In geopolitics, when one country challenges another, this is a phenomenon known as “war”.
It is only in the last few years that I have developed an appreciation for what is known as “Country Music”.
I used to hate it. My father listens to country music, and with some notable exceptions, I found it intolerable as a child. “Dad’s music” was the genre in my mind, back then.
It might go without saying, that my father considered my music “noise”.
As I understand it, these generational gaps in taste are not terribly unusual. It might also be a familiar phenomenon that as I grew older, my tastes changed. In particular, as I became disgusted with all that is pop culture, I looked for entertainment options which did not glorify drugs and promiscuity and crime and generally aim to participate in the destruction of civilization.
With, again, some notable exceptions, country music served me well here.
And Country music, as the name might seem to imply, is near universally patriotic. Among the most popular songs ever produced is Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American”. Country music is packed with cultural references that appeal to conservatives; guns, work, family, self reliance, community, honoring military service. Even in what has been dubbed as “Outlaw Country” there’s a respect for American institutions.
Take for example Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” in which, though he has “shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die” and is “stuck in Folsom prison” where “time keeps draggin’ on” he recognizes that “I know I had it coming, I know I can’t be free” and because of this, when he hears that whistle blowin’, he hangs his head and cries.
In Merle Haggard’s “Fightin’ Side of Me” he laments;
I hear people talkin’ bad,
About the way we have to live here in this country,
Harpin’ on the wars we fight,
An’ gripin’ ’bout the way things oughta be.
An’ I don’t mind ’em switchin’ sides,
An’ standin’ up for things they believe in.
When they’re runnin’ down my country, man,
They’re walkin’ on the fightin’ side of me.
Yeah, walkin’ on the fightin’ side of me.
Runnin’ down the way of life,
Our fightin’ men have fought and died to keep.
If you don’t love it, leave it:
Let this song I’m singin’ be a warnin’.
If you’re runnin’ down my country, man,
You’re walkin’ on the fightin’ side of me.
And Country music is in no way short on sadness. There’s the old joke “What happens when you play a country song backwards? The guy stops drinking and gets his wife back”.
But they don’t blame their country for their sadness. They are, on the contrary, very grateful to live in America, and are quite certain that whatever their woes today, they would be far worse had it not been for their good fortune to have been born in America, and for the service of military personnel who protect the freedoms they curse themselves for not taking advantage of. Lee Greenwood’s famous track provides a prominent example, wherein he says “If tomorrow all the things were gone, I’d worked for all my life, and I had to start again, with just my children and my wife. I’d that my lucky stars, to be living here today, cause the flag still stands for freedom, and they can’t take that away.”
So it was an interesting phenomenon to me, as a casual observer of this genre, the back to back releases of two songs which indicated people have just about had it with the state of affairs in American modernity.
First there was the much talked about “Try that in a small town” which was dubbed as racist violence by Left wing fanatics, because Jason Aldean questioned the virtue of robbing liquor stores and car jacking old ladies. But even here, Mr. Aldean grouped “Stomp on a flag and light it up” in with these violent criminal acts, indicating that his patriotic streak had not been diminished by the ubiquitousness of the scenarios he laments in the song.
Then came Oliver Anthony’s “Rich Men North of Richmond”. This song by a man described as an “Off Grid Farmer” was recorded and promoted by Radio West Virginia, and quickly shot to number 1 on iTunes and has been trending on Twitter for days. I myself have listened to it maybe a hundred times.
One rendition I listened to came as he played for a live audience in North Carolina, his first live show since becoming famous. One line stands out in the context of our theme today.
“Young men are putting themselves, six feet underground, because all this damn country does, is keep on kicking them down”.
In the live performance, he takes his hand off the guitar, points to the audience, they sing the line, enthusiastically, and he allows it to hang in the air for what seems like an eternity, before he finishes the song.
Not a boo, not a moan, not a single hint of disapproval from an audience near universally accustomed to their favorite artists praising America no matter how much they themselves are suffering. On the contrary, the cheers of the audience showed they were positively charged by the recognition that their government has turned against them. They shouted that line as if they had been waiting their whole lives to say it.
One imagines some of them, in fact, have been waiting their whole lives to say it, and now, they are hyper aware that they are not alone.
“Rich Men North of Richmond” likely marks one of the more important moments in our country’s history. What it signifies will of course depend in large part on who writes that history, and this will be determined by the victors of a war that rages quite independently of foreign factors, though they certainly play some role.
The most patriotic people in this country have just about had it, and there is no certainty about what that portends for the future. This is not a cost free unalloyed good. It may be described as necessary, in the vein of Howard Beale’s famous line in Network “First, you’ve got to get mad.” If people do decide “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore” then they are likely to change the current state of affairs.
But what comes next?
This is by no means certain. It’s not obviously good that the people who pay the taxes and fight the wars come to hold their government in contempt. This is not something that just gets fixed after the next election. It’s not even something that gets fixed with revolution. Far from it.
Most revolutions turn out very, very badly. Elections have what could charitably be described as mixed results in the United States.
Charles Murray, in his 2012 book titled “Coming Apart” warned of a “Cognitive Elite” becoming so disconnected from the rest of society that their culture had become foreign to the general public. He warned then that this could have quite dire consequences for the future of the country. And while one might question the cognitive status of the rich men North of Richmond, they certainly think themselves smarter than the rest of us, and this idea that they are fit to impose upon us all that they deem wise and just is born of that arrogance.
Some of the reaction to the Oliver Anthony phenomenon has only served to prove the point.
A notable example comes as a theme very familiar to conservatives. That the rich pay most of the taxes. Anthony’s claim that the Rich Men North of Richmond are responsible for the dollar being taxed to no end, was met with mockery by these folks who state in essence that poor people should stop whining about taxes since it is those rich men paying the bulk of them, has all the glibness of the sheriff of Nottingham, in the story of Robin Hood.
Telling poor people to stop whining about taxes is no way to get them on board with your project, and it might also be said, that what these rich men are paying for has not been working out for these poor folks, or even for people substantially better off. They don’t want it at any price. You could pay for all their meals and housing and transportation and they would still reject it. This Klaus Schwab idea that you will own nothing and be happy is not going to fly.
Mr. Anthony lives as an off grid farmer. He is so disgusted with the way things are doing that he doesn’t want to share an electrical outlet with the modern world, and he is only unique in his managing to pull this off. Many, many people are feeling precisely this way.
But most people cannot function like that, and a society all the less so. Not indefinitely. This is completely unsustainable.
Just as telling has been what some would describe as the far right response, but I would describe as a subversive effort within the far right. That response should give you some sympathy for conservatives who call you a fed when they think you’re a racist, and when I see these types I know I’m on the right track.
When I was posting about this on Telegram, out of the woodwork come people I’ve never seen before, saying that this guy should be naming racial minorities or standing up for convicted murderers, and that until he does that he doesn’t deserve our support.
Of course, a song about James Fields or the McMichaels family is terribly unlikely to be #1 on iTunes anytime soon, and one doubts this is lost on the people who insist that everybody who tries to do something good must first doom himself to failure.
All that and more, plus of course, your calls, which were abundant this evening, I am glad to say. This and every Monday on SurrealPolitiks.
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