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The rise of right-wing anthems and the battle for divided America’s soul

Oliver Anthony’s Rich Men North of Richmond highlights issues found at the very heart of the nation

Country singer Oliver Anthony’s Rich Men North of Richmond created history when it became an overnight viral hit and stormed to No 1 in the Billboard Hot 100.. Photo: Mike Caudill/Billboard/Getty

These are the lyrics of a song that has kept Taylor Swift, Dua Lipa and even Nicki Minaj’s Barbie World from the top of the music tree. It is called Rich Men North of Richmond and it’s important to quote them in full:

Well, I’ve been selling my soul, Working all day. Overtime hours, For bullshit pay. So I can sit out here, And waste my life away. Drag back home, And drown my troubles away.

It’s a damn shame, What the world’s gotten to. For people like me, And people like you. Wish I could just wake up, And it not be true. But it is, Oh, it is.

Livin’ in the new world, With an old soul. These rich men north of Richmond. Lord, knows they all, Just wanna have total control. Wanna know what you think, Wanna know what you do. And they don’t think you know, But I know that you do.

“‘Cause your dollar ain’t shit, And it’s taxed to no end. ‘Cause of rich men, North of Richmond.”

Fox News host Laura Ingraham helped make the song a hit by touting it on her show as the authentic voice of the working class. It was name-checked at the top of the GOP debate.

Smart move, because it not only confirmed it as the current credentials of the white male members of the US working class, but anointed it as the dirge du jour of that demographic in a nation rapidly looking unhinged.

With a plonking guitar and a bushy red beard, this country singer named Oliver Anthony stormed, almost overnight, to No 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. He is the first artist in any musical genre to do this without any previous chart history.

First uploaded on YouTube at the beginning of August, the song is reported to have received more than

5 million views in its first three days. Anthony, whose previous tracks were self-recorded on his mobile, has now recorded what many call an anthem. With his video’s backwoods setting and dogs in full view, he is said to have prayed before he uploaded his song.

Here are the lyrics from another big summer hit, this one from established country music star, Jason Aldean:

Got a gun that my granddad gave me, They say one day they’re gonna round up. Well, that shit might fly in the city, good luck.

Try that in a small town, See how far ya make it down the road. Around here, we take care of our own.

You cross that line, it won’t take long, For you to find out, I recommend you don’t. Try that in a small town.”

The “Richmond” in Oliver’s song of course refers to Richmond, Virginia, the old capital of the Confederacy, just across the Potomac from Washington DC. You can take the rest of the meaning from there.

Aldean’s song, with its implicit threat, has been called a lynching anthem after it was revealed that its accompanying video was shot outside a courthouse in Tennessee where, in 1927, an 18-year-old black man was attacked by a mob and hanged after he was falsely accused of attacking a white girl.

Aldean has vehemently pushed back against any accusation of implied racist violence. He wrote this recently on social media: “In the past 24 hours I have been accused of releasing a pro-lynching song… These references are not only meritless, but dangerous.

“Try That in a Small Town, for me, refers to the feeling of a community that I had growing up, where we took care of our neighbours, regardless of differences of background or belief. Because they were our neighbours, and that was above any differences.

“My political views have never been something I’ve hidden from, and I know that a lot of us in this country don’t agree on how we get back to a sense of normalcy where we go at least a day without a headline that keeps us up at night. But the desire for it to – that’s what this song is about.”

So that’s clear. Oh, but there is a picture of Aldean in blackface taken at Halloween in 2015, when he went to a party dressed as the New Orleans-born rapper Lil Wayne. A picture like that might just add extra weight to the accusations that his song is racist and an urban vs rural anthem where “urban” and “rural” stand in for black and white.

When considering what is powering the anti-Biden drive on the right, just remember this: if the old guy drops, the president of the United States will be his vice president: a black woman. Black. Woman. The two scariest words for the MAGA branch of what used to be called the Republican Party.

Now you can understand why the Dems have kept Harris relatively mothballed. And also, why Joe will keep her on the ticket.

She is one of his reasons for staying on the job. Like her or loathe her, Harris represents the demographic change that MAGA is railing against.

Part of MAGA, part of its foundation and Trump’s appeal, is the fear that not only white people will be “replaced”, but that men will be, too.

The groups Blacks For Trump and Black Voters For Trump are mainly male, as are the Hispanic and other voters of colour who answer his call to “fight, fight like hell”.

The horrible irony of this is that Don the Con has no time for either working-class whites, Southerners, or people of colour. He once called the family of his second wife, born in the South, “dumb”, a New York City all-in-one of how many Northerners feel about those “down South”, who some call “hicks” and “crackers”.

But working-class whites love him.

His casino, the one that went bust (“how can you lose money on a casino?” Chris Christie cried), left a lot of white working-class men stiffed – like the ones who built the place.

During his 2016 campaign, I saw Trump get handed a hat by one of his adoring fans – one they had specially decorated for him. He inspected it, then wiped his hands. “I am your…” , he tells these people. He is their “vengeance”, their “retribution”.

It was Trump who was responsible for the black Georgia election worker, Ruby Freeman, asking the January 6 Committee during her testimony:

“Do you know what it’s like to have the president of the United States target you? There is nowhere that I feel safe”.

Pundits have called the United States as being, the one that exists now, in a “hyperpolarised moment”.

But where we are now is where Joe Biden said we were when he announced that he was entering the race. It is a battle “for the soul of America.”

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