What’s still the Matter with Kansas?

Thomas Frank kicked off a new series of columns at Salon.com by updating us on What’s the Matter with Kansas?

He notes that the forces of populism in Kansas, today as during the Bush years, are pushing the state further and further to right, politically:

Today, in the seventh year of the Slump from Hell, it is commonplace to decry the 1 Percent and describe, as (for example) George Packer does in “The Unwinding,” the ugly things deindustrialization has done to the Midwest and that depopulation has done to farm country. But back in the early oughts things were different. In those days we were coming off an economic boom during which consensus commentators had spoken of the Market as a kind of god and of its doings as the very incarnation of reason. I disagreed: To open your eyes and acknowledge the dilapidation of small-town America and the fate of manufacturing cities like Wichita, I thought, was to call the whole rotten consensus into question.

And thus we came to the book’s central problem: Why did the people on the receiving end of so many of these developments have such trouble seeing it that way? Once upon a time, the Midwest had been famous for its hard-times uprisings. And, yes, the people I encountered in Kansas there were angry, all right. But not at the forces that were tearing their world apart, or not directly anyway. For modern Kansans, economic destruction seemed to trigger the exact opposite reaction as it had for their ancestors. As I put it, in one of my favorite passages in the book,

“Out here the gravity of discontent pulls in only one direction: To the right, to the right, farther to the right. Strip today’s Kansans of their job security, and they head out to become registered Republicans. Push them off their land and next thing you know they’re protesting in front of abortion clinics. Squander their life savings on manicures for the CEO and there’s a good chance they’ll join the John Birch Society. But ask them about the remedies their ancestors proposed (unions, antitrust, public ownership), and you might as well be referring to the days when knighthood was in flower.”

The whole column is worth a read, you can check it out on Salon.com here .

One area in which the documentary film makes clear is the sincerity of the social conservatives, who many readers’ of Thomas Frank’s book mistook for mere tools of the Republican business establishment. None of us who made the movie are that surprised by the changes in the state since Brownback (who we filmed – but did not include in the finished movie) took power.

John Brown mural in Topeka capitol dome

One Comment

  1. Steve
    February 16, 2014


    Cutting taxes and infrastructure, and schools. Not designing a place for families to live, designing a place for companies to thrive. As wrong-headed as the board of Apple firing Steve Jobs, when he was the one who understood the mission and culture of Apple.


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