Scab of a Nation-4th of July 2024 Edition

Image by Trent Yarnell.

I’ve been on the road most of the last three weeks. Right now, River Shook’s new disc Revelations with their band Sarah Shook and the Disarmers is playing in the car. The Disarmers replaced a couple of members since their last disc, providing a more rounded sound. Likewise, the lyrics are perhaps a bit more introspective. Still, between Shook’s signature vocals and their sharp songwriting sense, this record kicks ass. Catch ’em live if you can.

It was a journey where I rarely paid attention to most news sources. Newspapers seem a thing of the past in so many places I traveled through, while Fox News was the network of choice in the few establishments the news was even broadcast. I did not watch the quadrennial advertisement for the US presidential election falsely called a debate, but I did catch some of the commentary that followed. All I got from that commentary was that Joe Biden sundowned and Donald Trump loudly lied. Nothing about the politics of either candidate. Oh yeah, I also saw that the far right and the far left did quite well in the first round of France’s parliamentary elections; a fact that is causing much concern amongst the neoliberal center there. Actually, sports were more prevalent in most places where a television was present.

I traveled from Minnesota to Folsom, California hitting South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada on the way. The scenery was what I remembered from my journeys through those states over forty years ago. Utah with its nuclear wasteland deserts, nothing but bleakness on the horizon; Nevada as its sinful sequel, Mormon crickets swarming the exit ramps along the interstate. Then, the mountains of Tahoe in California.

On the return my traveling companions and I drove through Oregon, Idaho, Montana and North Dakota. I ate in a Country Pride restaurant featuring US flags in every nook and cranny. It was located in a glorified truck stop rebranded as a travel center. A pleasant but overworked server named Holly worked at being kind to a restaurant populated with men wearing t shirts advertising cars, bikes and colors that don’t run. I saw a hitchhiker outside of Livingston, Montana running towards his ride, guitar in one hand and bedroll in the other

The transcendent and incredibly verdant forests of western Oregon transformed into a high desert of cattle, small grass fires and the occasional barn with a portrait of Donald Trump painted or plastered on a side. The cattle are oblivious to the portraits; they eat the grass and await their fate no matter who is president. If they voted, one assumes it would be for a vegetarian candidate.

Passing through these states, there was a common thread–disconnection and right wing political advertising. As noted before, I heard about the debate. Besides the fact that these quadrennial events redefine the meaning of the word debate, they remind the voters that US presidential elections are just exercises where one chooses which representative of the capitalist elite will be ruling you.

It seems the Trumpist legions are preparing for a triumphant return to DC, while Democrats stumble into each other yet are somehow still not embarrassed by their candidate. Meanwhile, the hard to find US Left squabbles over sending more guns to Ukraine and the usefulness of voting in the November electoral spectacle.

One of my favorite songs by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention is titled Concentration Moon. It appears on the album titled We’re Only in it for the Money. A cleverly written commentary on police brutality, the hippie counterculture, and the madness of the Puritan superpower in conflict with it’s capitalist greed and commodification of human needs and desires, the tune contains a verse that reads:

American way

Try and explain

Scab of a nation

Driven insane.

That was written in 1968, when the nation’s insanity included the war in Vietnam, racial conflict and the rejection of US society by many young people. It’s 2024 now and this country has gone well beyond the madness of 1968. So insane, in fact, many US residents consider this madness to be the only way to be be.

This country was created by property owners who obtained their land through force, deceit and war. This fact is hidden behind songs about seas and amber waves of grain, lies about equal treatment and fairness. But all it takes is a Supreme Court decision forbidding those without homes to sleep outside to remind us that property ownership defines a person’s freedom in the eyes of the law and those who enforce it. That understanding informs almost every political interaction in the United States. From the price gouging the media calls inflation to the oil wells in western South Dakota, the solar panel farms in Vermont and the fascist politicians masquerading as defenders of our freedom across the land, it’s the worship of private property and its placement over human lives that is the core of the sociopathic existence we are told is normal.

The last truck stop we gassed up at was in North Dakota. It featured a fireworks stand. Fourth of July, you know. There was a replica of a US Patriot missile in front of the stand. The words “Celebrate freedom like a Patriot missile. Buy our fireworks” were scrawled across the missile replica.

Frank Zappa had it right in 1968. It remains the truth in 2024.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com