ACCORDING TO LIZ - Social media exploded a few weeks ago when a virtually unknown country-folk singer-songwriter Oliver Anthony posted a song on YouTube, and it was immediately adopted by Fox News as a polemic against the wokeness of the progressive Democrats.
Marjorie Taylor Greene and others of her ilk jumped on board, and it featured in the first question of the Republican debate – about why this song was striking such a nerve today.
To which DeSantis replied that the country was in decline and that "those rich men north of Richmond have put us in this situation” trying to imply that the Trump policies and the current Congress exacerbating of corporate and personal (primarily right-wing) greed were not square in the sights of the song.
“That song is written about the people on that stage and a lot more, too, not just them” said Anthony in a YouTube video. “But definitely them.”
I took a look at the song’s lyrics and saw something completely different from Fox News – a workingman’s lament crying out against the capitalism that the Republicans, especially MTG and the so-called Freedom Caucus rabble, are propping up by cutting taxes on the wealthy, forcing the poor and middle classes to take up the slack, and gutting services and support for ordinary Americans.
In the video, Anthony says that said in order for the United States to survive for another generation, it needs to get back to its sense of community. I suspect that resonates across class and color.
America’s strength is in its diversity. “And we need to learn to harness that and appreciate it and not use it as a political tool to keep everyone separate from each other.”
The song struck a chord not only here and in Canada which is also north of Richmond, but in the UK, the Netherlands and Australia – so the wokeness of the Biden Democrats can hardly be held solely to blame.
In fact, the songwriter states his “…song has nothing to do with Joe Biden, you know? It’s a lot bigger than Joe Biden.”
Robert Reich’s take on the opposite of “wokeness” is the cultural populism, exploited by Trump and his wanna-be tagalongs, that draws on an:
“...underlying political agenda is white male Christian nationalism. It aims to resurrect the social and racial hierarchy that dominated American life before the 1960s. This not only fuels the Republicans’ mostly white, male, Christian, American-born base. It also reassures the fat cats bankrolling the GOP that working-class resentments are channeled away from economic populism—which could threaten the fat cats’ wealth.”
That economic populism? That sounds awfully like what is reflected in Anthony’s lyrics.
“Overtime hours for bullshit pay” – that’s Walmart and Amazon.
“...your dollar ain't shit and it's taxed to no end, 'Cause of rich men north of Richmond” is about the economic policies of both political parties, both of which are in the pocket of Wall Street, and both (although primarily Republicans) of which are intent on crushing those of us living on Main Street for the benefit of the multinational corporations and the billionaire class.
“I wish politicians would look out for miners” – with miners almost certainly standing in for assembly-line workers and share-croppers, warehouse employees and gig labor – all those in the thrall of big business boardroom decisions. The slave class of the 21st century.
"Lord, we got folks in the street, ain't got nothin' to eat” is the shame of America – with such huge profits and so much food waste, the United States can’t feed its own people. Twenty-five percent of our children live below the poverty line, a number that may vary depending on the metrics used, but one that’s spiking upward again with Congress slashing the pandemic-introduced support for families.
And it’s hard to learn on an empty stomach.
I do take issue with “And the obese milkin' welfare... Taxes ought not to pay for your bags of Fudge Rounds.”
Yes, how welfare operates in this country is an immense problem and must be overhauled so those who need help get it – there is so much shame attached, many who are in need don’t apply – and those who don’t, especially abuse by low-wage corporations like Walmart that force employees to subsidize pittance wages with food stamps so that their executives can take home obscene bonuses, are kicked off.
And the obese? Many are that way because those same companies don’t provide healthcare and their low wages force them to live in food deserts where “Fudge Rounds” may be the only option.
Taking care of people, a war won against poverty, would take care of those demons, too.
“Young men are puttin' themselves six feet in the ground” – drugs and suicide. Driven by poverty and despair. What the country needs is hope and education, the opportunity to dream big and for everybody to succeed not just a favored few.
“'Cause all this damn country does is keep on kickin' them down” is definitely the purview of the alt-right, conservative Bible-thumpers and almost all of the elected Republicans.
The rich men both Republicans and Democrats, both conservatives and progressives may live north of Richmond but the song’s appeal is to everyone else.
The vast majority of Americans who live north of Richmond are simply scraping by. In D.C., in Pittsburgh and Buffalo as well as in rural areas, fighting off the rise of fentanyl and the plunge in well-paying jobs with decent benefits, they are united in their suffering.
It applies to so many people in Los Angeles and California.
And that is why Anthony’s anthem resonated and went viral.
It is linked to the epiphany that Martin Luther King, Jr. had when he expanded his civil rights activism to a war on poverty, to help all Americans who had been laid low by “the man.”
That “man” is corporate America, certainly centered north of Richmond but also in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street, and empowered by all those in the Federal, state and local governments who prop it up and keep the people down.
(Liz Amsden is a contributor to CityWatch and an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She has written extensively on the City's budget and services as well as her many other interests and passions. In her real life she works on budgets for film and television where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today's world.)