Oliver Anthony, a never-before-heard-of singer from Virginia has unexpectedly captured conservative hearts with his song "Rich Men North of Richmond," which refers to DC politicians.
Within days, the song eclipsed all others on both Spotify and Apple Music, leaving even Taylor Swift, a liberal darling, in a trail of dust. Featuring lyrics that focus on the essence of the pain and destitution felt by Middle America and rural folks in flyover states, it became a battle cry for America's conservative mindset.
Many politicians and influencers have aided in spreading the message. Right-wing provocateur and US House of Representatives lawmaker Marjorie Tayler Green, along with popular podcaster Joe Rogan, have spoken at length about the song's influence.
"Anthony is singing about the forgotten American, the working class man breaking his back all day, only to have his pockets picked by the IRS, while the people in charge of this country ignore his concern and spit in his face whenever he tries to convey it to them," said Matt Walsh, a right-wing influencer who frequently speaks out against the transgender community.
How did a song that directly discusses the challenges faced by workers gain backing from the conservative right, which primarily emphasizes social issues such as abortion and gender? Shouldn't it be the role of the left to advocate for workers' rights? The explanation lies in the ascent of identity politics.
In the book "Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment," Francis Fukuyama contends that the rise of identity politics has fractured and diminished the strength of the left. Previously focused on socioeconomic issues and equality, the political left shifted toward the center and embraced free-market principles in the 1990s. Today, the left is marked by internal divisions and competing factions, hindering its ability to offer a coherent response to economic inequality, even though racism and LGBTQ+ rights remain important concerns.
When you work hard yet remain impoverished, it's crucial to identify the source of your challenges. Historically, both the left and right vied for interpreting this narrative. The left pointed fingers at the affluent, while the right scapegoated minorities and immigrants. Nevertheless, the left has since moved away from this discourse.
The underlying idea is that the out-of-touch politician who gives precedence to transgender rights over traditional values is the source of oppression. This notion resonates with the discontent felt by countless individuals who perceive themselves as overlooked. Commentator Jason Whitlock, known for his conservative views, explained that "this isn't a song for right-wing individuals. It's a song for those with rational thinking and traditional principles, who question why taking kids to drag performances is deemed acceptable or why job allocations are arbitrarily based on sexual orientation or skin color."
The timing of Anthony's anthem is opportune for conservatives. Donald Trump's ascent to power was propelled by an anti-establishment message, yet he was perceived as crude and lacking in moral character, leading to divisions even within the Republican Party. Deep-rooted discontent in the U.S. suggests that the outcome of the 2024 elections will be determined by each side's ability to rally their supporters, an area where both Trump and Joe Biden currently face challenges.
Consequently, Oliver's song carries weight: it offers the right what it needs – a positive and unifying narrative. While Trump relied on confrontation, Oliver might achieve a similar effect through a populist tune.
If the Democrats want to secure the future of the elections, they must rise up and provide a substantial response to the painful needs of the American population. This involves not just catering to the financial interests of the working class but also acknowledging and respecting their individual identity.
Barak Sella is educator, writer, and community organizer, who is an expert in Israel-USA relations, social change, and Jewish history