The Right Has Already Turned on Their Appalachian Folk Hero

As quickly as conservatives glommed onto the singer's runaway folk hit, they freaked out over him saying the U.S. needs to "harness" and "appreciate" diversity.

In Depth
The Right Has Already Turned on Their Appalachian Folk Hero
Photo:Billboard / Contributor (Getty Images)

On August 8th, the unmistakably unknown singer Oliver Anthony uploaded his original song “Rich Men North of Richmond” to YouTube, and as of Tuesday, the song sits atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The stripped-down Appalachian folk tune lamenting the plight of the working man, along with conflicting jabs at who’s responsible for said plight, was immediately extolled by rightwing figureheads like Matt Walsh, Jack Posobiec, Ian Miles Cheong, Kari Lake, and Joe Rogan—a real who’s who of people I’ve muted on Twitter and would certainly never pass the aux chord to.

“I wish politicians would look out for miners / And not just minors on an island somewhere / Lord, we got folks in the street, ain’t got nothin’ to eat/ And the obese milkin’ welfare,” Anthony sings. He manages to scorn the government for not supporting society’s vulnerable, while also scorning society’s vulnerable for not properly allocating government support, all within a verse about harboring Jeffrey Epstein conspiracy theories. Walsh praised the song for being “raw and authentic,” while Posobiec wondered when “the last time a new song hit me like this.” It’s a populist (ish) fever dream of a tune, despite Anthony describing his political standing as “dead center.” But now that the man who the Right crowned their ideological troubadour isn’t upholding the full weight of their contradictory credo, some fast fans are souring on him.

A number of outlets have published thoughtful and close analyses of the song’s lyrics and the songwriter’s skyrocket to fame. Jay Kaspian Kang at The New Yorker summarized it as “reactionary nostalgia,” and Eric Levitz argued for New York Magazine that the song represents “an incoherent form of populism that directs class resentment at targets that do not threaten the fundamental interests of rich men.”

Well, that incoherence is reinforcing itself tenfold as Anthony’s rise to fame continues. Fox News, which has been tracking the “Rich Men of Richmond” craze like a hound dog on a scent trail, interviewed Anthony on Monday after one of his performances. Anthony explained:

“We’ve gotta go back to the roots of what made this country great in the first place, which is our sense of community. I mean, we are the melting pot of the world and that’s what makes us strong, is our 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 you know?”

As quickly as conservatives and right-wing nutsos glommed onto the bearded singer with a high, lonesome, “authentic” warble, they freaked out over his embrace of diversity. Diversity is, of course, the first symptom of the incurable “wokeness” disease. “Promoted algorithm boosted ‘based’ red beard hillbilly song guy was faking his accent and says diversity is our strength,” one user tweeted, receiving over 8,500 likes. Another user wrote, “Did he sell out already to the rich men north of Richmond?”

Of course, Anthony’s wistfulness for a time long ago when kind neighborly kindness prevailed in *checks notes* Richmond, Virginia, aka the capital of the Confederacy, is laughably ahistorical. And his disdain for women on welfare, whether originating from personal biases or as a result of parroting racist conservative talking points, remains off-putting and vile. But there is a smidgen of schadenfreude to be had in seeing right-wing reactionaries devolve into a hissy fit when their adopted Appalachian folk hero doesn’t perfectly uphold their illogical ideologies.

In fact, it’s almost as if the “authentic” working-class American man whom Anthony purports to represent, and whom conservatives have their panties in a twist trying to win over, is actually complex and contradictory, and not just in a top-down political strategy sort of way. The incoherence that right-wingers have built their empire upon—a hatred for “the man” orchestrated by who else but “the man”—has come back to bite them.

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