So Close, Yet So Tragically Far

So Close, Yet So Tragically Far

Conservatives are always so close to identifying the source of their suffering, the core of society’s wrenching inequalities that have immiserated everyday working people for so long.

They were close during the early days of the COVID pandemic, when it was clear multibillion dollar pharmaceutical companies that had intentionally sickened and killed millions of Americans by flooding poor communities with opioids would soon make billions from the sale of COVID vaccines. Right wingers saw this (rightly) as a problem.

When American companies yanked good-paying jobs from U.S. cities and shipped them to countries where they could use slave labor, folks on the right (rightly) said hey, this sucks.

Generations of stagnating wages have riled up conservatives; they’re (rightly) fucking furious about their earnings buying less and less with every passing year.

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But they always, to a person, drift off course in their personal journey toward the Truth about workers’ increasingly tenuous existence in the 21st century. These folks get close to naming the evil that has made their lives unlivable – or close to it. Then they take a sharp right turn and blame … people they fucking hate.

It’s the Mexicans or the gays or the libs or the Antifa super soldiers or the overeducated woke freaks in the suburbs. It’s the United Nations or the courts or the Obamas or Hugo Chavez or government regulations. They will do the most impressive kind of mental gymnastics to avoid the Truth, because they are unable to see the Truth. These fine folks, destroyed by the demands of the marketplace, tortured by the logic of capital, can’t blame capitalism for their problems because capitalism is like air – it’s just there.

Like Bane’s relation to the darkness in Batman, Americans were born into capitalism, molded by it. Our every relationship is shaped by the never-ending advance of capital. The direction of our lives – our education, our jobs, every moment from the cradle to the grave – is dictated by capitalism. We like to think it’s God or the universe or (hilariously) ourselves who dictates these things. It is not. Capitalism is the driver of all things. It is the invisible hand manipulating the strings that make you dance. We are the marionettes who believe we dance of our own volition.

Everyone on the right and most mainline liberals don’t know what’s making them dance.

The Rich Men of Richmond vs. Marx … Right?

You may have heard the bad-faith hit of the summer over the past week, Oliver Anthony’s “Rich Men of Richmond,” a (seemingly) scathing indictment of capitalism unlike any we’ve seen since Rage Against The Machine. With his dyed red beard and his fake Southern accent, Anthony makes every effort to connect to his fellow worker in “Rich Men of Richmond.” It is a shot across the bow of the elites – a Marxist tune that takes no prisoners.

I thought I would take a moment to dissect Anthony’s lyrics and what they mean for the political left – and the right.

I've been sellin' my soul, workin' all day
Overtime hours for bullshit pay
So I can sit out here and waste my life away
Drag back home and drown my troubles away

Yes brother. Speak to the misery capitalism has caused you, a human being who wishes only to live, only to use your finite time on earth to make things, make love, make the most out of the days you have. Your bosses, the capitalists, have exploited you to within an inch of your life. You work hard and you work honestly for almost nothing. The deal was to trade your labor – sometimes back breaking, sometimes mind melting – for a decent wage. That deal has been broken – shattered by those who dole out the cash.

Capitalism is so brutal, so inherently inhumane (a crime against humanity by any other definition) that it drives you to numb the pain of existence when you limp home from your job. You poison your body with booze because you cannot stand to face the pain alone. And brother, no one blames you for that. It is but one way to get along, to make it to tomorrow and work yet again. Dig that hole, forget the sun, and when the work is done, don’t you dare sit down; it’s time to dig another one.

Yes indeed, this guy gets it.

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

Ah yes, the good stuff, the class solidarity. People like you and me, brother: Workers engaged in the perpetual struggle against the ruthless ruling class. And yes, we open our eyes with the gentle morning sun sneaking through our windows and we wish, instantly and with great fervor, that this capitalist arrangement was no more. We wish for freedom, which is not possible under capitalism, for under such a system, we are servants unwillingly drafted to a greater cause: Expanding capital until, eventually, human civilization is no more, until the ruins of humanity are all that stand. We know it is the Great Cancer infecting us all, and the fight feels too big for one person, or a hundred people, or even a million. It begets hopelessness, even nihilism.

We want to wake up and go for a walk, listen to some goddamn birds sing or some fucking trees rustle in the breeze. We want to wake up and go write, or read, or paint, or draw, or sing, or listen to music, or do no goddamn thing at all. But we cannot. Because we must work.

“You were not born to pay bills and die,” Anthony recently posted to X, where he only follows Elon Musk and country singer and right-wing loon Jamey Johnson for some reason. Hmmm.

Livin' in the new world
With an old soul
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
'Cause of rich men north of Richmond

Um, OK. I mean, yes, taxation should certainly be progressive in nature, taking more from the rich and leaving working folks to keep their meager pay. From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs, right?

We’re still on the right path though. We loathe those rich men north of Richmond, presumably members of Congress all but installed by capitalist interests to do anything and everything to protect corporations against the socialist terrors of egalitarianism.

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

Wait. What. What the fuck.

Well, God, if you're 5-foot-3 and you're 300 pounds
Taxes ought not to pay for your bags of fudge rounds
Young men are puttin' themselves six feet in the ground
'Cause all this damn country does is keep on kickin' them down

Ah fuck. Fucking shit man. Motherfucking stupid ass shit. What the fuck. You’re blaming … fat people for your struggles? What happened to the Man, man? Why are we talking about overweight folks receiving welfare benefits? I don’t get it.

The 'Weaponization of Righteous Rage'

There’s good reason to believe Anthony’s “Rich Men of Richmond” is a far-right astroturf project, much like the fascist-funded and projection-laden “Sound of Freedom,” a QAnon-inspired film about the right’s bad-faith concern about human trafficking. His song just happened to hit every major streaming service and his social media following just happened to be enormous despite never having had anything close to a hit. It all smells of a right-wing psyop.

I asked Anthony Reimer, my fellow Bad Faith Times writer who lives just outside of Appalachia and writes eloquently of working class struggles in the US, about Oliver Anthony’s song as yet another oh-so-close moment in conservatives identifying the problems of our time.

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“I take personal offense to this shit because a guy plucking a guitar in the mountains is one of my favorite forms of music,” Reimer said, making me laugh both online and in real life. “But this fuck isn’t even good at that. Over emotive and generic. Bitching about fat people on welfare. Plus Appalachia has such a proud leftist tradition. It’s really important in my opinion to try and focus on these areas. Not only because they’re some of the worst hit by neoliberalism, but because there is an anti-authoritarian strain deep in their culture that could be embraced by the left, but instead is co-opted by the right, and turned into anti-government attitudes.”

The right’s laser focus on The Other – immigrants, LGBTQ folks, people of color, liberal latte sippers – ensures Americans embittered by the rigors of capitalism never, under any circumstance, support politicians that might just help them materially, Reimer said.

“They are left to really only vote for Republicans who will stoke cultural grievances, weaponize righteous rage but never actually address their everyday problems,” Reimer told me. “[The conservative pundit class] does not want these people mad at the bosses anymore, or at the cops who enforce the bosses’ collective will, they want them mad at immigrants and other poor people.”

And so Oliver Anothony’s bad-faith smash hit goes from socialist critique of late-stage capitalism to pinning the blame on poor folks getting by on our tattered welfare state. Anthony, like so many of his ilk, was so tantalizingly close to seeing the marionette strings that make him dance.

But he was always going to blame the poor. They always do.

Follow Denny Carter on X at @CDCarter13.