Why a Backwoods Banjo Player Topped the Music Charts

About a month ago, a backwoods banjo player from Virginia recorded a 3-minute song that quickly bypassed the latest song from Taylor Swift and every other musical celebrity to top the charts.

The YouTube video has 58M views and over 117,000 comments, many like these two:

“I’m a Combat veteran who often wonders what happened to the world I fought for and my buddies lost their lives for. This song makes sense. I pray it wakens the dead of heart.”

“I’m a 42 years old truck driver and have been working 70 hours a week plus side work for over 7 years straight.  And this hit home.  I take responsibility for not living a financially perfect younger life, but pair that with a divorce and a family tragedy, I feel buried and no matter how much I grind and stay positive, I see no light at the end of the tunnel.  Politicians are so out of touch with who they “represent”.  It’s gotten so much harder just to stay afloat these past few years.  I do not need or want any hand outs. But stop making it so damn hard for hard working Americans to get ahead or climb out of struggles no matter how we got there.”

Whether you agree with them or not, these comments show people baring their souls. If you haven’t listened to the song, I’d recommend it.

I’m convinced that this song isn’t a flash in the pan or a 4-week fad. This song hit a nerve, globally, with people tired of governments that seem to take more and more and offer less and less real benefit.

The contract between government and people is broken.

This chart showing public trust in government makes that clear:

But why is this? Why do Oliver Anthony’s lyrics resonate so deeply? Why do so many of us distrust the government?

I thought that it might be that governments are taxing us at much higher rates without improving benefits, but the average federal tax rate is lower than it was in the 1990s.

I thought that it might be that many more people are now living dependent on the government and many fewer people are now working or looking for jobs, but these are either not true, or only partially true, depending on how far back you look.

Then I remembered something a philanthropist who worked with families in countries around the world once said, “All mothers essentially want the same thing – a better life for their children.” We all want our lives to be better than our parents and our kids’ lives to be better than ours. This is, after all, the American dream.

And it’s not happening. People born in the 1980s are about half as likely as people born in the 1940s to make more money than their parents.

We can see why this is true, in part, when we compare growth in median income to growth in inflation (i.e., consumer price index) and housing prices.

The American Dream - the belief that we each can make tomorrow better than today - has become a pipedream for too many.

Almost 250 years ago, a group of patriots formed a government that created the right conditions for the birth of the American Dream. Now, here in Shasta County, we need to revitalize the American Dream.

To do so, I believe we need a new contract between our county government and the people of this county that makes clear what we can expect from our government. Here is a start:

  1. Government should be held accountable to make life better for people,
  2. While maximizing individual liberties
  3. And minimizing dependency on itself
  4. So that average citizens have the best chance of creating a better life than their parents had

Achieving this won’t involve tearing down our county government as some seem inclined to do. It will involve building it into an efficient, effective problem-solving machine.

Government leaders and pundits may write Oliver Anthony off as an angry white man unwilling to embrace the reality of 21st-century globalization, but if they do, they’ll miss an opportunity to restore even a small measure of trust in the government.

Ever since I heard it, I’ve listened to Oliver Anthony’s song every few days. It’s a reminder of what needs to change. I will work with all who are willing to uphold the contract above and restore the American Dream to Shasta County.

What are your thoughts on this song and the reactions it has prompted?