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Ben Shapiro thinks he’s welcome in Nashville, bless his heart

It’s the perfect feeding ground to create the Silicon Valley of far-right propaganda. But the battle for the soul of Music City is far from over

Skylar Baker-Jordan
Tennessee
Wednesday 16 September 2020 20:27 BST
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Ben Shapiro accuses Andrew Neil of being ‘of the left’
Ben Shapiro accuses Andrew Neil of being ‘of the left’

Ben Shapiro is moving to Nashville, Tennessee. Last night, the former editor of the right-wing outrage machine known as the Daily Wire announced he and his company are leaving Los Angeles and moving to Music City.

“Terrible government has consequences,” he said of his company’s leaving California.

Bless his heart.

Shapiro is not the only right-wing gadfly to move to Nashville. He joins Tomi Lahren, a conservative commentator, who relocated to the Volunteer State earlier this year, and far-right blogger Matt Walsh, who announced he will be moving with the Daily Wire, too.

It appears that Nashville is a burgeoning hub for right-wing media types, drawn to the city no doubt because of Tennessee’s far-right politics. The state has no income tax, the lowest minimum wage allowed by federal law, and a reactionary legislature that earlier this year criminalized peaceful protest in the state and passed a law allowing for discrimination against gay parents in adoption.

It’s no surprise that Lahren, Walsh, and Shapiro would feel right at home here. Certainly, it’s hard to dispute that the Nashville suburbs are as red as a MAGA hat. Even areas of the city like Belle Meade are still chock-full of old moneyed families with a vested interest in maintaining the conservative status quo. I have no doubt Shapiro will feel right at home.

However, for many of us, the South feels like anything but home, even when it is the only home we know. The South is both a beautiful place with a rich heritage and a place of unspeakable cruelty.

Being a gay Southerner often means both loving and hating your home region, fighting competing instincts to flee to the safety of a city where you might find more acceptance and longing to stay where your roots are.

Nashville squares the circle between love and hate for residents like me. Yes, it sits in the middle of deep red Tennessee, but it has long been an oasis from the harassment I experienced elsewhere in the South. I went to college just an hour north of Nashville and spent many a night in my early 20s carousing through Five Points and Hillsborough Village. I danced the night away at Tribe and Play, two gay clubs humorously located on Church Street, and hung out with lesbian friends at the Lipstick Lounge. I listened to slam poetry and wrote my first magazine column at Café Coco. Even in the mid-00’s, the Nashville I knew was welcoming to everyone, even the children most of the South would rather disown.

This is no fluke. Over the past twenty years, Nashville has made a conscious effort to shake off its image as a backwards and backwoods town. It passed an ordinance in 2009 protecting LGBT Nashvillians from employment discrimination. It has appealed to new residents with its mix of world-class dining, culture and down-home charms. It made a conscious effort to put on a progressive, forward-looking face and has consequently emerged with a reputation as one of the most exciting cities in the South. This image was never entirely earned — as the city has grown, so has inequality. However, Nashville does remain a blue oasis in a sea of red, having voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

It would be an overstatement to say that the Daily Wire’s arrival changes any of this. Still, their move into the region raises questions about what kind of city Nashville wants to be. It will be hard for Music City to continue to present itself as an open and accepting place if it becomes the de-facto home of far-right propaganda and hate.

As Daily Wire co-founder Jeremy Boreing told Deadline, his company chose Nashville because it “offers the creative talent we need to keep growing the business.” That makes sense to anyone who knows the region, and it may be a sign of things to come. Nashville is the country music capital of the world, making it home not only to musicians and songwriters but to journalists, videographers, directors, and broadcasters covering the music industry and more. It’s the perfect feeding ground to create the Silicon Valley of far-right propaganda.

Perhaps Boreing and others suspect that, given the overall demographics of the South, they will be able to attract likeminded conservatives to help them build their bigoted brand while reaping the benefits of living in a progressive, cultured city.

If so, Nashville stands at a crossroads, and it will be up to Nashvillians to decide which path they take: working with Shapiro and his ilk to bring more reactionary bigots into Music City, or working towards a fairer and more equitable future. We choose whether we participate in the industry moving here.

To be sure, no one can stop these folks from living wherever they like, nor should they try. In fact, we should treat them with the hospitality we’re famous for, welcoming them with a Cheshire cat smile and a “bless your heart” whenever we see them. These carpetbaggers might not know what that means, but we sure as hell do.

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