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Sep 23, 2020

By now, it's largely taken for granted that country music is a racialized signifier, interchangeable with right-wing politics. And it’s not such an unreasonable generalization: the political currents of twanged and drawled patriotic paeans like Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA," Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American)," and Brooks & Dunn's "Only In America" leave little to the imagination.
But how, exactly, did this come to be? After all, country music, a descendant of the blues, folk, Tejano, and other genres, with connections to labor organizations like the Industrial Workers of the World and social-justice movements, has historically attracted musicians spanning the political spectrum, and didn’t necessarily emerge from such a staunchly right-wing political tradition.
Rather, popular conceptions of country music have long been deliberately shaped by a series of broader ideological projects. Throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries, conservative politicians and other right-wing forces have exploited the genre to promote illiberalism, racism, revanchist politics, and runaway anti-intellectualism where not giving a shit about the world beyond one’s own cold beer, pickup truck, old lady is not only acceptable, but actively encouraged and flaunted. 
On this episode, we examine how the genre of country music has been wielded as a tool of reactionary politicking in the US, from the machinations of Henry Ford in the 1920s to the Nixon administration’s Southern Strategy in the 1960s and ‘70s to the heady Shock and Y’all days of the Bush years, and how a once working-class tradition became a cultural cul de sac of worn-out tropes and middle-class, white grievance politics.  
Our guest is writer, editor and artist Alexander Billet.