In the Cultural Wars, Count Me a Conscientious Objector


I’m thinking of re-naming my blog, “Notes of a Culture Wars CO,” that is, “Conscientious Objector,” for those born since 1970. Last week I cited the song, “Rich Men North of Richmond,” by Oliver Anthony, because my editor at Mockingbird had spliced it into an article of mine titled, “Grace for the Hillbilly.”

Ever since Anthony’s song caught fire, the combatants in the culture wars have been trying to peg, box, claim, or deny Anthony and his song. So locked in to the culture war are its combatants that they cannot, apparently, conceive of someone who is not taking up arms. The story is told in this Free Press article.

Anthony was claimed by the right when his song was the basis for a question in last week’s Republican debate. Here’s Anthony on that curious turn of events: ” . . . the idea that he has been embraced by the political right baffles him. ‘If anything,’ he said, his music is “more about the right than the left. He added: ‘I’m singing more about, like, a lot of the older, super conservative politicians that brought us into endless war through my entire childhood.’” On the use of his song at the GOP debate he said, “It was funny seeing my song. . . at the presidential debate, because it’s like, I wrote that song about those people.”

Anthony agrees with David Brooks, that making it all about politics isn’t the answer. “Those looking to politics to fix the brokenness of our culture and our country, he said, are looking in the wrong place. ‘You could find the most perfect human being in the world and put them in the White House. The problem isn’t the White House or the federal government. The problem is us—like human to human is where we fix our country. We don’t need the government to save us. We just need to save each other.’”

Meanwhile, progressives/the left looked for reasons to hate on Anthony. “So, they zeroed in on his song’s apparent criticism of welfare recipients (if you’re five-foot-three and you’re 300 pounds/taxes ought not to pay for your bags of fudge rounds) and, worse yet, his nod to the QAnon conspiracy theory that political elites are running a secret child-trafficking ring: I wish politicians would look out for miners/And not just minors on an island somewhere.

“Except,” as The Free Press article argues, “he’s not really criticizing welfare recipients as much as a government policy that allows them to hurt themselves. ‘We live in a country where, like, food is ridiculously expensive,’ Anthony told me. ‘Commercial agriculture has encapsulated most of North America’s land.’ He added: ‘Even the food that a middle-class American buys from the grocery store—a lot of it is just, it’s terrible for us, you know?’”

And it sounds to me like he’s telling the QAnon pedophilia peddlers, to pay attention to real people not on-line conspiracy shit.

Hard to peg this guy. Which seems to be driving the culture warriors nuts. It is telling that someone called a voice of “the working classes,” is getting dumped on by “progressives” and the left. I guess progressives/the left aren’t interested in those folks, the working class, any longer.

Anthony’s advice for America? Talk to each other. “If there’s anything anyone could do immediately to start fixing things, it would be to stop looking at their phones so much and start looking at people around them and trying to just have conversations with them,” Anthony said. “The best way we heal in the immediate is for us to start having actual conversations with each other. I think that’s probably a good start. We know very little about each other.”

Our apparent need to judge and classify everyone according to which side they are on in the great polarization. “The Culture Wars,” is the problem, not the solution. People are more interesting and unpredictable than the boxes we want to assign them.

I hope Oliver Anthony survives being caught in the middle. I hope we all do.

Anthony B. Robinson
Anthony B. Robinson
Tony is a writer, teacher, speaker and ordained minister (United Church of Christ). He served as Senior Minister of Seattle’s Plymouth Congregational Church for fourteen years. His newest book is Useful Wisdom: Letters to Young (and not so young) Ministers. He divides his time between Seattle and a cabin in Wallowa County of northeastern Oregon. If you’d like to know more or receive his regular blogs in your email, go to his site listed above to sign-up.


  1. I spent some time yesterday not only listening to the song, but reading the lyrics (it’s not always easy to understand them given his growling delivery) and thinking about them. Your comments are right on. This song quite neatly tackles a broad range of important issues, speaks to the day-to-day struggles of the blue collar working class, and advocates for self-responsibility. His comment about the MAGA crowd hijacking it (“I wrote this song about those people!”) tells you a lot about his intentions and intelligence.

  2. Similar, perhaps, to the way the late Merle Haggard’s inspired “Okie from Muskogee” was perceived as a kind of hillbilly anthem. What it was, was sat-tire.

  3. Nice piece. There are extremists on both sides and the media, including social media, give them far too much attention and exposure. I have seen that worsen over my 50+ years in and around journalism. Most Americans are rational and decent people who want the best for their families, friends and communities. People are sick of the polarization driven by politics and the press. Time to push back against the shallow and simplistic narratives from both right and left, and to shame their media enablers. We are better than this.

  4. I couldn’t agree more. And I am glad you read The Free Press. I have friends who have decided it’s necessary to pigeonhole Bari Weiss and “disempower” her by labeling her right wing. To those people if I cite anything from the FP I too am right wing! I love the song, and the guy. Long live ambiguity.

  5. I would note one point I meant to say regarding the “urban/rural” bit as to attitudes you mention. Those vile “urban” types who dominate culture about brave tragic small town/rural types hilariously are mostly “small town/rural” folk themselves. II’m an example, coming from hicky Ohio. There is amazing consistency between we “run like hell to get out” expats from there, and the ones who stayed in the old hometown.

    Almost all of the expats are more successful, have more stable lives, and yes…are more liberal. The hometown heartland folks are more MAGA, less successful, and more likely to have unstable lives comparatively. And the expats have a noted dislike of home and the culture there. So this is not “vile urbanites”. This is a split between those who chose to leave those who chose to stay.

  6. Some of us were never in certain cultural wars in the first place. Since the former KMTT imploded around 2010, I couldn’t find any commercial mainstream music stations I liked — thanks for nothing, corporate media consolidation — and I know nothing about today’s popular music; I can’t even name a Taylor Swift song to save my life. This article is the first time I’ve ever heard of Oliver Anthony.


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