Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The View from Flyover Country by Sarah Kendzior

The View from Flyover Country by Sarah Kendzior. Flatiron Books. 235 pages. $16.99.

Review by Ed Meek

Sarah Kendzior is a unique voice in journalism. She has a PhD in Anthropology. She studied authoritarian regimes. She is known for predicting Trump’s rise to power. The View From Flyover Country is a collection of essays written between 2012 and 2014. Many were penned for Al Jazeera. They were originally posted online and were just recently released as a book. She has a wide range of interests: the media, higher education, race, the economy. She is on the same page as Naomi Klein who wrote in The Shock Doctrine about the way those in power use a crisis in order to advance their own agenda. The essays taken together do a good job of explaining how we got into this fine mess.

Kendzior traces the election of Trump back to the Bush administration. In an essay called “Iraq and the Reinvention of Reality” Kendzior reminds us that back in 2002, in what the white house called, “the roll-out” of the war, Karl Rove said, “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.” That reality included the “fake news” of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that did not actually exist. None other than Secretary of State Colin Powell made a presentation to the United Nations claiming such weapons did exist and were a threat to us and the world. Condoleezza Rice went on television warning of a mushroom cloud if we failed to act, and Dick Cheney leaked “proof” of such weapons to The New York Times.

In the years following the invasion and occupation of Iraq, we had reality television, Sarah Palin, and The Apprentice, a show that beamed the decisive boss, Donald Trump, into the homes of 20 million Americans. Then, in 2015, Trump the celebrity was able to find support for his populist message to make America great again because, as Kendzior, puts it, so many Americans never recovered from the Great Recession of 2008 and they needed to blame someone. Trump offered them Mexican immigrants, Muslims, Democrats, Hillary Clinton, and her husband Bill. At the same time, he stoked their fears of terrorism. Like Palin he addressed them as the real Americans, the true patriots—those who were the victims of open borders, free trade and identity politics. And he addressed their concerns about the “Swamp” Washington had become. “I alone can fix it,” he claimed.

Sarah Kendzior is from St. Louis one of those forgotten cities in America. Do you remember the Judy Garland movie Meet Me in Saint Louis? It came out in 1944 and was set at the turn of the century when St. Louis hosted the World’s Fair. She sings “Easter Parade” at the end. It was an upbeat movie about the time when St. Louis, like many other cities in America, was thriving. Now St. Louis has high unemployment and underemployment and underfunded, racially-segregated schools. Kendzior connects the dots between Americans stuck in low wage jobs working for McDonalds and Walmart and Americans who used to be high income professionals who are now stuck in part time jobs in fields like journalism, academia, and publishing, in what she calls the post-employment economy.

From Kendzior’s perspective, most Americans, what Bernie would call the bottom 90 per cent, are not in good shape. Millennials are graduating from overpriced colleges saddled with debt. Mothers are forced to make impossible choices between taking care of their children and working to pay for daycare. College admissions are slanted toward the rich, as are internships, because the rich are the only ones who can afford to do them. Poor people are blamed for poverty and if they cannot afford to pay their water bill, the water in the richest country in the world is cut off, as it was in Detroit.

As someone who studied authoritarian regimes, Kendzior appreciates the fact that we in the United States have the ability to complain and to resist. She is hopeful that Trump will function as a cautionary tale we can tell our children about. She is concerned that the damage he is doing to the environment, the courts, our standing in the world, will take years to undo.

The View From Flyover Country is well worth reading. I would also encourage you to follow her on Twitter @sarahkendzior. Here’s a recent tweet: “I’m sick of rapists and liars and traitors and kleptocrats and warmongers and white supremacists and the fact that all the descriptors in this tweet can apply to one person and runs the USA.” If you want to understand what is going on in the United States today, Sarah Kendzior is a good resource.

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