrats in 2016 was that she was seen as a representative of the very class of folk who profit from the troubles of American workers. Donald Trump’s braggadocio that he “alone” could reverse the trends that had harmed them was music to their ears.
Ever since Ronald Reagan misunderstood the lyrics to “Born in the USA,” candidates have sought to claim Springsteen’s aura as their own because of his rapport with a certain type of American voter. He has campaigned for Democrats in the past and shown particular affection for Brown, to whom he gave a shout-out while campaigning for Obama in 2012. The senator won Ohio in 2018 after Trump took it by eight points two years earlier. And while he was flirting with a presidential run, he traveled the country speaking about “The Dignity of Work.”
Read the rest here.