American Tune

I posted the following piece in September 2012 before the US Presidential election. It was a riff on Paul Simon’s 1973 song American Tune. American Tune was itself a riff on a JS Bach hymn from St. Mathew’s Passion. Simon’s meditation on America’s political malaise is sadly even more relevant today. The Statue of Liberty does seem to be sailing away to sea.

It is an uncertain hour for US politics. We non-Americans watch entranced and disturbed by the shadows that lurk in the hearts of political opponents. Hubris takes no prisoners as it fractures into partisan flags flying from solitary peaks. There must be no common ground in American democracy today. Being forsaken isn’t pretty.

The early settlers weren’t blown here on gusts of hope. They were more pragmatic and gritty. Cradled in the riches of North America the nightmares they fled gave way with opportunity, cooperation, and hard work. You could be unrealistic in America and still make something of your dreams. Somehow over two centuries such bounty got confused with hope and hope got confused with destiny. And destiny had a price.

You can’t be forever blest. Such certainty is bound to scorch, first in the lengthening shadow of the American dream and eventually in the hearts that hold it. Perhaps this is what’s on display in American politics today – one last speculation on hope. But that will pass. Hope has been taken from other peoples. Americans can learn from them. If they do they will uncover more fundamental aspects of their character than hope such as love, humility, trust and particularly courage.

Emily Dickinson defined hope as “the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.” But feathers are too light for the work ahead. And redemption begins on your knees. Hope isn’t audacious. Courage is. Without it no other virtue is possible. It takes courage to confront your contradictions and wrong doings, to engage with your enemies and to carry on even when forsaken.

The outlook may seem bleak but Americans are rediscovering their faith in each other. If you look beyond the mainstream media you’ll discover that community organizing is on the rise.

Community organizers have a big job – they are pulling the Statue of Liberty back from sea.

NOTE: Looking for alternatives to mainstream US media coverage? Check out the hard work going on at these sites: Abundant Community; Ashoka; The Asset Based Community Development Institute; Solutions Journalism Network; Caring Across Generations; n plus 1 magazine and the Long Now Foundation.


I’m kind of counting on the United States being ornery enough and diverse enough that it would not lie down easily for totalitarianism. (Margaret Atwood)

Musical selection this post is American Tune performed by honorary Canadian, Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint. Here’s Toussaint on his own.


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The Face of the Other

Systems Change Won’t Happen Without a Resurrection of the Ordinary

Don’t Leap so Far Ahead of the Parade, You Can’t Hear the Band

History’s Omission – Caregivers

The Hidden Geniuses Who Always Figure Things Out

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