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How Loretta Lynn, Country Music, and Local Republican Tide Changed U.S. Politics : NPR

Loretta Lynn campaigned for both Presidents Bush. She is shown here with George W. Bush in Little Rock, Ark in 2000.

Paul J. Richards/AFP via Getty Images

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Paul J. Richards/AFP via Getty Images

Loretta Lynn campaigned for both Presidents Bush. She is shown here with George W. Bush in Little Rock, Ark in 2000.

Paul J. Richards/AFP via Getty Images

Millions of people mourned the death of country music legend Loretta Lynn, who died Tuesday at the age of 90, sending obituaries and tributes that recalled her song, voice, sincerity and charm.

Her mentions of politics were relatively few.

Several stories have been written that recall the feminist influence of her 1975 hit “The Pill.”

Moviegoers fascinated by Lynn’s portrayal in the 1980 film in which actress Sissy Spacek won an Oscar miner’s daughter They could attribute their favorite political attitudes to her.

However, Lynn has been very much a part of politics at some stages of her career.

At the peak of her fame in the 1960s and 1970s, Lynn was part of a significant shift in country music politics. This shift is akin to the shifting partisan tendencies of music’s most loyal fans.

That change led to major shifts in American politics and helped elect Republican presidents such as Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and both Presidents Bush.

And it continues to make a difference today.

This week, some of Lynn’s fans were surprised to learn that she endorsed former President Donald Trump

Lynn once told an interviewer that she supported Trump because the audience would have booed her if she had supported Hillary Clinton. It alienated some country music fans with what seemed to be a slight reference to the phrase “Stand By Your Man,” the title of the spirit-defining song.)

A surprise for Lynn’s alignment with Trump was a reenactment of her fans’ reaction when she appeared on stage with Republican presidential nominee George H.W. Bush in 1988.

On that occasion, referring to one of her own signature songs (“You’re Looking at Country”), Lynn turned to the crowd and the camera, saying that looking at Bush was “looking at the country.” He said.In case of doubt, she leaned over the microphone and declared: “I know George Bush, and he Country.

Bush was born in New England and raised in Washington, D.C., the son of a Connecticut senator. Bush went from an ultra-elite private prep school to Yale, served in the Navy, and set up an oil business in Midland, Texas for a few years before moving to the affluent area of ​​Houston, from where he returned to Washington to serve as a member of Congress. CIA Director, Republican Speaker, Vice President Reagan.

Whether Lynn’s description applies to him or not, Bush spent most of 1988 doing his best to win it.

But it really didn’t matter. In a way, if Loretta Lynn said Bush was a country, he was. She hadn’t invented a fake biography for him. She was communicating certain common beliefs with her audience. She had told them that Bush would act as their guardian and defend what her fans saw as America (and indeed, that year’s Democratic candidate, the Massachusetts technocrat better than Governor Michael Dukakis). Lynn later campaigned for the second President, George W. Bush.

Of course, no country singer, however beloved, could give Bush or any other candidate the presidency in 1988 or any other year. But the motivation behind Lin’s endorsement was important. Because they voiced years of ongoing change between Agricultural America and middle-class voters who worked for a wage and didn’t have a college degree.

For generations, those voters have been the foundation of the Democratic Party. In the South, the Democratic Party was the dominant political identity even before the Civil War. The Great Depression and New Deal policies of the 1930s gave the Democratic Party greater appeal in the rest of rural America, even though it remained strong in the rural South. Franklin D. Roosevelt achieved saint status.

“Almighty God,” cried the chorus of a country song. “He is a poor man’s friend!”

George Vexy new york times Writers who collaborated on memoirs, miner’s daughter (the basis of the movie of that name) reports that Lynn inherited some of that FDR worship from her father.

“Papa thought. [FDR] “George, write something about FDR.”

But as the country changed in the late 20th century, so did the loyalties of many artists. Early in Lynn’s career, in the 1960s and his 1970s, when folk and rock heroes increasingly identified with leftist causes, their problems and activism were alienated Democrats.

Many were drawn to Alabama’s agitator Gov. George Wallace, an ardent racist who ran for president as the American Independent Party candidate in 1968.

Wallace was never really a threat to win the White House, but he could have blocked Republican Richard Nixon’s bid. Had he done so, Nixon might not have won the majority he needed to win the Electoral College.


In that bid, and as in the subsequent campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, Wallace turned to major figures in country music such as Roy Acuff and Farin Husky. Headlining Wallace’s star-studded show at the Ryman Auditorium, the original location of Bill’s Grand Ole Opry and “the mother church of country music.”

Among those who noticed was Nixon himself, who recruited country entertainers for his own campaign in 1968, and would do so again four years later in a reelection effort.

On the way, Nixon visited Ryman and paid tribute to its inhabitants. Thank you, Mr. President. It featured Merle Haggard’s anthem “Okie from Muskogee,” which is said to be his favorite.“— and Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter”.

Listening to legacy in both music and politics

Lynn was always close to the audience. Her butcher her horror, Kentucky origins shone through everything she said and sang. She embodied both desires and aspirations, and both humility and fierce pride.

Lynn always spoke of her public, private pride and the sweetness of her bond. That’s why people were surprised that she had differences, and why she was able to overcome those differences to respect her art and her life.

She was also part of a generation of country music stars of the 1960s and 1970s who defined their public persona as opposed to the folk and rock stars of the time.

If the Woodstock Nation opposed the Vietnam War while supporting civil rights and a radical lifestyle, Nashville’s sound was attuned to traditional American social norms. , as they and their fans recalled, appeared to go around the wagon to protect America.

It’s no surprise that so many Republican candidates have since identified with a country artist who listens to tradition. Reagan had a button that said “Make America Great Again” long before Trump shortened the motto and put it on his hat.

If Bush Sr. was an unlikely rural hero, Trump was even more so. Trump didn’t even have a temporary connection to his life or country music, but he developed a bond of affinity with those who did.

Of course, he was from a wealthy New York family. However, he was able to create the character of a tough businessman on a reality TV show and translate it into his political persona as a candidate. showed acceptance of the pop culture preferences and social attitudes of the white class.

Trump also taps into the spirited, often defensive ethos long acquainted with the Appalachian region (broadly defined) that produced much of what Americans have come to call the “Rural West.” It’s like the fiercely rebellious spirit that animates JD Vance’s memoirs. hillbilly elegy And it garnered Trump’s support for Vance’s senatorial candidacy in Ohio.

Before World War II, country music was often called “hillbilly”. According to Bill C. Malone, an authoritative historian of the genre, co-authored with Tracey EW Laird, country music, usa, credited to Ken Burns PBS Documentary Country Music: The Story of an American Family.

It wasn’t necessarily a term of ridicule or dismissal, Malone points out. We call ourselves hillbillies, but when someone calls us that, we react violently,” he said of knowing a country singer.

Its particular bitterness has long been exploited by local and state professionals. In the 1960s, candidates such as Wallace and Nixon used it to boost their presidential campaigns.

Of course, not all country artists lean right. Guitar god Chet Atkins was a liberal who worked with many other types of musicians, including The Beatles. Willie Nelson is the author of Patsy Cline’s hits dating back to the 1950s and a left-wing populist pillar who campaigned for Ann Richards, the last Democratic governor of Texas, and other politicians. was. Dolly Parton has long been an advocate for LGBTQ rights.

The Dixie Chicks were sailing to the top of the country charts when opposition to President Bush 2 and the Iraq War threw them off course. More recently, we’ve seen country superstars like Taylor Swift turn away from years of apolitical stance and speak with the voices of their own generation.

The same goes for Maren Morris, Kacey Musgraves, and others who raised funds and spoke out for causes far removed from the Nashville orthodoxy of half a century ago.

In time, we may look back and find them and their contributions to be transformative.

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