After Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, two things of note happened: One, the Democratic loser repeatedly spread the lie far and wide that the election had been stolen from her.
Two, her closest primary rival, Senator Bernie Sanders, warned Democrats that they had made a grave mistake in focusing on identity politics more than social inequality and class consciousness.
“It’s not good enough for someone to say, ‘I’m a woman! Vote for me!’ No, that’s not good enough,” Sanders said in late November 2016. “What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry.”
Classic progressive themes: We need a woman or a man or someone who will… stand up to The Man.
Last weekend, the country song ‘Rich Men North of Richmond’ became the number one song in the world. A populist ballad by a previously completely unknown artist targeting elites who the singer feels prey on the everyman.
“I’ve been sellin’ my soul, workin’ all day. Overtime hours for bullshit pay,” Oliver Anthony sings. “These rich men north of Richmond. Lord knows they all just wanna 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…”
Who are Anthony’s targets? The corporate establishment. The federal government. Jeffrey Epstein and his enablers. Taxes.
Elites’ response?: It’s right-wing!
Anthony’s song is a lament against the rich and powerful who “just wanna have total control.” Though it was promptly called right-wing by Left elites, it could have been a Bernie Sanders campaign song in a different era when Democrats focused on class warfare as opposed to identity politics, trans ideology, and championing censorship.
At least one Democratic senator got the irony of labeling the song ‘right-wing.’
A Huffington Post columnist even noted that Democratic Senator Chris Murphy had praised the song for espousing some traditional progressive themes, but also that those themes had now become the domain of “right-wing populists.”
Others noticed the absurdity of calling the song ‘right-wing.’
Today’s left-leaning elites’ GOAL is to “just wanna have total control” of public speech and directing popular narratives, not necessarily advocating for the middle class or the poor, like they once did. Efforts to resist elite control—resistance to identity politics, trans ideology, censorship, you name it—are now routinely labeled ‘right-wing’ by default.
Reactions to this popular song are but the latest example.
It’s not that right-wingers don’t have authoritarian tendencies, because they most certainly do. But those tendencies don’t seem to define the entire Right. In fact, resisting creeping Left authoritarianism appears to define today’s American Right as much or more than any authoritarian impulses it might have.
In contrast, the current American Left seems to be defined almost wholly by exerting total control over everyone. Resisting this growing illiberalism, again,’ is presented as ‘right-wing.’
The gatekeepers have already been dispatched to deal with Oliver Anthony. Because they really do “wanna know what you think, wanna know what you do… wanna have total control…”
It’s not a stretch to say that Bernie Sanders’ 2016 criticism of the Left prioritizing identity politics over class consciousness would today be considered more of a right-wing critique than Left. Unsurprisingly, Sanders has not raised these concerns since.
‘Rich Men North of Richmond’ is not clearly Right or Left in any honest sense, but it is a clear shot at elites.
And elites don’t like it. In 2023, apparently, that’s enough to make it ‘right-wing.’