Multi-platinum recording artist and five-time-Grammy Award winner James Taylor spent the final days before the election in North Carolina, stumping for Hillary Clinton and a slate of down-ballot Democrats alongside President Barack Obama.
Taylor, who has campaigned for Democrats from George McGovern to Elizabeth Warren, shared his musings from the trail with Rolling Stone. The singer has a lot on his mind: the controversial House Bill 2, Republican voter suppression efforts in the state, the Supreme Court, the possible election of the first female president and the “all-hat, no-cattle cowboy” who stands in her way.
My father moved us down to North Carolina in the early Fifties. He was a progressive democrat in North Carolina, and his generation and the people that he worked with in the state government and in the university system made North Carolina an economic engine — a very progressive and forward-facing state and, basically, the envy of the region.
In the past 10 years, it’s sort of done an about-face. It has had a very reactionary, backwards-focused government, and it’s been very alarming to half of the state what the result has been. Most famously, this House Bill 2, which, clearly, is meant to discriminate against the gay and lesbian community, and the outright unconstitutional restrictions that have been placed on voter accessibility to the polls by minorities and by the poor. There’s a lot going on down here — and it is a key battleground state.
North Carolina is the quintessential purple state. It went for Obama in 2008, and then it went Republican in 2012. There’s a Republican statehouse here, and gerrymandering has made it so that, of the 13 seats that we send to the House of Representatives from North Carolina, only three of them are Democrats. It should be more like six or seven, but that’s gerrymandering. And Citizens United has, up until this election, meant we had two senators from the Republican party as well.
“It’s so baffling to me why people who feel this disenfranchised would choose as their champion this particular specimen.”
It’s so baffling to me why people who feel this disenfranchised would choose as their champion this particular specimen. It almost feels like an act of random and wanton destruction to vote for him. [My wife Kim and I] were in Palm Beach in Florida doing this event [for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Trump’s club, Mar-a-Lago], and Trump, between campaign stops, came back to Mar-a-Lago and walked through the place, and the immediate thing that came to my mind is this guy isn’t Hitler — this guy is Mussolini. This is a sort of a puffed-up, self-absorbed, all-hat-and-no-cattle cowboy. All style and no content.
[His candidacy] has been a boon to the comedy shows — it’s been a great source of delight for people making fun of it. Funny is funny, but this is not funny. This is the American experiment. This is the light of the world, whether or not we like it. People around the world are watching this thing, and they are absolutely aghast. They’re appalled at what we’re toying with here.
It’s such a clear choice between a qualified, serious, progressive public servant who wants to make the American dream accessible to as many people as possible. On one hand, you’ve got potentially the first woman president and it’s [past] time for that in the world. She is so clearly the competent and capable one here. I want to see a more inclusive representation in our government, and that means more women in government, too. It may be that government is one of those things that women just do better than men. It’s hard to say.
And on the other hand, you’ve got this world-class narcissist who is inept, corrupt, and opaque. We don’t know who the guy is. You don’t know if you can believe anything he ever says because he changes his mind so consistently. He’s more frequently dishonest than he is honest. I think that people have sort of a truth fatigue with this guy: it begins to matter less and less to his supporters whether what he says is a complete contradiction over what he said a week ago or not. He’ll do and say anything to get over on the rest of us, essentially. And [he is], I think, someone who is infatuated with his own power and celebrity.
We need someone who can exercise caution and could look at things in their complexity and understand them. And typically, what you get with Donald Trump is a simple answer to a complex question — we can fix a watch with a hammer; let’s go in there and hit it. The main thing is: I can’t believe we’re even considering him.
The thing that’s exceptional about this election is the stark difference between these two candidates. We’ve never had a clearer choice.
“I can’t believe we’re even considering him.”
The things that I worry about? The repeal of healthcare. I worry about the complete abandonment and reversal of any commitment to trying to deal with global warming. I worry that the government will become even more corrupt. That without any regulation or oversight in the government, the financial sector will cannibalize itself again and drive us into another ditch so that the economy goes south and the rest of the world economy with it.
I worry about what a disaster it was for Cheney and Bush to play around ineptly in Middle Eastern politics, to destabilize the entire region, and how we’re [still] trying to deal with that today. You think that Trump would hesitate to go to war? What war is, is failure. It’s an utter failure and breakdown of all other options. I don’t have any trust whatsoever that Donald Trump would hesitate to commit to another disastrous war.
And [I worry about] the Supreme Court. That’s really what the Republicans are most concerned about this election: maintaining that right-wing majority on the Supreme Court. And I believe the Supreme Court is going to be necessary to have real election reform in the country — to do away with gerrymandering and voter [suppression], we need a good, strong, liberal representation on the Supreme Court, progressive representation. That’s a big deal to me — the Supreme Court — along with health care, immigration, equal pay for equal work, [raising] the minimum wage and [not going to] war.
[My time here in North Carolina] is also very much about Roy Cooper and Debra Ross, who are running for, respectively, governor and U.S. senate for North Carolina, too. We need a democratic senator from North Carolina. It is entirely appropriate that we have one and I think that Deborah Ross is eminently qualified to represent the state in the senate. Some of the neoconservatives want to shrink [the federal government] down and drown it in the bathtub. Democrats believe that good government can do wonderful things in people’s lives, and that’s what I hear coming from Deborah Ross — that belief in really being able to improve things. I also would like to see another woman in the Senate — another competent, capable, qualified, impassioned, progressive woman in our government.
Taking back the Senate, which is a real possibility for us (although that letter from the head of the FBI to Speaker of the House was a campaign dirty trick of historic proportions), [is incredibly important]. It’s enough of a scandal that they won’t let President Obama, with a year in office, to choose another Supreme Court nominee. That to me is just absolute effrontery and unconstitutional, but the idea that, if they can hold the Senate, they intend to stonewall for four more years and leave the Supreme Court unfilled — that’s really alarming. So it’s really important that a Democrat wins this seat.
As told to Tessa Stuart