On July 13, 2023, a country western artist little known outside his genre stepped into the national spotlight when he released a video of a song that channeled the feelings of at least 100 million Americans. In less than a week it was ranked #1 on iTunes and as of July 25 it is the #1 trending music video on YouTube. But you won’t see it on Country Music Television, because it’s been banned.
By now the story line is well established. Jason Aldean, 46 years old, who already had 24 number 1 hits on the US country charts, has released a music video where against a backdrop of protests and rioting, he sings “don’t try that in a small town, see how far you make it down the road…” Reaction to Aldean’s alleged endorsement of vigilantism and allegedly coded racist undertones has been swift and unrelenting.
According to Variety, Aldean has released “the most contemptible country song of the decade.” From NPR, the song “contained lyrics that glorified gun violence and conveyed traditionally racist ideas.” From The Guardian, “lyrics threatening violence against protesters.” From the New Yorker, “the repellent ‘Try That in a Small Town,’ an ode to vigilantism.”
Mentioning Aldean in the New Yorker was just an aside in that magazine’s recent feature article entitled “Country Music’s Culture Wars and the Remaking of Nashville.” The article was a lengthy diatribe against “bro country” taking over the industry, dominated by “slick, hollow songs about trucks and beer, sung by interchangeable white hunks.” The article goes on to lionize an emerging counterculture, “made up of female songwriters, Black musicians, and queer artists.”
The myopia displayed by this writer is revealed in how she characterizes the industry. So-called Bro Country is commercially successful because it’s popular. People like it. The “new guard,” on the other hand, is propped up by producers and their corporate sponsors who are trying to bring woke culture to country music, presumably to transform its conservative audience into liberals who will vote for Democrats. Hence CMT bans Aldean’s song, but pushes drag queens and “nonbinary” artists to the top of their playlist. And nobody is buying it.
An influential music blog “Saving Country Music,” without explicitly praising or condemning Aldean’s song, explained its inevitability. “Country music is more conservative now than it was when academia and the media decided to target the genre after the election of Trump, believing the way to enact a blue wave among the electorate was to seed politically-motivated ‘journalists’ into the industry to larp as country fans… Activists would have been much better served leaving mainstream country music alone to continue to release pallid, soft, unimaginative, inoffensive, and apolitical songs to a passive listening audience… Instead, the media and academia disrespected country artists and their fans with their down-looking, arrogant ideas that they could mold their minds through the country art form. Now it’s officially backfired.”
What Aldean’s song represents, and the reason for its popularity, is much bigger than the song itself, or the artist who sings it. For every American who watched tens of thousands of violent mobs rampage across the nation in the summer of 2020, looting and burning, while police were prevented from rounding them up and prosecuting them, and for those Americans, to this day, who watch endless videos of smash-and-grab gangs, or brazen, unmolested shoplifters, or intimidating lunatics free to terrorize the streets, this song is a primal scream.
For every American who watched statues of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, and countless other symbols of our heritage spat on, vandalized, toppled and smashed, this song is a primal scream.
Chris Willman, writing for Variety, claims “the most dangerous part of the video is how it conflates the act of protesting with violent crime.” But Willman misses the larger point. Of course protesting isn’t the same as violence, but the same mentality informs the leftist movement whether or not they graduate from peaceful protest to aggravated violence. They want to burn the country down. They hate us. They want to destroy us.
In a way the failure of authorities to contain the mobs of 2020, or the anarchists and psychopathic “unhoused” who have overwhelmed our cities, has done a favor for Americans who still love their country. They have sent us a clear message: We don’t care about you. We are going to use the “white supremacists are the true threat” mantra to turn America into a fascist police state, and these insane leftist mobs are our foot soldiers.
What the political pundits and corporate tastemakers don’t understand is that for tens of millions of listeners who love this song, America is a small town, smaller than ever now that every sensational moment in every corner of the nation goes viral in minutes. America has a culture and a story that is beautiful, but now the Left, abetted by globalist corporations that want to erase all nations and control the world, has proclaimed that America is irredeemably ugly. The town has been taken over by outlaws, who hate the people who built it.
If Aldean’s song taps resentment that has exploded in recent years, it’s well founded resentment. Millions of us have ancestors who died for religious freedom when they crossed the oceans centuries ago to settle here. Millions of us are descended from patriots who died to make us a free and independent nation, or from soldiers who died to free the slaves. Millions of us have parents and grandparents who died to save the world from genocidal Nazism. Over the past few decades, we have literally given our nation away to the world, welcoming over 45 million Americans who are foreign born.
And as we have thrown the doors open wide, and offered our freedom and prosperity to people from every corner of the earth, our government is teaching them to hate us. At the same time, our government has decriminalized crime, turned a blind eye to rivers of fentanyl and opium killing 100,000 Americans per year, addressed homelessness as a business opportunity for subsidized developers instead of deregulating the housing industry, have committed to the destruction of cheap energy, and are providing elementary school children with graphic sexual indoctrination while suggesting they can change their “gender.”
Felix Lace, still hanging on by his fingernails to a YouTube account with over a half-million subscribers, in a video posted on July 21, asked questions that can provide insight into the mentality of those alienated Americans who feel abandoned by the country of their birth.
“What should be loved? Consumerism? Endless wars? Debt? Those that hold the reins of power quite clearly do not care one iota toward their fellow countrymen. The west has become a business run by global financial cartels that use big tech, controlled media, and system journalists to crush anyone that questions the constantly changing cultural and moral landscape. And if that doesn’t work, they actively try to destroy those who express dissident views. We live in a society whose moral compass shifts on a dime, depending on the current flavor of oppression or deconstructionism. There are no constants, there are no concrete moral taboos. So why should anyone feel patriotic love for a country they can barely recognize one year to the next?”
The hypocrisy that fertilized the ground for Aldean’s song to take root is endless. A few years ago, a talented young country western singer, Morgan Wallen, was caught on video using the “N-word.” He didn’t use it disparagingly, or in a public forum. He used it playfully, late one night, describing one of his inebriated friends as a “pussy assed n—–.” He didn’t mean anything remotely harmful, but that didn’t stop the American cancellation and demonization machine from turning their full firepower onto him, doing everything possible to destroy his career.
It didn’t work. This talented, innocent man is more popular than ever. Why not? Deeming one word to be so sacred that context and intent is irrelevant, but only if you’re white, while black cultural icons use it incessantly, is not credible, and sends a toxic message: rules are for you, but not for them. “Zero tolerance,” selectively applied. Watching it used across the entire gamut of trivialities or spontaneous gaffes magnified into racist abominations turns good people into cynics.
Kathryn Jean Lopez, writing for the National Review, said “we need songs about virtue, not violence.” She evoked John Mellencamp’s tributes to small towns, sang in the 1980s. But the 1980s were halcyon years. Jean Lopez may be commended for appealing to love instead of violence. But the “townfolk” Aldean connects with today are everywhere, and they see chaos and hatred and violence descending on their neighborhoods, enforced by a government they no longer trust.
The reason Jason Aldean’s song is destined to be a cultural landmark is because Americans have had enough. Crime is crime. Competence is competence. Offensiveness is offensiveness. And “colorblind meritocracy” or “law enforcement” are not code words for racism. They are the only equitable ways to organize a society that values freedom and justice.
“Try that in a small town” reminds us just how outraged we should be. It is a primal scream, uttered from the depths of a culture edging closer to the ultimate choice: fight or die. Expect more of them, and it’s about time.
This article originally appeared in American Greatness.
Edward Ring is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. He is also a senior fellow with the Center for American Greatness, and a regular contributor to the California Globe. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Forbes, and other media outlets.
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