President Donald Trump is “a threat to our democracy,” according to Bruce Springsteen. In conversation with David Brooks at The Atlantic, The Boss spoke about “existential threats” to America, the successes of the Black Lives Matter movement, police reform, and music for the current moment.
Springsteen was particularly incensed about Trump’s June 1st photo op at Lafayette Square and St. John’s Church. Peaceful, legally-assembled protestors were cleared out of the Square with pepper balls, tear gas, and rubber bullets. At the end of this unconstitutional aggression, Trump held up a Bible, as if a holy book would magically erase footage of state-ordered violence.
“I believe we may have finally reached a presidential tipping point with that Lafayette Square walk,” Springsteen said, adding that it was “so outrageously anti-American, so totally buffoonish and so stupid, and so anti–freedom of speech. And we have a video of it that will live on forever.”
Born in 1949, Springsteen came of age during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. He sees some similarities between that tumultuous era and today. “When the SpaceX rocket was going up and cities were burning,” he said, “I had a 1968 flashback.”
There are many differences between then and now, of course. “There was an unbridled rage in 1968 that isn’t quite there today to the same degree. The level of violence, as bad as it was last week, was noticeably less than in ’68. And the protesters are younger. They’re much more diverse.”
This has led to “a national discussion of police behavior,” that Springsteen sees as “long overdue.” He said, “In the video age, police misconduct — unprovoked violence, murders — can’t be ignored or hidden. The President can pretend it’s all not happening, and that George Floyd is smiling down from heaven because of the job reports this week. But every American, and I believe the whole world, can see right now that the status quo is not okay.”
While the rock legend is quick to acknowledge systemic disparities that disenfranchise black Americans, he sees the problems as being exacerbated by the White House. In fact, he wonders if the USA will ever recover. He said,
“I believe that our current president is a threat to our democracy. He simply makes any kind of reform that much harder. I don’t know if our democracy could stand another four years of his custodianship. These are all existential threats to our democracy and our American way of life.”
Still, The Boss feels optimistic that we’re heading in the right direction. “I think we’ve got hope for a vaccine,” he said. “I think any time there is a 50-foot Black Lives Matter sign leading to the White House, that’s a good sign. And the demonstrations have been white people and black people and brown people gathering together in the enraged name of love. That’s a good sign.”
He concluded by sharing a playlist of music that speaks to this historical moment. Amongst his recommendations were “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday, “The House I Live In” as sung by Paul Robeson, “Made in America” by JAY-Z and Kanye West, and Patti Smith’s classic “People Have the Power”. Springsteen also nodded to a few of his own tracks, including his take on police brutality “American Skin (41 Shots)”, and “That’s What Makes Us Great”, his collaboration with Joe Grushecky and The Houserockers.
Bruce Springsteen has long been a vocal critic of Donald Trump, and things have ramped up recently. Last week, he told the President to “put on a fucking mask.” Earlier this month, The Boss aired a powerful radio program in tribute to George Floyd. In May, he released a 1981 live album to benefit New Jersey pandemic relief, and he also joined Dropkick Murphys to play a concert at an empty Fenway Park.