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Oliver Anthony’s Hit Song Gives Voice to a Disaffected America

Newsweek – “When will we stop behaving in ways that make Trumpism inevitable?” asked columnist David Brooks in the New York Times earlier this month. The “we” in question is the “elite class” to which Brooks rather presumptuously claims to belong. This moment of apparent self-awareness evaporated within a week, as Brooks inflicted on his Times audience an article arguing that all of America’s ills spring from a lack of “maturity,” which he defines as “getting out of your own selfish point of view and developing the ability to absorb, understand and inhabit the views of others.”

One person whose views Brooks’ elites probably cannot absorb, understand, or inhabit is the overnight country music sensation Oliver Anthony (real name Christopher Anthony Lunsford), an off-the-grid Virgina farmer whose battles with addiction and mental health problems led him to write and perform songs that he records on his phone and posts to YouTube. As Brooks wasted his summer days navel-gazing, Anthony released the smash hit “Rich Men North of Richmond.”

Criticizing, in Virginian parlance, the movers and shakers who inhabit Washington D.C. and its Northern Virginia suburbs, Anthony’s song outdid even Jason Aldean‘s “Try That in Small Town,” an ode to rural America’s patriotism and law and order values which topped the charts just last month. “Rich Men North of Richmond” reached number one on iTunes and Spotify, and has been viewed nearly 30 million times on YouTube. Several of Anthony’s earlier songs have been pulled by proxy into the spotlight, and he has been offered a major record deal.

Conservative politicians and pundits have embraced “Rich Men North of Richmond” as an “anthem” and “battle cry” in our fractured body politic. In just over three minutes of guitar strumming, Anthony takes clever and indignant swipes at the administrative-managerial caste most Americans distrust and despise, touching on tax burdens, inflation, dehumanizing work culture, wage poverty, alcoholism, homelessness, deaths of despair, welfare abuses, obesity, the surveillance state, Big Tech, neglect of domestic industry, alleged corruption in law enforcement, and the nightmarish state of affairs experienced “in the new world” by many Americans, whom Anthony adopts as “people like me and people like you.”

As conservatives celebrate Anthony’s song, its targets north of Richmond are stunned by its insolence. For all their cant about diversity, equity, and inclusion, upwardly mobile Democrats who faithfully adhere to the party line are unaccustomed to being criticized by people they regard as their inferiors. They’ve been conditioned not to react to the rare provocations they do experience for fear of being labeled “insensitive,” “classist,” or “undignified.”

Unsurprisingly, few have articulated any cogent response to the song other than a handful of halting attempts to criticize Anthony’s artistry, charge him with unacceptable “fatphobia” over the song’s lines disparaging obesity, and suggest that his objections to welfare fraud are misplaced in light of their “superior” Washingtonian understanding of inequality. Some accommodationist conservatives who subsist within the swampy ecosystem north of Richmond have also chimed in to defend it, more or less telling Anthony to shut up, get a better job, and behave as his betters tell him, while unconvincingly lecturing readers that, in the words of National Review‘s Mark Antonio Wright, “Washington is not the cause of our national sickness.”

If you believe this Beltway prognosis, I have a Capitol Dome to sell you. Oliver Anthony has no reason to care what bow-tied pundits north of Richmond think of his song. Last week, he performed it in a free appearance at a local farmers market, where the crowd sang along with the dedicated accuracy of pop star super-fans. Before Anthony played, he spoke of his unexpected success and read Psalm 37, which tells us “The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them, but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming.” If there is any single explanation for the screaming success of “Rich Men North of Richmond,” that coming day is surely it.


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