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An Inaugural Poem

America is the greatest country in the world…
Or at least that’s what they tell me.


The greatest country?
Now, exactly what yardstick were you using just now?
Such a bold statement with such paltry evidence!
Sounds like the words of someone who hasn’t been anywhere,
Yet those who have lived, traveled and studied
Beyond these shores know better than that.

America. This is the home of the potholes,
Of the crumbling roads and falling bridges,
Of the levees made of duct tape, Lego bricks and popsicle sticks.
Children go to bed hungry in the land of plenty,
Because their parents weren’t smart enough to have been born rich,
And there are few jobs to be had, but plenty of prison beds to fill.

You see, I live in the land that values property rights over human rights,
Where people can’t afford to live and can’t afford to get ill,
And you’re out of luck if the plant closed,
And the sheriff is knocking on the door of your soon-to-be foreclosed life.

But we got your check if you’re a billionaire in need of a Wall Street bailout,
To maintain the lifestyle to which you are accustomed,
Complete with corporate jets and golden parachutes,
And foxhunting retreats in the English countryside.

And here’s some more money if you already have more money than you need,
Or to make more stuff that nobody wants to buy,
Or to start a war to jack some oil,
Or if you want to shoot some Native American, I mean Vietnamese,
I mean Iraqi children,
Or bomb some families in Gaza,
Oh my bad, I forgot all those people are “terrorists.”

America is the greatest country in the world…
Or at least that’s what they tell me.

Free market economics,
A dinosaur if ever there was one,
About to go the way of the Soviet Union,
And the Berlin Wall and Apartheid,
And the Edsel and the Pinto,
And the folks who brought you the Edsel and the Pinto.

A big failure, to be sure,
Bankrupt as the nation that swore by it,
Yet the system worked just as the manufacturer intended,
For the benefit of the few.
“The market, unfettered, can do no wrong,” they proclaimed,
And now in this big Ponzi scheme called American capitalism,
They have all of us yelling “We was robbed!”
Call it the free market, laissez-faire or supply-side economics,
Call it the Invisible Hand, or trickle down, or trickle on,
Or the ownership society,
Or just call it a hustle.

America is the greatest country in the world…
Or at least that’s what they tell me.

Now, we can’t go any further without mentioning Number Forty-Three,
A.k.a. The Decider,
A.k.a. George W. Palin,
The man who could dodge a flying shoe but will try to dodge history,
And rewrite history,
And will do so in vain.
The man who would make Nero proud,
As he fiddled a tune of indifference while NOLA drowned,
And read a children’s book during Armageddon,
On the day that New York burned.

But that’s all fine, don’t you worry,
Number Forty-Three is God’s President, we all know it’s true,
Taking his orders from the Good Lord Jesus Christ himself.
And America is God’s country, so we’re all set.
So step up Mr. Preacher Man, come feed at the trough,
Let’s get you some of this faith-based hush money.

America is the greatest country in the world…
Or at least that’s what they tell me.

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Never was I one to be proud of this or any other country,
As patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.
But I see a game changer here,
You’ve given me something to work with,
And this is as good a time as any to break old habits.
They always asked the Black man to clean up the mess,
But never was that mess the entire country,
Or the whole world for that matter.
Now, these are the things of which progress is made…

As for our adversaries,
Even a deck full of race cards wouldn’t work this time,
No longer enough Southerners for a good ol’ Southern strategy,
Or at least that type of Southerner,
The type that would protect the women and children from the boogeyman.

Yes, people are wising up, and America is browning up.
Race is but a social construct,
Skin-tone solidarity will get you but so far,
It didn’t get some people very far, so far,
And it even set them back a bit,
When they realized that being White and angry -
Angry at the gays, and at the immigrants,
At the Latinos, the Muslims, the Arabs -
Just isn’t enough to pay the bills.
And since we’re all in this together,
Might as well love the one you’re with.

America is the greatest country in the world…
Or at least that’s what they tell me.

In forty years we’ve gone from four little Black girls
Dead in a Birmingham church,
To two little Black girls living in the White House,
Getting dibs on Lincoln’s desk.
A little sister’s gotta study somewhere.
Now that’s some history right there,
And daddy’s gonna borrow Abe’s Bible for the big day.

Just a few generations separated they are
From bondage in South Carolina,
From the rice plantations of the Gullah low country.
Who would have thought!

But let us not forget what brought us to this place,
And the size of the mess before us.
We’ve had some bad times around here, to be sure,
And now we got some hope and the promise of change,
But it will get worse before it gets better,
You’d better believe it, my fellow prisoners.

So let us spill our cups for those who didn’t make it,
The 2,000 souls in New Orleans who drowned over a heckuva job,
And the 4,000 soldiers who died over foolishness and lies,
Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis,
Unwilling subjects of some neocon’s mad experiment,
And don’t forget the ones who were kidnapped, tortured and brutalized.

America, are you the greatest country in the world?
Well, now is the time to prove it to me.
Now is the time to put people ahead of balance sheets, bottom lines and profit statements.
Let’s make it real, in words and in deeds,
The way Dr. King said it should be.

David A. Love

David A. Love Editorial Board member, David A. Love, JD, is a lawyer and journalist based in Philadelphia, and a contributor to the Progressive Media Project, McClatchy-Tribune News Service, In These Times and Philadelphia Independent Media Center. He contributed to the book, States of Confinement: Policing, Detention, and Prisons (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). Love is a former Amnesty International UK spokesperson, organized the first national police brutality conference as a staff member with the Center for Constitutional Rights, and served as a law clerk to two Black federal judges. His blog is

This article first appeared in The Black Commentatorand is republished with permission.

Earlier articles by David: