We all have a breaking point. For a sizeable amount of people in the US that was November 8, 2016, when Donald Trump was elected President of the country known as the land of the free. For Brandon Flowers, his descent to furious disillusionment started years before Trump had launched his presidential campaign. The mass shooting at an elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, in which 20 children and six adults were killed, was the first spark to ignite the songwriting part of the frontman’s brain.
From there, each headline about more mass shootings, police brutality, and racial injustices across America fanned the slow burn into a raging wildfire. The era of the Trump administration has given him plenty of instances to fuel the flames. There was the immigration ban the oversized, power-mad toddler tried to implement in the first days after his inauguration. Then there were the hundreds of the children who were separated from their families while trying to find refuge in America. Throughout those events and others, Trump’s beloved border wall shutting out Mexico has been a constant controversial conversation.
On The Killers’ last album ‘Wonderful Wonderful’, they dipped a toe into the political commentary pool with oblique references to fake news and grubby senators after years of refusing to be drawn on their beliefs. “I feel like a broken record, but we’re neutral,” Brandon told the Guardian in 2012, clearly fed up of journalists trying to work out where his allegiances lay. “We’ve never really embraced one side or the other, or used our success to really preach like that.” ‘Land Of The Free’, “mentally assembled” over six years and piece-by-piece with each new tragedy, finds the band doing away with caution, diving headfirst into the deep end and making their feelings crystal clear.
Brandon has made capturing a certain spirit and passion for blue-collar America his calling card, like a 21st century Nevadan Springsteen. It’s still present here, but with a twist – while you can still feel his love for his country and its everyday people, he’s not having what a certain orange-faced walking trash fire is doing to it or those trying to make a better life.
The US has always stood for freedom in the minds of people overseas, be that Mexico, the Middle East, or the UK. It was a country synonymous with opportunity and making dreams come true. The Statue Of Liberty, featured on the ‘Land Of The Free’’s artwork, was the ambassador for those ideals and a welcome sign to those arriving in the States via New York’s docks.
— The Killers (@thekillers) January 13, 2019
But all that has changed, as Brandon points out in verses about gun control and racial prejudice. In the latter, he grapples with his own white privilege – something you’re confronted with on a daily basis in America. “When I go out in my car, I don’t think twice,” he sings, “But if you’re the wrong colour skin/You grow up looking over both your shoulders.”
The Killers are far from the first people to expose this idea but their point is this: the land of the free is nothing more than a cruel joke, for both trying to get to it and those that have lived their whole lives there. It’s not the only thing they have in common, as Brandon notes. Those persecuted by Trump are “people who just want the same things we do,” not terrorists or job thieves, as they’re often painted.
The song couldn’t arrive at a more pertinent time – right now the US government is in the middle of its longest shutdown in history, all because Trump can’t get the money he wants to finish building his pet project, The Wall. His inhumane hatred is so egregiously out of control that he’s been going back and forth over declaring a state of national emergency just so he can get his hands on the cash. Because of the shutdown, federal employees are working without pay or have been forced to find other work until normalcy resumes, effectively trapping them in prisons of financial struggle because their President can’t deal with not getting his own way.
Shortly after ‘Land Of The Free’ was released, the band shared a Spike Lee-directed video featuring footage of people trying to cross the US-Mexico border. It starts hopeful – full of smiling faces – and ends with upsetting scenes of crowds fleeing attacks of tear gas and police in riot gear. Coupled with the rousing, choir-backed strains of the Las Vegas group, it’s a powerful reminder that even those who don’t want to be defined by their politics need to stand up for humanity. The Killers have realised that and they’re not messing about in their first move.