After its release in 1969, the song “Fortunate Son,” written by John Fogerty and sung by Creedence Clearwater Revival, quickly became an anthem of the protest movement against the Vietnam War. Today, it is a fixture in the rock-and-roll canon. If you can’t hear the chorus in your head either right now or when you read the next paragraph, that means your taste in radio listening never ventured beyond either NPR or Country-Western.
It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no millionaire’s son, no, no.
It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no fortunate one.
The song is in today’s news because it was played to introduce Donald Trump at one of his rallies, and the reporters cannot help but call out the irony. As should be extraordinarily obvious, Mr. Trump was and remains one of the “fortunate sons” that Fogerty meant to deride. Plenty of evidence suggests that, back in the day, young Donald avoided conscription because he and his wealthy father were able to exploit various loopholes, with the cooperation or tacit approval of the government.
Reporter David Weigel of the Washington Post tweeted that the playing of this song at a Trump rally was an entry for the “nobody listened to the lyrics” hall of fame.
Which got me thinking.
What if Mr. Weigel is wrong? What if whoever chose the song knew the lyrics very well, and completely understood how they applied to Donald Trump, and concluded that it was an ideal song to stoke up the fawning masses at a political rally? Moreover, what if that analysis proves absolutely correct? I didn’t read any report of the rally-attendees thinking that the musical selections were inappropriate.
Playing “Fortunate Son” in support of Donald Trump strikes me as illogical and counterproductive, but I am hardly the intended audience. I can attest to zero rapport with Trump supporters—meaning I don’t understand them, and I have a limited basis of communicating with them, and vice versa. Perhaps to these folk, the message that Trump is a privileged, egomaniacal a**h*le who has no sense of duty to country or democracy or to any purpose greater than his bloated self, and who has reached his station in life by insulting and exploiting and cheating pretty much everyone at any and all opportunities—well, perhaps that makes him all the more qualified for the magnanimous office that he magnanimously serves.
The three asterisks, I should mention, stand for s, s, and o.
We live in strange, absurd times. I have been trying to explain them.
Which brings me to the subject of evolution.
In the science textbooks that I have written and edited over the years, the theory of evolution is presented as it was proposed by Charles Darwin, give or take some modern modifications. We show how evolution is supported by a vast body of evidence collected from the fossil record, comparative anatomy, and quite strikingly, from studies of cell biology and DNA. We also present the mechanisms of evolution, which involve environmental changes that always select for certain traits and certain species at the expense of others, as well as criteria such as reproductive isolation and competition for limited resources. Human evolution is chronicled as a parade of various apish ancestors giving way to more civilized models.
What we don’t talk about is whether human evolution has ceased, and if not, what our future might be.
The story of the past 200 years is not merely that advances in technology and medicine have allowed the human population to increase about 8 times over—we’ll reach 8 billion in a few years—but that so many of us liberal philosophers actually think that all 8 billion of these lives have value. That everyone deserves to have food, clean water, shelter, and medical care—I think this is an astounding idea.
We liberals also believe in conserving natural resources, protecting wilderness areas and endangered species, and lest I forget, fighting our biggest existential threat, which is global climate change. As for the current pandemic, we believe strongly in taking whatever precautions are necessary for everyone’s safety, like wearing masks and avoiding rallies with motorcycle enthusiasts.
In other words, we want to keep everyone alive and healthy, and we want to ensure the quality of the lives of our descendants.
Or in more other words, we want to stop evolution in its tracks. Because evolution isn’t pretty. It generally involves a lot of death, including the slow and painful kind, and often on a large scale. Evolution also is famous for acting to the detriment of the currently-dominant species, and we all know who that is at the moment.
Now consider the Republicans, at least as led by Mr. Trump.
They oppose a whole slate of legislation and policies designed to protect the environment. They seem perfectly happy to have citizens live without the medical care that they can’t afford. Trump and his advisers have been quoted as wanting the Covid virus to “wash over” the land—meaning allow people to contract it and potentially die, but then, in theory, we’d be done with it.
They believe that global climate change is a great big hoax—nevermind the hurricanes in Florida and the wildfires in California and Oregon and the melting ice and disappearing glaciers.
The song for their rallies should be another Sixties tune: “Let’s Live for Today,” by the Grass Roots.
la la la la live for today
And don’t worry ’bout tomorrow, hey
This was the song the dinosaurs were singing just before the asteroid strike. The last dodo was singing it before some yahoo nabbed it, killed it, and hauled its carcass to the British Museum. Vince Vega was humming it to himself when he was sitting on the toilet, just before Butch shot him. The winds over Antarctica whistle this song while the melting ice caps drown confused penguins.
This is the song that encourages evolution.
So imagine, if you will, that evolution is not merely some mechanism of nature, but more of a force, like the shifting tectonic plates that inevitably cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and move Los Angeles ever closer to San Francisco.
Or maybe evolution isn’t just a force, but more like The Force. Something that plays with the mind and alters the consciousness and is strong within a select few, for either good or evil. If that’s the case, we’re living through an adaptation of Revenge of the Sith.
Somebody draw me a cartoon of Trump dolled up like Emperor Palpatine, trying various Jedi mind tricks to gin up support for slower mail or laxer gun laws or dispatching storm troopers to break up protesters.
If mastering unwanted evolution is the challenge of our time, then let’s start by electing Joe Biden in November. If we succeed, we might actually deserve to survive and prosper into the 22nd Century. Which is a wish I have for my two sons, and for their children as well, if they are so fortunate.