It’s being billed as the most important US presidential election in history, a “battle for the soul of America.” Judging by the number of votes case two days before election day – 92m, about two thirds of the total votes cast in the 2016 election – Americans clearly agree with that. We in Europe, along with others around the world, also see this election as incredibly important, given the enormous influence that America has on the world.
Despite the way in which the present administration has disengaged from various world bodies and engaged in trade protectionism, Donald Trump has cast a huge shadow over the rest of the world. As well as giving encouragement to strong-arm leaders like North Korea’s Kim Yong-un, India’s Narendra Modi or Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, his utter disregard for the truth has had a dreadful effect of normalizing lying in the public square around the world.
So, yes, we’re all watching keenly America’s election. And, of course, many of us have American friends and there is so much of America we’ve loved. Not least the music. So, on the eve of this momentous election, here are a few election songs for you to enjoy and consider:
First up is Sunnyland Slim’s 1983 Be Careful How You Vote. It’s a cautionary tale, warning that politicians inevitably let us down:
Be careful how you vote
On every election day
‘Cause the one that you vote for
He just might let you down.
When the time comes for him or her to take their seat, all those election promises have somehow flown out the window. That politician you voted for was going to lower prices, create employment and “help the poor and the senior citizens”. Funny how these get left behind as corporate interests are rewarded, tax breaks favour the rich and, as inequality continues to rise, the poor don’t get a look in. Drain the swamp, I remember someone saying. The swamp just got bigger and messier.
Here’s Sunnyland Slim version, followed by Walter Trout live, playing his version from his 2019 Survivor Blues album:
Next up is Rory Gallagher’s Smear Campaign from 1987. The Irish blues-rock guitarist puts the spotlight here on all the dirty tricks that political campaigns get up to when so much is at stake.
The dirty tricks department is working overtime
Trying to stop the candidate from getting this time
The wheels are now in motion all the traps are set
Under this commotion will he walk into this mess.
Smear campaigns are probably as old as politics. If you read Cicero, it’s quite clear that deliberate campaigns to spread false rumours were well-practiced in ancient Rome. In the US, the first smear campaign in presidential politics was against Andrew Jackson in 1824. And here we are in 2020, with Rudy Giuliani and his allies using a mix of unsubstantiated assertions about the former vice president, and innuendo and salacious material about his son, while the President just outright lies about what his opponent has said on a number of policy items.
Our next song is Peace Blaze Foley’s Election Day, this one sung by Lyle Lovett. The singer seems to be a homeless person who is being harassed by the police and pleads for leniency:
Hey Mr. Policeman, please don’t take my stuff
It cost me too much money, and it probably ain’t enough
To get me through Election Day
Didn’t I hear you say
That it’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright?
The song is a stark reminder that no matter whether there’s a Democrat or a Republican in the White House, it isn’t likely to change things much for the poor in America. The American Dream has passed millions of Americans by – particularly people of color, many of whom are trapped by systemic racism in education, housing, and economic policies and practices over generations. 35m people in the United States in 2019 suffered from hunger. For a wealthy country, that’s appalling. There’s likely one of the two candidates who cares more about this than the other, but it’ll take much more than the current election to make the sort of change that’s needed.
In 1964, John Lee Hooker certainly felt that one of the two parties was better for those who were poorer off. In Democrat Man he sings:
I ain’t got no shoes, no shoes, no shoes don’t fit
But I ain’t goin’ to that welfare store
You know why? It won’t be long ‘fore election time
Democrats be in.
Lyndon B Johnson, a Democrat who won the election of 1964 in a landslide, instigated a “War on Poverty” which rescued millions of Americans from poverty during his presidency.
Cindy Berryhill’s 2007 When did Jesus Become a Republican hits an important note, particularly for people of faith:
When did Jesus become a politician,
And whisper to the preacher man
To tell the congregation exactly who to vote for?
From a distance of 5,000 miles, it’s very difficult to understand the support of so-called evangelicals in America for Donald Trump. We just shake our heads in disbelief, quite frankly, when we see people who claim to be Christians supporting a man who lies incessantly, who treats women the way he does, whose business dealings are under such question, whose public discourse is so coarse and divisive, who gives succour to far-right racists and who demeans and belittles at every opportunity, In an essay published in the last week, conservative theologian, John Piper bemoaned the fact that “flagrant boastfulness, vulgarity, immorality, and factiousness are self-incriminating, but also . . . they are nation-corrupting. They move out from centers of influence to infect whole cultures. The last five years bear vivid witness to this infection at almost every level of society.”
I read a few days ago about “patriot churches,” a group of non-denominational evangelical churches, which want to “take the nation back for God.” Their buildings typically sport large American flags and members pray for a Trump landslide. Sadly these people have missed the point of Christian faith, which is to give allegiance only to Jesus and his values of kindness, love for neighbour and the immigrant, truth, faithfulness and non-violence. Those values are unlikely to be focused on much by any political party, but Donald Trump? Come on.
Arcade Power’s 2017 I Give You Power features the wonderful Mavis Staples. It’s a nice reminder that in a democracy, the people have the power to install or remove politicians (although, come on America, can that archaic electoral college system of yours really be said to be properly democratic – fair and equal representation, where everybody’s vote counts? If you’re in any doubt, just watch this video: )
And to finish, on a lighter note, check out this Jimmy Durante’s comedy routine with Bing Cosby, featuring Election Campaign Song.
And finally, here’s Steve Goodwin with Election Year Rag, from 1971. Steve Goodwin’s lyrics are always clever, and he clearly remains just a tad cynical about elections!
You know the winner’s always somebody else
And the loser is always us.
Our best wishes and prayers for you America.