Disclaimer: this isn’t explicitly hyper-local to Champaign-Urbana. I’m sorry. If you hate it let me know and I’ll never not write about C-U ever again.

I watched this song today. You probably saw it make the rounds on social media. Maybe you listened to it and connected the themes of rural American rage. Maybe you also noted some not-so-subtle allusions to the Civil War and the Confederacy, as well as punching down on some of the most vulnerable people in our country.

Here are the lyrics if you want to read them instead of watch the video.

The song itself, while flawed, is catchy and deeply emotional. It made me tear up over my keyboard this morning.

“Rich Men North of Richmond” paints an all-to-familiar story about the evolving rural American condition. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of American history knows about this all too well. It is a definitive aspect of American culture at this point, and has left many in rural America with a feeling of rage from being left behind. That theme reverberates through every line of the song, and it is in no way inaccurate.

As Central Illinoisans, we know about the plants and jobs that have left our own cities like Danville and Decatur, leaving thousands to pick up the pieces of what remains. As Illinoisans, we know about towns like Cairo, which have been given raw deal after raw deal for decades. We even see the same problems Oliver Anthony highlights in the City of Chicago, which has a 17% poverty rate compared to 10% in Anthony’s home state of Virginia. As Americans, we know about stories like the decline (and rebirth) of Detroit, and the ways that substance abuse, namely the opioid epidemic, has wreaked havoc on rural communities across the country.

This song touches on some very important and poignant broad-scaled points included above, and its perspective is priceless; not because it’s right, but because it’s illustrative.

Frequently throughout the song, Anthony laments his “bullshit pay,” i.e., the wealth gap: a problem that is closely tied to America’s rural decline, has been out of control in the United States for decades, and was the root of the left-wing “Occupy” protests in 2011 and 2012.

Anthony then, in a matter of just a few words, blames the “bullshit pay” on SNAP recipients and other welfare programs, a tired Reagan-era talking point that has been debunked thoroughly.

(As an aside, if we want to talk about welfare recipients, let’s talk about farm subsidies, which provide about five times as much aid per capita as food stamps.)

This is a prime example of what is so heartbreaking about this song, and what inspired an emotional reaction when I listened to it. Anthony gets inches away from the point but can’t connect the dots. The struggles and problems highlighted are real. They are felt in Virginia, they are felt in Champaign-Urbana, and they are felt in Chicago. Every place that people live, you can, and will, find people who have been left behind. As a country, we should be ashamed by that.

But contrary to what this song wants you to think, these problems transcend political ideology. They don’t just apply to Republicans or Democrats. Rural decline and poverty doesn’t discriminate, and it certainly doesn’t care who you voted for. It won’t be solved by eliminating welfare spending; that’s just a convenient target constructed in bad faith.

Even the song’s title, “Rich Men North of Richmond” gets so close to the point before careening haphazardly into revisionist history. Yes, American politicians are wealthy and often profit from their positions. Often this has ramifications for honest working people. This problem is not exclusive to “North of Richmond,” which, of course, is a thinly-veiled Civil War metaphor to pander to a certain part of the population.

This specific type of bickering is so infuriating because it actively takes us backward, not forward, on the issues that matter. If Anthony was actually interested in improving the very real issues his song highlights, he would see that the people he’s attacking in the song are the same victims he’s singing about. It’s like that meme of a snake eating itself.

Curiously, the person who is delivering the “bullshit pay” escapes scot-free in “Rich Men North of Richmond,” with Anthony instead choosing to punch down and people receiving government aid.

This isn’t a Vietnam-War-esque protest song. It doesn’t seek to change anything or move anything forward. It seeks to stick us firmly in the partisan mud that has stood in the way of real progress time and time again. This plays perfectly into the hands of the same politicians Anthony paints as over-bearing and greedy.

There are some extremely legitimate points raised in this song, and we all need to have frank conversations about the rural rage present in America today if we seek to address it, but that’s not what Anthony did here. What Anthony did here was take very real problems, ones that shouldn’t be ignored, and turned them on their heads and inside out for political clout, casting blame that is neither constructive nor relevant.

And in case you want to hear what a real protest song sounds like, here ya go: