Where Are All Of The Great New Political Protest Songs?

Lately I’ve been listening to my iPod playlist of protest songs.  It features a lot of music from Bob Dylan and Rage Against The Machine, of course, as well as some great songs like CSNY’s Ohio, Stevie Wonder’s Living For The City, Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth, Mercy, Mercy Me from Marvin Gaye, Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The U.S.A., Zombie from The Cranberries, Get Up, Stand Up from Bob Marley and the Wailers, John Lennon’s Working Class Hero, Neil Young’s Rockin’ In The Free WorldMy City Was Gone by The Pretenders, Capital G by Nine Inch Nails, The Temptations’ Masterpiece, and a whole lot more.  

rs-4997-rectangleIn all, there are more than 230 classic songs on the playlist, spanning multiple decades, all featuring great music and lyrics that pack a punch and convey a clear, pointed political message.  There are songs about important social and political topics of the day, like racism, the Vietnam War, oppression, the right to protest, poverty, ecology and the environment, urban renewal, the indoctrination of youth, and the mallification of America.  And listening to the songs got me to wondering:  where are the new, great political protest songs about our current era?

I guess just about everybody will agree on one thing about President Donald Trump:  a lot of people hate his guts and despise his policies.  He’s depicted as a racist, as a Nazi, as an imbecile, as a warmonger, as an oppressor, and as just about any other bad thing you can imagine.  It seems like President Trump offers very fertile territory for some great modern protest songs.  And don’t tell me that more time needs to pass — CSNY’s Ohio, about the National Guard’s shooting of students at Kent State University, was written, recorded, and released to the public in about two weeks, and the immediacy of the anguish about the unwarranted killings, which comes through in the song with raw, crackling power, is what makes it one of the greatest protest songs ever recorded.

So, are there any great new political protest songs about President Trump and his Twitter comments and his policies, and if not, why not?  Are they all rap or hip-hop songs, and just not reaching the ears of 60-year-olds?

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“Shithole” Manners

I really would rather not write all the time about President Trump and his latest escapades.  I honestly would rather write about just about anything else.  But sometimes, President Trump is alleged to have said something that simply can’t be ignored.

donald-trump-gty-jt-180107_16x9_992So it is with the allegation that, during a meeting with congressional leaders about American immigration policy issues, Trump referred to Haiti and some countries in Africa as “shitholes” and said American policy should try to restrict immigration from those places.  Trump later issued tweets that seem to deny the use of that vulgar term, as well as disputing the notion that his remarks were racially motivated, although he admitted to using “tough” language during the meeting.  On the other hand, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, who attended the meeting, confirms the report that Trump used the word “shithole” to describe the countries.

Could it really be that the President of the United States used the term “shithole” to describe another sovereign nation, however strife-torn or impoverished or economically or socially challenged it might be?  Could it really be that the President of the United States, who as the head of the executive branch of the government is the titular head of the American diplomatic corps, used such crass, inflammatory, undiplomatic language in an official meeting?  Could it really be that the President of the United States is so profoundly ill-mannered and graceless and brutal?  Could it really be that the President of the United States wouldn’t recognize that people would interpret such remarks as racially motivated and that world leaders would react with shock and horror to such statements?  It’s mind-boggling . . . but in the era of the Trump presidency the mind-boggling has become commonplace.

But let’s give our elected President the benefit of the doubt and accept his denial that he used that coarse term, and assume that Senator Durbin and any other sources for the news reports simply misheard whatever “tough language” the President actually used.  What’s equally bad, from my perspective, is that some Trump supporters have actually tried to defend the early reports of Trump’s alleged “shithole” remarks by arguing that the term accurately describes the countries.  Such arguments, which speak so dismissively and callously about countries where human beings live, and work, and struggle, solely in order to advance a political point, show an appalling lack of basic human kindness and decency and simple good manners.  Calling someone else’s country a “shithole” is almost sadistic in its cruelty.

It’s another deeply troubling sign of just how low and horrible our political discourse and culture have become.  Where is our humanity, and basic decency?

A Catastrophe In The Making

President Trump has indicated that trying to get Congress to pass a bill to fund meaningful restoration of America’s infrastructure is one of the top priorities of his second year in office, and political pundits say there may just be a bipartisan consensus to do just that.

It’s long overdue.

penn-stationIf you don’t think the nation’s infrastructure needs immediate attention, read this Bloomberg article on the condition of the tunnels leading into Penn Station, one of the country’s busiest rail junctions.  It’s terrifying, because it indicates that one of these days the crumbling, 107-year-old tunnels — that’s right, 107 years old! — could give, causing the Hudson River to flood the tunnels and the station itself.  It’s hard to imagine what the toll of such an event would be.  And anyone who has been through Penn Station recently will tell you that the place is an overcrowded, smelly, appalling dump.  I went through the station recently, and I’ll never use it again.  When Candidate Trump was talking about the nation’s Third World infrastructure, he was talking about our airports, but he just as easily could have included Penn Station.

Penn Station isn’t alone.  In every major city, you could identify bridges, highways, and tunnels that are in desperate need of attention.  So, will our state and local governments actually tackle this infrastructure challenge?  And, if we do, will we do it in a way that makes sense, rather than having legislation that becomes a Christmas tree, with every Congressman and Senator and state representative insisting that their pet projects get funded in the name of infrastructure reform, so that the big problems — like Penn Station — end up getting deferred while other, less pressing construction projects like Boston’s “Big Dig” are funded to the tune of billions of dollars.  According to the article linked above, the Trump Administration has backed away from an Obama Administration commitment to fund half the cost of a new tunnel, with New Jersey and New York funding the remainder.  It’s not clear whether the Trump Administration thought it was a bad deal for the federal government and New York and New Jersey should foot more of the bill, or whether it concluded that a new tunnel isn’t the best approach from an environmental, traffic management, or resource allocation standpoint, or whether it found some other perceived problem with the plans.  Whatever the reason, nothing is happening.

In the meantime, Penn Station and its tunnels continue to deteriorate, thousands of Amtrak customers whose train trips are subsidized by taxpayers flood into the station, and a harrowing disaster looms right around the corner.  And the crucial question remains:  if we can’t take care of the basics like our infrastructure, can we really be said to have a responsible government?  And why are we spending money on things like “Click It or Ticket” ad campaigns instead?  As a country, we need to get our priorities in order.

Celebrities For President!

In case you hadn’t heard about it — that is, in case you were stationed in Antarctica — Oprah Winfrey gave a moving speech at the Golden Globes awards show on Sunday night, and now lots of people are saying she should run for President in 2020.  Sources are saying that Winfrey is “actively considering” making such a run.

telemmglpict000150742729_trans_nvbqzqnjv4bqm4jyxbdwa13jcdosysta2-snmrgcd6wdaswajbpatnmIt’s interesting that a speech given at one of those ever-present, self-congratulatory Hollywood awards shows, in the center of the culture of harassment, misogyny and denial that gave rise to Harvey Weinstein — who incidentally won a lot of those self-congratulatory awards, including a Golden Globe at a prior, glitzy ceremony — should be seen as positioning one of our country’s most well-known, well-liked celebrities for a run for the country’s top job.  It tells you something important, I think, about how many people are searching for someone to lead the country in a different direction — and obviously aren’t finding anyone compelling in the current crop of American political leaders who have followed the more traditional gubernatorial and senatorial paths to a potential presidential bid.

In the age of President Donald Trump, it’s hard to argue about what constitutes being “qualified” for the presidency anymore.  Trump was a wealthy businessman who became a celebrity; Oprah Winfrey is a celebrity who became a very successful businesswoman.  If Donald Trump can run for President, then so can Oprah Winfrey.  We’ll have to wait and see whether she wants to expose herself and her friends and family to the kind of relentless, withering scrutiny that presidential candidates receive in the modern world of 24-hour news channels, internet news outlets, and political blogs.  With Oprah Winfrey’s years of TV broadcasts, magazine articles, and long career in the public eye, the campaigns of other contenders in 2020 will have a lot of  material to sift through to try to find one or two damning statements or issues that always seem to be the focus of presidential campaigns these days — and somewhere, some flunky has probably already started that task.

So while we wait to see whether Oprah Winfrey actually decides to throw her hat in the ring, let’s reflect on what the outpouring of adulation she received says about the other people who might be contenders.  It’s not a positive endorsement, is it?  People may be turning to the notion of celebrities running for President for a lot of reasons — like fighting Trumpian celebrityhood with other celebrityhood — but one obvious impetus is that they aren’t finding anyone exciting among the politicians who are thought to be lining up for a shot at the job.  Given the performance of our political class over the past few years, can anyone blame people for hoping that celebrities might be the answer?

On Genius

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” — Confucius

“To know, is to know that you know nothing.  That is the meaning of true knowledge.” — Socrates

hqdefault1“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” — William Shakespeare

“I have no special talent.  I am only passionately curious.” — Albert Einstein

“I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our own intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.” — Albert Einstein

“Wile E. Coyote — Super Genius!” — Wile E. Coyote

“Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart.” — President Donald Trump

“I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star . . . to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius . . . and a very stable genius at that!” — President Donald Trump

Happy New Tax Year! (Time To Move?)

With the turn of the calendar page to January, it’s not only a new year, it’s a new tax year, too.  And since Congress enacted, and President Trump signed into law, a host of changes to the federal tax code at the end of 2017 that take effect in 2018, people are starting to take a close look at what the tax law changes will mean — and whether they should move to a different state.

hg-salt-blog-finalYes, you read that right:  the new tax laws might cause people to move.  Why?  Because one of the things the law changes is the rules that apply to deductions for payments of state and local taxes.  Before, there was no limit on the deductions for state and local tax payments; now the deduction is capped at $10,000.  Advocates of the recent tax changes argue that the unlimited deduction had the effect of minimizing the impact of higher taxes in certain states.  Now, higher income residents in the high-tax states will feel more of the true impact of the state and local tax bite in their states.

According to CNN, the deduction for state and local taxes primarily helped taxpayers who earned more than $100,000 a year, who received almost 90 percent of the benefit of the deduction.  Moreover, the impact of the deduction was focused on high-income residents of high-tax states.  California and New York residents alone received about one-third of the benefit of the deduction, and more than half of the value of the deduction was focused on tax filers in just six states:  California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Texas, and Pennsylvania.  California’s top marginal state income tax rate, incidentally, is 13.3 percent.  In contrast, some states, like Florida, have no state income tax at all.

This difference in state incomes taxes — and the financial consequences it produces — is what is causing some people to forecast that the change to the deduction taxpayers might cause some taxpayers to vote with their feet and flee the high-tax states for tax-friendlier destinations.  And some politicians in the higher-tax states, such as New Jersey, have taken notice and are reconsidering their taxing strategies as a result.

Is changing the deduction for state and local taxes a good thing?  Of course, you’ll get different views on that issue, but some economists argue that anything that muddles the ability of a consumer to determine the true cost of an item interferes with the “invisible hand” and the optimal functioning of the economy.  Will bearing more of the brunt of high state taxes cause Californians to pick up and move next door to Nevada, which has no state income tax?  This year we might begin to find out.

At The End Of Year One

Slowly, warily — like a cat carefully but resolutely stalking a strange, apparently interesting, but potentially dangerous object — we’re seeing people approaching the assessment of the first year of the Trump presidency.  It’s fascinating to watch the process.

trump-presser-gty-ml-171220_12x5_992The passage of the massive tax bill this week is triggering a lot of the reassessments.  On the conservative side of the spectrum, you see lots of people — including those who formerly were among the “Never Trump” crowd — now arguing that Trump has had a “year of accomplishment.”  Their lists include the tax cut bill, the nomination and confirmations of Justice Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and other conservative jurists, the military successes against ISIS in the Middle East, the rollback of many regulations, and the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  Add to that the upsurge in the stock market and the current indications of strong economic and jobs growth in the American economy, and these commentators contend that Trump has had a strong year and may just be getting his footing.  I’m sure my conservative friends would come up with additional things to add to that list.

On the liberal side of the spectrum, the reassessment is the polar opposite.  Many liberal commentators see Trump as an appalling, bumbling, dangerous, bullying, harassing buffoon who’s likely heading for impeachment, or indictment when the ongoing Mueller investigation is completed, and nothing Trump has done in the first year changes any of that.  They think that his foreign policy initiatives, such as his insult duels with Kim Jong Un, his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and his attempt to reorient relations with China and Russia, are grossly reckless, marginalizing American influence in the world and making war more likely — which makes everyone more nervous in view of the fact that Trump has his finger on the button.  And they are sickened by many of his regulatory decisions, his judicial nominations, and his support for initiatives like allowing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  To the liberal side, Trump seems to be turning out to be far worse than they really imagined — and I’m sure my liberal friends would say this list is just scratching the surface.

What about The Great Middle of the political spectrum?  I think most of those who fall into this category continue to shake their heads at Trump’s ill-considered tweets and his apparent inability to resist expressing his opinion on any topic in the world of sports, entertainment, or anything else — which isn’t consistent with what we think is “acting presidential” — and by the incessant taffing shake-ups and unseemly jibes at Congress and cultural figures and unconventional approach to just about everything.  We don’t know how the changes wrought by legislative and regulatory initiatives will affect us, or the economy.  Many of us have just kept our heads down, hoping the country survives the current bitter political climate.  It’s almost a surprise that we’ve reached the end of the first year — and made it.

Perhaps we all can agree on one thing:  next year is going to be interesting.