Track of the Day: ‘Democracy’ by Leonard Cohen

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

From David, a reader in Oakland:

I hope it’s not too late to point out the perfect track for Inauguration Day. For so many reasons, it just has to be Leonard Cohen’s exhausted but hopeful “Democracy,” recorded 25 years ago [yesterday] and still inspiring—and, let us hope, prophetic.

Cohen died just a day before Donald Trump was elected president, so we’ll never know his reaction. But we can still glean wisdom and hope from his lyrics:

It’s coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It’s here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it’s here they got the spiritual thirst.
It’s here the family’s broken
and it’s here the lonely say
that the heart has got to open
in a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Shelagh Huston absorbed more of the lyrics in the days following Trump’s win:

After months of an election campaign that gave us the feel / that this ain’t exactly real / or it’s real, but it ain’t exactly there, and after years of a rising tide of the wars against disorder / the sirens night and day / the fires of the homeless / the ashes of the gay, Leonard Cohen prophesizes: Democracy is coming to the USA. Like so many of us, Cohen cared about the idea of America (I love the country) but was horrified and revolted by what’s been happening to it (but I can’t stand the scene). [...] At a time when the US is in more danger of foundering than ever before, Cohen’s words are the perfect anthem for these times: Sail on, sail on / oh mighty ship of State, we’re dreading this voyage, not knowing if we’ll we make it to the shores of need / past the reefs of greed / through the squalls of hate.

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