“This Land is the Land of Ours” – R.E.M.’s “Cuyahoga” and Donald’s Xenophobia

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”  – Donald Trump, January 11, 2018.

The current president’s words about immigrants from other countries comes two days after stripping protections for over 200,000 Salvadorians here in the states. His statement specifically alluded to Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations, most of whom are experiencing humanitarian crises of devastating proportions.

Yes, it’s apparent that Trump purposefully forgets we are a country of immigrants built on a land first inhabited by people who still fight for acknowledgment.

Trump himself searches for “lands” to conquer and brand as his own with a fake holy façade and a win-at-all-costs arrogance. Screw the truth. Screw the history. Trump will reinvent the story with short sentences and simple words.

Sounds very much like the bridge of R.E.M.’s “Cuyahoga” which states,

“Rewrite the book and rule the pages
Saving face, secured in faith
Bury, burn the waste behind you”

The Cuyahoga River and the surrounding area are both the source of a great early R.E.M. tune and part of the Trump imperialistic showcase. “Cuyahoga” is on the Life’s Rich Pageant album and has an environmental bent with some of Bill Berry’s best recorded drumming. Cleveland is where Trump accepted the republican nomination for president.

But the river itself has more than a physical attachment to Trump; it has a strong metaphorical tie. Trump’s environmental policies and the irony that Trump received the nomination in a town that heavily supports democrats seem as baffling as his use of the word “shitholes.”

The Cuyahoga River is synonymous with Cleveland, Ohio, once a hub of American manufacturing. In 1969, the river actually caught on fire. That incident helped to fuel the very environmental movements that Trump’s current administration is trying to reverse.

cuyahoga

When most of the people who came to the US from oppressed countries that Trump calls “shitholes,” it was to seek a place to maybe call their own – a place to “swim” and “walk” safely and possibly take “pictures” of hope even if it meant working jobs that “skinned” their knees and physically wore them out. They did not mind bleeding on soil that was not originally theirs but for that matter was not ours either.

Certainly not Trump’s.

Yet, he wants to send them back with “souvenirs” that are branded with the Trump name.

“Take a picture here
Take a souvenir”

It really shows his true disconnect with reality: the present and the past.

At one brief time, the Cuyahoga was actually the western boundary for the United States in 1795. Being on one side of the river meant that you were not in America. Trump likes boundaries. But instead of sending someone across a river, he wants to send people who have been here for years across the seas and keep others from coming to our country.

It should not be lost on Trump that his own grandparents were immigrants wanting nothing more than to “bank a quarry” and “swim a river.” It also should not be lost on us that Trump probably has never “knee-skinned” anything in his life.

It is the hope of many that the courts will strike down Trump’s immigration mandates, that the press will continue to report what he says and does, and that others in power will hold him accountable.

But if we really want to preserve this land we need “to put our heads together and start a new” chapter of our “country up.”

The midterm elections of 2018 would be a great place to start. This “land is the land of ours” and it is the land of immigrants as well.

“Cuyahoga”

Let’s put our heads together and start a new country up
Our father’s father’s father tried, erased the parts he didn’t like
Let’s try to fill it in, bank the quarry river, swim
We knee-skinned it you and me, we knee-skinned that river red

This is where we walked
This is where we swam
Take a picture here
Take a souvenir

This land is the land of ours, this river runs red over it
We knee-skinned it you and me, we knee-skinned that river red
And we gathered up our friends, bank the quarry river, swim
We knee-skinned it you and me, underneath the river bed

This is where we walked
This is where we swam
Take a picture here
Take a souvenir

Cuyahoga
Cuyahoga, gone

Let’s put our heads together and start a new country up
Up underneath the river bed we’ll burn the river down

This is where they walked, swam
Hunted, danced and sang
Take a picture here
Take a souvenir

Cuyahoga
Cuyahoga, gone

Rewrite the book and rule the pages
Saving face, secured in faith
Bury, burn the waste behind you

This land is the land of ours, this river runs red over it
We are not your allies, we cannot defend

This is where they walked
This is where they swam
Take a picture here
Take a souvenir

Cuyahoga
Cuyahoga, gone
Cuyahoga
Cuyahoga, gone

One thought on ““This Land is the Land of Ours” – R.E.M.’s “Cuyahoga” and Donald’s Xenophobia

  1. Pingback: Politics, Imagery, Metaphor and R.E.M. | "There's time to teach"

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