Jason Aldean thinks he’s been misunderstood. He hasn’t.

His claim that there is not a “single lyric” in the song that references race is disingenuous. For one thing, the term “good ol’ boy” refers exclusively to white people. And then there are the images — a number of which are from protests in other countries!

SHARE Jason Aldean thinks he’s been misunderstood. He hasn’t.
(FILES) US musician Jason Aldean performs during the Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards at Ford Center at the Star in Frisco, Texas, on May 11, 2023. When Jason Aldean released the video for his song “Try That in a Small Town” in mid-July, which critics say glorified violence and fueled racism, the singer catapulted country music into the latest debate illustrating America’s socio-political divides. (Photo by SUZANNE CORDEIRO / AFP) (Photo by SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP via Getty Images)

Jason Aldean performs during the Academy of Country Music Awards at Ford Center at the Star in Frisco, Texas, on May 11, 2023.

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Jason Aldean is full of righteous indignation that people are outraged by his music video “Try That in a Small Town.”

Against a montage of rioters pitching rocks and Molotov cocktails, masked criminals robbing convenience stores and protesters flipping off cops, Aldean presents himself as a wholesome contrast. There he is, clad in jeans and a cowboy hat, together with his band in front of a courthouse festooned with an oversized American flag. Aldean croons:

”Sucker punch somebody on a sidewalk / Carjack an old lady at a red light / Pull a gun on the owner of a liquor store / You think it’s cool, well, act a fool if you like / Cuss out a cop, spit in his face / Stomp on the flag and light it up / Yeah, you think you’re tough.”

Not subtle. He continues to a little light vigilantism:

”Got a gun that my granddad gave me / They say one day they’re gonna round up / That s--- may fly in the city / Good luck trying that in a small town.”

”Try that in a small town / Full of good ol’ boys / Raised up right /”

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Unsurprisingly, the video sparked an outcry and Aldean is now protesting his innocence, objecting that there isn’t “a single lyric” that references race and that the complaints have “gone too far.”

Well, some of his critics did go too far (when do they not?), suggesting, for example, that Aldean chose the Maury County courthouse for the video because it was the scene of a horrible lynching in 1927. Considering that 50% of Americans believe the Emancipation Proclamation, the War of 1812 or the Civil War happened before the American Revolution, I’d be surprised if Aldean is conversant with that history. But that’s about as far as his innocence extends.

His claim that there is not a “single lyric” in the song that references race is disingenuous. For one thing, the term “good ol’ boy” refers exclusively to white people. And then there are the images — a number of which are from protests in other countries! While few of the rioters’ faces are clearly visible, the footage is entirely of urban unrest. Guess who tends to live in cities? The video doesn’t distinguish between liquor store hold-ups and mass protests, but suffice it to say that the kind of violence he splashes before viewers is very much of the urban variety — entirely in keeping with the theme of the song, which seeks to claim that city people are violent, flag-burning thugs while we rural “good ol’ boys, raised up right” are the peaceful patriots.

He hits that theme hard at the end, with new images of white children romping in their backyard, a little white girl playing hopscotch, and a white farmer in a wheelchair proclaiming that helping neighbors is what his community is all about: “Somebody needs help, he’ll get it.”

I’m sorry, does Aldean think that people who need help in Boston and Nashville and St. Louis don’t get it from their neighbors? Does he think that people who live in New York and Chicago and Philadelphia approve of criminals? Does he think they all cheer flag burners?

And for that matter, does he know what kind of thing happens in small towns? Uvalde, Texas, is a small town. Newtown, Connecticut, is a small town. Greenwood, Indiana, is a small town.

And it’s notable that some awfully famous images of rioters attacking an iconic American landmark, desecrating the American flag and spitting on cops — those from Jan. 6 — didn’t make the cut.

Asked if he would play the song even after the controversy, Aldean took refuge in the familiar pose of victimhood. Because he’s being criticized, he thinks he’s being “canceled.” Gushing about his “bada—” fans, he whined that “Cancel culture is a thing ... which means try and ruin your life, ruin everything.” Of course he would perform the song, he declared, because “the people have spoken and you guys spoke very very loudly.” So matters of decency get decided by plebiscite?

Look, Aldean imagines that he is merely standing up for the “feeling of a community that I had growing up.” But if he really was raised with good values, where is the fellow feeling? Where is the sense of community with other Americans who may not be from the same town but are just as worthy of respect and consideration as his high school buddies? If this were really a call to community, he would have included at least one or two images of Americans who weren’t white or rural. Don’t we expect all Americans to honor their neighbors and compatriots? Isn’t that part of what being “raised up right” includes? Don’t rural people reach into their wallets when hurricanes or tornadoes hit cities and vice versa?

Aldean’s defense is fatuous. The music video is belligerent and divisive. In this age of ugly partisanship, the cheapest clicks can be purchased with us-vs.them incitement. It’s unworthy. Don’t try that in a good country.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the “Beg to Differ” podcast.

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