The Bull in the China Shop

A Trump supporter, quizzed on the PBS Newshour, explained that “America needs a bull in the china shop. Trump is the bull.”

Her statement vividly shows how angry people are. When you’ve been dragged down by an economic collapse, when the jobs you trained for disappear, and when your friends and family turn to addictive painkillers for relief, what do you want to do?

You want to tear it down. You want pull down the roof and crush the people who have done this to you. You want the bankers and the insurance companies and the auto executives and the Harvard lawyers to suffer too.

When Donald Trump rhetorically, insultingly, asked African Americans “what have you got to lose?” he was speaking to his angry, despondent white working class supporters too. When you’re working at Walmart, your spouse is sick and you can’t afford your deductible, and your kid’s on Oxycontin, what have you got to lose?


When you invite the bull into the china shop, the result is pretty predictable. All you will be left with is a pile of rubble.

You can’t glue the china back together. All you can do is throw out everything, along with the bullshit.

Have you ever felt that anger, wanting to tear everything down? If you aren’t feeling it now, can you remember it?

Once my anger about the daily carnage in Vietnam was so intense that I told a college professor that if we couldn’t stop the war, we should just start blowing things up here at home. It was a fleeting terrorist idea – the feelings of impotence in the face of terrible events was just too much.

Others succumbed back then, and actually blew up a few buildings. Some went out and broke windows, much as we’ve recently seen people do in frustration over police killings of blacks. Rage and despair are not a healthy mix.

The professor asked me, calmly, whether I believed that blowing things up would help change things for the better. I replied that the war would stop if people felt the pain at home. “Do you really think you’ll change their minds that way,” he asked, “or do you think that the mess you create will just give the bastards even more power?”

That stopped me short. Of course he was right. When things fall apart, the people who clean up the mess may not be your friends.

If Donald Trump breaks the china, as he could surely do by deporting 11 million people, throwing out environmental protections, invading who-knows-what country, and jailing his opponents, who will clean up the mess?

Trump has created the illusion that bluster, threats and imaginary grandiose “solutions” will bring back industrial jobs that will never exist again, anywhere. He’s selling a dream that a privileged billionaire can tear down a corrupt system and save us from the greedy bankers, lawyers, and politicians.

This…coming from a man who employs thousands of minimum wage workers and says “wages are too high.” Who has repeatedly declared bankruptcy in order to avoid paying the people who built his businesses. Who brags about “buying politicians.”

There are real problems with the way our government works. Most of them are related to the enormous influence that corporations and wealthy individuals hold over politicians. Trump would leave that system intact while tearing down environmental protections, the minimum wage, international security pacts, health insurance assistance, as well as appointing right-wing ideologues to the supreme court.

Trump won’t address the underlying problems – the lack of any meaningful voice or influence by non-wealthy Americans. He has benefited from this system his entire life, and his business continues to depend on his ability to buy politicians. As president, he would do what he has always done – build his personal wealth and seek boundless self-glorification. His claims to be “your voice” are the claims of a con man.

Trump may break the china by disrupting Washington, but he won’t break his own gold-monogrammed china.When the china breaks, don’t expect to ever be able to eat off it again. Don’t even expect that the shop itself will still be standing.

Remember, this is a man who asked “if we have nuclear weapons, why can’t we use them?”

Read about the peace movement’s struggle between pacifism and terrorism – and how it affected me as a teenager – in Some Way Outa Here.


You Can’t Always Get What You Want, Mr. Trump

Let it bleed Donald Trump

Let it bleed Donald Trump
When Donald Trump finished his blustery acceptance speech at the Republican conventions, rock and roll from 1969-70 filled the convention hall. Among millions of other Americans, I was perplexed by the choice of tracks. But now I think I get it.

There’s a long history of weird and often inappropriate songs being used as campaign theme songs.

For years, the Democrats used Franklin Roosevelt’s theme song, “Happy Days are Here Again,” regardless of the fit with the occasion. The last time it was featured was the catastrophic 1968 convention in Chicago, as antiwar protesters were gassed and beaten in the streets by police.

Ronald Reagan used Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” in 1984, seemingly unaware of the song’s grim lyric. The Boss told him to cease and desist, though it might have been better to let him keep playing it through the campaign.

Four years later, George Bush the First appropriated Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” at the convention. Woody was spinning in his grave. The Republicans omitted the verse…

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

When Pete Seeger sang it at Barack Obama’s inauguration, the verse was restored.

The same year, Michael Dukakis featured Neil Diamond’s cumbersome epic ballad “Coming to America.” His campaign was equally cumbersome, and people tuned out for the later verses.

Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” echoed from Bill Clinton’s acceptance speech through to election night. For those of us who watched that campaign, the song is forever linked to Bill and Hillary.

But when we come to 2016, Trump’s song selection puts all of these to shame.

As the balloons dropped in Cleveland, the opening strains of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” rang out. Really? TV commentators immediately began commenting on the “odd choice of music” (Judy Woodruff). At first, I was annoyed that he would dare appropriate a classic Stones song for his angry, bigoted campaign. Then I started thinking about the message.

“You can’t always get what you want.” Right. “You’ll find, you get what you need…” OK, so you’re saying that neither you nor Hillary are what we want, but we’ll have to settle for what we need. Thanks for telling us, Donald, but I’m not sure that really helps you. Because, honestly, you are not what we need.

It was weird watching the balloons drop as Mick sang about standing in line behind Mr. Jimi, who said one word to him, and that was “dead.” And then thinking about the central place the song had at the disastrous Altamont festival, which wasn’t much worse in tone than the Republican convention. (Read about it in my pal Joel Selvin’s new book, “Altamont.”)

But then a second song filled the air, louder and more insistent: Free’s “All Right Now.”
The song was a minor hit in the summer of 1970, thanks mostly to a catchy, thrashing guitar hook. I used to play it, loud, driving around my mom’s car with friends, windows rolled down, hoping people would look askance at our slightly rowdy selves. It sometimes worked.

The lyrics of “All Right Now” are something else entirely. It’s a song about a really bad date. A guy pursues an attractive girl, talks her into going home with him, and he proclaims his love for her, to which she pretty much says “are you kidding me?” and leaves. This is what Trump wants us to think about as he leaves the stage in Cleveland?

In retrospect, I suspect that some clever convention planner who didn’t particularly like Trump told him “Hey, Mr. Trump, these are two great old songs that everybody loves, let’s use them!” And Donald said “Great idea!” and the planner is still laughing about it.

The two songs are perfect.

Read about our music and our lives in 1969-70 in Some Way Outa Here.