Saturday, December 10, 2016

Mr. Peabody's Coal Train

Back in the '60s a poet/singer named John Prine was so boiled up with his passions that the first record he finally got out was filled with nothing but perfect songs, however many would at that time fit on an LP (about 45 minutes or so was the physical limit as I recall). He wrote more great songs as time went on, and is these days a notable elder in that vanishing world where songs had something to do with deep truths. One of the best songs he wrote back then was one he called "Paradise." It's been covered by many. I'm pretty sure the late David Morris did a version in his shows; that's probably where I heard the song the first time.

The postmortems of this wretched election--possibly a kind of legal coup that will--again possibly--end democracy in the United States, continue. As with any election there are many many "reasons." The Republican Party, which has over the decades become more and more committed to representing the interests of big money, did a masterful job of feigning the fainting couch while keeping its money on the dark horse whose lead kept expanding. "At least he's not Hillary," they all said, shaking their heads like characters out of The Looking Glass. Yesterday Trump was introduced in Louisiana by David Vitters, who was campaigning for his Republican replacement in the Senate, a man leading his Democratic opponent by nearly 20 points. Apparently big oil won this election, and will win Louisiana. The front runner for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon, has big leases in the Gulf, some shared jointly with the Russian state oil company according to reports I've read. The theory of trickle-down is alive and well. Plus, according to an AP story Tillerson has background cred with the vast, silent middle: "A former Eagle Scout, Tillerson also served as the National President of the Boy Scouts of America."

Looks like Mr. Trump isn't going to waste his time with a victory visit to West Virginia or Kentucky. He got those votes for free so to speak, and like another song from those misty days of youth opined, "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."

There's been little left to lose in a lot of those coal towns for a very long time. Paradise was gone when Prine wrote that song. It wasn't Mexicans that took the coal and the timber. They just showed up, a handful of them, to work on Mr. Peabody's lawn and fix the old firewood pickups that were still running the back roads that the dump trucks had already beaten back to potholes and gravel. The Mexicans didn't take the pretty girls either, no matter what Mr. LePage said. But now we'll have a 4-star general to help do the rounding up, assuming the Secretary of Labor doesn't point out that burger-flippers work cheaper and longer when they ain't got no papers.

Jean Ritchie told the truth about Paradise, and Merle Travis, Hazel Dickens and Prine. Mr. Trump is really East Texas Red, or worse, his employer. He's going to kick all those stew pots into the campfires and walk away laughing into the night. He's got a nice bed, a pretty wife, and all the money in the world. Maybe one day Red'll come walking back and find those same guys sitting there, grinning. That would be a pretty nice moment to see. You have to wonder if the folks from the burned out holes that used to be paradise have the gumption any more. Personally, I kinda doubt it. The steel backbones that Woody Guthrie was talking about were gone before the coal trains finished their work. Still, it's a nice moment to imagine.

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