No Country for Rich Men North of Richmond
Recently, a guy named Oliver Anthony became famous overnight for a song he performed entitled “Rich Men North of Richmond.” The song, which reveals the frustrations that many feel at those with money and political influence, resonated with a lot of people, catapulting Anthony into the spotlight. It probably doesn’t hurt that Anthony has the kind of Appalachian folk hero looks that match the subject matter of the song. Since Anthony has something to say, and a message to get across, this is an enviable position for him to be in. Unlike many who struggle to find a platform through which to gain an audience for their grievances — whether legitimate or not — Anthony has found his people, so to speak.
The question is whether Anthony’s message is worth a listen. Should we get pulled into another fleeting cultural moment?
Tyler Huckabee is someone who listened to “Rich Men North of Richmond” and thought it was worthy of a response. Politicians who are pretty easy targets seem to get their fair share of the singer’s ire in the hit song. Since Anthony also goes after the poor, though, Huckabee wanted to straighten some things out. So, he wrote an open letter to Anthony about the song.
You can be mad about the taxes that Washington is scraping off the top of your paycheck, but are the rich men north of Richmond the chief culprits here? Think about it. You’re blowing up on Spotify right now. Take a look at the paycheck you get from those guys when it comes in and ask yourself if it seems fair. You did all the work of writing a song, performing it, mixing it and producing it. If you didn’t, you had to pay someone to do it for you. Why aren’t you getting more money for it?
The reason is that a billionaire named Daniel Ek owns Spotify, and he’s decided the best way for him to maintain his billionaire lifestyle is to pay you a fraction of a penny per stream and save the rest for himself and his investor friends. He’s worth $2.3 billion, man. I know we get a little numb to numbers like this but $2.3 billion? Dude. You and I literally cannot fathom that kind of money. He is making more money in a year than you and me and everyone we know will make in our entire lives. We are — no hyperbole — millions of times closer to being homeless than we are to being as rich as he is. Does Daniel Ek have all that money because he works millions and millions of times harder than you and is millions and millions of times smarter? Or is there something else going on?
I think Huckabee is correct that some of the righteous indignation contained in the song is misplaced. Since we are examining the song, though, it is interesting to see how else it is being used in current discussions. The song was played to kick off the GOP Presidential Debate this week.1 Alan Elrod wrote for Arc Digital about the similarities between the song and the debate itself.
But, much like the song currently dominating the charts on the back of right-wing enthusiasm, the debate did not take long to devolve into a display of the feverish and conspiratorial politics that have become the norm for the Trump-era GOP.
The article then descends into the kind of left-wing conspiracy-mongering that at least gives Vivek Ramaswamy’s wackier ideas a run for their money. Included are strains of thought that liken assertions of the primacy of family to fascism.2 There’s a sort of irony in a writer calling out the ridiculousness of the GOP fear-mongering then turning around and linking the building blocks of human civilization to authoritarianism. Those who look at Huxley’s Brave New World as a user manual seem relish the idea of government superseding the family. If nothing else, the Arc Digital article shows those smashed in the middle yet another example of the ridiculousness of both sides of the spectrum.
Apparently, the debaters didn’t realize that the song is about people like them.↩︎
Really people, stop with the fascism stuff. It usually outs you as someone who can’t be taken seriously.↩︎