I heard this song for the first time when I was buying beer at the liquor store—I put down my twelver of High Life and googled the lyrics to find out who it was since I don’t have the Kazaam app on my phone. It’s a catchy little number, right? But this was pre-Trump, and I didn’t give much thought to the attempt at cleverness imbedded in the lyrics. Fast forward to today and many folks have caught on to this song’s relevance to Trump’s stance on building a wall as part of his presidential platform and have embraced the patriotic message. Oh, but that’s just silly knucklehead Trump-hats who fail to see the irony in the true meaning of the song, right?
Bullshit. This is precisely the sort of preachy, social commentary-slathered art that is constantly churned out by bleeding hearts, who long for a Disney “moral of the story” ending to punctuate each dilemma the real world throws at us, yet who smugly ignore the headwind of common sense that blows their own bullshit back in their faces. Of course we know this song was written to lament some sort of patriarchy or lack of altruism or compassion or some other do-gooder nonsense. No duh. From Green Day, to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, to Pink, to probably the Blue Fucking Man Group, all we get is Bernie rallies and Kumbaya drum circles and stupid diatribes about saving the killer whales or Bambi. We know, musicians, who’s side you’re on and that you probably haven’t given much thought to your latest fashionable cause.
I think that the Leftism that pervades most art is partially due to boredom. From Beatniks to Millennials, free spirits who fancy themselves intellectuals don’t really have experiences draw from—they’re not inspired by real life events or by books they haven’t read, and they’re bored to death. So they let John Lennon or John Stewart ruffle their feathers for them, and they sing about shit they don’t give a shit about. And for narcissistic Millennials in particular, that very thing they give the least amount of shit about is the plight of other human beings that they clumsily proclaim to care so deeply for, but that they’re only interested in so far as they award them an opportunity to talk about themselves.
In this song Anais Mitchell puts propaganda in front of artistic expression, squandering what’s otherwise a snappy tune. And in this process she barfs out a naive lecture about income inequality and the sad plight of the have-nots, and ends up accidentally creating a Trump Anthem that makes a decent case for building a wall.
How does the wall keep us free?
The wall keeps out the enemy
And we build the wall to keep us free
That’s why we build the wall
We build the wall to keep us free
But who is this enemy the wall is protecting us from? The song continues, “and the enemy is poverty…” Wait, aren’t you fuckers the ones who invented welfare and declared “war on poverty?” It’s obviously meant to evoke sympathy for those who’ve been unfairly oppressed by one-percenters or something.
I played the song for a friend the other day and she shrugged and said, “Good song. Yeah, I want a wall now.” When you’re inspired by nothing, but pretend to be inspired by the movie Avatar, this is what happens. This sort of childish narrative is often true but in the opposite sense— it is often very effective to construct barriers that enable those who’ve created wealth to protect it from those who’d rather steal it.
So listen up, kids. I can’t hold your hand anymore. Houses have valuable stuff in them and thus are often surrounded by walls or fences or cameras. Bad guys exist. People get carjacked. Doors have locks on them for a reason. We live in a world of limited resources and unlimited wants— scarcity is the law of the land, and property rights keep us dignified and force us to exchange goods and services and to get along with one another. If you want to try and mock this axiom in song, better to shy away from the smugness when undertaking such a tall order.
And sure, there are persuasive arguments against building giant walls along political borders. But childish narratives about sharing and caring and giving and donating and opening our hearts and our minds— all meaningless platitudes. Departing from the cancerous idea of the collective commune, and embracing the ability to protect the valuables that belong to us, is in fact the only way to “keep us free.” Who knew it would take a smug idealist of the opposite political persuasion to express this concept so eloquently, yet unintentionally?