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Bruce Springsteen: Trump is ‘deeply damaged at his core’

Bruce Springsteen performs at the New York Comedy Festival on Nov. 5. (Brian Ach/Getty Images for Bob Woodruff Foundation)
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There’s a moment in his Broadway show when Bruce Springsteen reflects on the sacred nature of democracy.

Before singing the opening lines of “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” his 1995 folk anthem inspired by John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” and Woody Guthrie, Springsteen, wearing a black T-shirt and dark jeans on a midtown Manhattan stage, tries to make sense of the cultural and partisan shift that’s happening in the United States.

“These are times when we’ve also seen folks marching, and in the highest offices of our land, who want to speak to our darkest angels, who want to call up the ugliest and most divisive ghosts of America’s past,” he says to sold-out crowds of 975 during performances of “Springsteen on Broadway” at the Walter Kerr Theatre. “And they want to destroy the idea of an America for all. That’s their intention.”

He’s now revealed in a new interview, unsurprisingly, that “they” is just one person: President Trump.

“[Trump] has no interest in uniting the country, really, and actually has an interest in doing the opposite and dividing us, which he does on an almost daily basis,” Springsteen told Esquire magazine. “So that’s simply a crime against humanity, as far as I’m concerned. It’s an awful, awful message to send out into the world if you’re in that job and in that position. It’s just an ugly, awful message.”

He added, “It’s a scary moment for any conscientious American, I think.”

Ahead of the release of an album and Netflix special from his Tony Award-winning Broadway show, Springsteen opened up in a personal profile to Esquire on Tuesday, in which he again accused a “deeply damaged” and “dangerous” Trump of stoking the politics of fear, while also candidly discussing how he’s wrestled with his own mental health.

At one point, Michael Hainey, the magazine’s executive director of editorial, told Springsteen that the rocker made him reconsider how “The Ties That Bind,” the opening track to his 1980 album “The River,” was not just a love story but more “about the DNA family ties you can’t escape.” Springsteen pointed to the president as an example of what happens when someone abandons the bonds of family, community and fellow citizens.

“You can’t forsake those things. It’ll rot your core at the end of the day,” Springsteen said. “If you want to see someone who’s — look at Trump. He has forsaken a lot of these things, and it’s affected him. He’s deeply damaged at his core.”

Springsteen added: “That’s why he’s dangerous. Anyone in that position who doesn’t deeply feel those ties that bind is a dangerous man, and it’s very pitiful.”

Review: No doubt about it. Bruce Springsteen belongs on Broadway.

The singer, who has long given voice to unheard and disenfranchised populations, has called Trump everything from a “moron” to a “tragedy for our democracy” to a “con man.” Shortly before the 2017 inauguration, Springsteen, a Democrat and supporter of Hillary Clinton in 2016, told Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast that his goal was to play his “very, very small part” in making sure the nation holds on to its morals during Trump’s presidency. In June, he broke from the script of his Broadway show to condemn the “inhumane” treatment of thousands of children separated from their families at the border, the Guardian reported. He never mentioned Trump, or any of his administration officials, by name, only referring to them as “senior people in government."

Springsteen said that while he thinks the country will survive the Trump administration, he’s worried about whether the next president will be able to repair the political divide.

“The founding fathers were pretty good at confronting their fears and the fears of the country,” Springsteen said. “And it’s the old cliche where geniuses built the system so an idiot could run it. We are completely testing that theory at this very moment.

"I do believe we’ll survive Trump. But I don’t know if I see a unifying figure on the horizon. That worries me. Because the partisanship and the country being split down the middle is something that’s gravely dangerous.”

The Esquire interview also shed light on Springsteen’s fight with mental health. He talked about how his father’s diagnosis as a paranoid schizophrenic gave him not just new context to his childhood but also a new fear.

“I have come close enough to [mental illness] where I know I am not completely well myself,” he said. “I’ve had to deal with a lot of it over the years, and I’m on a variety of medications that keep me on an even keel; otherwise I can swing rather dramatically and . . . just . . . the wheels can come off a little bit. So we have to watch, in our family. I have to watch my kids, and I’ve been lucky there. It ran in my family going way before my dad.”

The success of “Springsteen on Broadway,” a concert play based on his 2016 autobiography, “Born to Run,” helped fuel a record-high season on Broadway. As the top-grossing new production of the 2017-2018 season, the show has brought in more than $106 million since debuting in October 2017, Forbes reported. At an average ticket price of $511, the show has commanded the highest average price in Broadway history, according to Forbes. Barring any announced extension, the show is scheduled to conclude Dec. 15, sandwiched between the release of an album from the show on Dec. 14 and the Netflix special on Dec. 16.

In his autobiography, Springsteen wrote of a period in America where dread was in the air. He wrote of the nation in a time “that the moral high ground had been swept out from underneath us, that the dream we had of ourselves had somehow been tainted and the future would forever be uninsured.”

He was writing about 1978, not 2018. But is the United States better off today?

“I don’t think it’s better,” Springsteen said.

So, Hainey asked, is it worse today than 40 years ago?

“Well, I guess 40 years-plus would make it worse. And I do feel that people feel under siege, and sometimes for reasons that I don’t agree with and that are unfortunate. Like I say, whether it’s the changing face of the nation or . . . I think those people legitimately feel under siege. Their way of life is somehow threatened — is existentially threatened.”

He continued: “And maybe that explains Trump and maybe it doesn’t, but . . . that’s always been a part of the American story. It continues to be a part of it today.”

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