Trump’s new campaign ad in historical context

Have you seen Trump’s new campaign ad?

As Bruce Springsteen once said, “Fear’s a dangerous thing. It can turn your heart black, you can trust. It’ll take your God-filled soul and fill it with devils and dust.”

Fear has been a staple of American politics since the founding of the republic. In 1800, the Connecticut Courant, a Federalist newspaper that supported President John Adams in his reelection campaign against Thomas Jefferson, the founding father and religious skeptic from Virginia, the country would have to deal with a wave of murder, atheism, rape, adultery and robbery.

In the 1850s, the anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant American Party, commonly known as the “Know-Nothing Party,” was infamous for its American-flag banner emblazoned with the words “Native Americans: Beware of False Influence.”

nativist flag

In modern America, campaign ads keep us in a constant state of fear–and not always from right-wing sources either. I still get a shiver up my spine when I watch “Daisy Girl,” the 1964 Lyndon Johnson campaign advertisement. Watch:

And here is Richard Nixon in 1968, another “law and order” president:

Political fear is so dangerous because it usually stems from legitimate concerns shared by a significant portion of the voting population. For example, there are groups who want to defund the police. Television and social media make it easier for politicians to define our fears for us. They take these legitimate concerns, as political theorist Corey Robin puts it, and transforms them “into imminent threats.”

Jason Bivins, another scholar of fear, has noted that “moral panics” tend to “rely on presumptions more than facts; they dramatize and sensationalize so as to keep audiences in a state of continual alertness.” For example, Joe Biden does not want to defund the police. Nor do most Democrats. Yet Trump has managed to convince his followers that Biden and the Democratic Party are imminent threats to the country because of their supposed views on this issue.

Many of the people who will be scared by this new Trump ad are evangelical Christians. I wrote about their fear in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

David Brooks interviews Bruce Springsteen

bruce-springsteen-on-broadway-photo-by-rob-demartin

In February 2018, I spoke to New York Times columnist David Brooks at the Walter Kerr Theater in New York City. We were both there to see “Springsteen on Broadway.” You can read about our very, very brief encounter here.

I thought about that moment as I read Brooks’s interview with Bruce Springsteen, published today at The Atlantic.

Here is a taste:

Brooks: There is a question I’ve always wanted to ask you. You’ve spent so much of your life writing about working-class men and, in particular, working-class men who were victims of deindustrialization, who used to work in the factories and mills that were closed, whether in Asbury Park or Freehold or Youngstown or throughout the Midwest. But a lot of those guys didn’t turn out to share your politics. They became Donald Trump supporters. What’s your explanation for that?

Springsteen: There’s a long history of working people being misled by a long list of demagogues, from George Wallace and Jesse Helms to fake religious leaders like Jerry Falwell to our president.

The Democrats haven’t really made the preservation of the middle and working class enough of a priority. And they’ve been stymied in bringing more change by the Republican Party. In the age of Roosevelt, Republicans represented business; Democrats represented labor. And when I was a kid, the first and only political question ever asked in my house was “Mom, what are we, Democrats or Republicans?” And she answered, “We are Democrats because they’re for the working people.” (I have a sneaking suspicion my mom went Republican towards the end of her cognizant life, but she never said anything about it!)

In addition, there is a core and often true sense of victimization that has been brought on by the lightning pace of deindustrialization and technological advancement that’s been incredibly traumatic for an enormous amount of working people across the nation. The feeling of being tossed aside, left behind by history, is something our president naturally tapped into.

There is resentment of elites, of specialists, of cosmopolitan coast dwellers, some of it merited. It is due to attitudes among some that discount the value and sacrifice so many working people have made for their country. When the wars are being fought, they are there.  When the job is dirty and rough, they are there. But the president cynically taps into primal resentments and plays on patriotism for purely his political gain.

There is a desire for a figure who will once again turn back the clock to full factories, high wages, and for some, the social status that comes with being white—that is a difficult elixir, prejudices and all, for folks who are in dire straits to resist. Our president didn’t deliver on the factories or the jobs returning from overseas or much else for our working class. The only thing he delivered on was resentment, division, and the talent for getting our countrymen at each other’s throats. He made good on that, and that is how he thrives.  

Read the entire interview here.

Song of the Day

American Skin (41 Shots):

For those unfamilar with the history behind this song, click here.

(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)

41 shots, and we’ll take that ride
‘Cross the bloody river to the other side
41 shots, cut through the night
You’re kneeling over his body in the vestibule
Praying for his life

Is it a gun, is it a knife
Is it a wallet, this is your life
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living in your American skin

(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)

41 shots, Lena gets her son ready for school
She says, “On these streets, Charles
You’ve got to understand the rules
If an officer stops you, promise me you’ll always be polite
And that you’ll never ever run away
Promise Mama you’ll keep your hands in sight”

Is it a gun (is it a gun), is it a knife (is it a knife)
Is it a wallet (is it a wallet), this is your life (this is your life)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living in your American skin

(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)

Is it a gun (is it a gun), is it a knife (is it a knife)
Is it in your heart (is it in your heart), is it in your eyes (is it in your eyes)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)

41 shots, and we’ll take that ride
‘Cross this bloody river to the other side
41 shots, I got my boots caked with this mud
We’re baptized in these waters (baptized in these waters)
And in each other’s blood (and in each other’s blood)

Is it a gun (is it a gun), is it a knife (is it a knife)
Is it a wallet (is it a wallet), this is your life (this is your life)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living in
You can get killed just for living in
You can get killed just for living in your American skin

41 shots
41 shots
41 shots
41 shots

41 shots
41 shots
41 shots
41 shots

41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)
41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)
41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)
41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)

41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)
41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)
41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)
41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)

How is Springsteen is Handling the Lockdown?

Here is Bruce Springsteen in his memoir, Born to Run:

In the late afternoon, I drove to the Rumson-Sea Bright Bridge. There, usually, on a clear day the Twin Towers struck two tiny vertical lines on the horizons at the bridge’s apex. Today, torrents of smoke lifted from the end of Manhattan Island, a mere fifteen miles away by boat. I stopped in at my local beach and walked to the water’s edge, looking north; a thin gray line of smoke, dust and ash spread out due east over the water line. It appeared like the smudged edge of a hard blue sheet folding and resting upon the autumn Atlantic.

I sat for a while, alone, the September beach empty beneath the eerie quiet of silent skies. We live along a very busy corridor. Planes are constantly flying just off the Eastern Seaboard on their way to Kennedy and Newark airports, and the low buzz of airplane engines is as much a part of the sound tapestry at the Shore as are the gently crashing waves. Not today. All air traffic grounded. A deadly On the Beach, science-fiction-like quiet unfolded under the sand.

After a short while, I headed home to join Patti and pick-up our children from school. As I drove over the gravel of the beach club parking lot, I hesitated before pulling into traffic on Ocean Boulevard. Just then a care careening off Rumson-Sea Bright Bridge shot past, its window down, and its, recognizing me, shouted “Bruce, we need you.” I sort of knew what he meant, but…

Bruce responded to the crisis of 9-11-01 with his album The Rising. Will he respond with a similar album during this crisis? I hope so.

Springsteen played disc jockey again today at Sirius XM’s E Street Radio.  Rolling Stone covered it. A taste:

Before playing Tom Petty’s “The Waiting,” Springsteen vented some frustrations. “The toughest thing about the lockdown is not knowing what the future holds,” he said, “the feeling of your whole life being placed on hold, time seeming to move quickly, but slowly.”

Springsteen originally planned on releasing a new E Street Band album this year and supporting it with a tour, his first since 2016, but he’s been locked away in his New Jersey home these past few months. “Empty and unused time, I don’t care for — especially at 70,” he said. “I’m counting my days and, my friend, I’ve got things to do that involve me and you. My son is 25 and he’s worried about the time it’s taking out of his life!”

He then compared himself to Muhammad Ali in the late Sixties, when the boxer’s refusal to serve in Vietnam took him out of the boxing ring for nearly four years. “He was at his prime,” Springsteen said. “I’m in my late prime, [and he was] at his prime, and the years he could have spent boxing were taken away from him.”

He concludes the sad thought by reflecting on his late Aunt Eda, who died in 2012 at the age of 90. “She always said, ‘Just live every day as if you’re going to live forever,” he said. “I like that. I think she meant, ‘Greet each day on its own terms as an opportunity for life’s possibilities. Breathe it in. Let the world open up before you and prepare yourself to accept it in its entirety, on its own terms with a vengeance.’ Well, I’m ready and I hope you are, too. But right now, the waiting is the hardest part.”

Read the rest here.

Glad to know Bruce, at the age of 70, still thinks he is in his “late prime.”

Springsteen Will Address Boston College’s Incoming Class

springsteen netflix

Here is a taste of the Boston College press release:

Singer, songwriter, and legendary performer Bruce Springsteen, whose best-selling autobiography Born to Run provides an intimate portrait of the inner struggles and triumphs of one of America’s most beloved musical icons, will address the Class of 2024 at Boston College’s First Year Academic Convocation on September 10 in Conte Forum…

This summer, all first-year students will receive an e-copy of Springsteen’s book and a reflection guide that will help them to examine the themes raised in Born to Run—family dynamics, personal relationships, addressing adversity, and setting and fulfilling aspirations–and how they might intersect with their own lives.

“At Boston College, we have long understood from the Jesuits about the importance of engaging students in a conversation that encourages their growth intellectually, socially, and spiritually,” said Executive Director of Student Formation Michael Sacco. “The format of the conversation can vary, but the aim remains to encourage students to be attentive to their experiences and reflective of their meaning, with the hope that this will help them discern their role in the world.   

“Through his songs, Bruce Springsteen has long been such a conversation partner to his audience, masterfully portraying the American experience through lyrics that inspire reflection about our world, our families, our jobs, our struggles, and our relationships.  But in his memoir, Bruce reveals the conversation he had with himself as he approached many of his life’s crossroads.  In doing so, Bruce shares how attentiveness, contemplation, and authenticity played a key role in his personal growth and honing his immense talents. Each BC student brings a unique set of talents, and reading Bruce’s story will give them an invaluable perspective as they begin their formation at Boston College,” Sacco said.

First launched in 2004 as a formative experience and unifying event for all incoming students, the First Year Academic Convocation has featured award-winning authors ranging from Ann Patchett (Run) and Colum McCann, (Let the Great World Spin) to political leaders Barack Obama (Dreams From My Father) and John McCain (Lives of Moral Leadership).  Considered the signature academic event of freshman year, the convocation has become a beloved BC tradition that melds the University’s Jesuit, Catholic mission and heritage with its commitment to the liberal arts and formative education.

Born to Run has been lauded by critics for its frankness and eloquence, written in the authentic voice of a tenacious son of New Jersey who is considered the greatest songwriter of his generation and the poet of the American experience. NPR described the book as a “virtuoso performance,” the New York Times called it “frank and gripping,” and “intensely satisfying,” while Rolling Stone magazine described it as “an utterly unique, endlessly exhilarating, last-chance power drive of a memoir.”    

Following its release, Springsteen read from the book and shared personal reminiscences in an eight-week theatrical performance called “Springsteen on Broadway.”  His appearance at Boston College will be his first and only college visit.

“For the Class of 2024, Born to Run is a wonderful introduction to the lifelong process of discernment that is so central to the philosophy of student formation at Boston College,” said First Year Experience Director Ali Bane. “Springsteen’s memoir includes countless examples of him paying close attention to his life experiences, reflecting upon their meaning, and living in a way that translates this meaning into action to create a better world.

“Inspired by his own working-class upbringing, many of Springsteen’s songs empathize with those who have been marginalized or oppressed. First-year students will benefit greatly from reading this honest, reflective, and authentic narrative of someone who has so significantly shaped the cultural milieu of our country throughout his decades of music making.”

Read the entire release here.

Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa Are Performing Tonight!

Bruce and Patti

Here is the Asbury Park Press:

Who’s the member of the E Street Band joining Bruce Springsteen for a musical performance from his home on the big Wednesday, April 22 Jersey 4 Jersey special? 

It’s Ms. Patti Scialfa.

Scialfa, Springsteen’s wife, has officially been added to the lineup of performers on the show, which will benefit the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund. She most recently co-starred in the hit “Springsteen on Broadway” with the Boss.

“New Jersey has been hit especially hard by the coronavirus pandemic and the people of New Jersey have always stepped up during difficult times,” said Springsteen April 14 on “Good Morning America.” “This is our effort to do everything we can for our folks here in the Garden State, and we hope you’ll join us.”

Read the rest here.

Song of the Day

“I believe in the hope and I pray that some day it may raise me above these badlands…”

 

Lights out tonight, trouble in the heartland
Got a head-on collision smashing in my guts man
I’m caught in a crossfire that I don’t understand
But there’s one thing I know for sure
Girl, I don’t give a damn for the same old played out scenes
Baby, I don’t give a damn for just the in-betweens
Honey, I want the heart, I want the soul, I want control right now
You better listen to me baby, talk about a dream, try to make it real
You wake up in the night with a fear so real
You spend your life waiting for a moment that just don’t come
Well don’t waste your time waiting

Badlands, you gotta live it every day
Let the broken hearts stand as the price you’ve gotta pay
We’ll keep pushing till it’s understood
And these badlands start treating us good

Working in the field till you get your back burned
Working ‘neath the wheels till you get your facts learned
Baby, I got my facts learned real good right now
You better get it straight, darling
Poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be king
And a king ain’t satisfied till he rules everything
I wanna go out tonight, I wanna find out what I got
Well I believe in the love that you gave me
I believe in the faith that could save me
I believe in the hope and I pray that some day it may raise me above these

Badlands, you gotta live it every day
Let the broken hearts stand as the price you’ve gotta pay
Keep pushing till it’s understood
And these badlands start treating us good
Awhoa whoa whoa whoa

[guitar instrumental]
[saxophone instrumental]

Mmmmmmmmm
Mmmmmmmmm
Mmmmmmmmm
Mmmmmmmmm
For the ones who had a notion, a notion deep inside
That it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive
I wanna find one face that ain’t looking through me
I wanna find one place, I wanna spit in the face of these

Badlands, you gotta live it every day
Let the broken hearts stand as the price you’ve gotta pay
Keep moving till it’s understood
And these badlands start treating us good
Awhoa whoa whoa whoa
Badlands, awhoa whoa whoa whoa
Badlands, awhoa whoa whoa whoa
Badlands, ahwoa whoa whoa whoa
Badlands, ahwoa whoa whoa whoa
Badlands, ahwoa whoa whoa whoa
Badlands…

Song of the Day

I got God on my side
And I’m just trying to survive
What if what you do to survive
Kills the things you love
Fear’s a powerful thing, baby
It can turn your heart black you can trust
It’ll take your God filled soul
And fill it with devils and dust

Taking Care of Our Own

Corona Healthcare

I published this piece in 2012 when I was writing a column at Patheos.  I think it holds up pretty well. –JF

What is this experiment that we call the United States? What did Thomas Jefferson mean by the phrase “the pursuit of happiness?” What is the promise of America?

For many, the American creed is about individual liberty. Citizens of the United States are free to worship without government interference. They are able to consume freely to satisfy their material wants and desires. They climb the ladder of success with unrelenting ambition.

While this commitment to freedom and liberty has been an important part of our national history, it has often been balanced with the willingness of Americans to sacrifice their self-interested pursuits for their neighbors and fellow citizens in need. The Founding Fathers called this “republicanism.” Christians call it “living out the gospel.”

In popular culture there is no one who understands this tension between individualism and community better than Bruce Springsteen. As a young artist in the 1970s and 1980s, Springsteen’s music celebrated the American dream as defined by individualism. He encouraged us, in the wildly popular “Born to Run,” to break out of our “cages on Highway 9” in pursuit of a “runaway American dream.” And maybe, if we run hard enough, we will “get to that place where we really want to go and we’ll walk in the sun.”

On the same album as “Born to Run,” Springsteen urged us to get in our cars and drive “Thunder Road”—a two lane highway that “will take us anywhere.” The final words of the song are telling: “It’s a town for losers, I’m pulling out of here to win.”

Such a vision of the American dream, filled with cars and roads and freedom, is selfish. Springsteen understands the human condition. He also understands the American condition.

But as “The Boss” grows older, his music has taken a decided turn away from youthful individualism and toward community. For example, his 2007 album Magic included a song entitled “Long Walk Home,” a moving reflection on his figurative return to home after all those years of running away. There is a sense of new birth in the song, almost as if Springsteen has realized that the community in which he was raised offers much more than what Thunder Road had to offer. He reminds us that “everybody has a neighbor, everybody has a friend, everybody has a reason to begin again.” Perhaps those “losers” were not so bad after all. They at least need someone to love them.

At age 62, Bruce Springsteen is not done making music. In fact, he and the E-Street Band will be heading out on tour in a few months to promote their new album, Wrecking Ball. Those close to Springsteen are talking about the album’s pressing themes of economic justice, social concern, and spirituality. It is being produced by Ron Aniello, a Grammy-nominated producer known for his work with Christian artists Jars of Clay, Sixpence None the Richer, and Jeremy Camp.

Last week, the Springsteen camp released “We Take Care of Our Own,” the first single off of Wrecking Ball. Anyone who listens to this song will hear a Springsteen-like call for an inclusive American community that will only prosper if citizens care for one another. This is Springsteen’s republicanism at its best—a call to serve others that is compatible in every way with our Divine call to live out the gospel. There are echoes in the song of our current economic hardships, hurricane Katrina, and the search for meaning amidst life’s difficulties. Such meaning, Springsteen concludes, can only be found in tempering individualism and fulfilling the promise of America by loving our neighbors.

Springsteen asks:

“Where are the hearts that run over with mercy?

“Where is the love that has not forsaken me?”

“Where is the work that will set my hands, my soul free?

“Where is the promise from sea to shining sea?”

Mercy. Love. Work. These are the kinds of virtues that are central to a happy and flourishing life. As he so often does, Bruce Springsteen calls us to something higher than our own ambitions. Christians take heed.

Springsteen Course at Monmouth University

springsteen

Check out Steve Strunsky’s NJ.com piece on historian Kenneth Campbell‘s Monmouth University course “Bruce Springsteen’s America: Land of Hope and Dreams.”

A taste:

The class, as the syllabus states, “explores the history of the United States in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries through the lens of the life, music and lyrics of Bruce Springsteen.”

Campbell and his 21 students meet Monday and Wednesday afternoons in a nondescript classroom in Rechnitz Hall bereft of any signs of Springsteen-mania but equipped with an overhead sound system that Campbell uses to play snippets of the songs, like the sparse piano and harmonica intro to “Thunder Road,” the opening track to his critically-acclaimed commercial breakthrough album from 1975, “Born to Run.”

The main textbook is Springsteen’s 2016 autobiography, also titled “Born to Run,” which Campbell used to validate the course itself and his academic discipline.

Read the entire piece here.

Will Springsteen Tour with the E Street Band in 2020?

87685-springsteen

The rumors may not be true. Here is Chris Jordan at the Asbury Park Press:

A band album and tour in 2020 seemed like a sure thing a few months ago, but now band members are making other plans for the upcoming year.

“Let’s just say I thought I was going to be busier than I am,” said Little Steven Van Zandt Wednesday, Feb. 12 on Sirius XM’s E Street Radio channel. “So at the moment, 2020 seems to have opened up.”

Van Zandt was replying to a question about his upcoming plans.

Max Weinberg is also making other plans for 2020.

Read the rest here.