Leonard Cohen sings, “Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.” -- IS IT?

Or Are We Stuck with Trumpery  --
Fake Populism and Real Robber Barons?

Leonard Cohen is no Pollyanna. When he sings the path through which “Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.,” you can see and hear the dark places, the deaths and infamies along the way. And yet, AND YET!!   This is not mere “hope.” It is determination. Commitment. Covenant.
Please join me on this journey by first listening and watching here:


I have included the words below to make sure you can hear them all. Please do actually watch and listen to Leonard Cohen sing them.  

After that, we will look honestly at what we are facing now.

It's coming through a hole in the air,

from those nights in Tiananmen Square.
It's coming from the feel
that this ain't exactly real,
or it's real, but it ain't exactly there.
From the wars against disorder,
from the sirens night and day,
from the fires of the homeless,
from the ashes of the gay:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It's coming through a crack in the wall;
on a visionary flood of alcohol;
from the staggering account
of the Sermon on the Mount
which I don't pretend to understand at all.
It's coming from the silence
on the dock of the bay,
from the brave, the bold, the battered
heart of Chevrolet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It's coming from the sorrow in the street,
the holy places where the races meet;
from the homicidal bitchin'
that goes down in every kitchen
to determine who will serve and who will eat.
From the wells of disappointment
where the women kneel to pray
for the grace of God in the desert here
and the desert far away:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Sail on, sail on
O mighty Ship of State!
To the Shores of Need
Past the Reefs of Greed
Through the Squalls of Hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on.

It's coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It's here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it's here they got the spiritual thirst.
It's here the family's broken
and it's here the lonely say
that the heart has got to open
in a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It's coming from the women and the men.
O baby, we'll be making love again.
We'll be going down so deep
the river's going to weep,
and the mountain's going to shout Amen!
It's coming like the tidal flood
beneath the lunar sway,
imperial, mysterious,
in amorous array:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Sail on, sail on ...

I'm sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can't stand the scene.
And I'm neither left or right
I'm just staying home tonight,
getting lost in that hopeless little screen.
But I'm stubborn as those garbage bags
that Time cannot decay,
I'm junk but I'm still holding up
this little wild bouquet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

*** **** **** **** ***
So what is standing in the way, Brother Leonard?
Trumpery is standing in the way.  I didn’t invent the word “trumpery.” According to the Merriam -Webster Dictionary, “trumpery“ first appeared in English in the mid-15th century.
Webster's 1913 Dictionary defined “Trump´er`y” --

n    1.    Deceit; fraud.  2. Something serving to deceive by false show or pretense; falsehood; deceit; worthless but showy matter; hence, things worn out and of no value; rubbish.


Donald Trump ran for President as a “populist,” meaning supporter of The People. Now we know that was the greatest fake of our entire history. Once elected, he turned from Trumpery to Naked Power. His appointees will set in place a government of Billionaires and Bigots, presided over by a Bully.

Not just any old random Billionaires. Hyper-wealthy persons who hate democracy and want to stamp it out.  There really is an American ruling class   -- and now we know they are scared.

Something about the last few years – Black Lives Matter; the Dreamers; women who slap a “Star,” a Billionaire, in public when he molests them; Bernie’s movement –-  scared them. Even the anger of white blue-collar men scared them, and they realized they had to collar those guys for themselves before somebody got them who really cared about The People. So here they come, The Billionaires and Bigots:

•    To head the Department of Education: A person who hates public schools., which were the first great American effort to make sure that everyone knew how to be a  farmer, a carpenter, above all a citizen.
•    The Treasury: A banker who hates the regulations intended to keep banks from bankrupting the public while enriching themselves.
•    Secretary of State:  Big-Oil executive who is gleefully burning up the Earth for the sake of enormous profits.  If he gets his way, all those countries he’s supposed to be negotiating with will be burnt to a crisp, and his own country too. Why not?  
•    To head the Department of Justice: a person who sneers at Black folks and supports the use of torture.
•    To oversee our ways of helping people who get sick: officials who want to wreck Medicare, abolish the Health Care Act that added millions to the insured public, starve Medicaid to death,  deregulate the rules that keep our chickens from being drenched in pesticides and poisons, our water from being filled with mind-destroying lead.

OK!  What do we do?  

“Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.” only if we do it.

I suggest three rules of strategy:

1)    In contesting over national policy, try to choose issues -- like health care, job creation, and a major rise in the minimum wage -- that will meet the legitimate needs of those who voted for Trump as well as others who have been “left behind” or pushed out onto the margins. Treat those needs and those voters with respect. Aim to show though deeds, not merely words, how fake and phony Trump’s “populism” was.

2)    In cities and states where prophetic, progressive, and real populist policies already have strong majority support, build coalitions to move forward even more vigorously. For example: organize to solarize whole cities, including all schools and other public buildings and providing strong start-up grants and loans for low–income households to solarize their homes, if possible through neighborhood solar co-ops. For example: create a public bank that can invest large sums of  public money in meeting public needs. Urge each of these islands of progress to adopt a Declaration of Resistance, and connect them by setting up a Continental Congress.  (Sound familiar? Exactly!)

3)    Make special efforts to awaken and empower the sleeping giants of American democracy -– the religious and spiritual communities that carry prophetic and democratic values in their prayers and sermons but not yet in their public actions. 

To do this, draw especially on our prophetic inheritance from Dr. Martin Luther King. On April 4, we will reach the 50th anniversary of his most profound speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence.” In it he named racism, militarism, and materialism the deadly “triplets” afflicting America and called for a profound revolution in values.

One year later, we will reach the 50th anniversary of his death. During that year he worked to create the Poor People’s Campaign that included the blue-collar whites who voted for Trumpery because it came in a Populist mask.

We can make that year MLK + 50 — A Jubilee Year of Truth and Transformation.  

Perhaps the best way to begin that journey is to take part in a four-day retreat from January 16 to 19 at Stony Point retreat center on “BEYOND ‘Beyond Vietnam’:  — Reclaiming King’s Courage for Movement Building Today.” The discussions will be led by three of us who have invested our lives in awakening the dozing giants of our different religious traditions: Rev. Anthony Grimes of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Al-Hajj Imam Talib ’Abdur-Rashid of The Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood (in Harlem) , and me.

You can see further details and register at

In the next days and weeks, I will be exploring these themes more deeply in my Shalom Report letters.  

Determination, Commitment, Covenant will be our goal.


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