For the first time in two years Jason Isbell has a new song. He’s been featuring it during his summer tour dates, and I’ve only heard it twice — once on a now-deleted YouTube clip and the second time when I saw him in concert a few weeks ago in Oregon. It’s titled Overseas, and although I don’t remember the full context or story of the song, there is one line that has stuck in my brain like an ear worm…
It doesn’t seem so long ago/ We thought we could change their minds/ Stay here and fight it out/ That Love could be weaponized
It takes me back to the days and weeks after November 8, 2016 when I was convinced that at least some of those who had voted for him would snap out of the spell they seemed to be under. During the election they said it was about her.
“Lesser of two evils,” they told us, which made us believe that, well, at least they acknowledge he is evil and they’ll join us in the “resistance” once she is out of the way.
We were told by high minded “moderates” that his rhetoric wasn’t racist, only “racially tinged,” and were warned not to use the “r” word to describe his most fervent supporters. Because that is what made them embrace him, their being called that word, being looked down upon.
They didn’t join us, and the only people who ended up being surprised at this were people like me– white males who were groomed to think the best about them. Every other group laughed at us, or gave us the side “you can’t be that ignorant” eye once we finally realized the “lesser of two evil” groups\ would not be joining us.
Not only did they not join us, they ridiculed us. They went all in on all of what he had to offer.
The still pretended to be “fair minded,” presuming that we live in normal times when politics isn’t a zero sum game. This allows them to create the appearance of remaining above it all, calling “balls and strikes” as they see them.
I’m sorry. But when family separation and children in detention centers are used not simply as bad, inhumane policy, as was the case in the Obama administration, but also as the weaponization of hate, fear, and xenophobia, then politics BECOMES a zero sum game. You don’t get to say “Yeah, but my 401K sure is looking good” when infants are ripped from the arms of their parents as a method of deterrence for people fleeing violence, poverty, and oppression.
These are not “balls and strikes” days we are living in. The weaponization of fear and hate is always grounds for disqualification. One strike and you are out.
I think his greatest success has been in convincing the self-proclaimed “thoughtful” Republican/Conservatives that our resistance to the hate he foments is in the same vein as the delirium of those who opposed the last guy. As if marching in the streets for the rights of the oppressed and against misogyny, racism, and hatred is the same thing as posting a meme questioning where the first Black President was born, or that suggests his successful, beautiful black wife isn’t actually a woman– both long used racist tropes to dehumanize people of color. Of course they never spent near the amount of time calling out that delirium as they do our screaming for justice. Anyone who believes this is the same as that is simply looking for a reason (that they are hellbent on finding anyway) to align with the side that they claim to “not like too much either.”
But let’s stop pretending. We all know.
I’ve been told that shame won’t change their hearts and minds, and I am slowly coming around to believing that is true. Sadly, though, the cynic in me is starting to believe that nothing else I can do will change their hearts and minds either. Which makes sense, because the only thing that changed my mind was a slow, deliberate decision to let my old loyalties and prejudices die away, and a simultaneous choice to listen.
I wish love could be weaponized, but it can’t. If it could, it probably wouldn’t be love, (which is a good word to all the evangelicals who believe they can just “love on people” into salvation.) It acts far too slowly and in ways we don’t understand. I can’t love someone into believing that separating children from their parents (even under the guise of “safety”) is anything other than pure evil. But just because I can’t do that, doesn’t give me an excuse not to love, which is what I have to guard against.
I’m reminded of another Isbell lyric, from Hope, The High Road, my favorite of them all…
We’ll ride the ship down/Dumping buckets overboard/ There can’t be more of them than us/There can’t be more
I sometimes fear there are more of them than us, something my female and people of color friends know all too well. So maybe it’s not a declaration, but a lament, one that comes from the same guttural place as “How Long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” in Psalm 13.
We don’t know the answer, but we hope.
And in the meantime, we march. We get labeled with a “derangement syndrome” and get accused of blowing it all out of proportion, these kids in cages and all.
And we love, regardless of what or where it gets us.