By Sean Carroll | July 4, 2008 10:10 am

Happy Independence Day!

Leonard Cohen

It’s coming through a hole in the air,
from those nights in Tiananmen Square.
It’s coming from the feel
that this ain’t exactly real,
or it’s real, but it ain’t exactly there.
From the wars against disorder,
from the sirens night and day,
from the fires of the homeless,
from the ashes of the gay:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.
It’s coming through a crack in the wall;
on a visionary flood of alcohol;
from the staggering account
of the Sermon on the Mount
which I don’t pretend to understand at all.
It’s coming from the silence
on the dock of the bay,
from the brave, the bold, the battered
heart of Chevrolet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It’s coming from the sorrow in the street,
the holy places where the races meet;
from the homicidal bitchin’
that goes down in every kitchen
to determine who will serve and who will eat.
From the wells of disappointment
where the women kneel to pray
for the grace of God in the desert here
and the desert far away:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Sail on, sail on
O mighty Ship of State!
To the Shores of Need
Past the Reefs of Greed
Through the Squalls of Hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on.

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.

It’s coming from the women and the men.
O baby, we’ll be making love again.
We’ll be going down so deep
the river’s going to weep,
and the mountain’s going to shout Amen!
It’s coming like the tidal flood
beneath the lunar sway,
imperial, mysterious,
in amorous array:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Sail on, sail on …

I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can’t stand the scene.
And I’m neither left or right
I’m just staying home tonight,
getting lost in that hopeless little screen.
But I’m stubborn as those garbage bags
that Time cannot decay,
I’m junk but I’m still holding up
this little wild bouquet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

  • Per

    Funny thing that the – democracy is coming to the U.S.A – part sound EXACTLY as – democracy is coming to the US aid –


  • Frank Oswalt

    I love that song. Let’s hope he’s right — democracy has been a long time coming…

  • Neil B.

    It is interesting and ironic that despite the interest of “neocons” in “spreading democracy,” the hard-core libertarian/conservative/Objectivist types deride democracy as “mob rule.” The Ayn-al retentive Neal Boortz and the like minded say, (now often not directly acknowledging her as inspiration), that “Democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what’s for dinner.” They also like to say, “The USA is a Republic, not a Democracy.” The latter statement is false because “democracy” is not defined as “direct democracy” which is un-filtered by constitutions, legislatures etc., or both. Well, part of the reason we need a democracy is exactly about what the mob-rule haters reference: because of the power of property owners (and where does the “original justification” of that come from, and why not limited like that of government?), we need democracy so two sheep and a wolf can keep the wolf from eating the sheep on his own.

    Yes, we are a Republic, and a Democracy too – a “representative democracy” which is a sub-class, not like “infrared.” (Conservatives often have trouble with combined categories, multiple causation etc. That is from my experience, not a “prejudice.”) I think the main appeal of the Republic over Democracy meme is the boost it gives the favored Party.

    In any case, consider the irony of the Bush Admin/neocons wanting to spread democracy in the Middle East (really the near East) but being served results such as Hamas winning in Palestinian areas, Shiite religious parties in Iraq (now social freedoms are less than under Sadaam, bad as he was.) Worse, Coalition forces are stretched so thin from Iraq that we can’t keep the lid down in Afghanistan, and are thus less safe in the long term.

  • Cusp

    When I was a postdoc in the US I was asked a couple of weird questions by US grad students –

    The first was “Do you celebrate the 4th of July in Britain?” and the other was “Do you have trains in Britain?” –

    Perhaps a little history education would help in the understanding of independence day (which we did learn about in school in the UK).

  • David

    @4 – To play the devil’s advocate, while anyone should recognize that the British rail system is vastly superior to anything the US has to offer, the first question – whether the 4th of July is celebrated in Britain – isn’t quite as stupid as it sounds at first. After all, on the 4th of July, the USA commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Independence from whom, again?
    Perhaps the British might turn it around and decide that the breakup was of mutual benefit, worth celebrating on both sides of the pond and – perhaps, in light of how cozy Britain’s foreign and economic policy has been to the USA’s neocons in recent years – up for renewal.

  • Mike M

    When I was a postdoc in the US I was asked a couple of weird questions by US grad students –

    The first was “Do you celebrate the 4th of July in Britain?”

    When in a similar situation, I used to amuse myself by trying to convince the questioner that we have a big “we got rid of the yanks” party on July 4th.

  • Proteus

    Jeez, Cusp, I hope they weren’t physics grad students! Although we should doubly hope that they weren’t social studies students either. Most likely is that they are our future overlords, and you would do well to refrain from criticizing/criticising them.

    I don’t personally “find” USAmericans to “be” more ignorant or “closed minded” than “outerworlders”. It is a simple “fact” that with our larger brains, that “we” needn’t “expend” as much “energy” educating ourselves about “stuff”. Any”how”, polls of the sort that demonstrate “3/5 of USAers can’t tell up from down”, while sometimes in “contrast” with “daily experience”, are a “metric” which compares more or less with “0.6 UKers fail to distinguish port and starboard”.

  • Cusp

    > Jeez, Cusp, I hope they weren’t physics grad students!

    Alas, they were (well, they were astro students :)

    Even more bizzarely, when in Canada, the Canadian astro grads tried to convince me that
    the canadians had invented the telephone and they were the first people to fly the atlantic.

  • Barry

    “It is interesting and ironic that despite the interest of “neocons” in “spreading democracy…”

    IMHO, their interest in spreading democracy is at best a step or two above Stalin’s interest. ‘Spreading democracy across the Middle East’ was just a nice coat of paint on a proposed drastic imperial expansion.

  • Farhat

    I have never understood why democracy is so superior beyond the fact that at least youget to have a change of power every now and then. Would you decide how to do a surgery by democracy? How to build a bridge? Which scientific theory to use? Then why does it become so wonderful when it comes to ruling people? Especially given that democracy will often result in people electing leaders like George Bush not once but twice.

  • JCF


  • andy.s

    I don’t think democracy produces superior government. It’s just that, unless you believe in the divine right of kings, or something, government must rule with the consent of the governed. Anything else is some form of tyranny.

    Or as my buddy Dennis used to say:

    Strange women lyin’ in ponds, distributin’ swords is no basis for a system of government! Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony!



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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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