36 Years Later, Conservatives Finally Read The Lyrics To 'Born In The USA'
There is a long and storied history of Republicans misunderstanding Bruce Springsteen's "Born In The USA." They hear the chorus and think it's a glorious patriotic anthem, full of hope and nationalism, and totally ignore the lyrics that are about a Vietnam veteran returning home and being unable to get a job. Reagan's use of the song in his campaign is one of the classics of the "Musician Asks Evil Republican To Stop Using Their Music" genre — and while you'd think the publicity surrounding that incident would have ceased the practice, it has continued over decades. Trump is known to play it at his rallies, including at his most recent one, despite his ongoing feud with The Boss.
At this point, it's honestly just funny. It feels like a metaphor for the Republican Party in general — unable and unwilling to see the whole picture in any situation because they've latched so fiercely onto the part that makes them feel some kind of way. In fact, it has inspired me to go out and write a song that has a super patriotic chorus, but with lyrics that are a fierce condemnation of the United States healthcare system. This is what we should all be doing.
But it looks like someone over at The Federalist has read the lyrics and now, 36 years later, has noticed that they are not, in fact, very "patriotic."
Columnist Pauline Enck writes:
As the Fourth of July is nearly upon us, many are likely planning barbecues and other celebrations of our great country. As such, playlists are surely being composed and edited in preparation for this weekend. A staple of the holiday for as long as I can remember is Bruce Springsteen's 1984 classic, "Born in the USA." However, this song should probably be retired as an Independence Day anthem, due to less-than-patriotic lyrics.
Play "Born in the USA" at a party and one thing will become abundantly clear: most people only know the eponymous words to the refrain. The lyrical dissonance allows the upbeat tune and instrumentation to mask the darkness of the lyrics. Rather than the patriotic anthem it is perceived to be, Springsteen's lyrics describe the hardships Vietnam veterans faced returning home after the war.
Yes, that would be the point.
This all highlights an intrinsic difference between the Left and the Right, I think. Republicans can only love an America they believe is perfect and infallible. In order to hold on to their patriotism — or what they see as patriotism — they have to sweep the bad parts under the rug and throw a fit every time someone mentions them. They want to enjoy their Fourth of July and cheer for "the troops" and have their fireworks without thinking of things like the time we sent 2,709,918 Americans, most of them too poor to have "bone spurs," to Vietnam, for pretty much no reason, and then offered them basically no help when they came back. They want to enjoy their statues of the posh looking men riding triumphantly on horses without thinking of the fact that those men enslaved people. Or that they not only enslaved people but fought a damn war in order to keep enslaving people.
As Al Franken once said:
We love America just as much as they do. But in a different way. Liberals love America like grown-ups. To a 4-year-old, everything Mommy does is wonderful and anyone who criticizes Mommy is bad. Grown-up love means actually understanding what you love, taking the good with the bad and helping your loved one grow. Love takes attention and work and is the best thing in the world.
Al Franken is actually the perfect person to quote here. He did something that was wrong. He also did and said a lot of things that were good. A mature adult can see both of those things, address them, and balance them in whatever way they think is fair. An immature person jumps up and down and screams "SO WHAT? DOES NOTHING GOOD THEY EVER DID COUNT NOW?!?" An immature person thinks if they put their hands up over their eyes, if they don't see the bad, it's not really there.
After going through the history of the song and the various conservatives who have misinterpreted it, Enck explains that the song is still "fun" but is not pro-America and therefore not a good song for an Independence Day party.
While my awareness of the lyrics makes any listening at an Independence Day Party (or similarly patriotic holidays) an odd situation due to the inherent dissonance, there is definitely a patriotic feel that overtakes the intended message when Bruce begins chanting, "I was born in the USA." However, the true meaning inevitably takes some of the power out of the pro-America reinterpretation.
We are in no shortage of time protest songs are appropriate and even necessary. [????] Yet, in a time when patriotism is reaching new lows, the Fourth of July is a time to celebrate what is great about America, and there are lots of wonderful songs to do just that. Save "Born in the USA" for any other barbecue — the song will be just as fun, and far better suited.
Maybe patriotism — that kind of "America is the greatest nation on earth!" patriotism, anyway — is bad.
If you ask me, a misinterpretation of "Born In The USA" is the perfect theme for a holiday in which we celebrate "the troops" with a fireworks display that could potentially trigger their PTSD. After all, in the words of a guy who is not Bruce Springsteen and is in fact John Cougar Mellencamp, "ain't that America?"
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse