The Fourth of July is an excellent time to reflect on our country, the United States of America. I’ve been listening to more and more Randy Newman music lately. When I am troubled about the state of our country, his music helps me put things in perspective.
Without going into detail, there are many things troubling me including: climate change and our inability to do enough about it; women’s rights; the erosion of our democracy including voting rights; gun violence; racial and gender inequality and discrimination; and poverty and wealth inequality, to name a few. Our gridlocked Congress has failed to address these problems and recent decisions by our political U.S. Supreme Court have only intensified the divergence between Red America and Blue America.
If you’re not familiar with Randy Newman’s music, I invite you delve into his vast catalog. Through his satirical lyrics, he makes some amazing observations. A Few Words in Defense of Our Country, from the harps and angels CD released in 2008, is a good place to start when thinking about our country and its leaders. It was relevant in 2008 and is relevant today. Some of the lyrics:
Now the leaders we have
While they’re the worst that we’ve had
Are hardly the worst
This poor world has seen…..
And to illustrate his point, Newman provides examples of the “worst” leaders, like the Caesars, Hitler, Stalin, and King Leopold of Belgium. He concludes his song:
The end of an Empire is messy at best
And this Empire is ending, like all the rest.
Like the Spanish Armada adrift on the sea
We’re adrift in the land of the brave and the home of the free.
Goodbye, Goodbye, Goodbye
Randy Newman isn’t the only one who has made observations about our county. Democracy In America, written in 1832 by Alexis de Tocqueville, describes the state of democracy in America in which the people hold sovereignty – a concept that was unique at that time. De Tocqueville was sent to America by the French leaders to better understand how democracy works and to identify strengths and weaknesses of this new form of government. Regarding “Self-control of the American Democracy”, de Tocqueville wrote “The difficulty which a democracy has in conquering the passions and in subduing the exigencies of the moment, with a view to the future, is conspicuous… The people, which is surrounded by flatterers, has great difficulty in surmounting its inclinations, and whenever it is solicited to undergo a privation or any kind of inconvenience, even to attain an end which is sanctioned by its own rational conviction, it almost always refuses to comply at first.”
So actually, our country’s problems aren’t solely caused by our leaders; it’s caused by the people, who hold the sovereignty, who voted our leaders in.
De Tocqueville also concluded “the main evil of the present democratic institutions of the United States is due to their overwhelming strength – excessive liberty is not the problem but the inadequate securities which exist against tyranny.” Clearly, as evidenced in the January 6 Congressional hearings now underway, the “securities against tyranny” can be tested and the outcome is uncertain.
One difference between our leaders and some of the other “worst” leaders mentioned in the song, is that, despite everything that is broken or going wrong, “we the people” collectively CAN change things, at least currently, through our votes. That was not the case in Rome under the Caesars. Some may argue in the U.S., it’s too late, considering gerrymandering. But, while gerrymandering does explain lopsided legislatures, it does not explain voting results for statewide offices, like state governors or U.S. Senators. Hence, the need for more people that want change, to vote, and choose different leaders from those who are now failing to address the many ails of our country.
Unless enough of us vote to put leaders in place to deal with the problems I’ve mentioned, we’ll continue to be “adrift in the land of the brave and home of the free. Goodbye, Goodbye, Goodbye”. Something to consider this Fourth of July.