Hope and these United States — Song for a Sunday

Springsteen sings about hope
Springsteen in 2012. Photo by Bill Ebbesen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons
Who else can I turn to on this long 4th of July weekend but Bruce Springsteen? I’ve heard this song about hope, dreams, and this country he loves many times. But it’s never made me cry before.

Springsteen first sang “Land of Hope and Dreams” publicly in 1999, during his reunion tour with the E Street Band. Remember 1999? Bill Clinton was president—though the Senate would try to impeach him. The Twin Towers still stood watch over lower Manhattan. Most people’s biggest worry was a massive technological failure. Tech folks thought that computers programmed to look only at the last two digits of the year might roll us back to 1900 when the new year hit. (Spoiler alert: they didn’t.)

But life was pretty good, at least if you weren’t a person of color. Or an immigrant. Or—God forbid—both. (Springsteen would later write a song about the 1999 killing of Amadou Diallo.) Or LGBT. A Gallup poll found that while half of the country thought “gay or lesbian relationships between consenting adults should be legal”—thanks ever so much—only 35% of our neighbors thought we should be able to legalize those relationships in marriage.

So when Springsteen sang “Land of Hope & Dreams,” he was singing about an imperfect country full of imperfect people. But imperfect people striving to be their best selves, and to make their nation its best self.

Well, this train carries saints and sinners
This train carries losers and winners
This train carries whores and gamblers
This train carries lost souls

I said, this train, dreams will not be thwarted
This train, faith will be rewarded
This train, hear the steel wheels singing
This train, bells of freedom ringing

Wikipedia reports that at a live performance earlier this year, Springsteen added the line “This train carries immigrants.” Indeed it does.

When hope seems in short supply

But only six months into the new presidential administration, hope seems harder than ever to hold onto. And dreams? As they sometimes say in New Jersey, Fuhgeddaboutit.

So when I heard Springsteen’s song this morning, it made me cry.

Can we ever return to the imperfect but optimistic land Springsteen sings about? I hope so. Right now, it’s hard even to dream.

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