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Commentary: ‘Rich Men North of Richmond’ Is Authentic Voice of Populism

By Charles Lipson

Commentary by Charles Lipson originally published by RealClearPolitics and RealClearWire

Oliver Anthony’s beautiful, angry song about the people who run roughshod over ordinary Americans and seek to control their lives is the clearest expression of populism since Donald Trump used his own voice to reshape the Republican Party.

Although the title refers to “rich men” and makes a great rhyme, it is also a screed against control by unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats, who live in Washington and its wealthy Northern Virginia and Maryland suburbs. “They all just want to have total control.” It is a powerful hymn to the forgotten, put-upon working man, sung with a full-throated, gravelly voice and accompanied solely by Anthony’s acoustic, resonator guitar.

The lyrics are as moving and authentic as Anthony’s voice. There’s a reason his song has become the most downloaded one on the Internet.

Whatever you think about populism, left or right, the lyrics are worth paying attention to. In those three minutes, you’ll learn more about the anti-Washington grievances than in hours of reading erudite analysis by journalists who visited flyover country from their homes in Georgetown, Cambridge, and newly fashionable Brooklyn.

The heart of Anthony’s lament is this:

These rich men north of Richmond

Lord knows they all just want to have total control

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 shit, and it’s taxed to no end

Cause of rich men north of Richmond

It’s a battle cry for people who want to resist the control of big money and big government but know they are losing the fight. They resent being investigated by the FBI as potential terrorists when they speak out at school board meetings or affiliate with a traditional branch of the Catholic Church. They see a government eager to prosecute political candidates from one party but not the other. They see violent street riots go unprosecuted and the southern border left open in violation of the law, fairness, and public safety. They see their children shut out of public schools for over a year by teachers unions and so-called experts with more power than evidence.

Their populist cry stretches back to Andrew Jackson and often veers into extremism and attacks on weak, marginal communities, as well as the rich. That’s a legitimate fear, rooted in historical experience of attacks on blacks, Jews, and immigrants.

Anthony’s song has no touch of that nasty message. But you can bet that he will soon be accused of xenophobia, racism, and all the rest of it, now that the song is popular. The people who will dump that sludge at the New York Times and on cable channels are the same people Anthony is targeting. They will use their megaphones to damn him.

It’s impossible to understand the popularity of “Rich Men North of Richmond” without understanding the widely shared grievances behind it. Anthony voices one of them as, “I wish politicians would look out for miners, and not just minors on an island somewhere.” You don’t have to love coal-fired electric power plants to have sympathy for the people who have lost their jobs, their hope, and their future.

Hillary Clinton bluntly expressed the contempt Anthony rails against when she said (in 2016), “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” She devoted a whole chapter of her memoir to regretting she had said it.

Joe Biden didn’t learn Hillary’s lesson. He spoke about coal miners’ future in December 2019 when he visited the mining town of Derry, New Hampshire. He acknowledged the tough times they faced and offered a piece of unsolicited advice, “Anybody who can go down 3,000 feet in a mine can sure as hell learn to program as well … Anybody who can throw coal into a furnace can learn how to program, for God’s sake!” His comment “was met with silence from the audience.”

How do we know that? Because a Washington Post reporter, Dave Weigel, posted it on Twitter. His newspaper never ran that quote. His editors must have known how dumb it was, and the Washington Post was there to protect him. This is the same news organization that proclaims every day that “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” What they lack in self-awareness, they make up for in pretentiousness. Oliver Anthony is singing about them.

His song’s most brilliant line is the one contrasting miners and “minors on an island somewhere.” Ask yourself the question Anthony is implicitly asking, “Whatever happened to the pedophiles on Jeffrey Epstein’s private island or at his homes in Palm Beach or New Mexico?” The answer is “nothing happened to them.” Do we even know anything about who they were? No. Federal prosecutors, who leak like sieves whenever it helps their case, are mum.

Why this silence? The song gives a compelling reason. The people who visited the island are rich and powerful, and so are their friends in government. How many criminal charges have been filed, aside from Epstein’s now-convicted accomplice, ‎Ghislaine Maxwell? None. Just ask Oliver Anthony why.

His anguished conclusion follows naturally:

Lord, it’s a damn shame

What the world’s gotten to

For people like me, and people like you

Wish I could just wake up, and it not be true

But it is, oh, it is

A whole lot of people agree, and they’re not passive. They’re furious. Oliver Anthony is the eloquent voice of that fury.

Charles Lipson is the Peter B. Ritzma Professor of Political Science Emeritus at the University of Chicago, where he founded the Program on International Politics, Economics, and Security. He can be reached at

This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.

Deneen Borelli

Deneen Borelli is the author of Blacklash: How Obama and the Left are Driving Americans to the Government Plantation. Deneen is a contributor with Newsmax Broadcasting. She is a former Fox News contributor and has appeared regularly on “Hannity,” “Fox & Friends,” “Your World with Neil Cavuto,” and “America’s Newsroom.” She has also appeared on Fox Business Network programs “Making Money with Charles Payne,” “The Evening Edit with Liz MacDonald,” and “Cavuto: Coast to Coast.” Previously, Deneen appeared on MSNBC, CNN, the BBC and C-SPAN. In addition to television, Deneen co-hosted radio programs on the SiriusXM Patriot channel with her husband Tom. Recently, Deneen co-hosted the Reigniting Liberty podcast with Tom. Deneen is a frequent speaker at political events, including the FreedomWorks 9.12.2009 March on D.C. which drew a crowd estimated at over 800,000 people. Deneen is also an Ambassador with, a social media platform that promotes free speech, and with the America First Policy Institute (AFPI) which advances policies that put Americans first. Deneen testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources in May 2011 and before the Ohio House Public Utilities Committee in December 2011. Previously, Deneen was a host, Outreach Director with overseeing its outreach program, a Project 21 Senior Fellow, and Manager of Media Relations with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Prior to joining CORE, Deneen worked at Philip Morris USA for 20 years. During her corporate career at Philip Morris she worked in various positions, her last as Project Management Coordinator in the Information Management department where she was responsible for the department’s mandated quality processes, communications, sales information and database management. Deneen began her Philip Morris career as a secretary and advanced to positions of increasing responsibilities. Deneen worked full-time and attended classes at night for 11 years to earn her B.A. in Managerial Marketing from Pace University, New York City. Deneen served on the Board of Trustees with The Opportunity Charter School in Harlem, New York. She appeared in educational videos for children, worked as a runway fashion model, and auditioned for television commercials. Her interests include ancient history, pistol target shooting, photography, and volunteering at her church. Deneen currently resides in Connecticut with her husband Tom.

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