April 13, 2021
It’s easy to laugh at hardcore patriots misunderstanding Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA, but such appropriation is increasingly widespread – and dangerously twisting the truth
Rockin in the free world? Inside the rightwing takeover of protest music
“Did you know that Born in the USA is actually an anti-Vietnam war anthem?” Since Donald Trump embraced the 1984 Bruce Springsteen song during rallies, the lyrics have prompted so much explanation it now borders on cliche. Yet it’s no less unsettling for it, becoming a prime example of a startlingly widespread trend for the right wing to co-opt music about struggle and progress.
President Ronald Reagan made the first attempt to gloss over the context of the song’s ironically upbeat chorus after the release of the Born in the USA album. Reagan name-checked Springsteen during a New Jersey rally in an attempt to connect the musician to a “message of hope” for America. Springsteen’s opposition to its use didn’t affect the fervour for the song from Trump and his supporters. As Barack Obama noted in an episode of his podcast series with Springsteen this month: “It ended up being appropriated as this iconic, patriotic song. Even though that was not necessarily your intention.”
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