A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 75: A Body Blow from the Master

cohen
I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can’t stand the scene
And I’m neither left or right
I’m just staying home tonight
Getting lost in that hopeless little screen
But I’m stubborn as those garbage bags
That Time cannot decay
I’m junk but I’m still holding up
This little wild bouquet
Democracy is coming to the USA
Sometimes lyrics from a song hit you square in the chest, like taking a body blow from a karate master. I’ve heard Leonard Cohen’s song “Democracy” before, of course, but last night I was really listening to the lyrics, almost like it was the first time. It figures it would be a Canadian poet extraordinaire who could sum things up so well regarding the United States. As a former American now living in Canada, watching the country I was born and raised in consumed with pettiness and hatred and lies and divisions galore, I resonated so much with the lines above. “That’s me! Leonard, you wrote something about me!”
Sometimes a body blow to the chest from a Master is exactly what you need to get the heart pumping.
Here is the song in its entirety by the late, great Leonard Cohen
Democracy
It’s coming through a hole in the air
From those nights in Tiananmen Square
It’s coming from the feel
That this ain’t exactly real
Or it’s real, but it ain’t exactly there
From the wars against disorder
From the sirens night and day
From the fires of the homeless
From the ashes of the gay
Democracy is coming to the USA
It’s coming through a crack in the wall
On a visionary flood of alcohol
From the staggering account
Of the Sermon on the Mount
Which I don’t pretend to understand at all
It’s coming from the silence
On the dock of the bay,
From the brave, the bold, the battered
Heart of Chevrolet
Democracy is coming to the USA
It’s coming from the sorrow in the street
The holy places where the races meet
From the homicidal bitchin’
That goes down in every kitchen
To determine who will serve and who will eat
From the wells of disappointment
Where the women kneel to pray
For the grace of God in the desert here
And the desert far away:
Democracy is coming to the USA
Sail on, sail on
O mighty Ship of State
To the Shores of Need
Past the Reefs of Greed
Through the Squalls of Hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on
It’s coming to America first
The cradle of the best and of the worst
It’s here they got the range
And the machinery for change
And it’s here they got the spiritual thirst
It’s here the family’s broken
And it’s here the lonely say
That the heart has got to open
In a fundamental way
Democracy is coming to the USA
It’s coming from the women and the men
O baby, we’ll be making love again
We’ll be going down so deep
The river’s going to weep,
And the mountain’s going to shout Amen
It’s coming like the tidal flood
Beneath the lunar sway
Imperial, mysterious
In amorous array
Democracy is coming to the USA
Sail on, sail on
I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can’t stand the scene
And I’m neither left or right
I’m just staying home tonight
Getting lost in that hopeless little screen
But I’m stubborn as those garbage bags
That Time cannot decay
I’m junk but I’m still holding up
This little wild bouquet
Democracy is coming to the USA

The Bully or the Mean Girl

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are tightening their grips on the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations.

America’s choice has the world on edge. And it has the average American held hostage to two unsavory options.

After a week in which Donald Trump made some outrageous claims at the Republican National Convention (i.e. the complete and total safety of all American citizens on the day of his inauguration) and Hillary Clinton launched a juvenile and mean-spirited Facebook page called TrumpYourself, it occured to me that Americans are faced with the prospect of voting either for the Bully or the Mean Girl in a campaign that is sure to reach middle-school levels of maturity and decorum. Imagine those choices for class president in eighth grade. Now imagine those choices for Leader of the Free World.

As I consider the upcoming election for President, I feel a very deep sympathy for my fellow Americans. I have been a resident of Canada for sixteen years but will always have my American roots. There are things about the U.S.A. that infuriate and frustrate me, but it is still a beautiful, magnificent country. It is a country that represents so much of what can be so right about democracy. And its people are so often outrageously generous, authentic, loving and hopeful. When I think back to being born and raised in the U.S.A., my memories are full of joy and contentment. I know there is no such thing as a perfect place on earth. I know the U.S. is fallible and caught up in its own mythology. But I feel so grateful to have been brought up an American. It was a privilege.

But from the distance I am at now, I consider Americans and the prospect of having to choose between one of two petulant and ultimately unpresidential candidates and I shutter. I don’t know what I would do if I was still a resident of the States. I feel that there must be tens of millions of Americans who feel sick to their stomachs when they consider November of 2016. I feel there must be millions of Americans who feel trapped and held captive in a presidential race that is equal parts farce and tragedy. Can this really be where we’ve ended up?

I have never witnessed a presidential race that is so joyless and devoid of real hope. And I have never witnessed one so propelled by fear and vitriol. Unfortunately, I believe it is only going to get worse from here. And because of that my heart aches for Americans, for the large majority who find themselves between the obnoxious and childish camps of Trump and Clinton. What is really at stake here is democracy and the decency and vision that has accompanied it for so long in the U.S.A. What is at stake is the average American, really. They do not deserve this circus of a presidential race. And they deserve far, far better leadership and representation.

Where is the hope in all of this? How can the U.S.A. move forward in any kind of positive direction?

I believe the answer lies in remembering what is in the DNA of the U.S.A.; remembering that the country is run not by any authoritarian, narcissistic demagogue, but by the people themselves. The hope of the country has never been in one person. And, despite what Donald Trump claims, the election of that one person will not bring the change and hope and strength you wish to have as Americans. The simple fact is that the only people who have the real power to change, to unite, to bring back the decency and graciousness and vision of the country are the people themselves. Faith in one man or one woman is misguided and naive. The U.S.A. has never been about the one but the many, despite the cult of personality that arises around candidates, despite the celebrity worship and almost god-like status of the rich and influential.

Americans, remember: They don’t have the power, you do. This campaign has made it seem like the battle is between the Bully and the Mean Girl. But that’s not true. The battle is between a deeply flawed system of government and a people who deeply want their country to remain a place of hope and peace and unity.

Trump or Clinton: Both are establishment, both represent money and power, both make ridiculous claims they can never back up, both are flawed. Don’t hang your hat on either of them. Instead, remember who you are; remember what you are capable of; and remember it is your country, not theirs.

In the end, I still don’t know what I’d do on election day. But all of us on the outside looking in around the world are counting on you doing the right thing. I don’t believe in Trump or Clinton but I believe in you. And I’m not alone.