This is the second part of my interview with Eric Anders, whose anti-Trump concept album, Eleven Nine, piqued my interest to find out his motivation and songwriting process behind it.
I really like your new album, Eleven Nine, which you describe as your “patriot act.” Please explain what you mean by “patriot act.” How did Eleven Nine come about?
As I mentioned before, Matthew Emerson Brown and I were working on the Home project when Trump was elected. I immediately decided to shelve that project in order to put out a full-length album anti-Trump protest album by writing three new songs (“Inside the Sacrifice Zone,” “Do You Feel,” and “This Fire Has Burned Too Long”), working on some fitting covers (”I Hear Them All” and “Who’ll Stop the Rain”), using some Bush-era political songs that would still be fitting (”How Low and Why,” “So Wrong,” “Big World Abide,” and “A Man for No Season”), and changing “Looking Forward to Your Fall” from an anti-Bush song to anti-Trump.
“Looking Forward to Your Fall” needed a significant lyric change since the second verse and bridge were very Bush-specific:
You talked about freedom
Abu Ghraib prison
You didn’t care at all
So fond of fighting
As long as others called
Sixty thousand boomers down
Now you control the calling
Death toll mounting
You don’t care … at all
I really wanted to focus on Trump’s racism and his treason with respect to Russia in the Trump version for Eleven Nine:
Talked about “great again”
Racist whistle call
Jim Crow all over again
You’re okay with it all
Ooo, you don’t care at all
Looking forward to your fall
So good I bet
Looking forward to your fall
So fond of Russia
It’s clever use of power
But what is owed to Putin now?
Is it a Russian Tea Party?
Are you and Vlad bonding?
Do you care … at all?
I love both versions musically, but, if you A-B both versions, I think you can hear that we have been more intensely looking forward to Trump’s fall, even more than we were looking forward to Bush’s … which never came in a significant way. I don’t think Trump will disappoint us this time around. He’s going down.
I think it is rather clear that a radical criminal and traitor is currently occupying the Oval Office, and he got there with a significant amount of help from Russians, mobsters, racists, xenophobes, sexists, and huge numbers of confused and ignorant voters. [Robert] Mueller will confirm all this eventually.
It makes me want to throw up when I hear modern-day Republicans echo the “love it or leave it” sentiment of the Vietnam era when they criticize those of us on the left who are ashamed of, say, almost half of our country supported the Vietnam War. Also, it was almost half of our country that once fought a civil war in order to preserve slavery. More recently, almost half of our country (a very similar near half) voted for a racist pig to be POTUS.
I think it is beyond the American right to understand how contradictory they are being when they spout their “love it or leave it” bile at liberals, and at the same time that they scream their Kool-Aid driven MAGA mantra. What they don’t understand is that they are the ones hating what is now very American, namely its diversity, its push toward inclusion, equality, and tolerance of difference. The successes of American liberalism. Obama and Hillary Clinton represented this very American push toward diversity, towards inclusion, towards a better democracy, and the American right hated them both with a passion.
What has surprised me lately is how much the American right actually hates America, and I think it is very much the diversity of America that they are hating. Like Trump, almost all of them have to deny that they, too, came from immigrant stock. They betray the very American line from Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus” that adorns the Statue of Liberty with their anti-immigrant and racist MAGA chant:
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Trumpists probably would read these words as the confused words of an American woman etched into a French statue of another woman—two women who don’t understand how poor masses from other countries are usually “bad hombres,” rapists, or terrorists.
I love how Lazarus’s poem also eschews the “storied pomp” of European aristocracy. It should also be un-American to fawn over Trump’s tacky version of “storied pomp,” but the right seems to admire it. Not surprisingly, Trump also seems to think he is above the law, like a king in one of these rejected aristocracies. It’s hard for me to imagine being more un-American. It is ironic that both Trump and the Statue of Liberty are from New York City. They couldn’t be farther apart otherwise.
So I hear MAGA as “make America white, Christian, and male dominated again” and the expression of the right’s deep-seated hatred of liberal America: diverse, open-arms, immigrant-born, striving for tolerance and equality, for democracy, and eschewing the “storied pomp” of old Europe. I see the right as deeply unpatriotic and yet telling the left to “love it or leave it” when we remind them that Lee was a traitor too, or that American was built by working-class immigrants on a foundation of racism in the forms of genocide and slavery, or that Vietnam was obviously one huge war crime.
The reason they think America needs to be renewed is that they believe it has decayed by allowing for so much diversity, by allowing so much simple historical fact to come out, and by allowing for so much reflection on the violence and racism of our past.
This MAGA position is basically the white nationalist position, which is grounded in white supremacy. There is no light between the two.
You could also add that the right is hating America’s democracy—the very thing that gives all these people of color, all these immigrants, all the LGBTQ folks, and all the atheists and infidels their power to shape America … as legitimate Americans. The right hates America because it hates American diversity and American democracy.
So, enter Trump and Putin: a would-be autocrat who is deeply racist, misogynist, homophobic, and xenophobic, and an established autocrat who is also all of the above. Both are also billionaires, it seems. Trump and Putin are both even bigoted against disabled people, as Trump showed during the campaign, and as Putin has shown with his laws that oppress the disabled in Russia. There is not much light between them either, though Putin is clearly the puppet master to Trump’s puppet, as Clinton made clear during the debates.
The Patriot Act was signed into law by W in 2001 in response to 9/11. Its full name is “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.”
Trump rationalizes much of his racism—anti-Muslim, immigration, the border wall, xenophobia—as a way to protect America from terrorism and crime. His racism is his “patriot act.” As Dana Milbank explains in a recent WaPo op-ed, “Trump won’t stop trying to keep America white” … and he uses his own fear tactics to justify his racist “patriot acts.”
I know American veterans who use to risk their lives in the Cold War with Russian guns pointed at them who now are big Putin and Trump fans. These former Cold Warriors have let their religion of white supremacy “trump” their patriotism. They admire Putin’s autocracy, racism, homophobia, and bravado … much like Trump does. There is a reason white supremacists in Charlottesville were chanting “Putin is our friend” next to a statue of Lee. The Russians have been courting the right for a long time, using the same tools they used to undermine our elections.
As I see Robert E. Lee, I see Trump, white supremacists, Putin, these old veterans on the right. I see all them as intensely un-American. It is a crime that there are any Lee statues out there. It is a crime that Trump is in the Oval Office. I see Lee and Trump as two supreme traitors. Lee went to war against America in order to preserve slavery; Trump conspired with the Russians to undermine our democracy and get himself elected so he could pay off his debts to Russia, and not be blackmailed by Putin. Trump was an easy mark for Putin the spy master.
Making an anti-Trump album was my small “patriot act.” It is the act of a true patriot, who understands well the murderous racism our country was created from … and yet he is still a patriot, still loves America. I can love America because a little more than half of it has struggled to get out of this origin swamp of violent racism, and this country has at times lived up to the beautiful, very liberal sonnet lines on the Statue of Liberty: “make America the new colossus again.”
Trumpism seems to me to be evidence of our sliding back into this swamp, whereas Obama’s elections were signs of our struggles paying off and bringing us further out of it. MAGA makes us anything but a colossus again. It makes us small, the opposite of “great.”
It wasn’t long ago that black Americans were being lynched and Americans were dropping napalm on Vietnamese children in order to save these people of color from themselves, as if “we” knew better. Oh, the naive vanity of it all! America of the fifties and sixties is the violently racist America that Trump wants to return to, as Charlottesville showed: “very fine people.”
True patriotism isn’t based on denial. True American patriotism celebrates diversity and true democracy. It strives to realize the values of the Statue of Liberty—a very American monument in my eyes. Statues of Lee and other Confederate warriors are monuments to American traitors and to the violent racism of slavery. These are very un-American monuments, clearly.
Power to the very diverse people of immigrant-powered America! Make America truly great by helping it rise out of its origin swamp of violent racism, sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia.
We can do this, we can act patriotically, by resisting the traitor Trump, resisting plutocracy, resisting the likes of Putin, and resisting the fanaticism and idiotic fundamentalism-reductionism of the American right. We need to celebrate difference and enfranchise ALL of the people, especially those that make this already great country diverse in every way.
The fire in “This Fire Has Burned Too Long” is more this reductionist-fundamentalist ideology of the American right. Most people have read the “fire” as simply racism, but I had hoped it would be even broader than that, while very much including racism too.
Thanks again for really listening to this patriot act of mine. I’m glad you liked it.
Any plans to tour? If so, where and when?
No. Touring is expensive and I am an unsigned artist. I would welcome a label offering to pay for a tour, but I doubt my wife would want me gone for that long. I am talking to Jeff Peters about possibly doing a live album recorded at an excellent venue, but this would also be a very expensive project, so I’m not sure that is going to meet with my wife’s approval either. She said she wants to see how well True September Songs does before we start planning more expensive projects … which sounded a lot like a label exec to me, though I wouldn’t really know because I have never been signed.
If there are any label execs out there who want to fund a tour and a live album project, I’d love to talk to you about it. But … my wife probably wouldn’t let me go on tour anyway … and I’d miss my kids too much. So it probably won’t work. I will stick to studio projects. True September Songs should be out soon, and I may be able to get Home done before the end of the year too.
Read here for Part 1 of my interview.