Oliver Anthony’s ‘Rich Men North of Richmond’ gives authentic voice to populist fury

25
2066

By CHARLES LIPSON | REAL CLEAR WIRE

Oliver Anthony’s beautiful, angry song about the people who run roughshod over ordinary Americans and seek to control their lives is the clearest expression of populism since Donald Trump used his own voice to reshape the Republican Party.

Although the title refers to “rich men” and makes a great rhyme, it is also a screed against control by unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats, who live in Washington and its wealthy Northern Virginia and Maryland suburbs. “They all just want to have total control.” It is a powerful hymn to the forgotten, put-upon working man, sung with a full-throated, gravelly voice and accompanied solely by Anthony’s acoustic, resonator guitar.

The lyrics are as moving and authentic as Anthony’s voice. There’s a reason his song has become the most downloaded one on the Internet.

Whatever you think about populism, left or right, the lyrics are worth paying attention to. In those three minutes, you’ll learn more about the anti-Washington grievances than in hours of reading erudite analysis by journalists who visited flyover country from their homes in Georgetown, Cambridge, and newly fashionable Brooklyn.

The heart of Anthony’s lament is this:

These rich men north of Richmond

Lord knows they all just want to 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

It’s a battle cry for people who want to resist the control of big money and big government but know they are losing the fight. They resent being investigated by the FBI as potential terrorists when they speak out at school board meetings or affiliate with a traditional branch of the Catholic Church. They see a government eager to prosecute political candidates from one party but not the other. They see violent street riots go unprosecuted and the southern border left open in violation of the law, fairness, and public safety. They see their children shut out of public schools for over a year by teachers unions and so-called experts with more power than evidence.

Their populist cry stretches back to Andrew Jackson and often veers into extremism and attacks on weak, marginal communities, as well as the rich. That’s a legitimate fear, rooted in historical experience of attacks on blacks, Jews, and immigrants.

Anthony’s song has no touch of that nasty message. But you can bet that he will soon be accused of xenophobia, racism, and all the rest of it, now that the song is popular. The people who will dump that sludge at the New York Times and on cable channels are the same people Anthony is targeting. They will use their megaphones to damn him.

It’s impossible to understand the popularity of “Rich Men North of Richmond” without understanding the widely shared grievances behind it. Anthony voices one of them as, “I wish politicians would look out for miners, and not just minors on an island somewhere.” You don’t have to love coal-fired electric power plants to have sympathy for the people who have lost their jobs, their hope, and their future.

Hillary Clinton bluntly expressed the contempt Anthony rails against when she said (in 2016), “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” She devoted a whole chapter of her memoir to regretting she had said it.

Joe Biden didn’t learn Hillary’s lesson. He spoke about coal miners’ future in December 2019 when he visited the mining town of Derry, New Hampshire. He acknowledged the tough times they faced and offered a piece of unsolicited advice, “Anybody who can go down 3,000 feet in a mine can sure as hell learn to program as well … Anybody who can throw coal into a furnace can learn how to program, for God’s sake!” His comment “was met with silence from the audience.”

How do we know that? Because a Washington Post reporter, Dave Weigel, posted it on Twitter. His newspaper never ran that quote. His editors must have known how dumb it was, and the Washington Post was there to protect him. This is the same news organization that proclaims every day that “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” What they lack in self-awareness, they make up for in pretentiousness. Oliver Anthony is singing about them.

His song’s most brilliant line is the one contrasting miners and “minors on an island somewhere.” Ask yourself the question Anthony is implicitly asking, “Whatever happened to the pedophiles on Jeffrey Epstein’s private island or at his homes in Palm Beach or New Mexico?” The answer is “nothing happened to them.” Do we even know anything about who they were? No. Federal prosecutors, who leak like sieves whenever it helps their case, are mum.

Why this silence? The song gives a compelling reason. The people who visited the island are rich and powerful, and so are their friends in government. How many criminal charges have been filed, aside from Epstein’s now-convicted accomplice, ‎Ghislaine Maxwell? None. Just ask Oliver Anthony why.

His anguished conclusion follows naturally:

Lord, 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

A whole lot of people agree, and they’re not passive. They’re furious. Oliver Anthony is the eloquent voice of that fury.

Charles Lipson is the Peter B. Ritzma Professor of Political Science Emeritus at the University of Chicago, where he founded the Program on International Politics, Economics, and Security. He can be reached at [email protected]. This column first appeared at Real Clear Wire.

25 COMMENTS

    • Both party supporters…. those die hard R and D voters who whole heartedly support excuse based governance leadership.

      Folks keep settling for the lesser of two evils.

  1. All conservatives need to band together and use our financial power to battle the left. They want a digital currency we need to beat them to the punch and develops our own economy and spend our money on conservative ideals only. This is a prime example support Oliver not these liberal entertainers.

    • I would wholeheartedly support ANY move toward using gold and silver — PHYSICAL gold and silver — as money, even and especially without any governmental sanction, and particularly if the diabolical move towards central bank digital currencies really gets rolling. Talk about a total-control, hyper-Orwellian proposal!

      • Part of why Roosevelt took us off the gold standard. Easier to control us if the currency has no real value.

        • Does gold or silver have any real value? I don’t think so. Can’t drive it. Can’t build a house with it. Can’t eat it.

          • In our day and age, gold has more value than ever before. It conducts electricity very well and is immune to corrosion. If our technologies were built with gold instead of copper, our civilization would operate much more efficiently.
            Not to mention, shiny metals look really good in decor.

            And it is worth more than your imagination, which is what our current money is based on.
            Why pay taxes when government can just print more money?

          • Ah, the inevitable and ever-specious “Gold: can’t eat it” argument!

            Yep, gold is worthless because you can’t eat it. And toilet paper is worthless because you can’t eat it. Unlike all those delicious greenbacks.

            Thank you for utterly discrediting yourself here as worthy of any reasonable consideration, yet again.

    • Mark. That has already happened, at least in part. Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas, a Republican, has sold himself to at least four billionaires. Check with him and them. Those Republican elite coastal billionaires are likely behind a lot democracy-hating conservative causes.

      • -Sotomayor and her books sales
        -Biden and Ukraine/China
        -Ds & Rs and insider trading
        -33t of debt by both Ds & Rs
        -Decimated Yukon salmon #s… Ds & Rs are silent
        -Mandates…
        The list is exhaustive and SD has rules.

      • What are “conservatives” conserving? The liberalism of the left?

        I perceive most posters here have little interest in both, as they both take care of their own to the detriment of everyone else. “It’s a big club and you ‘aint in it.” Not only do the reap where they do not sow they are obsessed with control of others and freely use violence to maintain this control. (Or more accurately the illusion of control.)

        conservatives are progressives driving the speed limit.

        • Most of us conservatives are working folk who are tired of thieves stealing the fruit of our labor through taxes and insane handout programs, and ludicrous pseudoscience hysteria being manipulated to steal what freedom we do enjoy. The “progressive” appears to be seeking the enslavement of all but themselves. What used to be called “liberal”: 1. doesn’t really exist anymore; and, 2. gets called “compassionate conservatism”.

      • VC it has nothing to do with a judge it is about control of my money. I would like to start an alternate economy where us conservatives set the bar. If we use another form of value trading and not the worthless dollar we could control our own destiny.

  2. TYPO: “She devoted a whole chapter of her memoir to regretting she had said it.”

    FIFY: She devoted a whole chapter of her memoir to regretting she had said it out loud for the rubes and deplorables to hear.

    File that with Joe admitting the “Inflation Reduction Act” wasn’t about inflation.

  3. Three chords and the truth.

    I hope Oliver Anthony has a strong spiritual life and that he has family and strong Christian men in his life. He will need them now, probably more then ever before.

    I would recommend looking at the many other songs on offer at >

    ‘https://www.youtube.com/@radiowv/videos

    There is a lot of good music there.

  4. The bureaucrats in the background have been the true source of enslaving the common man for decades. The bureaucracy keeps expanding while our dollar keeps shrinking. This is a problem with any political party, the shirt tails keep getting longer and the population we are supporting, that oppresses, us jumps on them.

  5. Tom MacDonald isn’t really my type of music but he has been creating music that pushes the political boundaries long before this guy. I don’t care for this banjo music either but the lyrics make it very tolerable. I feel the same about Tom. Both artists need divine protection.

  6. This should be the official Trump campaign song! It’s imploding liberal minds across the country. I couldn’t believe it when I heard that Rolling Stone, a magazine that was founded in the 70’s as an anti – establishment voice, immediately branded this song as a conspiratorial anti-establishment rant! Welcome to the New World.

  7. This needs to be the number one hit at least until after the 2024 election… Crossover genres.
    Resonates – not just his guitar.

  8. So, how much do one must earn their fair share will one say they satisfied? I was just talking about this last Saturday. Both for the employer and the employee. When will one be content? When it comes to money most people never are content and they don’t remain content very long. Always wanting more and resentful for the boss taking more in than him. My job before Covid Hotel Housekeepers were anywhere between 9.50- 12.75. After Covid starting wage is 14.00 up to 20.00, and they having a challenging time keeping housekeepers at a higher wage than when we were all at 11.00. They are still complaining not earning enough. But I understand his frustration because people don’t know God’s Word. Employers (including employees) don’t know what it says about wealth and how not to make it an idol or how to use it or how to give it using wisdom.

    • Speak for yourself Jen. Most of us learn to be content when we are paying our bills, living a reasonable lifestyle, and saving for our retirement. MOST of that has been stolen from us by global communism. Right now, I can’t pay my bills without TWO jobs paying at least $25/hour… forget retirement – can’t – forget buying a new car too.

  9. Since we are talking about money. Why should any non democrat donate money to affected Juneau or Maui residents? I been questioning this in my heart since the river flood. These kind of people I think to myself during the year before their catastrophe they represent places that act like Israel’s ancient enemies. Would it be logical sense to give to a people who don’t care about me and mainly don’t care about God whom these people would tell me I can’t talk about him around them? Which makes me feel if HE isn’t wanted them I am not wanted by them nor my money.

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