Popular country song leads to confusion on the right

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After whipping themselves up in orgasmic levels of ecstasy, conservatives have tried to do a rapid U-turn of their embrace of YouTube sensation Oliver Anthony and his hit song, “Rich Men North of Richmond.”

The flip-flop comes after Anthony (real name Christopher Anthony Lunsford) derided Republican politicians, radio hosts, and conservative news outlets for brazenly adopting his song.

“It was funny seeing that presidential debate,” Anthony said of last week’s Republican contest. “I wrote that song about those people.”

The tune, which Anthony uploaded to YouTube earlier this month, had caught fire with conservative figures like Fox News host Sean Hannity, who described it as an authentic expression of working-class American life. Widely perceived as a conservative anthem, it also drew critiques from some on the left, who called the lyrics racist. For the record, Anthony categorized the song as apolitical.

The Farmville, Virginia native stated that he was frustrated by what he perceived as the manipulation of his music by both sides of the political spectrum. He resented right-wing politicians and pundits assuming he shared their politics and values after they incorrectly perceived as the song’s derision of excess spending and bloated government.

Simultaneously, he was angered and disappointed by some liberals trying to cancel him over a specific lyric about the “obese milkin’ welfare.” Such perceptions prompted folk singer Billy Bragg to create his own alternative version of the song, and gave Anthony a strong warning about what he saw as the singer “punching down.”

Understandably, it’s easy to perceive such language describing those on welfare as code works for Black people, Black women in particular. Such pernicious stereotypes aside, Anthony made it clear in no uncertain terms he was speaking in support of those who are disenfranchised and marginalized of all races and ethnic groups. Such a resounding clarification was reassuring to hear. For the record, the majority of welfare recipients are white.

Anthony’s unlikely hit is the latest in a notable surge in country music songs embraced by the conservative right that have catapulted in popularity, joining Jason Aldean’s controversial “Try That in a Small Town” and the equally polarizing “Last Night” by Morgan Wallen.

There is no doubt such songs deeply resonate in the psyche of many on the right. There is a long-brewing sentiment among lots of conservatives, mostly White, that they are victims being exploited, manipulated and harmed by so-called liberal elites. They are also under the misguided belief they and their communities are under siege by Black people and non-White immigrants.

These folks tend to be poor or on lower income. Since the Reagan years, these individuals have suffered drastic levels of economic and emotional instability and dysfunction. In a society that often equates whiteness with power and success, falling short and being unable to partake in such achievements undoubtedly magnifies the psychological pain and resentment of many members of this social demographic.

These are the men and women who have largely bought into the arrogant, brash, deceptive and perverse illusion that the dilemmas they are facing are not of their own making and are due to “those” people, whether their minority groups, the disabled, radical feminists, leftist Jews, or members of the LGBTQIA community. In the minds of many conservatives, its these groups that are preventing them from ascending the social ladder of upward mobility and onward toward pursuit of the American dream.

Anthony, on the contrary, has unapologetically informed them the economic and political quandaries they find themselves in are the result of corporate greed, complicit politicians, unchecked globalism, and other associated factors. The myth that dark-skinned, non-Christian people are a menace has largely been a perpetrated myth crafted by those in positions of power who desire to keep us fighting and pointing fingers at one another.

It’s commentary that’s difficult for many conservatives to hear. Will at least some right-wingers be able to digest the message of such crucial medicine in an effort to heal themselves of their current disease? That’s the million-dollar question that must be answered.

Copyright 2023 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate

Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.