The Rich Men North of Richmond

The Rich Men North of Richmond, They Take It All!


Capitalism, 1956

16 Tons

by Tennessee Ernie Ford

Some people say a man is made outate mud

A poor man’s made outta muscle and blood
Muscle and blood and skin and bones
A mind that’s a-week and a back that’s strong

You load 16 tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
St. Peter, don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store

I was born one mornin’ when the sun didn’t shine
I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine
I loaded 16 tons of number nine coal
And the straw boss said, “Well, a-bless my soul”

I was born one mornin’, it was drizzlin’ rain
Fightin’ and trouble are my middle name
I was raised in the canebrake by an ol’ mama lion
Can’t no high toned woman make me walk the line

If you see me comin’, better step aside
A lotta men didn’t, a lotta men died
One fist of iron, the other of steel
If the right one don’t get you
Then the left one will

Capitalism, 2023

Rich Men North of Richmond

by Oliver Anthony

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Bob:

A Broken, Forgotten Old Man

A sunny, beautiful day in Redwood City. I’m parking my car to go to my favorite eatery for lunch. I notice an elderly man across the street shuffling slowly up the sidewalk. One foot in front of the other. Slowly. Teetering. I thought, “He’s about to fall.” I hurried to his side, “Can I offer you an arm to hold?” “No, I’m fine, but thank you,” he said. Then added, I’m coming back from Kaiser where I had surgery for brain cancer. I’m going to catch a bus at Sequoia Station (about a half  mile up the road).” It was clear to me, he’d be lucky to make it across the street, let alone to the bus station. “I’m trying to get back to Brookdale, my senior living center. We lost our regular driver, so I have to take the bus.” I said, “Look, why don’t I give you a lift?  “My name is Rick.” “I’m Bob,” he said.

On the ten-minute drive to Brookdale, he told me he’d worked as an admin all his life for several companies. He’d been married once for two years, now divorced. No children. No relatives. He said he depends on $2,000 a month from the VA and his meager savings he earned working overtime all those years. He worries that his money will dry up. He would have nowhere to go, and said, “The government doesn’t seem to care. There is so much paperwork.”

As I dropped him off, I gave him my card, “Bob call me if you need a ride again.” He walked through the automatic door, “Thank you Rick. You are very nice.”

Driving home, I thought: That could be me. I have friends who’ve struggled with and died of brain cancer. Unlike Bob, my friends had three things: friends, family, and money. Why is the end of life so miserable for so many Americans, especially those without resources?

Capitalism? We grind people up, especially those at the bottom. Our political classes know what is going on. They tell us about it hoping to get our votes.

Donald Trump:

“The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation’s Capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.”

Hillary Clinton:

“The deck is stacked in favor of those at the top.”

Bernie Sanders:

“This type of rigged economy is not what America is supposed to be about.”

Along comes this new song by Oliver Anthony: “Rich Men North of Richmond.” The right is loving it, the left is contemptuous of it. The left needs to get a clue. The dems used to be the party of the poor, the working classes and the oppressed. No more. The people who love this song had been called “deplorables” by Hillary Clinton in 2016. So, guess what? They made Trump president.

As you consider the words to Rich Men, think of the rows of homeless tents in our major cities and under our freeways. Think of the  people shooting up and dying on the street in the Tenderloin. Also, think about the hatred Trump’s base has for the costal Ivy-league elites who they think run their lives and care nothing about them. Their rage was on full display on January 6th. The urge to wreck offices, to smash things, to “hang Mike Pence”…to even take a crap in the capital is clear in all the videos (well, not the crap part).

January 6th was not an attempted “coup.” The rioters had no intention of setting up a new government. All they wanted to do was stop the transfer of power and show their rage. People who feel disrespected and belittled eventually lash out, for example: the high school killers at Columbine; the Germans after WWI who elected Hitler; and Trump’s base. This is some serious shit. Note how Trump raises his right fist and proclaims, “I am your retribution.”

If the Rich Men North of Richmond bust your union, ship your job overseas, give your kids shitty schools, and take away your healthcare, at some point, you will rise up. So many people have suffered these assaults that Trump could actually win a second term.

My teetering old friend Bob is not going to storm the Capital, but he is a symptom. He barely has healthcare and iffy government support. Yet we have more than 760 billionaires in this country and many major corporations that pay zero taxes through fancy accounting loopholes.

When I worked at Hewlett Packard, the “HP Way” was a company credo that spelled out HP values. One critical value was respect and support for the communities where we do business. Today, thanks to Jack Welch and others of his ilk, the main thing is “shareholder value.” Screw the workers and their unions, screw the community and “stakeholders.” Just shovel money to the executives and shareholders, to hell with everyone else.

That gives us Bob at the end of his life, and the possibility of another four years of Trump…and the end of our democracy. Just ask the leaders of North Korea, Saudi Arabia, China, Russia, or Albania…they’ll tell you about the joys of autocracy.

2 thoughts on “The Rich Men North of Richmond

  1. Susan Page says:

    I don’t get why the LEFT does not like that song. I’m LEFT and it speaks for me. It seems to be about what the DEMS stand for: and end to the wealth gap, a government that serves the common good and the middle class and workers. Biden has done more to govern for the common good and for the middle class than any other president in decades, including Obama. What am I missing here? Whey don’t the Dems like it?

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