The Limeliters were one of my all-time favorite musical groups. (My musical tastes definitely mirror those of my generation– the “get off my lawn” category of elderly curmudgeons. If the music is subsequent to the Rat Pack or 60’s folk, I’m probably unfamiliar with it.) Thanks to modern technologies like Pandora, I can stream my embarrassingly old-fashioned choices through my car radio, and the other day, as I was driving to the office, I was listening to the Limeliters–and was struck by the contemporary relevance of the lyrics in their rendition of Phil Och’s “Power and Glory.”
When I got to work, I Googled those lyrics:
Come and take a walk with me thru this green and growing land
Walk thru the meadows and the mountains and the sand
Walk thru the valleys and the rivers and the plains
Walk thru the sun and walk thru the rain
Here is a land full of power and glory
Beauty that words cannot recall
Oh her power shall rest on the strength of her freedom
Her glory shall rest on us all (on us all)
From Colorado, Kansas, and the Carolinas too
Virginia and Alaska, from the old to the new
Texas and Ohio and the California shore
Tell me, who could ask for more?
Yet she’s only as rich as the poorest of her poor
Only as free as the padlocked prison door
Only as strong as our love for this land
Only as tall as we stand
But our land is still troubled by men who have to hate
They twist away our freedom & they twist away our fate
Fear is their weapon and treason is their cry
We can stop them if we try.
“Only as rich as the poorest of the poor” resonates today as a reproach to the growing gap between the 1% and the rest of us, to the GOP’s persistent efforts to cut Social Security and Medicare, to deny access to basic medical care to those who cannot afford it by defunding Planned Parenthood and restricting Medicaid, and by heaping punitive restrictions on all manner of public assistance.
“Only as free as the padlocked prison door”...Not only does our frequently unjust criminal justice system incarcerate a greater percentage of our population than any other country, the Trump Administration is “padlocking” the border, engaging in crimes against humanity for blatantly political purposes. The other day, in one of his fact-and-logic-free rants, Trump made clear his belief that he benefits politically from the crises he instigates along the border.
“Those pictures are very bad for the Democrats,” he told The [Washington] Post on Tuesday, referring to recent images of migrants.
If he is correct–if the photos of American soldiers gassing refugee women and children are indeed “bad for Democrats” and viewed positively by large numbers of Americans– then we have not only lost any claim to “power and glory,” we have lost any claim to morality or simple humanity.
“Fear is their weapon and treason is their cry” could hardly be more contemporary or relevant. The men “who have to hate” still live among us, still vote their fears and hatreds.
Given the age of the song, one thing is clear: evil people aren’t a new problem, and the tools they employ–fear and accusations of treason leveled at critics–aren’t new either.
The songwriter says “we can stop them if we try.”
A lot of us are trying; I sure hope we “stand tall” enough.