Political Songs | Nuclear War – Sun Ra

The nuclear threat is as prominent now under trigger-happy Trump as it was when Sun Ra sang ‘It’s gonna blast you so high’ during the Reagan era.

Googling “How stupid is Trump?” one night was done in all seriousness, because the answer could mean the end of the world as we know it. And unlike the REM song, I don’t feel fine. In fact, I’m worried.

One Saturday afternoon, on 6 January last year, the “like, really smart” United States President Donald Trump felt the urge to tweet twice about his mental capacity:

Not everyone agrees with him, of course.

The late Professor William T Kelley, who taught marketing at the Wharton School of Business and Finance at the University of Pennsylvania for 31 years, said of Trump, who was an undergraduate student at Wharton for the latter two of his college years in the late 1960s: “Donald Trump was the dumbest goddamn student I ever had.”

Trump’s own White House staffers have been less than flattering about the president. Former secretary of state Rex Tillerson, who learnt he had been fired when Trump announced his replacement on Twitter in March 2018, once privately called his former boss a “fucking moron”. This, according to a report by online magazine Slate, was after the president made a sudden and arbitrary demand in 2017 to build thousands of unnecessary nuclear weapons.

His former economic adviser, Gary Cohn, said Trump was “dumb as shit”. Then White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said in November 2017 that Trump was “like an 11-year-old child”.

‘Incurable defect’

Columnist Steve Chapman wrote in the Chicago Tribune newspaper that Trump has “many serious flaws, including incorrigible dishonesty, rampant narcissism, contempt for women and a fashion sense that makes him think that hairstyle of his is flattering. But nothing compares to his most prominent, crippling and incurable defect: He’s dimmer than a 5-watt bulb.”

Chapman’s conclusion is the scariest part: “He’s just not bright enough to make connections between his conduct and its consequences.”

Academic and political analyst Robert Reich warned that despite his flaws, Trump is a great political con man: “Political conning is Trump’s genius. It’s this genius – when combined with his utter stupidity in every other dimension of his being – that poses the greatest danger to America and the world.”

Isn’t Reich exaggerating? Can’t we just laugh off Trump’s stupidity? He’s simply a cheatin’, tweetin’ “short-fingered vulgarian” as Spy magazine labelled him in the 1980s. Obviously not. The man is the president of one of the most powerful nations in the world.

Scarier though, those short fingers have access to the nuclear button. As Trump taunted North Korea’s Kim Jong-un in yet another tweet, not only is his “much bigger and more powerful” than Kim’s, but “my button works!”.

Wild card

Around Christmastime last year, in an enlightening article on the Vox news website titled “How a nuclear war kills you”, three main risks of nuclear war – plus one wild card – were cited: the US vs North Korea war, the war between the US and Russia, and the India vs Pakistan war. The wild card: Trump’s temperament.

“He is the greatest nuclear risk in the world, more than any person, any group, or any nation,” said Joe Cirincione in the article. Cirincione heads Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation that funds initiatives that help prevent the spread and use of nuclear weapons. “The policies he is pursuing are making most of our nuclear risks worse, and he is tearing down the global institutions that have reduced and restrained nuclear risks over the last few decades.”

Related article:

Academic Anne Harrington and analyst Cheryl Rofer wrote in Foreign Policythat Trump “is taking the United States back to an earlier time – one most people thought had been left behind. His aggressive boorishness, entitlement, and belief that he can do whatever he wants are qualities from an age when men’s control was assumed, and others stayed silent.

“And nowhere is his retrograde masculinity more dangerous than in his control of the nuclear button.”

Peter Wehner, who served under three Republican presidents and is now a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think-tank, went further. He recently wrote in The Atlantic magazine that we should pay attention to Trump’s tweets and other comments because “they are shafts of light that illuminate not only his damaged soul, but his disordered personality” and that his “condition is getting worse, not better”.

Wehner warns rather chillingly: “Donald Trump is not well, and as long as he is president, our nation is not safe.”

Adventurous music

American avant garde keyboardist Sun Ra (1914-1993) was a prolific musical genius, jazz innovator and Afrofuturist. Born Herman Sonny Blount in Birmingham, Alabama, he maintained that he was from Saturn, combining his adventurous music with spectacular shows. He and his large band, the Arkestra, used to wear “bizarre blends of African costumes and sci-fi space pilot kit”, as John Fordham described their outfits in his book, The Knowledge.

In 1982, he released an album called Nuclear War. The title track was released for a second time a year later, on A Fireside Chat with Lucifer. It was and still is – insofar as an out there, free jazzer like Sun Ra could have greatest hits – a hit.

It was released during a gloomy time, not long after nuclear hawk and then new US president Ronald Reagan had unveiled a plan for a major, strategic nuclear modernisation programme to add thousands of additional warheads and a variety of new delivery systems to the US arsenal.

With the potential of nuclear war in the zeitgeist, having the wise Sun Ra doing such a song wasn’t a surprise. It was more the almost humorous tone that amazed but simultaneously hooked fans. Dark times call for dark humour, and even strong language.

Nuclear War takes off with a medium tempo, bluesy, funky piano groove, then a deadpan Sun Ra opening with “Nuclear war…”, with the Arkestra responding zombie-like, “Yeah.”

Sun Ra goes:

It’s a motherfucka
Don’t you know
They talkin’ about
Nuclear war

You can hear the mirth in their voices, when they retort with another “Yeah.”

Sun Ra continues sardonically, a grin in his voice:

If they push that button
If they push that button
It’s gonna blast you so high
Up in the sky

You can kiss yo’ ass
Goodbye ass

It’s a motherfucka
Don’t you know?!
It’s a motherfucka
Don’t you know?!

If they push that button
If they push that button
If they push it…
You can kiss yo’ ass goodbye

They all manage a straight face throughout the nearly eight minutes, in a song that’s still relevant today. Heaven forbid he does, but if Trump ever pushes that button, we should remember to sing along: “Goodbye ass…”

If you want to republish this article please read our guidelines.