Country music singer Jason Aldean finally had a song make it to the US Billboard Hot 100, thanks in large part to a controversial video. Aldean didn’t write the lyrics for “Try That in a Small Town,” but he took the heat for filming a video in front of the Maury County Courthouse in Columbia, Tennessee. A site known for the 1927 mob lynching of an 18-year-old Black man, Henry Choate. CMT quickly pulled the video once the controversy started.
Aldean defended the lyrics, the video and his decision to be a person willing to speak up after seeing news coverage of protests turning violent. In a New York Times article by Livia Albeck-Ripka, Aldean says “I know that a lot of us in this Country don’t agree on how we get back to a sense of normalcy where we go at least a day without a headline that keeps us up at night.”
The two chapters from our companion book for this week describe the major contributions to a cultural shift that began in the 2nd half of the last century. Preceding the shift and likely contributing to the coming change, crime increased dramatically across the county.
As crime increased, so did feelings of insecurity, along with a major shift in political alliances. White fright became a political strategy and blue collar Americans changed party affiliations in large numbers. The increase began during a time of relative economic stability, contradicting conventional thinking that crime rises because of increases in poverty.
Instead, crime started rising prior to the breakdown in cooperation between business, government and labor that correlated with rising living standards. During this cultural shift, business leaders organized around unregulated free enterprise influencing legislators through lobbying. And the balances that made democratic capitalism possible were systematically eliminated.
David Leonhardt writes “Just as the 1930s started a new political era, so did the 1960s. It was the decade when the coalition that had built democratic capitalism and allowed millions of families to achieve the American dream unraveled.”
One correlation explains increased crime, however. Social discord. When political consensus falls apart, when people question whether society is fair and, in particular, when the trust of our fellow citizens fades, crime increases. Similarly, in times of cohesion and patriotism, and when people view the social hierarchy as legitimate, crime usually falls.
Elijah Anderson explains that once citizens question the justness of systems, many of its policies, laws, and rules seem illegitimate. Social trust is like the air that people breathe. A lack of trust affects how people respond to disagreement with neighbors, how willing they are to steal, and more.
In a recent article for The Atlantic, Anderson explains some ways that affirmative action, recently obliterated by the US Supreme Court, helped rectify some of the systemic racism embedded in our culture, laws, and practices. “Too many people forget, if ever they knew it, what a profound cultural shift affirmative action effected,” Anderson writes. “And they overlook affirmative action’s crucial role in forestalling social unrest.”
The complexity of interactions between policy, culture, and laws requires a mixture of wisdom, imagination and intellect mixed with diplomacy to govern effectively. Leadership matters. And God weighs in on leadership’s obligation to govern responsibly.
God called on the Prophet Ezekiel to denounce the leaders of Israel for not governing effectively. The powerful not on ly kept the best for themselves, they failed to make sure that all had equal access to resources.
I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep…I will look for those that are lost, bring back those that wander off, bandage those that are hurt, and heal those that are sick…
God criticizes the existing leaders with poetic artistry. “My other sheep have to eat the grass you trample down and drink the water, you muddy!” It was time for new leadership.
I suspect that most of us can identify with God’s frustration. And we clearly don’t all agree on which leaders are more likely to lead effectively. But this is the beauty of a democracy. We each have a voice and a vote.
And while those of us who claim allegiance to Jesus Christ also find a lot to argue about, we at least refer to the same source of authority.
We know through scripture that God chooses love and grace over all other alternatives. And God knows the difference between empty words intended to win your vote and effective policy.
You and I are also called to lead through example. We look to the teachings and illustrations of Jesus Christ and model our own lives accordingly. And we should expect that our leaders to do the same. They don’t have to believe what we believe, but their intentions should be the same.
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Parts of our series was inspired by David Leonhardt. Ours was the Shining Future: The Story of the American Dream. New York: Penguin Random House, 2023.
Livia Albeck-Ripka. “Jason Aldean Video for ‘Try That in a Small Town’ Pulled Amid Backlash.” © New York Times, July 26, 2023. Retrieved from: link
Taijuan Moorman. “Jason Aldean defends ‘Try That in a Small Town’ song.” © USA Today, Oct 19, 2023. Retrieved from: link
Elijah Anderson. “Black Success, White Backlash.” © The Atlantic, November, 2023. Retrieved from: link