Leonard Cohen’s song, “Hallelujah,” has been parsed to death. Some say it’s a religious song, and others argue that it’s a secular piece, while millions of people posit that it contains both values.
But as a musician, I’m less interested in Cohen’s lyrics, than I am his ability to communicate basic ideas in the language of emotions, a prerequisite to developing original art. The success of any composition is dependent upon its power to evoke emotional response, and in that effort, many people are surprised to learn that talent does not equal creativity. Thousands of talented artists perform each day with famous orchestras, but very few of them convert their aptitudes into successful writing careers. Strong technical education and intense rehearsals develop cognitive skills but rational thought is an anathema to creativity because it comes from a different place. That is why so many famous musicians say their art is a gift, not a skill.
So, how does this argument relate to politics? Given the current political climate, it may prove decisive in the upcoming elections; it is certainly the underlying force that has given the upper hand to the minority party. So, please bear with me.
On a very basic level, Cohen’s song expressed a common frailty of the human experience…it begins with a person’s place of prominence, then introduces a fall from favor, followed by a period of rehabilitation and victory over defeat. The writer communicated the emotional aspect of that theme in an unusual way:
“,,,It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth,
the minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing “Hallelujah.”
Let me explain: the song was written in the key of C, which means the song was constructed from the notes of a C Major Scale:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
C D E F G A B C
And notice the numbers placed above each note. That is the most common way professional musicians communicate. “Play a three chord, or play your fifth.” In Cohen’s case, he said, “…the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, the major lift…” In the key of C, that represents a progression of F major, G major, A minor, and F major. And to understand the language of emotions, it helps to know that major chords express joy, minor chords sadness, diminished chords tension, 7th and suspended chords unresolved feelings, and so on.
So, Cohen simply wrote joy, joy, sadness, joy.
He used the following chords to play the phrase:
F major G major A minor F major
It goes like this: the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, the major lift
Creative people instinctively know how to translate their feelings into the language of emotions. That is the gift that sets them apart. It gives them the power to compose music that inspires people to stand-up and cheer, or to cry when a song moves them.
The Republicans understand that, the Democrats, not so much. For a moment, try to imagine how it feels to be a GOP voter. They are mostly older white people, workers who have little education and almost no knowledge of the internet; they are people who have learned to survive by following simple, rigid, and often religious teachings. And now that life is changing at an exponential rate, they feel threatened, scared and angry. And they are ready to fight to defend their way of life. When your back people into a corner, they will usually fight to the death.
Democrats on the other hand, are divided into two very disparate factions: the Blue Dog Dems insist on advancing pragmatic ideals, hoping to rebuild bipartisanship by appealing to rational thought. But the Republicans do not act in good faith, and so they can easily exploit the Democrats good-intentions for political gain.
Unfortunately, Democratic leaders can be extremely obtuse at times.
On the other hand, Progressive values invoke the same emotional responses that are driving their GOP counterparts, at least in one way: their efforts are based on meeting fundamental needs: feeding, clothing, housing, and educating their children. These are constituents who desperately want to meet financial obligations but they can barely hold their heads above water. And they feel threatened, scared, and angry. Too many times, they see their goals being derailed by ineffective Democratic leadership and they come away feeling hopeless. The Dems are good at organizing hearings, but they are abysmal at bringing the people they investigate to justice. And the members of the base are growing weary.
We did not elect Joe Biden and the current Democratic leaders to resurrect back-slapping-good-ol’-boy politics; we knocked on millions of doors and contributed what little money we had to give them the power to stop the madness that has overtaken our nation’s capitol, and we wanted them to remove the bad apples from the equation. When Biden announced Merrick Garland’s nomination for AG, many members of the base protested — and quite vociferously — that he was the wrong man for the job. He had a reputation for being too timid, a milquetoast who lacked the moral courage to get the job done.
And now, after nine months, we are still waiting desperately for him to take bold action — but that hope is rapidly fading.
Why is it so difficult for Democratic leaders to grasp the gravity of the crimes that we face? A man can be arrested for stealing a package of diapers, while a blatantly corrupt dictator-wanna-be is free to pursue another shot at the White House.
And it’s generating a lot of insecurity. We don’t feel safe. Thousands of competent, principled election workers have resigned out of fear for their lives and the lives of their family members. And when teachers received death threats from anti-vaxxers, Garland belatedly asked local law enforcement departments (many of them too compromised to care) to “look into the problem.” No strong leadership; no bold policies to put an end to the madness, just a tepid, ineffectual response to assuage public pressure.
And now, because Sinema and Manchin were emboldened by Biden’s plan to resurrect bipartisanship, his agenda has been taken hostage. No one in the Party’s leadership can move forward because they are unwilling to confront the corruption head on.
Consider what happened in the Facebook hearings. Frances Haugen laid out, not only the underlying corruption at Facebook, but she offered a path to reaching a solution. And I admired her clarity and simplicity because it resonated on a personal level.
She said, “I’m here today because i believe Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division, and weaken our Democracy. The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer, but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people.”
That is a very cogent and compelling argument. Now consider revising her words to expose the corruption within the Democratic Party:
“I’m here today because I believe Kyrsten Sinema’s and Joe Manchin’s positions strip away much needed protections from families and especially those of innocent children, stoke division within the Party, and weaken our Democracy. They understand that the solutions offered in the Build Back Better Act are critical to solving the unconscionable income inequality crisis that we face, and the provisions are popular with the American people, but they won’t come to the table in good-faith because they value the huge contributions they have received from corporations and lobbyists who oppose the program.”
I became a Democrat during JFK’s candidacy. He was inspiring and he knew how to build trust. But as much as I loved the man, if at some point during his presidency, he had made a TV appearance and said, “After considerable consideration, i have determined that my support for equality is dividing the American people, so as of today, I will no longer champion individual rights.” I would have rebelled.
No matter how much I trusted him, on a fundamental level, I would have resisted because my heart would have told me the new position was wrong. In other words, I would have trusted my emotions, rather than the pragmatism of his argument. And in essence, that is the same problem plaguing the Democrats. They are presenting so-called rational solutions that do not resonate on an emotional level with American voters. Too many times, they respond to crises with talking points, trying to misdirect attention from the real problems that complicate our lives, and we come away feeling betrayed — we instinctively feel that something is wrong.
Frances Haugen also offered this insight: “(Facebook)…is optimizing for content that gets engagement or reaction. But it’s own research is showing that content that is hateful, that is divisive, that is polarizing. It’s easier to inspire anger than it is to other emotions.”
The best way to counter that type of hate is to inspire people to rise to the occasion, but motivational policies inside the Democratic Party are in short supply.
Because too many of our leaders have been compromised by campaign and corporate donors, they are unwilling to address the crux of the problem we are facing. It would be much better if they had confronted Manchin and Sinema and said, “Your vote and your voices have been compromised by your willingness to accept ungodly amounts of money from entities that oppose the welfare of the American people. Return the money you have taken for personal benefit and help us meet the needs of needy Americans who are suffering undue harm because of our inaction. Unfortunately, Sinema and Manchin have no conscience, and they aren’t the only people inside the Democratic leadership who have been compromised by corporate money.
I’m not advocating that we act irrationally; the Republicans have cornered that market. But we’re losing the fight for the hearts and minds of the Democratic base. We need to talk to American voters in the language of emotions. We need to acknowledge, not only their pain, but we need to demonstrate our concern by taking bold steps to rebuild voter faith, while using less pragmatism. Too often, verbiage is designed to conceal corruption.
We can trust them to act in their own best interests, and they will, but only if they can discern the truth, and that means that we have to take immediate action and express our values in messages that match what they feel.
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