Bruce…What Were You Thinking?
I wasn’t that interested in the Superbowl…two teams that I don’t particularly care for participated. I’m more of a baseball fan, anyway. But, hey, everybody on the planet at least tunes in to see a few of the commercials, half time, and at least a few minutes of the action, right?
Sadly, my few minutes of viewing time included the Jeep ad that starred Bruce Springsteen. Apparently, Springsteen is experiencing a fair amount of push back for the commercial. Because he’s long been reluctant to cash in on his fame to shill for consumer products and is reported to have been critical of other artists who’ve done so, some see more than a bit of hypocrisy in Springsteen’s actions in this case. While I understand that critique, it doesn’t prompt my disappointment with Mr. Springsteen. I’m not one to accuse artists of “selling out”, mostly because I don’t feel as if they owe it to me to stay on whatever pedestal I might have placed them. If Springsteen decides he wants to help sell Jeeps, who am I to judge?
My problem is with the message. For those of you who may not have seen Springsteen’s message, it’s a hymn to the value and goodness of finding common ground. Bruce tells us that there’s a small chapel smack-dab in the exact geographical middle of the lower 48 states and that all are welcome to “come meet here in the middle” any time of the day or night.
Here’s the thing…that message has been used for several millennia by the powerful and the wealthy to keep the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized from making “good trouble”. The “moderate clergy” whom Dr. King scolded in his letter from a Birmingham jail were eager to “meet in the middle”. Whenever white people talk about finding common ground and reaching across the aisle, black and brown families can be sure that they’ll come out the worse for it. When corporate eagles talk about “cooperation”, workers can be fear that they’ll be asked to accept lower pay and worse working conditions. When native Americans have been asked to sign “agreements”, they lost land and lives. Springsteen’s sellout, then, isn’t so much that he’s shilling for a car company. It’s that, after decades of being a voice for the families pushed out to the edges of society, he’s appears to have been co-opted by the folks who want those families to accept their lot, to “forgive and forget” for the sake of comity.
That message is especially onerous in this time when half the country voted for a man who was overt and vivid in his stark bigotry. These voters continue to insist that he should re-take his position of power by force if necessary. Trump’s lickspittle minions in the Arizona Senate failed by a single vote to hold that state’s board of elections in contempt of Congress (that is, have them jailed) for certifying a legal election. The Wayne County (Michigan) Board came within a vote of throwing out all ballots in that county, which Biden had won handily. That was after a credible plot to kidnap and, perhaps, murder that state’s Democratic governor was uncovered. It is not in this country’s interest to meet at a tiny chapel in the middle of Kansas with such people. It’s in the national interest to hold them accountable. History has told us that accommodating violent fascists has never worked.
Back in 1876, a presidential election was held that resulted in much of the same turmoil we’re experiencing today. The election had apparently been won by Democrat Samuel Tilden over Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. The Republicans refused to accept defeat, though, and at least a dozen died in the subsequent violence. A Congressional commission was established to settle the issue, to find “common ground”. The “meeting in the middle” in that instance led to the end of the Reconstruction period and the initiation of Jim Crow, which cost many thousands of blacks their fortunes and, indeed, their lives.
Springsteen’s “meeting in the middle”, then, is a message of white privilege over the needs and interests of dismissed and discounted communities. Let’s don’t listen to him in this case. Rather, let’s recall these lines from Dr. King’s letter:
“I wish you had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Meredith’s, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.”