The Trees is an ideal (and pragmatic) leftist’s song

I love the song “The Trees,” by Rush, on their “Hemispheres” album. It’s the first song of Rush’s catalog that I heard, even though I didn’t know the band was Rush at the time.

It’s an incredibly leftist song.  I wholly approve. I am a leftist at heart.

I’ve been asking people I know what “left” and “right” entail these days, out of simple interest. If you’re reading this, it might be worthwhile to consider what these terms mean, without doing any research whatsoever. I promise I’ll explain in a few paragraphs.

I’ve gotten a lot of fascinating answers, largely centered on “Democrat” and “Republican.” These are somewhat valid, in that Democrats tend to be more leftist and Republicans tend to be more rightists.

But consider: Communists are far left. Fascists are far right. Yet these two groups tend to advocate for the same economic policies. They’re both boogeymen, politically.

How does this work? How can fascists and Communists be on the same page but be described so differently on a political spectrum?


Left and Right aren’t about economic policy: they’re social. In the time of the French Revolution, the revolutionaries sat on the left of the gallery, while the monarchists sat on the right side of the gallery. The “leftists” were all about equality, a lack of social classes, whereas the monarchists were reinforcing the concept of social classes, as you can imagine with the concept of royalty being involved.

Leftists are confronted by social classes, while Rightists are comforted by the same.

The Democrats, by advocating for populism so strongly, see social striata (often defined by money) as being at least somewhat a negative thing. The Republicans accept the existence of social classes. Both parties have extremists that advocate either a destruction of everything associated with the old classist system (in the case of the Democrats) or the absolute enforcement and recognition of acceptable class striation (in the case of the Republicans).

I am a leftist. I’m not an extremist by any measure; I just take the Declaration of Independence seriously when it says “All are created equal,” with rights endowed innately for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Yet I’m also pragmatic: there are social classes. There’s no way to argue with the idea that some are born with silver spoons, and I’d be the last person on the face of the earth to suggest that someone born poor is unable to climb the social ladder. (Likewise, someone born rich can fall down the social ladder… like me, for example, in that I was born upper middle class and now I’m probably back at the middle class after having been lower-middle and perhaps lower class, period.)

So this started out with “The Trees,” and by golly, let’s cycle back around to it at last.

“The Trees” is the story of a forest, where maples are in conflict with oaks: 

The trouble with the maples,
And they’re quite convinced they’re right,
They say the oaks are just too greedy,
And they grab up all the light.
The oaks can’t help their feelings
If they like the way they’re made
And they wonder why the maples
Can’t be happy in their shade.

Rush, Hemispheres, Anthem Records, 1978

In the end, after some absolutely rocking music, the trees’ conflict is resolved:

So the maples formed a union
And demanded equal rights
‘The oaks are just too greedy
We will make them give us light’
Now there’s no more oak oppression
For they passed a noble law
And the trees are all kept equal
By hatchet,
And saw

Rush, Hemispheres, Anthem Records, 1978

I find this to be beautiful in expression. Equality at last! … wait. The end result of the extremist expression of leftist thought (as the maples demand) is that all are equal… in being reaped. Yet the song still manages to advocate for a sort of pragmatic leftism: the maples aren’t wrong for wanting more! They just went about it in such a way that the “equality” wasn’t all that desirable after all.

I find that pragmatism – and the desire for equality – to be something close to a Platonic ideal.

The Republicans just lost the Presidency for 2016.

Right now, it looks like Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee for President of the United States. This will have the effect of punting the Presidency straight into the Democratic Party, even if they nominate Hillary Clinton – who is, for better or for worse, one of the less likable candidates they’ve tried to offer in quite some time.

I think this is a pretty solid assertion, and it’s based on my observations of some of the data out there. I’m not good enough at this to be on, and they have far better research sources than I do, but I think my reasoning is pretty solid even so.

The way I see it is this: Trump is winning the Republican nomination with around 40% of the Republican primary votes. In caucuses, his numbers are generally close to that – he’s not winning a majority, he’s just getting better percentages than his opponents, for whatever reason.

The reasons make sense: with so many competitors, it’s easy to see how people split their non-Trump votes around, which allows his votes to coalesce around a man who is still an awful candidate.

Here’s the thing that kills his candidacy in the general election: most of the people who are not voting for him don’t see him as viable even as an alternative.

Consider this scenario: candidates A, B, and C are in the race. Let’s say each of them, for the sake of argument, has 33% of the voters in his or her camp. However, for candidate A’s voters, candidate B is an acceptable alternative… and for candidates B and C’s voters, they’d rather stick their childrens’ hands in active woodchippers than vote for candidate A. All of candidate B’s voters would prefer C to A, and all of candidate C’s voters would prefer B to A.

That’s close to what we see in the Republican party today: Rubio’s supporters are going to run to Kasich or Cruz, for the most part, with some deciding to settle for the “frontrunner.”

That doesn’t mean that Trump can’t win the nomination; he certainly can! After all, it’s not that every Rubio supporter will go to either Cruz or Kasich; many will choose “solidarity” over “ethics” or “sanity,” and Trump will get an even larger percentage of the Republican pie.

But in the general election? It doesn’t work.

Trump needs every Republican vote to even have a chance against Hillary or Bernie; he won’t get them. Too many Republicans have either ethics or memories.

With that “alternative” thinking – our discussion of candidates A, B, and C – not enough people, even Republicans, will see Trump as a viable alternative. They either won’t vote at all, will vote for a third party or write-in candidate, or will strike against their Republican brethren by voting for Hillary.

Add in the fact that he’s so polarizing – like Hillary herself – and his presence will motivate many Democrats to vote even if they wouldn’t have otherwise, and we’re looking at an electoral college domination that would blow Mondale out of the record books.

Mondale won one state against Ronald Reagan, for the worst electoral college loss (525-13) in the books in recent memory. Not, however, the worst electoral college loss ever – that looks to have been John Quincy Adams against James Monroe (231-1), although it’s worth noting that George Washington is considered to have been voted in unanimously – if we took the numbers from his time and projected them into the modern electoral college, he would have won every possible vote. Dude was a man.

It’s fully possible that Trump might change his tune after the nomination is settled; he might veer from his current brand of lunacy to gain some sort of “mass appeal.” That may even work for some people – because honestly, he’s run his campaign so far better than any such campaign I’ve ever seen.

But that’s a red herring. I mentioned that voters with ethics and/or memory wouldn’t be swayed, and they shouldn’t be. Trump can change what he says, but he can’t change what he’s said – and what he’s stood by saying.

It’s one thing to say “she has blood coming from her wherever” — but something else entirely to say it and not immediately see it as a brand. It says that the person who brings up that particular comment is a cretin, a cad, a person of low class no matter how much money he has. And that’s not the only thing like that that he’s said… never mind his other issues.

So for me, if I had been a likely Trump voter – and no, I never was one – I’d remember all of this stuff he’s spouted during this campaign, and factor in all of the other things he’s shown me through his life over the years, and I’d refuse to vote for him.

And that’s ignoring The Apprentice – I assume that was entertainment, where he was acting like a stupid boss for the purpose of creating theatre. I wouldn’t have been able to do it – I’d actually want to show my best at all times – but there’s apparently a market for such things.

I suppose it’s possible that enough voters could forget who Trump has been over his life and through this campaign – and maybe they’d actually elect this fool to the Presidency. I sure hope not… I want to think better of my fellow Americans.

But they could always change my mind.