By Sabrina Hornung
Our opinion: Governor Burgum, you’re embarrassing us.
As Jason Aldean’s song “Try That in a Small Town” soars to number one on the billboard charts here in the Divided States of America, has it managed to become a right-wing anthem in this ever abysmal culture war?
The lyrics themselves aren’t the most controversial part of this pop cultural talking point. The song came out months ago but didn’t get people talking until the music video dropped.
The video consists of Aldean and his band performing in front of a courthouse with a giant flag, fans and dramatic displays of patriotism. Footage from the 2020 protests and riots are then projected onto the building behind them, along with camera footage of crimes. And then they’re followed up by good ‘ol honest folk drivin’ tractors through golden wheat fields at sunset, families praying at the supper table and various other elements of Norman Rockwell imagery, as if crime doesn’t happen in the sticks.
According to today.com, the courthouse in the video is located in Columbia, Tennessee, “Where 18-year-old Black man Henry Choate was lynched in 1927, per John Roy Steelman’s book “A Study of Mob Action in the South”.
This doesn’t quite strike me as mere coincidence. Could it be understood as a warning to the Black Lives Matter movement?
If it’s not, why is there no footage from the January 6 insurrection? Or do we just accept riotous behavior for causes and individuals, that we can set as a marketing demographic for right-wing media and talking heads?
It doesn’t take a dummy to figure out that Aldean is pandering to a specific demographic, taking the Tucker Carlson approach to engage with outrage.
Furthermore, why is Doug Burgum selling a shirt on his campaign site with the aforementioned song title on it? Then again, maybe Doug is more of a headline reader, and doesn’t bother with content.
Speaking of pandering, what do you expect from someone who offers a $20 gift card for a $1 donation? This was the same guy who didn’t believe in handouts during a global pandemic – and our state under his governing invested (and lost) part of our legacy fund in Russia.
Is it thumbs up to authoritarianism? Is it a wink and a nod toward vigilantism? Or is he just trying to market himself as a good ‘ol boy when none of the good ‘ol boys want to ask him to join in their reindeer games? Maybe if he plays his cards right Senator Jeff Magrum will tell him where he got his “Make North Dakota conservative again” hat.
I was sitting in a small local establishment in central North Dakota the other day when an intoxicated young man approached our table. He provided updates on family and friends, then expressed his dismay with a neighbor for criticizing the aforementioned song.
A couple of the folks at our table were unfamiliar, so we googled the lyrics and then we collectively furrowed our brows at the violent opening stanzas.
One person I was sitting next to mentioned the lynching history of the courthouse and the young man who approached us point blank said that lynching is part of our history and folks are trying to erase it – as if they were trying to eradicate a family legacy.
Later on I asked someone if that town was known to have had lynchings. Without hesitation or flinching they gave me a somber, “Yes.”
Ok, so this is just one conversation and it set my wheels spinning. Sure it’s not everyone’s interpretation but it’s worrisome.
Southern geography aside, let’s localize this issue a bit more and let’s think about the implications of embracing the “try that in a small town” mentality on the campaign trail and the attitudes that embrace and enable it.
Here are a few examples of what’s gone on in our state within the past 100+ years.
In 1882 Charles Thurber, a black man was lynched off a railroad bridge crossing the Red River, by a white mob who broke him out of the courthouse. There was an estimated crowd of 2,000 spectators. According to mprnews.com, “The newspaper said the entire city was responsible for Thurber’s death.” A long overdue memorial was set in place in 2020.
Never forget the KKK activity in North Dakota in the 1920s. Instead of targeting people of color (aside from native people, the population was primarily of European descent), the Klan was a pro-temperance, anti-Catholic, anti-semitic group. They even tried to integrate themselves into Grand Forks politics. In fact, the largest Klan gathering in ND was in Larimore. In 1923 the anti-Klan law was passed, making it illegal to wear a hood in public places.
Wait – a radical far right group trying to integrate itself into state politics? According to an April 21, 2023 article from the Salt Lake Tribune, Sovereign Citizens are making their way into the GOP. An article published a month earlier was titled “Sovereign Citizens in Utah: ‘More prevalent than we think’. How far away from that are we in North Dakota, if we aren’t there already? Afterall, this is Gordon Kahl country, remember the Posse Comitatus?
The last recorded lynching in North Dakota was in the early 30s in McKenzie County at the Schafer jail near Watford City. There was recently a movie called “End of the Rope.” In fact, we published a story about it in July 2017, with a piece called “If These Walls Could Talk.”
These are just a few examples, and there are COUNTLESS recorded and unrecorded incidents.
According to the USDA, a community is considered rural if it has a population of 60,000 or less. North Dakota has three cities that are considered urban , Bismarck, Fargo and Grand Forks, which falls just barely under 60K. No wonder Burgum is taking his photo ops to the badlands. I mean, he’d just look plain silly donning those chaps in downtown Fargo or Bismarck.
So Doug, please think long and hard about what those “small town values” really are and please reconsider embracing the “Try That in a Small Town” trend. You’re embarrassing those of us who actually live and work in small towns.
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