". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


‘Rich Men North of Richmond’ and the Fight to Reclaim a Lost America

August 15, 2023

There’s a brand new craze that’s sweeping the nation: mourning the America that political elites, corrupt bureaucrats, and a swollen welfare state have trampled, trod upon, and asphyxiated. Off-the-grid Virginia farmer Oliver Anthony released a simple folk song called “Rich Men North of Richmond,” which has quickly become a sort of soulful anthem-turned-funeral-ballad for all Americans who are sick of being mistreated, abused, and ignored by those elected to represent them.

Initially posted on YouTube, where it’s already gained nearly 12 million views in one week, the song has quickly blown up and gone viral. “Rich Men North of Richmond” already has almost two million listens on Spotify, only about 48 hours after being made available on the platform, and has already shot to number one on iTunes, beating out stars like Taylor Swift and Jason Aldean.

The song’s meteoric rise in popularity speaks to how deeply it resonates with Americans. “Rich Men North of Richmond” is meant to speak for the working class who, “no matter how much effort they put into whatever it is they’re doing, they can’t quite get ahead because the dollar’s not worth enough, they are being over-taxed,” Anthony commented. “I’ve been sellin’ my soul, workin’ all day,” he sings. “Overtime hours for bulls*** pay so I can sit out here and waste my life away.”

But the song is far more than just a working-class dirge; it’s a mournful homage to the America that once was, the nation once hailed as a new world of opportunity, the land of the free, the home of the brave. “It’s a d*** shame what the world’s gotten to,” Anthony sings. “For people like me, people like you. Wish I could just wake up and it not be true, but it is. Oh, it is. Livin’ in the new world with an old soul.”

A common sight among conservatives on social media is a picture of something uniquely American from the past — the World Trade Center, John F. Kennedy, Norman Rockwell paintings — captioned with the adage, “The world you grew up in no longer exists.” Anthony’s song gives voice to this sobering realization: the America of Jimmy Stewart movies and John Denver songs and 1950s Christmas cards, the America of hot dogs and baseball games and Fourth of July parades, the America rooted in faith and family and freedom is at risk like never before.

Another common social media slogan is, “Remember what they took from you,” often accompanying the same sorts of images. The sentiment is not merely that something has faded or dimmed, as a candle flickers and sputters before disappearing into a trail of smoke. No, it was taken. Who are these thieves? Who is responsible for this tragedy? “Rich Men North of Richmond” are, the D.C. political elites who funnel billions of American taxpayer dollars into their own pockets and their own pet projects. They eat up the money that fathers and even mothers work so hard to earn, and they gorge themselves on power.

“These rich men north of Richmond, Lord knows they all just wanna have total control,” sings Anthony. “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 s*** and it’s taxed to no end, ‘cause of rich men north of Richmond.” Your grandparents could afford to buy their own home and two cars on just one income, and feed and clothe a family of five or more. American youth in particular are shocked watching old movies and hearing how little a bouquet of flowers, a pack of cigarettes, or even a scotch and soda at the local bar cost. Older Americans are equally shocked walking into a Starbucks (or whatever other boutique, essential-oils-infused coffee shop run by blue-haired, pierced-nosed college graduates with degrees in “underwater basketweaving” or “feminist dance theory”) and learning the price of a simple espresso.

Americans are taxed to no end to fund programs precious few want and even fewer understand. Lamenting the dichotomy of state-run “charity,” which leaves the homeless to shiver and freeze while providing drug abusers with food stamps, Anthony sings, “Lord, we got folks in the street, ain’t got nothin’ to eat, and the obese milkin’ welfare.” He says that “if you’re five-foot-three and you’re 300 pounds, taxes ought not to pay for your bags of fudge rounds.” On an even grimmer note, he alludes to the heightened rates of suicide for hardworking American men who never get handouts and never ask for them. “Young men are puttin’ themselves six feet in the ground ‘cause all this d*** country does is keep on kickin’ them down.” According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide rates in the U.S. are highest among white men, rising to over 33,500 in 2021.

But again, it isn’t just about money and welfare. Roaring inflation and gluttonous taxes have made home ownership seem a near-impossibility for future generations who, like Anthony, have been selling their souls, working all day, overtime hours “for bulls*** pay.”

But perhaps the greater loss is American morality. Internet pornography runs rampant, offering increasingly younger and younger viewers the most perverse, sadistic content imaginable, the sort of stuff that would have made even the Marquis de Sade (from whose name the term “sadism” is derived) blush. LGBT extremism has reached a fever pitch, showing no signs of stopping, tearing through towns in bondage gear and all manner of rainbow paraphernalia, telling children it’s okay to take hormone drugs and surgically castrate themselves. Pedophilia has become a common enough subject of conversation, with some academics and elites even advancing a new “sexual orientation,” that of the “minor-attracted person.”

Abortion is still a hot topic and Americans must live with the reality that unborn babies are daily butchered and boiled to death in their own mothers’ wombs. Fraud, corruption, lying, stealing, and even looting have become commonplace — and are sometimes even lauded by elites, if committed in the name of whatever ideological pet project they favor that month.

The great Christian author C.S. Lewis once wrote of degeneracy, “It is idle to point out to the perverted man the horror of his perversion: while the fierce fit is on, that horror is the very spice of his craving. It is ugliness itself that becomes, in the end, the goal of his lechery; beauty has long since grown too weak a stimulant.” And so it seems to be among the powerful, who pontificate on the necessity of slaughtering the unborn by the tens of thousands, who arm Internal Revenue Service agents to target taxpayers while they launder money and hide under-the-table donations, who condemn men for wanting to be fathers while they themselves send other men’s daughters nude selfies and tell other men’s sons to read gay pornography in their school libraries. Such men as these have suffocated the moral standards that were, once upon a time, synonymous with the name “America.”

As bleak a picture as all of this paints, hope is not at all lost. The overnight success of “Rich Men North of Richmond” shows that Anthony isn’t alone in mourning the loss of the America of ages past, nor is he the only one who wants to rediscover what was lost and reclaim what was taken. At a concert in Barco, North Carolina on Sunday, Anthony read from Scripture — namely, the imprecatory Psalms, which not only condemn evildoers but extoll the goodness and justice of God. The singer read from Psalm 37:12-20, concluding:

“Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked; for the power of the wicked will be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous. The blameless spend their days under the Lord’s care, and their inheritance will endure forever. In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty. But the wicked will perish: Though the Lord’s enemies are like the flowers of the field, they will be consumed, they will go up in smoke.”

“Rich Men North of Richmond” is far more than a list of grievances, it is a cry to God for mercy upon the virtuous and judgment upon the wicked. In the 2000 film “Gladiator,” Marcus Aurelius tells his protégé Maximus, “There was a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper, and it would vanish.” So, too, is there a dream that is America. The America that was lost, the America that was taken away by those “Rich Men North of Richmond” still lives, not as a whisper any more, but as a cry to God for mercy upon the land we love.

S.A. McCarthy serves as a news writer at The Washington Stand.