Every time you figure that Trump’s fringe, hysterical voting base can’t possibly demonstrate more paranoia and unhinged behavior, they exceed expectations.
The “Sanders” jersey
Last weekend, country music superstar, soon approaching, or arguably already attaining legend status – Garth Brooks, performed at Ford Field in Detroit, wearing a Gray with Blue trim, Detroit Lions player jersey. That should be no problem, one might assume.
The jersey featured the number #20. That should have been a clue. The name emblazoned on the back was “Sanders”. That was a clue, but for a large number in attendance, it was a clue they jumped to conclusions on. More on that in a moment.
A certain contingent of Brooks’ fan base has been suspicious and rankled about Garth’s political leanings for a number of years. Despite the general impression one might have about the sensibilities of country music, it’s rural orientation and the manner in which religion in the South traditionally has seen Christianity as a source for a litany of right wing ideological tropes, there actually is a contingent in the country music scene that doesn’t fall in line for Republicanism, or it’s newest iteration – Trumpism.
Johnny Cash – progenitor of Nashville liberalism
The gentleman that was the leading edge of a liberal trend in Nashville, beginning in the 1960s, was Johnny Cash, whose music and his assessments of social issues always trended towards protesting injustice.
Cash was an advocate for rehabilitation and reform of prison inmates (“Folsom Prison Blues”) as opposed to the prevailing paradigm of punishment for punishment’s sake.
Although not being of Native American heritage, he related to their history and struggles and recorded and performed music that told of the indecencies inflicted on the Indian in America.
Cash was as close to a pure folk artist and it’s tradition of protest, as the country music scene ever produced. He was regarded in the same reverence as Jimmie Rodgers, “the Blue Yodeler”, considered to be the father of country music – who was Cash’s prime artistic inspiration, together with Woody Guthrie. And in this context, we can’t ignore the Carter Family that Johnny married into and Cash’s affinity and collaborations with Bob Dylan.
“The Hag” veers leftward
Merle Haggard’s career featured a fascinating political trajectory, including a highly subversive song he personally penned, titled “Irma Jackson” that was held back from release by Capitol records and shunned on C&W station formats because of the nature of it’s lament on how interracial relationships were scorned in society.
Haggard was known in his later years, as a left leaning influence, hailing from the most unlikely point of origination – Bakersfield, California, the westernmost outpost of Oklahoma. Merle upset some apple carts, defending the female trio derided by country fans for dissing George W. Bush – the “Dixie Chicks”.
But there are other notables. Johnny’s pal and fellow icon, Willie Nelson, Cash’s daughter Rosanne, the late Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Tom T. Hall Earl Scruggs and his family and most everyone from the “outlaw” branch of country and western that arose from Texas.
Today’s Nashville political mavericks
Of Garth Brooks’ contemporaries, the list of Democrats and / or liberals, include, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Emmylou Harris, Grammy winner Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark, The Mavericks (appropriately enough), Brad Paisley (a personal favorite, who shows up on National Public Radio frequently), Kathy Mattea, Eric Church (legal cannabis advocate), Taylor Swift (very outspoken, even if admittedly in the pop / country crossover category), Kelly Clarkson, Lee Ann Rimes (some debate regarding her), Keith Urban, Mary Chapin Carpenter – along with most likely several dozens more, whose center left or progressive views are not as prominently publicized.
Some of them have emerged, just in the past 4 years, in response to events they found they could not remain silent regarding. Eric Church, who was slated to perform in the Route 91 Harvest Festival, in which a single gunman killed 58 concert goers and wounded 515 others, said of the tragedy and its public policy implications:
“Right’s right and wrong’s wrong,” he told Rolling Stone. “Why can’t we come together and solve one part of this? Start with the bump stocks and the gun shows. Shut a couple of these down. I do think that will matter a little bit. I think it will save some lives.”
The dirty word in Country Music is not so dirty now
“Liberal used to be a dirty word in country music,” the Tampa Bay Times declared. “But today, more artists are speaking out on gun control, LGBTQ rights and immigration. And some are stumping for a Democratic wave on Election Day.”
Shania Twain, in 2016 was quick to excuse and apologize for an inadvertent comment that touched off a firestorm – an allusion that she might vote for Donald Trump, classifying her statement as a brain fart, although she didn’t put it in those exact terms.
The emerging shift in Nashville, which is itself, consistently a blue voting city in a red voting state, is causing warning lights to come on the dashboard on the right. Trump supporter Todd Starnes, a Fox News contributor, writes,
Now, I don’t want to unduly alarm folks. So long as we have Hank and Charlie and Big & Rich, I think country music will be able to weather the leftist onslaught. But liberal culture creep is a tricky thing.
Garth Brooks breaking bad
Back to Garth Brooks. Brooks’ music and public persona, has historically been average guy, middle of the road, with a minimum of boat rocking of the perceptions, temperaments and conventions of mainstream country music.
His alter-ego project, the gender bending and genre bending “Chris Gaines”, did raise some eyebrows, but on the whole, Brooks’ liberal leanings were best described as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. In 1991, music critic David Browne wrote of Brooks, “with his meat-and-potatoes image, goony grin and virtuous all-American values, he is the Kevin Costner of country.”
Nevertheless, some people’s antennas began twitching when Brooks began releasing songs such as “We Shall Be Free”, an inclusive ballad, smacking of “coexist” type sentiments like non-Christian faiths and which suggested a plea for tolerance of alternative lifestyles:
When we’re free to love anyone we choose
When this world’s big enough for all different views
When we all can worship from our own kind of pew
Then we shall be free.
If the culturally vigilant conservative Garth Brooks fan, shrugged such songs off, Brooks did something in 2009, that they couldn’t ignore. He performed at ‘We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial’.
Brooks also said of President Obama in 2012, “I love him to death and I fully support him and I just wish him well because it’s got to be hell in that office.”
If that wasn’t enough to straighten their short ones, Garth bookended his affection for Obama, in November of 2016, honoring the president at the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at the White House. Imagine that – lighting a Christmas tree, when it was still, according to Donald Trump, verboten to do so?
Brooks’ wife, Trisha Yearwood, by all appearances, including her assessment that women in country music, are shortchanged in how they are handled and promoted by the industry – seems to be of like mind with Garth, if somewhat less vocal.
Country music has predominantly been a form of musical expression, whose fans assumed was comfortably situated on the right of center of the political spectrum. They felt it was the exclusive province of social conservatism, even despite some occasional jolts, such as Loretta Lynn’s tectonic plate shifting and unmistakably feminist minded song, “The Pill”.
The Guardian, interviewed various elements of the music scene in Nashville. They spoke with Clay Johnson, 29, a composer, who, sitting at the bar at the Red Door Saloon in east Nashville, told them, “Trump probably got a lot more support from country music artists than hip-hop artists. But there are a lot of liberal artists. It would be wrong to paint them all as conservatives.”
When Garth Brooks, took a pass on an invitation from the Trump inaugural committee to perform in D.C., excusing his tour commitments as the reason, some of his fans weren’t buying it and the reaction was radioactive.
I guess @garthbrooks is not a patriot. Get your money back, Ohio. – “Donna
@garthbrooks just replaced your songs on my iPhone with Toby Keith songs. To bad. The ppl your pleasing hates country music. – Cankles@HillarysAnkles
So sad @garthbrooks bows out of #TrumpInaugural . So much for doing what is right. #NoPatriotism @KallieTinSC
The proverbial straw
And so here we are in March, 2020 and the Trump contingent, fans of Brooks or otherwise, have a new bee in their bonnet – the Sanders jersey he wore at the concert in Detroit.
A sizable group took the name, “Sanders” to be referring to Bernie Sanders and hence that Garth was signaling an endorsement of the Vermont Senator running for the Democrat nomination.
As Mediaite reported, the furious responses on Instagram and Facebook include:
“Good grief. Can’t you just do what you get paid to do ???? Why why why does it have to involve politics !!! So sad. We don’t pay good money for anything other than to watch you perform. Thought you were different.”
“Nothing like supporting a communist to loss a few fans! How about going to a successful socialist country and doing some research? Oh yes, you can’t because there aren’t ANY successful socialist countries!”
“Weird. That a millionaire would like a socialist. Hey Garth are you going to distribute your millions?”
“If this is for Bernie Sanders, I’m done with you. I thought you were a true American that loves Our Country?”
“No thanks! Trump 2020!”
“What are saying? Your a Communist or a Socialist. Either way your a loser. Just threw out your cd “
Brooks himself has been low key about the whole affair, and Barry Sanders is into it. Sanders posted in social media, accepting Brooks’ endorsement:
— Barry Sanders (@BarrySanders) February 28, 2020
And Barry’s old team, the Lions got into the game as well:
Nice to see some people aren’t losing their minds over this, in the same fashion as when Taylor Swift declared that she is a Democrat.