Opinion | Liberals and Oliver Anthony’s Working-Class Lament, ‘Rich Men North of Richmond’

A photograph of a man, who has a red beard and hair, holding a guitar in front of microphones. He looks toward another man with a beard and an instrument.
Oliver Anthony performing in Moyock, N.C.Kendall Warner/The Virginian-Pilot, via Associated Press

To the Editor:

Re “Liberals on Their High Horse About ‘Rich Men,’” by Nicholas Kristof (column, Aug. 31):

Thank you, Mr. Kristof, for once again opening eyes with your column about Oliver Anthony’s song “Rich Men North of Richmond.”

I will admit to being one of those “liberals” ready to dismiss the song without listening to it. After reading the column I did listen to it, and I recognize it as continuing the tradition of protest songs that many in my generation embraced wholeheartedly in the ’60s, expressing the frustration of the working class in its struggle for the dignity and respect we all crave.

It is time that those of us who have had the privilege of higher education and rewarding career paths put ourselves in the shoes of those who have had neither. We need to recognize the resulting widespread anguish and despair as a failing of our society, and embrace our own responsibility to proactively work toward healing these widening cracks in our democracy before it is too late.

Barbara Wilson
Altadena, Calif.

To the Editor:

Nicholas Kristof writes, “Liberals are properly attentive to racial injustice but have a blind spot about class, driven in part by unfair stereotypes that members of the white working class are invariably bigots.”

It strikes me as somewhat ridiculous to use stereotypes about liberals in order to accuse liberals of indulging in stereotypes.

I’m a member of the white working class, a high school dropout who has spent decades fighting poverty, addiction and the impossibility of surviving on minimum wage. I also have very liberal political views.

Living a life beset with constant financial worries does not afford one the right to indulge in bigotry any more than living a life of success and luxury does. Bigotry and reliance on stereotypes bloom in many socioeconomic classes and stations in life.

Tor Larsen
Melbourne, Australia

To the Editor:

I commend Nicholas Kristof for reminding us about the extreme inequalities produced by the current structure of the capitalist economy, but the key to Oliver Anthony’s sudden success is not a general critique of capitalism but the direction of his anger northward.

Whether intended or not by Mr. Anthony, this makes “Rich Men North of Richmond” a convenient distraction from the profound inequalities that characterize most of the Southern states.

Should anyone be curious about the way rich men (and women) south of Richmond use the levers of political power to enrich themselves and impoverish the poor, Black and white, I recommend the stunning July 2022 Opinion guest essay by Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein, with the online headline “Alabama Takes From the Poor and Gives to the Rich.”

Alas, I doubt that a song with that title would soar to the top of the charts.

Barbara Weinstein
New York
The writer is a professor of history at New York University.

To the Editor:

The New York Times has seen as fit to print the opinions of doctors regarding the medical condition of a politician whom they have not examined: Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader. Of course, a proviso is given that they are rendering opinions based on observations and have not done an examination.

In the meantime, the American Psychiatric Association continues to prohibit psychiatrists from giving such opinions, based on the Goldwater Rule. However, many psychiatrists have opined on Donald Trump’s mental health, believing that it is unethical to withhold information indicative of dangerousness.

Many of the psychiatrists who courageously contributed to the 2017 book “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump” believe that subsequent events have demonstrated the validity of their claims.

Indeed, Mr. Trump continues to show evidence of what many (not just psychiatrists) suggest is a severe personality disorder, including his refusal to accept that he lost the 2020 election.

And if in fact Mr. Trump truly believes that he won the election, then perhaps he suffers from an even more serious disorder. It is time for the American Psychiatric Association to drop or revise the Goldwater Rule.

Fredric N. Busch
New York
The writer is a clinical professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College.

Destruction near the village of Robotyne, in the Zaporizhzhia region of Ukraine, late last month.Viacheslav Ratynskyi/Reuters

To the Editor:

Re “Ukraine’s Forces Try to Punch Second Hole in Russian Lines” (news article, Sept. 6):

When will the U.S. stop fueling its proxy war with Russia? As your article suggests, Ukraine’s ongoing counteroffensive will likely require “several more months” and “heavy casualties on both sides.”

Vladimir Putin’s apparent recourse to North Korea suggests that he needs more weapons. President Biden may have already achieved his stated goal of degrading the Russian military.

With Ukraine also running low on ammunition, now is the time for international mediators to begin shuttle diplomacy. The objective should be to secure first a cease-fire and then a long-term peace agreement. Continuing arms shipments to Ukraine can only delay that process and cost more lives.

L. Michael Hager
Eastham, Mass.
The writer is a co-founder and former director general of the International Development Law Organization in Rome.

David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

To the Editor:

Finding Clarity and Inspiration in Writing, While Incarcerated” (news article, Sept. 7) details the enormous benefits that incarcerated people gain from writing programs of this kind. It’s important to note, though, how rare such programs are inside U.S. prisons and jails.

In fact, prisons and jails actively prevent people from reading and writing much more than they encourage it. Thousands of books are banned in individual states; New York alone has banned 5,356 separate titles.

I’ve tried to start reading discussion groups in prisons and have been met with red tape and bureaucratic stalling. In my work, I’ve found that reading and writing are not largely understood by prison authorities to be beneficial but rather are met with suspicion. This is true despite the fact that both reading and writing are demonstrated to reduce recidivism.

On Sept. 14, the exhibit “Return to Sender: Prison as Censorship” opens at the EFA Project Space in Manhattan. There, visitors can see the ways that prisons and jails prevent people from the learning, self-expression and creativity that reading and writing offer.

Moira Marquis
New York
The writer is senior manager of the Freewrite Project, part of the Prison and Justice Writing Program at PEN America.

Public data on the number of senior ballet students doesn’t exist, but there has been an increase in programs and classes for people 55 and over.Magdalena Wosinska for The New York Times

To the Editor:

In an Artful Workout for Aging Bodies, Failure Is an Option” (Science Times, Sept. 5), about senior ballet classes, absolutely delighted and resonated with me. As an 88-year-old, I qualify for “an artful workout.”

Growing up in Manhattan, a balletomane from my childhood, I was determined to be a ballerina from the age of 3. Life intervened; this did not happen. So in addition to attending performances, I have started taking ballet lessons for the sheer love of the art.

The beauty of movement with music and the grace of the positions, even with all the attendant imperfections, are simply thrilling for me. Fortunately New Haven has an excellent ballet school — New Haven Ballet, where I take lessons — that is welcoming to all ages.

Paula Armbruster
New Haven, Conn.

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