Volume > Issue > The Exalted & the Despised

The Exalted & the Despised

CRAZED DISUNITY

By Jason M. Morgan | December 2023
Jason M. Morgan, a Contributing Editor of the NOR, teaches history, language, and philosophy at Reitaku University in Kashiwa, Japan. He is the author, most recently, of Law and Society in Imperial Japan: Suehiro Izutarō and the Search for Equity (Cambria Press, 2020).

Oliver Anthony’s barebones hit song knocked me flat when I first heard it earlier this year. “Rich Men North of Richmond,” Anthony sings from somewhere in the backwoods of western Virginia, have laid the country low. Working men and women are forgotten while the globalist elite — we all know whom he means — disport themselves with “minors on an island somewhere.” I haven’t heard social commentary that cuts like Anthony’s since Bob Dylan railed against the justice system that allowed rich-kid William Zantzinger to get away with murder and the ingrown good-old-boy corruption that brought down boxer Rubin Carter. Yes, it’s just as Anthony puts it. The “rich men north of Richmond” and their upper-crust compatriots are light years away from the rest of us.

I went to high school in a small town in eastern Tennessee where a lot of people looked and talked like Anthony does. From Manhattan, or that ’burb north of Richmond, Anthony and our ilk must look like bigoted ignoramuses. The reality is so very different. What I remember is an openness of spirit in the Appalachian foothills. We didn’t care about the rich men north of Richmond. What happened in Washington, D.C., was the no-good scheming of those who had forgotten God. We did our best to love everybody equally, for eastern Tennessee is in the Bible Belt, and loving our neighbor is what Jesus taught us to do. One of the wealthiest students at our down-in-the-mouth high school was a black girl, my friend. I remember going to her huge home and being warmly welcomed. There was a camaraderie in simply being fellow human beings. Some people were rich, most were poor, but nobody paid those accidents of birth much attention. We were happy then, innocent of envy.

How times have changed.

One day, a boy in our class, whose father worked at a local mechanic shop, gave a presentation on the North American Free Trade Agreement. He was against it. We had heard of NAFTA in passing; it was in the news at the time. I had no idea what it really was, and I suspect not many others at our place of learning did either. NAFTA would take blue-collar jobs away, the mechanic’s son warned. Almost all our parents were blue-collar workers, so we should have listened. But we were too busy living the Tennessee highlife — lake swimming and porch swinging, as carefree as you please — to pay much attention. Thirty years later, though, what our classmate prophesied has come to pass. Those who once worked with their hands now wring those same hands in worry. The jobs are gone or the paychecks throttled. The rich men north of Richmond got richer, and we got nothing out of the deal but their contempt.

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