There is a section which discusses the snake's temptation of Eve in the Book of Genesis. We examine this archetypal story of trickery from within the logic of its narrative. We are not suggesting that blind faith in general is a good idea or that becoming knowledgable is a bad one; quite the reverse, in fact.
Some odds and ends: you'll find a video link to Patti Smith's 2016 Nobel Ceremony performance in the appropriate section; we thank our friend Matthew for his song suggestion, "America" by the KBC Band; there is an embedded mystery track in the playlist; an Adam Gopnik article in The New Yorker, "The Music Donald Trump Can't Hear," pairs well with this post; copy editor Cyril wants it known that the Devil is a metaphor, not a living individual, and that any equation of the Horned One with an actual person is unintentional on our part; layout editor Todd calls your attention to the order of playlist songs –– he says he sequenced songs in thematic units, he says you'll go on a journey.
A technical note on operating the music player. There are two play-mode icons at the top left of the player, a shuffle icon to the left (two intersecting arrows) and a play-in-sequence icon to its right (a single circular arrow). Todd recommends you disable the shuffle icon, if it's lit up, by clicking on it. You can then hear the songs in order.
Four years ago my editors and I posted a playlist following the 2012 re-election of Barack Obama. Its songs emphasized hope, in keeping with President Obama's message of "Hope and Change." This time around we are posting a "Make America Great Again" playlist, consistent with the principal theme of the Republican Party's victorious candidate, Donald J. Trump.
|Donald Trump Campaign Cap|
Initially we weren't sure which songs to choose. None of us voted for President Trump and we questioned whether our song-choices would appropriately represent the current Republican ethos. Specifically, we felt that our notions of a bygone American greatness would differ from theirs, and that our solutions to regaining greatness would similarly differ.
For us, what's slipping from view is our guiding star –– which is our inclusive, conglomerate American identity. That star has been with us since the inception of our republic, sometimes radiant, sometimes lambent, sometimes only a pilot light, but there nonetheless. It is still there, even if bedimmed by the divisive rhetoric of this election season. Our greatness lies in simply remembering it's there, in sustaining our orientation towards fairness and social inclusion, in accepting that there will always be work to be done to realize that fairness.
There is a humility in this greatness –– we're never going to achieve, lose, or restore a perfect union, we just keep trying. America is an ongoing process, generally improving, refining, raising itself up, but periodically doubling back on itself, bogging down. Notwithstanding reversals and setbacks, we remember what makes us us. There is an ironic greatness in falling short yet doggedly working on our deficiencies.
Accordingly, our "Make America Great Again" playlist addresses cultural, historical, and ethical themes relevant to our understanding of this ongoing, sometimes muddled American process. As befits its subject the playlist is huge, one-hundred items huge. Its first track isn't a song at all but a 1969 Firesign Theater sketch. Ninety-nine songs follow that sketch, among them an embedded mystery track. Most songs are by American artists and canny readers will detect the few outliers.
We don't know what a GOP "Make America Great Again" playlist would look like. However, we think we know the new administration's priorities and we think we can infer what a Republican greatness might look like:
I have a great love for our country, but it is a country that
is in serious trouble. We have lost the respect of the entire
world. Americans deserve better than what they get from
their politicians –– who are all talk and no action! I have
built a great company, created thousands of jobs and built
a tremendous net worth with some of the finest and most
prestigious assets in the world –– and very little debt! All
Americans deserve the same opportunity. Our real
unemployment rate is staggering while our manufacturing
base is eroding on a daily basis. We must rebuild our
infrastructure, control our borders, support local control of
education, greatly strengthen our military, care for our
veterans and put Americans back to work! We must stop
other countries from totally taking advantage of our
representatives who are being out-negotiated at every turn.
I am the only one who can make America truly great again!
(from March 18, 2015 press release: Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.)
We'd best toughen up. President Trump, he'll be our champion, the man to restore respect, turn our losing streak around. We'll be winning again –– a favorable trade agreement, say, or a negotiation to keep manufacturing at home. We'll tell those NAFTA and Pacific Rim leaders what's what, restore our standing by driving a hard bargain and coming out on top. It's going to be great.
|Angry African Elephant|
And even should our strategies stall, we can always look the part –– wear a stern game face, trumpet our presence, act large and in charge. (Our prototype might come from nature, such as when adolescent male elephants spread ears wide and impressively mock-charge.)
We're not economists here, and for all we know hard bargaining is just what we need. That said, restoring prosperity won't necessarily restore respect, it may, it may not. Winning isn't always a respectable activity; some winning Olympians are admirable, some aren't.
It's a truism but how we play the game matters. In our personal lives we remember the kindness and fairness of those who've gone before us, not whether they were winners in a competitive game of life. Winning is gravy, but it's a topper for something more hearty and nutritious –– which is our sportsmanship, the degree to which we've played the game fairly and good-naturedly.
|Notions of Our American Dream|
(Credit: National Park Service,
Ellis Island Photo Gallery)
We'll return to these themes but first we want to describe our playlist's content, starting with one particular song: Patti Smith's cover of Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," the song she performed at the 2016 Nobel Ceremony. We chose her cover over Dylan's original because of its striking authenticity. Patti Smith briefly clutched up during her performance, but we felt that her unvarnished truth and pure presence trumped flawless presentation.
Some news outlets hopped on Smith's mistakes. The New York Post said she botched it, the Daily News said she bungled it. Botch and bungle –– sounds like the Post and Daily News saw a winning performance as one with an unblemished surface versus one with an affecting heart.
We prefer Patti Smith's own take on it:
The opening chords of the song were introduced, and I heard
myself singing. The first verse was passable, a bit shaky, but
I was certain I would settle. But instead I was struck with a
plethora of emotions, avalanching with such intensity that I
was unable to negotiate them. From the corner of my eye, I
could see the huge boom stand of the television camera, and
all the dignitaries upon the stage and the people beyond.
Unaccustomed to such an overwhelming case of nerves, I was
unable to continue. I hadn't forgotten the words that were now
a part of me. I was simply unable to draw them out.
This strange phenomenon did not diminish or pass but stayed
cruelly with me. I was obliged to stop and ask pardon and then
attempt again while in this state and sang with all my being, yet
still stumbling. It was not lost on me that the narrative of the
song begins with the words "stumbled alongside of twelve misty
mountains," and ends with the line "And I'll know my song well
before I start singing." As I took my seat, I felt the humiliating
sting of failure, but also the strange realization that I had somehow
entered and truly lived the world of the lyrics.
(from "How Does It Feel," The New Yorker, December 14, 2016)
Smith's lucid, unguarded explanation requires nothing further from us. But as a coda to this kerfuffle, we'll argue that you'll find more honesty, humility, and courage in Patti Smith's performance and mea culpa than you'll find in the last eight years of GOP congressional proceedings.
Moving from the particular to the general, here is an overview of our "Make America Great Again" playlist.
Its songs are a mixed bag but a populist tone prevails, a unifying "we're on this train together" tone, with economic, environmental, civil liberties issues predominating. Despite some rock outliers, most of our playlist songs come from folk and Americana genres, genres which give exemplary voice to populism.
There is also a decidedly ethical tone. While only a handful of song-choices are outrightly preachy, most have ethical implications. This is unavoidable since greed, inequality, intolerance have been with us since the Mayflower and Plymouth Rock, the dialectic underbelly of our charity, equality, and openness.
The recent presidential campaign has exposed this underbelly rudely. Never before have we seen such guile and disingenuousness, nor felt so dismayed when dishonesty took root. Richard Nixon's "dirty tricks" pale in contrast to the foulness of today's fake news. Never before have we felt the America of "All men are created equal" being redefined into something smaller, meaner, and frankly evil.
Evil? That's a strong word, but we don't use it idly. And we'll shortly be linking it to another strong word, "diabolic." Stick with us.
Throughout this 2016 election there has been a sulphurous smell in the air, a miasma of political expediency and carny-barker yammer. An evil purpose has attended this rhetoric –– which is to divide what is supposed to be indivisible, our union.
Now evil is an adjective worth unpacking. We usually think of it as a synonym for wicked or malevolent, and we leave it at that. But evil is a resonant adjective, with evocations of history, religion, and literature. So resonant that it carries us back to its founding ancestor, the Devil. Now the Devil, he's an interesting character. While he has many masks, his work always follows the same blueprint. A unitary whole is targeted for dis-integration; lies are told about selected components of this whole; these lies create fear, doubt, discord and division; the union is broken apart.
Our best example of evil is its foundational archetype, the vignette from Genesis: Chapter 3 about the snake's temptation of Eve.
In the Garden of Eden, the snake tricks Eve by instilling doubt as to God's intentions, fostering in her a skeptical apartness from God. The snake misrepresents and slanders God, persuades Eve that God isn't the protective provider she assumes him to be.
How does the snake do this?
|Old Nick, the Devil (c. 1936)|
Florian Rokita (American)
(National Gallery of Art)
Eve thinks on it: that fruit certainly looks appealing, and it does sound nice to be wise, and the snake's reasoning is persuasive. She buys into that reasoning, eats the fruit, and the rest is History. (See Genesis 3: 1-6 KJV.)
A History marked by toil, trouble, and –– as God indicated –– mortality. And a History marked by lesser deaths that also spring from knowledge of worldly choices –– the tyranny of shoulds and shouldn'ts, the second-guessing of urges and behaviors, the ambivalence about or inhibition of initiatives. Where once we had freedom to toddle about innocently, we now have ankle bracelets. Where once we had an uncomplicated continuousness of paradisal being, we now have disjunctions, adversities, discontinuities. There are consequences to wrong choices, sometimes irreversible ones. We recall that God places a flaming sword east of Eden to bar the way back in.
Importantly, Eve couldn't have known any of this. The snake left out parts of the story and fabricated others: a persuasive pitch trumped the whole story. Nor could Eve have known that what the snake accuses God of doing precisely mirrors what the snake itself is doing –– lying with a straight face and a hidden agenda. This goes beyond hypocrisy, it's a projective offloading of serpentine entitlement onto God, an offloading that transforms identities. God now becomes the lying viper while the lying viper becomes the helpful advisor. It's all backwards. The snake successfully swift-boats God.
The Genesis story doesn't tell us what the snake got out of this smoke and mirrors. Maybe it envied Adam and Eve their status as gardener and gardener's helper in God's garden. And maybe it decided to drag them down, get them disgraced and exiled –– achieving this by instilling doubt in Eve about God's intentions. If the snake wasn't to be God's special assistant, Adam and Eve wouldn't have those jobs either.
Or maybe it's simpler than that. Perhaps the snake felt a visceral pleasure in being a puppet master, in pulling Eve's strings and dishing out poison. Perhaps the snake was our first fraudulent marketer, pulling off the first con. Not so much driven by envy as by the satisfaction to be had in being manipulative, in treating people as objects.
|1971 Eve Cigarettes Ad|
In a 2011 post we detailed the many forms of this deviltry: slander, libel, malicious gossip, fraud, various misrepresentations and falsehoods. In that post we discussed not only forms of the diabolic but also its driving process: the cherry-picking of data to present (or misrepresent) parts as if they are wholes.
Consider this Rollo May citation from that 2011 post:
Satan, or the devil, comes from the Greek word diabolos;
"diabolic" is the term in contemporary English. Diabolos,
interestingly enough, literally means "to tear apart”
(dia-bollein). Now it is fascinating to note that the diabolic
is the antonym to "symbolic." The latter comes from
sym-bollein, and means "to throw together,” to unite.
There lie in these words tremendous implications with
respect to an ontology of good and evil. The symbolic is
that which draws together, ties, integrates the individual in
himself and with his group; the diabolic, in contrast, is that
which disintegrates and tears apart.
(Rollo May , Love and Will, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, p. 138)
Please may this quote hang in your minds a while, let it steep. The diabolic is evil, we know that, but it is also the machinery of evil, the way evil intent is actualized –– the process of taking things apart (speeches, biographies, histories, descriptions of persons and groups), then recombining those parts into misarrangements which resemble apparent wholes.
We've heard much of this recombinant rhetoric in 2016. It rankles us when facts get dragged into a social-media slipstream, then diffused in a tide of lies, distractions, evasions, vacuous allegations, posturing. There has always been dishonest expression but we are startled when words so regularly fail to mean what they say, when language no longer reliably signifies. Ditch those source books, folks, we can make up stuff as we go along, be our own gods. We'll not be needing those pesky dictionaries, history books, and bibles any more, won't be worrying over whether our word is our bond.
Now there are lies and there are lies, and not all lies are diabolic. The assertion that Pope Francis endorsed Donald Trump is a lie but not a diabolical one. The assertion that President Obama isn't an American citizen, now that is a diabolical lie. Why? Because it takes bits of Obama's history (a Kenyan father, an Indonesian stepfather, African and Indonesian relatives) and spins a revised history out of them. The new narrative is a miscreation. It transforms Obama's international background into ambiguous foreign exotica, it gives off a whiff of suspect otherness. It then edits out disconfirming biographical data, throws in made-up elements, scrambles it all up and serves this fetid mash as the whole truth. It does this intentionally.
Since the new miscreation is not the whole truth, it packs a wallop. It's easier to get riled up over a partial allegation ("Listen up, Obama may be a Kenyan!") than it is when we have all the data.
How the lie is delivered matters as well. Often it's pitched as a certainty, as if unquestionably true. As often it takes a softer form of innuendo and hearsay ("Well it's hard to pin down, of course, and we're still checking, but we can't rule out that ... "). Either delivery system will work, but it's critical that the lie be repeated incessantly, sown in the media breeze until –– in the manner of a Johnny Turdseed –– it successfully propagates its foulness.
|Cover of 1888 Edition of |
By the time Goody gets over her confusion, Old Nick will have left town.
We want to pair the Rollo May quotation with William Butler Yeats' 1919 poem, "The Second Coming":
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
(William Butler Yeats , The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats,
Macmillan Publishing Co., New York, p. 187)
Readers, please let this poem hang in your mind next to that Rollo May passage. We know this isn't English class but the humanities can sometimes depict movements of national and civic life in arresting ways, and in this instance Yeats resonates.
Are we worried here at One Hand On The Radio that some "rough beast" with a "gaze blank and pitiless" shambles our way? Why, yes we are. Are we rattled by the "passionate intensity" of the fake-news crowd? That too, yes. Are we alarmed at the tendency of media outlets to "lack all conviction"? –– to not treat lies as lies, to not label crackpot ideas as crackpot ideas. You bet we are. (Dear Media: By all means report campaign assertions and representations, but when they are lies call them lies, then do the harder work of explaining how deviltry works. Inform us, make us better citizens.)
All this fakery and misinformation unnerves us, we worry that it "disintegrates and tears apart" the connective tissue of our nation, our large inclusive heart.
We are equally concerned with the apparent receptivity of many Americans to being lied to. They can't all be racists and white supremacists, primed to accept that Muslims were dancing in the streets of Jersey City on 9/11. Nor can they all be instrumental types who regard campaign lies as expectable, permissible hype in pursuit of winning the deal. We have to assume that a majority of President Trump's supporters are genuinely hopeful for a better turn of fortune's wheel, that they see in him a potential champion –– a plain-spoken "outsider" who speaks their language. And if their champion sometimes says over-the-top stuff, well haven't we all?
We confess we're trying to fathom something here that we can't really grasp. We appreciate the primary need to feel that we matter, that our issues matter, that someone is listening, that we're visible. At the same time, we haven't the confidence in our new president that others have. We just don't, we'd have to be credulous Eves to feel otherwise. We also confess that we are perhaps moralistic relics from another time, still wed to the idea that dishonesty should summarily disqualify a candidate from the race.
In any event, we've a suggestion –– likely unwanted –– about how to better evaluate information that comes our way, so that we can then differentiate news from propaganda. We've a hunch this technique is not widely taught in elementary and secondary education.
To borrow a 1942 Fritz Perls metaphor from Ego, Hunger and Aggression, the nub of critical mental-filtering is our ability to use our teeth and chew –– the ability to pause before straightaway swallowing something, and during that pause chew that thing over, taste it, grind it so finely that we assimilate it, making it so thoroughly our own that we neither prematurely act on it nor prematurely spit it back out into the world.
Absent this ability, we are prone to drink the Kool-Aid and sicken ourselves, and prone in turn to spread our disease via gossip, rumor, true-believer sharings. This is glaringly viral when the poison evokes or exacerbates bigotry, when we precipitously grab our torches, join the mob and set out after the monster. It is viral as well when it evokes or exacerbates wishful thinking, when we precipitously rejoice in illusory expectations of a chicken-in-every-pot salvation.
We live in unsettling times. Could our multiform American weave be rent, our center not hold? We love that weave, we love its elastic inclusivity, we think it defines us. And it's not that long ago that we had a Trail of Tears, a Civil War, lynchings, successive waves of reviled immigrants, internment camps, a Red Scare. And we persist today in scapegoating out-groups and undesirables.
This is a suitable place to quote Michelle Obama, during her last public appearance as first lady:
Our glorious diversity –– our diversities of faiths, and
colors, and creeds –– that is not a threat to who we are;
it makes us who we are ... .
(New York Times, January 7, 2017, A9)
We've never had doubts like these before, not even during the protests and riots of the Vietnam era. Our ship of state always had an inherent and unifying ballast to provide stability, a ballast we perhaps took for granted. These days our ship feels less stable, not tippy exactly but not right either, altered somehow.
This post and its playlist are our attempts to sort out and focus our flutterings, and in this particular cultural moment nothing pulls us together like righteous indignation.
Todd, Cyril and I become biblical when information is tainted, when offal gets peddled as food, when citizens eat that food. The Devil has a forked tongue to be sure. The Devil has, we are further told, a silver tongue. To give him his due, he needs that silver lure since at heart he's a salesman. Not only that, he's always been an outsider in the competitive recruitment market, up against the endorsed God and the angel choir. He's a charmer alright, Old Scratch, and we can't really begrudge him his silver tongue. But try to imagine where that tongue's been.
What to do about cajolery masked as candor? After draining the swamp, we're going to need to get rid of it. We can do this by removing the dark recesses in which lobbyists, careerists, invisible money men, glad-handing shapeshifters thrive –– chiefly by illuminating their murky chambers. Old-school investigative journalism might help, but we've also a civic duty to become educated consumers, learn habits of better and mindful eating.
|The Witch offers Snow White the|
poisoned apple. (The DisneyWiki)
OK, that's enough of the jeremiad section of this introduction. Onward now to the music. We know our emphasis on social inclusion won't echo priorities of the new administration, and that a Republican "Make America Great Again" playlist would likely have a different emphasis –– perhaps an America-first boosterism, or a cheapened populism along the lines of that Dodge Ram tagline: "Guts. Glory. Ram." Still, given the complexity of American history, we feel we've done a workmanlike job with this compilation. Its songs will appeal to some more than others, but that's always true. We also see no reason why President Trump's populist supporters won't find many of these songs congenial.
Time to end this preamble. 2016 had its way with us and we're tuckered. The music can take over.
"MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN" PLAYLIST