The American Crisis: The View from Flyover Country, Part 2
In episode 6, Gaslit Nation continues its look at the decades of American crises that gave rise to Trumpism and paved the way for Russian interference in our democracy.
Gaslit Nation Episode 006 Transcript
The American Crisis: The View from Flyover Country, Part 2
Newt Gingrich: Nobody should underestimate how much Paul Manafort did to really help get this campaign to where it is right now.
[End Media clip]
Sarah Kendzior: Hi. I'm Sarah Kendzior. I'm a journalist and a scholar of authoritarian states focusing on the former Soviet Union.
Andrea Chalupa: I'm Andrea Chalupa. I'm a writer, filmmaker and activist, and this is our podcast and it still blows us away that we actually have a podcast, and we have to focus on all these things and this disgusting never-ending news cycle.
Sarah Kendzior: Yes. It's true. This is Gaslit Nation. This is your chronicle of the ongoing horror show of the Trump administration that has gotten worse and worse and worse. We started recording this podcast in June. Our first three episodes were review of 2016, and our futile attempt to warn the country that Trump is a Russian asset and a mafioso, surrounded by a cohort of criminals and white supremacists and other horrible people.
Our next episode, episode four, was on election integrity and threats to the midterms. Andrea, you can summarize what the last episode was about.
Andrea Chalupa: The lastepisode was a glorious episode, where I interviewed you about your book.
Sarah Kendzior: [Laughs] Yes, glorious.
Andrea Chalupa: So, Sarah and I were very determined to point out the obvious and confront all the conditions, whether geopolitical or domestic social ills that led to the rise of Trumpism in America. It didn't happen overnight. Of course, the first three episodes were all about Russia, Manafort, all of it, the Roger Stone crime scene of 2016. And very conveniently, Sarah wrote a pretty, pretty, pretty good book, The View From Flyover Country, which looks at the institutional decline, income inequality, lack of empathy and corporate-driven mainstream media, and et cetera, et cetera. I don't want to go into it. You'll just have to wait for that interview. So, it's really convenient having you as a podcast cohost, Sarah, I have to say.
Sarah Kendzior: Yes. Yes. Super convenient having you as well since our first three episodes related to Paul Manafort and his efforts to target your sister. So, you've been away. Lucky you. You got to leave the country for a little bit over a week to work on your movie. I have to ask you, have you heard about Paul Manafort?
Andrea Chalupa: I soheard about Paul Manafort. It's not even funny how much I heard about Paul Manafort. I was actually at a friend's wedding at the time. So, it was convenient that I was very dolled up, dressed up, I had champagne in my hand, and that was the best condition to be in when you hear about Paul Manafort.
So, yes, I was literally, in every sense of the word, celebrating with my phone out, with Twitter raging in my hand as all of us, again, had this beautiful block party on Twitter, DJ'd by Prince and George Michael and David Bowie, and all the others that were raptured in 2016 just sprinkled their stardust on us during this time of serious tribulation in America and around the world. So, yeah, I had a wonderful time when that news broke.
Sarah Kendzior: It is so troubling to me, though, that our lives are not divided into these increments, where it's like, "When did you hear about Paul Manafort's indictment? When did you hear about Comey leaking the letter? When did you hear about Trump putting kids in concentration camps?" We all know when we were at this time. The previous generations had these big moments. They had this, "When was JFK shot?" and it would be the thing that happened this year. For us, it's just the thing that happened within the last 24 hours and it goes on day after day after day. But, yeah. So, you're enthusiastic about Manafort allegedly flipping. You think it's for real?
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah. I mean, I know, obviously, I think he's still going to be jonesing for a pardon. I think a guy like Manafort, I always predicted that he would go down shooting out. There's no way you could flip somebody as dirty as him, but whatever they're able to do to him to squeeze, and they were, of course, very aggressively with him on that FBI raid early in the morning on July 26th.
They knew that Manafort was the swamp monster, the smoking gun in RussiaGate, really, the center of all of it. So, they circled their wagons and they got him. So, I am optimistic that he ... I think he's going to take out Jared. I mean, Jared is really ... He was credited as much as Paul Manafort with Trump's victory. So, what's really lovely there is that I'm sure you have this Shakespearean dark dynamic of some rivalry between them, these two big power circles running the Trump campaign. So, I think if there's anybody that Manafort would love to take out, it would be Jared, the two masters credited with Trump's election.
Sarah Kendzior: I think that's true. The thing that's worried me has been the timing of all of this because what we had, of course, was Manafort's trial, where we were very worried he wasn't going to be convicted, and he was. Then shortly after that, we had the George Papadopoulos situation in which it was revealed that Papadopoulos is a relatively minor player in the Trump campaign, who, nonetheless, was an essential source on Trump/Russia, had notbeen cooperating with Mueller as people had said.
I mean, when Papadopoulos was revealed to be working with Mueller, people made this huge deal out of it. They had speculated that he was wearing a wire. They said that he was going to bring down the whole operation. If you go back and retrace those claims, a lot of them go to Alan Dershowitz, who is Trump's little lackey. So, I think that there's some false expectations built up.
Then there's only a limited amount that Mueller can do in terms of Papadopoulos actual sentencing for lying to the FBI. You can only get up to six months, but he was irritated with him. He was irritated with Papadopoulos' wife, with their use of the mainstream media, and seemed to want a longer sentence. He ended up only with two weeks after the judge deemed him remorseful. He was not remorseful at all. He went on Twitter and, basically, bragged about what he got away with, accused everyone of setting him up and manipulating him. He seems just determined to live out his life and the limelight before his extremely brief punishment commences.
So, that's what makes me very nervous about Manafort because I feel like he looked at this as maybe having two options. You could play the odds, have a trial, potentially get convicted or maybe, you can say you're cooperating with Mueller, but not actually provide anything useful, and then, of course, like you said, hope for a Trump pardon.
I don't want to completely make this comparison because, obviously, Manafort is an enormous player in this. He was the campaign manager. He's known Trump for three decades. Basically, he's working with the Russian mafia, as well as with other dictators around the world, and Papadopoulos is this 30-year-old guy with limited political experience, but I don't know. The timing makes me uneasy. I guess I just don't want to get my hopes up for this. If you don't have expectations, you can't be disappointed, which, unfortunately, is a way to live in the Trump era.
AndreaChalupa: Yeah. No. I think we always go back to how it's so difficult to be a parent in the Trump age because you have to constantly drive your kids to school in the car and you're listening to NPR and then all these horrible stories are coming through, a lot of them having to do with sexual assault because this is the sexual assault presidency.
Part of that is also you see a lot of these people that had been indicted already, given their deep involvement in all of this like Donald Jr., Donald Trump Junior, Roger Stone, Ivanka Trump, others who had their fingers all over this not only the Trump ca mpaign, which is done in coalition with the Kremlin, but also the transition team, which also had the Kremlin weighing on major decisions like choosing Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State.
So, I think it's also very difficult for parents to explain to their children, who are old enough to be paying attention, picking up on the news because kids are a lot smarter than we often give them credit for. I just can't imagine how you explain to your children, especially parents who have children of color. How do you explain that Don Jr. is out walking around free after essentially helping install a Russian mafia asset into the White House with a hostile regime ruled by a dictator? So, all of that is incredibly frustrating.
I think right now, we're living in a time where you see allof us playing catch up. You see more women than ever running for office across the US. So, you really feel the sense of urgency that Americans are finally being forced to pay attention because their lives depend on it and because human rights crises are being done in our name with our tax dollars, and all of us are playing catch up.
So, I want to just finish by saying that Mueller and his team seem to be playing catch up. You don't go from giving a speech in 2011 as Mueller did as Director of the FBI, where he said that, "The head of the Russian mafia was going to stay on the FBI's most wanted list until he was caught." Then the guy after you, Comey, takes them off the most wanted list in 2015. So, something happened under Mueller's watch and under Comey's watch, where the Russian mafia was able to get ahead of them and now, they're forced to play catch-up.
Your side is not winning if a Kremlin operative like Paul Manafort helps get elected a Russian mafia asset as President of United States. You're not winning. Mueller has not been winning. Comey has not been winning. So, all of us in America, including the FBI, is playing catch up.
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Sarah Kendzior: Yeah. I absolutely agree with you. That's why it's very frustrating to see the celebratory aspect to these indictments. Obviously, I want people to be indicted or I want them to flip much more than I want them just walking around free, but we are behind. As I've said many times, the longer that they stay in power, the more they're entrenched, and the harder it is to get them out. You're right that between 2013 and 2016 in the election, there was enormous movement in terms of the ability of the Kremlin to interfere in US politics, in world politics, in places like Syria and Ukraine, and very little done. So, I think that there's that issue of accountability.
Another thing that's very frustrating is that throughout 2016, this was all happening out in the open. You and I raised the issue of the very fact that Manafort was the campaign manager as something seriously problematic and a giant red flag, but people had him on morning shows acting like he was a regular guy, just as they do now with Stone and Caputo and Michael Flynn, even, was headlining an alt-right conference here in St. Louis this weekend. There haven't been repercussions. So, I feel like we cling to this hope that, finally, it's serious.
With Manafort, one thing I did want to review is what does he have to offer this investigation, which is I would say a lot. I think the only comparable person is maybe Michael Cohen in terms of Cohen's knowledge of the Trump organization, as well as the 2016 campaign. Manafort knows everybody's dirty business. With him, you can information about Russian mafia ties, dirty money in the GOP going all the way back to the 1980s, the Trump Tower meeting in 2016, hopefully, information about Mike Pence, who Manafort personally selected. Nobody should forget that. Also, anything anybody in the Trump team did while he was serving as campaign manager.
This is interesting to me because this is a time that includes Jeff Sessions, who was the first senator to endorse Trump, and one of the earliest people to join the campaign, and he did it in the form of a foreign policy adviser. Lately, there's been all this talk about Sessions, and how we need to keep him, and how he's a white hat. It, honestly, baffles me because the only white hat that has to do with Sessions is one sitting on his head and accompanied by a long, white robe, if you know what I'm saying. So, I really got no sympathy for this Martin Luther King hating, Bilbo, bigot inhabiting the Attorney-General's office. I mean, there's the issue of, yes, the
Attorney-General should remain separate from the presidency, he shouldn't be functioning as Trump's personal attorney, but he hasbeen. He's implicated in the Russia probe.
So, what I'm hoping is that Manafort can give information about current Trump staff members, particularly, Sessions, Ivanka and Jared and Pence, and maybe help bring them down as well. I mean, my God, what a shit show because if one of them goes down, I would assume they all will, although I've been assuming that since Mike Flynn was indicted. After which, we had a bit of a lull. So, we shall see.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah, and there's still more to come out on all of this. I mean, you could write a book on Trump's inauguration alone. Just given the massive amount of money that was raised for that that went missing, that people still can't account for. Did Three Doors Down really cost that much money to perform at an inauguration? You have this record number--
Sarah Kendzior: Great mysteries of our time.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah, a record number of Russian oligarchs and people who represent Kremlin interests going to this inauguration. So, that alone, the inauguration of the President of United States in January 2017, it's like a Russian laundering bonanza, Russian money laundering bonanza. So, I think you could just write a book alonejust on that event. So, there's a lot more that needs to be picked apart here.
The books that are coming out are, I feel, really scratching the surface. One of the things I was thinking about, as I was reading this Manafort news coming out, is how desperately we need some collaborative effort to make an encyclopedia, yes, an encyclopedia set on 2016, all the conditions, everything, all the active players who created this 2016 crime scene. It's just so many factors involved. You have the NRA, you have the Evangelicals, you have the Russian mafia in the west, the Russian mafia in the east, how money laundering works today, the governments and legal structures and campaign finance laws and some of the biggest money washing machine systems, such as London and New York, how those all work.
So, really, for historys sake, just for the sanity of future historians and future students of history, you really need, over time, an encyclopedic set to break down all of this. The books that are coming out are just ... They're almost like pamphletscompared to all the information and knowledge that we have to confront in order to reform our systems and to ensure that this never happens again.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah. A lot of these books are frustrating. You've got books that, I think, are good like Russian Roulette, in part, because the authors of those books gave us information to the public as they were investigating it. They didn't withhold the information.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah, Michael Isikoff and David Corn.
Sarah Kendzior: Yes. Exactly.
Andrea Chalupa: David Corn being the first to interview Christopher Steele, who was desperate for anybody to talk to him, believe him in the mainstream media.
Sarah Kendzior:Yeah, and notably, David Corn was publishing this even before the election. So, these are people who are on top of it from the start, and seem to feel an obligation to bring this to the public. Malcolm Nance, I think, is another example.
Andrea Chalupa: Absolutely.
Sarah Kendzior: Then you get this tabloidy, gossipy books like Michael Wolff's or this new book by Woodward that I actually think helped the Trump administration because what they basically do is they cover up crime with scandal, and that's been a tactic of Trump since his days with the New York tabloid media. He doesn't have shame. He doesn't care if he a "bad reputation". He's admitted that any kind of attention, any kind of publicity is good. What he doesn't want is to face actual consequences for his crimes, but he doesn't mind being caught.
So, the Michael Wolff book, I've written about this before that it, basically, has this ... It gives a sense of chaos and disorganization that stands in contradiction to the fact that the Trump administration is consolidating power in very frightening ways. Woodward is a different type of writer. He's not really a scandalmonger like Wolff, but I, basically, think Trump is a reality TV President. He put people in his administration because he saw them, basically, as characters in the show. They looked the part. I think that that's how [Jim] Mattis, the only qualified member of this administration, accidentally got in because he had cool catch phrases and he was called Mad Dog, and he looked like what you think a general would look like. That's how Trump thinks.
Andrea Chalupa: Central casting.
SarahKendzior: Exactly. So, I think what Woodward did is he was a witness to a reality TV presidency and it stayed at the level of reality TV. It did not go below the surface, but there are some things that he's been saying recently that really concerned me when he was asked about the Russia case. He said that there's no evidence of collusion, which is a crazy thing to say, given all of the indictments and the evidence that's just in the public domain, and that in order to find evidence, one would need to go to Russia to find it, where one would be killed according to him, and therefore, it's impossible.
Andrea Chalupa: You'll never find it. Right.
SarahKendzior: Yeah, and it's also, it's just not true. I mean, the worst evidence is at Trump Tower. The worst evidence is in New York and D.C. and Mar-a-Lago and all these places in the United States. This is a mafia kleptocratic operation, and the American players are just as bad as the Russian players.
It's strange to me that you could have spent this amount of time with these individuals. Also, this is a guy, of course, famous for Watergate and not drawing that conclusion or also not even noticing the parallels with Watergate, not even parallels, the direct participation of people who are Watergate players like Roger Stone or Dimitri Simes- people who helped Nixon are also helping Trump. I would think that would be of particular interest to him, given their own Kremlin connections, but he, basically, avoided that in favor of this surface look, and it's strange.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah, and I agree with you. There's definitely a shallow portrayal here, where it's all just the sensationalism, the palace intrigue of the "chaotic" Trump White House. You could really tell by Bob Woodward passing the buck, essentially saying, "Oh, the truth is in Moscow, and I'm not going to go to Moscow because they're going to kill me. So, therefore, we'll never know the truth." That's very much just him putting the blame squarely on the Russians instead of the Trump organization, the Trump family itself. That's very much Bob Woodward trying to protect his access, trying to protect his access to the Trump regime and its coterie of frenemies and supporters.
This is a book that he's writing to cash in and it iscashing in because with the reality show administration, it is inherently incredibly damning and entertaining, and a lot of people are getting that satisfaction out of seeing all of this infighting and turmoil and the horror of it because that's what reality television, ultimately, is. At the end of the day, it's sad to see a journalist that has this really amazing - like we see with Watergate -sell us out this way and not push for the heart of the matter, the truth, which Wayne Barrett would have been all over.
Wayne Barrett, who was one of Trump's biggest watchdogs, an investigative journalist, who Trump tried to bribe by offering him an apartment in Trump Tower, who, ironically, died right before Trump was inaugurated. I mean, Wayne Barrett was the one that would have the guts to really go in for the kill and write the book that needs to be written. It's a shame that we lost him too soon.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, absolutely, because Wayne Barrett didn't shy away from the legal repercussions. He was somebody who was always digging into any court case or lawsuit or the skeezylawyers that Trump would surround himself with, in particular, Roy Cohn. So, speaking of sleazy lawyers and sleazy judges, let's talk about-
Andrea Chalupa: Kavanaugh.
Sarah Kendzior: Kavanaugh!
Andrea Chalupa: Jesus!
Sarah Kendzior: So, Brett Kavanaugh, initially, worried me because he appeared to be selected by Trump due to his refusal on, well, I'm not going to say principle, on lackof principle
to indict a sitting president no matter how heinous the crime. So, I saw him as an extension of Trump packing the courts, in general, but much more dangerous because this is the Supreme Court. This is possibly where Trump's own fate could be decided, and because it's the Supreme Court and so many important issues for our entire country are decided, voting rights, women's rights, abortion rights. So, he was always problematic.
What I didn't realize is that he is similarto Trump. He had this wholesome veneer, one which his supporters kept insisting upon, writing these inane op-eds about him being a great carpool dad, about how much all these 15-year-old girls like him, and then he, of course, paraded those
15-year-old girls behind him along with a white supremacist, Zina Bash, at his hearing. So, what it turns out is that Kavanaugh is not wholesome in any way. He's a gambler. He has massive debt. He's a liar, and he is an attempted rapist.
So, we're once again back, I mean, not even back, we're alwaysin this place. We're always in this place of dealing with rapists and sexual predators, who are put into positions of power, who are never punished for the actions of their past, they never learned from them, and then they go on to determine whether others are punished as well. It's an overwhelming thing. I remember being a kid and my mom explaining the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hillthing to me and saying that, "Yes, this is horrible to watch, but maybe things will change as a result of this. Your life will be different for you, for your kids," but what I just see is us rapidly moving backwards where all of this is out in the open. I think we have a pretty unimpeachable witness in Christine Ford and they just don't care. They just absolutely don't care. They see women as chattel.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah, and there's a lot, of course, to unpack here, and this is a conversation that Sarah and I had for about 40 minutes before even taping. We discussed Kavanaugh because for women, it's always difficult to have these conversations. I mean, the majority of rapes, unreported rapes in America everyday and the attempted sexual assaults, the targets are women. The statistics are so high that the women among you, chances are, many of them have experienced these types of attacks like what Kavanaugh did to a girl, pinning her down, cupping his hand over her mouth, making her feel like she had no escape, no escape.
This is just another example of us as women being forced to confront abuse and relive our own abuse. I've talked on the show about my sexual assault. What people have to understand about sexual assault -- attempted sexual assault, is that it never goes away and you relive it. The ugly monster inside of you, that shame that was thrust upon you, and the fact that somebody could tell you physically that you're less than a human being, that you're an object, that you simply don't matter, you carry that for a very long time.
As much as you try to be strong, pick yourself up by the bootstraps and put it behind you, your victimhood, what they did to you, resurfaces in very surprising ways, ways that you're forced to confront. So, even if you've gone through therapy, which I was forced to do for my own sexual assault because it was just becoming unmanageable. I had to do something because as strong as I thought I was, it does sneak up on you in really surprising ways, in ways that you're forced to confront.
Plus, a lot of women may not necessarily have the support structure around them. So, for me, personally, it was very difficult for me to confront what had been done to me when I was raised by two parents that were born in refugee camps and came to this country with nothing, and grew up in poverty and hunger in slums of New York City. So, why would I, in this privileged American society, with everything handed to me by my parents who achieved the American dream, why should I complain about what was done to me and the struggle I had?
So, some people culturally, for whatever reason, might not go seek the help that they need, and that can just really make the problem worse. So, imagine how the women now among you or if you're a woman yourself with this poisonous new cycle that's really forcing you to confront the fact that an attempted rapist, an attempted violent rapist may sit on the highest court in the land, where he's going to determine cases that are going to affect millions of lives and the future of our country.
This is somebody that's also going to be showing leadership to other Kavanaughsin college, in the professional corporate realms saying, "It's okay to treat women this way." The crisis of Kavanaughs on the Supreme Court is going to spread throughout America in ways that are going to just tell women, tell women that they're less than human, that misogyny is the way that white patriarchy is the way and that there's nothing we can do about it, "Watch us put one on the Supreme Court again."
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah. I mean, I think you said it. I don't know what else to add to that. I look at the situation. There's never a way for women to win in this situation. They'll blame you if you report it. They'll blame you if you don't report it. It's the loneliest pain. It's a kind of pain that it's very, very hard to live with. It's not, though, anything that any woman should ever accept as normal. There's a difference between common and pervasive, and normal and acceptable. I hope that young girls watching this, as I did with Anita Hill when I was 12, I hope they know that despite the fact that we are consistently losing, that we have this power structure against us, that they're not alone in this and that. We're not alone as women. We're fighting a very difficult, very painful battle, but we are fighting it together.
I resent this expectation that we're all supposed to come forward with our own experiences of sexual assault. I have incredible admiration for those who do. I mean, there's also people who just can't because it's too hard. So, at the same time, though, we are in this battle together. I think we owe it to ourselves and to future generations to keep fighting it, to not let up. It's just that this sucks that it's so emotionally hard to do.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah. No, it is something that you have to really brace yourself for. On top of that, it ties in really well with Woodward's book, where it's the chaotic excuse of Trump. That's just Trump being Trump. Kavanaugh's case is another example of that's just boys being boys.
It's like with that one swimmer rapist, was it Brock Turner, where the judge was more concerned about this young man's future and not the future of the victim, who's going to have to live with the fact that she was raped for the rest of her life.
I just want to say to all the men out there that are slow to catch up on this, that are victims of their own paranoia and their own lack of empathy, when you say that, "This is a matter of political correctness culture, PC culturewhatever face you want to put on it, the reality is that women are just simply asking for men to obey the rule of law, and just not rape us, not attempt to rape us.
I mean, my husband won me over by not raping me. You know what I mean? I don't understand men who say stupid things like, "Oh, the Me Too Movement has gone too far. I'm now afraid to touch my own girlfriend." You're basically giving away your own selfishness and your own lack of empathy that you would just feel that you're the victim of women finally taking back their power, and demanding to be treated with respect. It's just basic decency. That's really what we're fighting for here.
The far-right in America has gone so farthat we're now at the point where we're just fighting like, "Please don't put an attempted rapist on the Supreme Court." Well, I want to talk about the courts, in general, though, because as you and I know, as studying authoritarian regimes and in the former Soviet countries, it is the judges, it is the judges that protect kleptocracy. It is the judges that protect corrupt officials. The judicial system is essentially the bars on the cage of a kleptocratic, authoritarian system, and that's always been the case. So, that's what "It's Trump packing the courts now" is creating damage that we're going to have to confront for many years to come.
So, people on the left, who are very frustrated with the status quo, who in 2016 and even today are saying, "Oh, we need someone like Trump, so we can burn it down and rebuild." It is incredibly hard to rebuild. There's actually very few success stories of countries that fell into black holes of corruption who were able to get out of it. In fact, the bar for success is so low because the issues with corruption run so deep.
If you just look at Ukraine, for example, because what we're living with now, thanks to Manafort, thanks to the Kremlin-aligned GOP, is we have this Ukrainianization of US politics. I remember in 2015 speaking at an anti-corruption symposium on Ukraine and Serhiy Leshchenko, the Ukrainian investigative journalist and Member of Parliament, who was responsible for the Secret Ledgerstory report of the New York Times in August 2016 that led to Manafort resigning from the campaign. He was there. So, a lot of Ukraine's top reformers were there.
We're all just sitting in a room for two days just sharing where the bodies were buried in terms of Ukraine's corruption and what needed to be done about it. The overwhelming thought was that if you can get rid of the corrupt judges in Ukraine, Ukraine would stand a fighting chance of crawling out of its black hole of corruption. Of course, that's a very complicated matter. It's very complicated to do.
So, as a result, with the little bit of progress that Ukraine has made, you still have things like a judge upholding a ruling of an investigative journalist in Ukraine being forced by the same Prosecutor General's office that she's investigating, being forced to turn over her cellphone records for a year and a half. So, all of her sources, all of her text messages, all of her personal information, everything on her phone would be revealed. That was upheld by a judge, by the corrupt Prosecutor General's office.
So, even though Ukraine has made progress since Yanukovych, which is not as bad as it once was under Yanukovych, I worry for America that we've gone so into the deep end towards kleptocracy that even when Trump is gone, we'll be saying, "Oh, at least it's not as bad as it was under Trump."
I think all of this underlines the fact that we can't just be against something, which is the Trump regime. We also have to be for something, and that is all of us united and just fighting, working towards building a stable democracy in America that's there for all.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, absolutely. I think, especially, the fact that so many of these appointments, these judicial appointments are lifetime, this problem is not going to end with Trump. It didn't begin with him either. This kleptocracy was already emerging and really hitting its stride after the recession, which is stuff that I described in my book, but yeah. It has a number of already incredibly severe repercussions in terms of what kind of laws are formed and who's able to make them.
So, one of the things that I want to talk about are a number of very alarming stories having to do with immigration, with migrants, with the treatment of Latino Americans, converging at once. I think sometimes going under the radar because of all of the scandals that we have to deal with, but these are certainly the issues that are going to end up at the Supreme Court and are already being handled by lower courts.
So, to detail some of the things that are going on, there are now 12,800 children in the migrant concentration camps, which is up from 2,400 children in May. So, that's a horrifying situation. These are the kids from mostly Central America, who were ripped away from their parents, most of whom have not been reunited with their parents. They're living in horrifying conditions. There's been allegations of torture, of drugging. We've heard stories from kids who are traumatized.
We're seeing an expansion of the tent citiesthat Sessions and Stephen Miller have designed to imprison them, which makes me wonder, "Is it going to be limited to these kids, which is in atrocity in its own right or is it going to expand more broadly?" Which brings me to this question of citizenship.
We've heard from Trump supporters and people in the administration that the very idea of birthright citizenship is in question. There's been an attempt to take away citizenship from Latino Americans born near the border, questioning the validity of their birth certificates. This is, of course, something that shouldn't surprise you at all. This was Trump's entire shtick from 2011 onwards is to question the validity of Obama's birth certificate, which people rightfully interpreted as a racist attack on Obama, but it also made this idea of questioning somebody's birth certificate a mainstream concept. It's one that he's brought into the administration itself.
You can see this erosion of the concept of citizenship if you look at his administration. He started out with limiting the number of refugees, which he did again this week, by the way. I think it went from about 30,000 to 15,000. Then there is the Muslim ban, then you get the deportation of alleged, undocumented immigrants, as well as DACA recipients.
Then you get the refusal to help Puerto Rico after hurricane Maria, and the denial of people's death, where while you were gone, Trump tweeted that nearly 3,000 people did not die in Puerto Rico.So, you not only have him lying about people's birth, but lying about their deaths, and basically, negating them as human beings saying they're irrelevant as human beings and doing this in plain sight. If that sounds like Nazi Germany, if this sounds like an authoritarian state, it's because it is a similar practice.
Then finally, last week, there's a story out of Kansas that interested me, where a woman, Gwyneth Barbara, who had previously held passports twice and was born in Kansas with a home birth and had never had any problems before, applied for a passport and was told that her birth certificate was invalid. So, she got in this long protracted battle with the Trump administration to get a passport, where they asked her for supporting documents like a family bible or religious papers. Those were deemed as acceptable evidence that you are an American, but your actual birth certificate from a courthouse in Kansas, notarized, was not deemed acceptable. Only after contacting her representative was she able to get her passport.
So, you're seeing this broad crackdown, crackdown on mobility and the ability to travel, crackdown on voting in terms of things like voter ID, but also, an erosion of the very concept of citizenship that I think is extremely alarming. I don't know. I mean, what are your thoughts on what's ahead?
Andrea Chalupa: The story about the woman in Kansas, when you first told me about it, I was so shocked. I had hard time believing it at first. I read the article, I watched the local newscast out of Kansas, and it's incredible to me that ... I mean, I guess it shouldn't be by now given what we're up against in the US. When a woman can sit behind Kavanaugh in his confirmation hearing and make the white power symbol not once, but twice, and when she gets called out for it, people in the mainstream press have a hard time just accepting the fact that, "Yes," as we see with Jeff Sessions, the white hoods are off. The clan is now empowered. The clan is now in power. Stephen Miller is designing internment camps for children.
So, I guess I shouldn't be surprised when a passport office in Houston, Texas is demanding a woman's bible, a family bible, as proof of American citizenship, which is, of course, horrifying. So, I mean, what it really made me think of is also this prediction by Emmanuel Todd, who is a French writer and demographer, who accurately predicted over a decade before it happened that the Soviet Union would fall apart. Then he also predicted that around 50 years later, the United States would also break apart.
That's why I'm so sensitive to secessionist movements like those that are fueled by the Kremlin, where the Kremlin has their bots trying to get this CalExit, have California become its own republic, have a referendum for independence. Ron Paul, who's somebody just like his son Rand [Paul]has become pro-Kremlin. Ron Paul has fueled secessionism as a part of fighting for American liberties. We have to be so sensitive about those movements because who the hell wants to live on the border with the Independent Republic of Texas, given that a federal office there is demanding a family bible as proof of citizenship?
You know that once these states break off like Texas, they're going to become nuclear powers right away because you see how much they love their guns. So, they're going to nuclearize. We're going to be living on the border of some crazy right-wing republic that's a nuclear power. When I hear stories like this, I just think, "God, it could be so much worse if United States was broken up into independent countries like the EU. It could be so much worse," because at least being under one united government, there is a bit of checks on power.
As far right as we have gone as a country, given that we are under one party rule, I do feel that it could be a lot worse for us here if we were broken apart. I do feel that Congress does hold some of these far-right crises to account. It could be a lot worse if they're off the leash and allowed to be independent republics. I really do believe that.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah. I mean, that's true. I haven't even considered that kind of dystopian possibility of what would happen within-
Andrea Chalupa: Well, it's a nightmare story what this woman -
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, and it's happening throughout the country. I mean, I know people from Missouri, I tell them, "Go to the ACLU. Go to your representative."
It's becoming much more common. There always was an issue with people who were born in a home birth, who had trouble getting their birth certificates accepted. It wasn't thatcommon, but it happened enough that there's a lawsuit in 2009 that the ACLU won. So, therefore, this is not supposed to be an issue anymore, but once again, we've gone backwards.
When it comes to these militia movements, these far-right movements, every state is a mix of red and blue, including Texas. You have Beto O'Rourke, for example, possibly going to be Ted Cruz. In Missouri, where I live, you definitely have a lot of militia types, but you get every kind of type. They're all mixed, so I don't really know what kind of direction an independent republic would go. I just know who wants it, which is definitely Russia, definitely right-wing extremists, white supremacists in many cases, and we already see those people within our government, so I could see them being for that dissolution as long as it continues to financial empower them and politically empower them.
What it seems like the government is doing is trying to ethnically cleanse, to try to rid this country of Latino immigrants to basically not have citizenship as birthright, and not have citizenship as the aspiration of refugees and immigrants as it's been since time immemorial. You know that Stephen Milleris against the Statue of Liberty. He's against that on principle, all the architects of this movement are. So, I think that that's the kind of state they're envisioning is a white supremacist, white ethnostate. That's a very frightening thing.
Another that's frightening about this is that it's not on the fringes. People who have advocated for these policies are still in government like Miller or were in government like [Steve] Bannon, who, of course, left with great fanfare in January, but now is on this rehabilitation tour, along with a bunch of sexual harassers and other white supremacists, who is getting things like invites to headline the New Yorker Festival, being treated as this great intellectual. He's not alone in being treated this way by the New York establishment.
The New York Times, recently, ran an article calling for "peaceful ethnic cleansing" in the Balkans. That's a phrase, literally, from white supremacist Richard Spencer. So, you see these everywhere. You see this mainstreaming of a vicious, hateful, radical fringe into media and politics. I just don't know whatthey think they're doing because they did the same thing in 2016, and look where we ended up.
Andrea Chalupa: Right. They haven't learned from any of it. That's why, I mean, the media itself today keeps making ... The lack of self-awareness keeps making the case of why we need greater diversity in newsrooms. It's because I rather have my news reported on by somebody who's lived or grew up or is somehow directly more sensitive to what it's like to be on the verge of poverty or living in a police state. I think we need more women, more people of color in newsrooms because those groups are, historically, the canary in a coal mineof the way society is shifting, and they're the most vulnerable groups. They're the ones whose lives are, literally, on the line right now.
So, what we've talked about, and you're going to be, what you talk about in your book, The View From Flyover Country, is how there's now ... you payto work in a news room today. An entry level job at a fancy magazine, the salary is so low, that you really need somebody subsidizing your apartment in Manhattan, and your lifestyle in Manhattan, and your wardrobe to wear to work at your fancy magazine or your literary monthly magazine, whatever, in order to have these media room jobs.
What you're stuck with is a lot of the mainstream decision makers over there because of nepotism, because of privilege. So, your information is being delivered through a very privileged lens. Of course, those people are going to be the last to take Black Lives Matter seriously or feel the tremors of a police state or even take authoritarianism seriously. So, all of it just points to, "My God. We haven't learned," the abusive power, the lack of empathy that got us Trump in 2016. It's still operating today.
I was flooredby that New York Times op-ed that was calling for peaceful ethnic cleansing,those exact words. So, James Bennet, who's still the editor of the New York Times, who his own staff tried to have a rebellion againstbecause they just couldn't take these Nazi puff piecesanymore. They're running in the New York Times opinion section. It's like, "What is going on with him?
Has he been just working to the pro, Let's sympathize with the Neo-Nazibeat for so long, that he completely just slips and allows peaceful ethnic cleansingto be published in the New York Times?"
Sarah Kendzior: I mean, multiple people would have had to approve that phrase. The same way multiple people would have had to approve the article that praised Stephen Miller, and he said he was necessary, and praises the immigration policy and released on Holocaust Remembrance Dayor the pieces that praised Le Penor numerous fascists. I mean, this is an ongoing problem in that paper. It's an ongoing problem in other outlets. I don't think the New York Times is alone, but I do think a total lack of empathy is the root of the problem. It allows them to treat this threat as an abstract intellectual exercise.
It's really grotesque for the majority of the country, who are affected by it, to know how cavalier these journalists can be, how little they regard any human being that doesn't live a life like theirs.
Andrea Chalupa: Right. So, let me just quote. Ashley Feinberg in the Huffington Post was the one who reported on Bennet's own staff revolting against himbecause they were revolted by what they're publishing in the opinion section of the New York Times. So, Bennet defended himself by saying, "The world needs this from us right now. I don't mean to sound pious, but it really is true that this is a crude and dangerously polarized time, and to simply assert that we know what the right answers are is not good for the democracy."
So, basically, James Bennet is saying that the jury is still out on whether ethnic cleansing is good or bad, and the jury is still out on whether Nazis are good or bad, and the jury is still out that climate change, the many, many causes of those are still up for debate. This is James Bennet's war on facts, essentially. The New York Times [is] a publicly traded company, a company which is owned by Carlo Slim, in large part, owned by a Mexican oligarch. Then you have the Washington Post, which is owned by an American oligarch, Jeff Bezos.
It's just so funny to me when I talk to my friends in Ukraine, especially those at Hromadske TV, which is an independent online TV news network there that is dependent solely on, mostly on grants and donations. They've had offers to be bought up by Ukraine oligarchs and be on mainstream TV, and they've said, "No," because they wanted to maintain their independence. They complained to me about the fact that Ukraine media is owned by oligarchs and I'm just like, "We have the sameproblem in the United States." I mean, the Wall Street Journal, it's owned by Murdoch. So, I just don't know how else you account for people like James Bennet still having a job at the publicly traded oligarch-owned New York Times saying things like this.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah. I think it's because those powerful people benefit from the system. They benefit from a system in which most Americans are denied opportunities. If it was an actual meritocracy, I think you would find a lot of journalists and other people in different professions that are catered towards people from wealthy backgrounds. They'd be out of the job because of the competition. So, it's this weird opportunity hoardingthat has a financial benefit, but also, it creates real repercussions. People really get hurt. Policies that are put forth in the New York Times are taken seriously. Things like peaceful ethnic cleansingcross that threshold from an unfathomable horror to something you talk about at a cocktail party. That's disgusting.
I think the solution here is to just not take a publication like the Times any more seriously than you would take some randos blogbecause that's the quality you're getting. There is not quality control. There's clickbait and fascist rhetoric. I just think if we really judge works and authors by their merit, by the rigor of their arguments, then we would have a much more productive conversation on this, especially if we consider, first and foremost, who gets hurt.
Andrea Chalupa: Absolutely. So, let's then transition to the interview with you. It's part two. You and I sat in your dining room for hours and recounted the 2016 election, and then we discussed your book, the domestic social conditions that gave rise to Trump. I just want to say that you cover it all. So, without further ado, let's go to the Frankenstein monster of Donald Trump as built by income inequality, lack of empathy and corporate-driven media and the like.
This is Gaslit Nationwith Dame Magazine.
The View From Flyover Country - Interview: Part Two
[Media Clips Numerous speakers]
Increasingly, there are also mounting concerns about what constitutes a good job and a fair wage in an era of rising inequality. It's a story that won't go away.
It would be like, "Oh, my gosh! There's an autonomous robot inside of a Lowe's. Awesome."
... but what may look awesome for Lowe's and many of the nation's other businesses, could spell anxiety for American workers. For decades, automation has eaten up more American jobs that global trade according to economists, who warned that the job losses may be poised to accelerate.
I don't think we've begun to grapple with what that would mean for the economy if these jobs started to really go away in vast numbers.
Over the last year, I would say that I probably only earned $5,000-$6,000. I actually had a bank account, but I don't right now. There were so much things needed. It just got into negatives.
One of the reasons that a lot of people in Holmes County are still unbanked or underbanked is the lack of jobs.
They need a small dollar loan to make ends meet. There are not many alternatives to paydaylenders.
Some people can't wait on a check. That is about basic needs being met. I would say the housing condition is, for the most part, a bit horrible, but without mobile homes, there will be a lot of homeless people.
I'm actually having to work three jobs, and my husband works three jobs as well, and we're still not able to get ahead.
Back when I was a kid, my father worked and my mother stayed home. My father's income was enough for us to survive.
When I was growing up, it was achievable, the white picket fence, being able to own your own home. I feel like we can never catch up.
It's like you're stuck.
You got to get the millionaires and the billionaires in Washington to start worrying about the working class people because they want-
You think they don't know, don't care?
I think they forgot.
Two facts. Over the past 30 years, the US economy has been growing, but those at the top are getting more and more of the money. The top 20% have 14 times the wealth of the rest. The 80%, the largest inequality on record. For the first time in half a century, the majority of the young people in the middle class are not earning as much as their parents did.
So, how does the US fare in the global context? After taxes, America ranks second for income inequality in the developed world. One survey of top global leaders pegged income disparity as the second greatest trend facing the world.
The world's largest retailer, Amazon, is firing back after a scathing report depicted it as a bruising workplace. It's described as a cut-throat corporate jungle, where workers are pitted against one another. 80-hour work weeks are the norm and falling ill can mean you're out of a job.
The Times recounts several alarming anecdotes from former employees. From one who said, "Nearly every person I work with, I saw cry at their desk, men included." To a woman, who miscarried twins, but went on a business trip the next day. Her boss, she says, told her, "I'm sorry. The work is still going to need to get done." Another woman, who had thyroid cancer, was given a low performance rating after she returned from treatment.
[End Media Clips]
AndreaChalupa: It's definitely required reading today, and it's refreshing because you're constantly pointing out what's right in our faces, and you refuse to accept it as that's the way things are, and it challenged me. Reading your book challenged me because at first, I'm like, "Okay, Sarah. This is very negative and you're complaining," and then I had to put your book down and pause and reflect why you're annoying the hell out of me in these early pages of your book.
I realized that was because my own upbringing being the daughter of immigrants. My mom and dad, they're born in refugee camps. They came here with absolutely nothing. They knew hunger growing up in the lower east side. So, I was always raised that you pull yourself up by the bootstraps. That is the American story, and that's how you achieve the American dream.
So, I was getting annoyed by you and saying, "Why can't these people work harder? Why are you making the excuses for people?" Then I had to stop and realized, "Wait. My parents came here from a refugee camp, and they came to America," but what Sarah is describing is the class of people, the Americans that had been here for generations already, who had the American dream taken from them while already being here.
Sarah Kendzior: ...or never had it, to begin with, if you're talking about black Americans-
Andrea Chalupa: Yes. Exactly.
SarahK endzior: ... and the history of inherited wealth and all these discriminatory decimated academia, and how you have adjunct professors living in poverty, living off of food stamps. You even described, heartbreakingly, one father who negotiates his salary at a university to actually get paid less, so he can still quality for food stamps.
My father came from academia. He will admit that the success he had, you couldn't replicate it today because-
Sarah Kendzior: That's the difference, yeah. That's the thing. I mean, my family is the same way, and that they were ... My parents are immigrants. My great grandparents were, though, and it's the classic American story. You show up. You're not quite illiterate, but not the most well-educated people. You work in a factory. You barely speak English. Then the next generation does a little bit better. They're working at better factories. My grandfather was able to work his way up from being an assembly lineman to being an engineer without going to college, without having to get any kind of credentials or expensive education.
Then my dad becomes the first person to go to college, and he's in the baby boomer generation. So, they do fine. They have every advantage of the world. His college was cheap. He found a job. He was able to buy a house.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah, City College. My mom and dad went to City College.
Sarah Kendzior: Yes. My dad went to NYU, and it was fine. I mean, not saying they had the easiest life and there are things that that generation experienced very similar to what ours is in terms of the Vietnam War, in terms of social people that were actually very difficult for them. Overall, economically, as I described in the book, they had it very, very easy.
Then you get to me, who should be this culmination of this family working its way up from nothing, and instead, it's like, "Oh, my God! Everything is just, if you're not in this very narrow group of wealthy people, you are locked out these days from certain industries, from journalism, from policy, from media, in general, from entertainment, from ...What concerns me is that these industries that require extremely expensive credentials and often unpaid labor are the ones that have the most influence over public life. They set our expectations. They create narratives of what's normal, and they allow people to rise or fall through the ranks.
They're being absolutely monopolized by people, who I think like Jared Kushner is someone who typifies this new class, whether you buy your way into a place like Harvard or you're inserted into a place like the White House due to nepotism, due to wealth. People who are very talented, who are working very hard doing all of the "right things" are just getting saddled with debt, a lack of opportunity, and being locked out in terms of having their voice matter in this disproportionately affects non-White people. It disproportionately affects women, especially mothers, who have family obligations. It affects anyone who has a dependent they have to look after.
We only have very narrow slice of people who are able to be in these positions to influence public life. When you have that, that's very advantageous for someone like Donald Trump because you're getting people who are similar to him, and you're getting people who can't see the inequality of the situation. You can't see how people are living day-to-day because their lives were so unusual and so exceptional and that they're so wealthy.
I'm not saying that's true, obviously, of every journalists, every policy maker. I'm not saying that at all. I'm also not saying that everyone who comes from an advantaged background like that is inherently bad because there's some people who come from that and they use their privilege to do good things. Systematically, it's an enormous problem and it leads to bigger failures down the road when you have Kushner type or a Stephen Miller type inserted into these positions of power.
Andrea Chalupa: Part of the crisis is, of course, that as we always talk about the shrinking newsrooms across America, the loss of local newspapers across America, we have a much smaller watchdog now at a time when we desperately need watchdogs. So, what you have is to practice journalism effectively to get a job in a newsroom, especially starting out from college.
So, if you're strapped with college debt, if you had to take out a bunch of loans, and you really want to be a journalist, but entry level job is $20,000 a year in some big city like New York City, where cost of living is exorbitant, how are you going to afford that? So, essentially, it's the rich kids who had college paid for them, who have mom and dad subsidizing their income, putting that first month payment on an apartment in Manhattan, so they can have the New York experience, and then they're getting paid 20 grand a year and taken out from taxes, so you're not left with much. You basically have a paid internship.
If you want an entry level at one of these fancy magazines or sexy, independent presses that everybody ... So, what you have is a bunch of rich kids, essentially, a bunch of people from privilege in the media, who are setting the tone of discourse. It's just such an abuse of power. That's what you end up with because they're not coming to St. Louis to look at how this place looks like. Neighborhoods look like war zones here.
SarahKendzior: They come to look at us like we're zoo animalsand photograph us and then go back and write about their brave foray into the Midwest, but yeah.
AndreaChalupa: Right. The Midwest is like a lost continent.
SarahKendzior: Yeah. They treat it like a foreign country. I mean, you've been here for a few days. Yeah, there's parts of it that look unusually bad, but not really compared to the unusually bad situations of other cities, but it's also like we got McDonald's, we've got Target. We got all the same shit like everybody else has. You're not going into the mountains of Afghanistan or something that should look like America to you, that shouldn't look so strange.
I remember during Ferguson, when the influx of journalists came and they went to Ferguson, which is not a ghetto, it's also not a small town, it's a suburb full of strip malls, and suburban poverty, but not nearly as bad as where we drove through the other day - Page Boulevard. They thought this is extreme poverty because they've never seen extreme poverty. So, just being lower middle class struck them as that. There's literally is a soy shortageat Starbucks because the consumer habits of the New York and D.C. press are so different than in St. Louis that they ran out of soyand they ran out of fancy organic shit or-
Andrea Chalupa: When the New York journalists landed?
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah. It wasn't just New York. It's international press and national press coming in from the coasts-
Andrea Chalupa: ... and taking all your soy.
Sarah Kendzior: [Laughs] I do think people live like a more low key of life in St. Louis, different habits or whatever. It was such a cliché. I couldn't believe it when someone told me. I was like, "I thought it was a joke." It was true. So, yeah, there's a weird expectation of what "normal" is, of what poor is, of ... I don't know. People, they eroticize it, but they don't do any actual historical research, and I definitely think people lack a sense of the day-to-day. In the same way that I don't know what goes on day-to-day for some really rich like Wall Street tycoon. I don't know what goes on day-to-day in states I've never been to, but I would never plop myself down in one of those states for two hours and then come back and write the definitive account of life there. That's partly, I have a PhD in anthropology.
That contributes a lot to the way that I write, the way I can see the world, but that's a huge problem that the media has is this gutting, as you said, of it financially, the conglomeration of it on the coasts, the abandonment of local media, and the fact that people from the coasts think that they can fill in those gaps through the most superficial of reporting experiences when you can't. You need people who live it day-to-day. They know what to look for. They know the questions to ask, and they know when the answers are bullshit.
There are quite a few journalists who got conned by locals during Ferguson, where people are just literally making shit up to see if they would print it and they did, but I can give you some names later.
Andrea Chalupa: I know. You have given me names. You've told me the story. There's names that we can mention in terms of nepotism in the media and the type of reporting those people can be trapped into doing, that it's not in the public service, necessarily. So, I think that is something that's not talked about: how disturbing it is that the media is overwhelmingly white, it tends to be very male, and males in decision making positions.
Sarah Kendzior: Especially in things like politics, foreign policy, the economy.
Andrea Chalupa: Absolutely.
Sarah Kendzior: Women are still covering what people think of as women's issues like style, sometimes health, education. Those topics become gendered, but it's rare. I've had people say to me, "You write like a man," and they mean it in some flattering way. They mean that I'm blunt and direct and I'm tackling unpleasant shit.
Andrea Chalupa: I compared you to Orwell-
Sarah Kendzior: That's fine. I mean, well, it's not fine because I don't think I'm comparable to Orwell, but I don't mind being compared to a man who maybe writes about the same topics as me, but this idea that to write bluntly about social and economic and political issues as somehow male really bothers me because I'm like, "I don't write like a man. I write like me." There are other women who are out there also covering these topics, and were really not aberrations, but are often people who are not given the same opportunities, the same chances.
Women are not quoted very much in the media. Women are not invited onto Sunday shows and these talk shows that set agendas as much. Often, when there's a panel, there's a token, female panelist and I'll get asked about things like gender that are not even my main area of expertise, which is both insulting to me, but also, there are people who seriously are studying feminism and studying the history of women's rights. It's an actual thing you have to learn about. So, that's something that I biologically am programmed to know. [Laughs] I don't wake up with thousands of years of women's history in my head. So, it's insulting to them as well, and it's a shame.
I mean, that's why I'm glad that we're doing this podcast. I'm glad that these topics won't become gendered to them. More women, especially younger women, will feel compelled to speak out, that they won't be the token woman, they won't be the aberration to feel like, "Yeah. This is my right to talk, and people should be listening to what I have to say."
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah, absolutely. We were the two crazy ladies who are speaking about Trump and Russia and in that critical month of November 2016, I can't even tell you how many white men in mainstream media I blockedthat month on Twitter because they were attacking us or they're making fun of us about Trump and Russia.
Sarah Kendzior: ...and lying about things that we said to the point that if I had money, I would have been filing a number of libel suits, but yeah, I had other things to do.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah, and we really had that model. We knew what we're getting into. We knew. We accelerated in our little convertible and just drove into the Grand Canyon together that month. We really did. The people that embraced us, the people that amplified what we're saying about Trump and Russia and authoritarianism, people that were adding their own voices to that critical conversation were black people.
Sarah Kendzior: It was the people targeted by Trump. I mean, this is something-
Andrea Chalupa: It was the people that knew the realities of a police state.
Sarah Kendzior: Yes.
Andrea Chalupa: They could feel the tremors of authoritarianism. This was not some abstraction to them.
Sarah Kendzior: Yes. Exactly. One thing that drives me crazy, I hear two things about Trump and about myself. I hear, "No one saw it coming," which is crap.
Then I also get this, "No one listens to you, Sarah," on my Twitter account with my 370,000 people that follow me. [Laughs]
What's very interesting to me is I know what they mean by no one because first of all, it's not true. Plenty of people saw Trump coming. It, certainly, wasn't just me. The people who saw Trump coming and saw his win as possible or probable were the targetsof Trump and his team's rhetoric. Immigrantssaw it coming. Latinossaw it coming. Black peoplesaw it coming. Women were often more likely to see it coming, and scholars, of course, of authoritarian states are people who've lived in authoritarian states saw it coming because they recognized these patterns. It's the same thing.
That's often what my audience is comprised of, and there are certainly white men, too, who saw this coming, and who were not fitting that stereotypical mode of dismissal. When they say, "No one," that's interesting to me because in my mind, you're basically saying, "That large group of people, this enormous coalition of people who are cognizant of what's happening, count as no one." Why are they no one? It's because they're not a rich white man, and that is who counts as someone. It's not until somebody in a position of power, who is white and male says it, that it becomes true. I mean, even with Hilary Clinton, who was campaigning-
Andrea Chalupa: Do you remember the day Nick Thompson of the New Yorker was like, "Oh, my gosh, guys! The election was hacked." [Laughs] We were just like ... I don't know.
Sarah Kendzior: I don't remember, but I'm guessing it happened long after the election was held, but yeah.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah, and everyone was like, "Umm."
Sarah Kendzior: "Way to catch up, man." The thing is, is I don't want to discourage that. It's good for them to catch up. It's good for people to address it, but at the same time, you have to look at why did it take you so long to figure this out? Why are you so quick to dismiss women who have knowledge and expertise of these kind of regimes as hysterical, as alarming.
And why are you so quick to dismiss the fact that people will be hurt by his administration, people who don't have power, people who don't have as much of a voice in the discussion?
Why risk it? Why not err on the side of caution and say, "My greatest obligation is to protect the most vulnerable citizens, to look for ways that people may be harmed, immigrants, children, the elderly, non-white Americans, all the people who've traditionally been harmed in our system"?
Sarah Kendzior: Of course, they're more likely to be targeted by Trump because Trump was outwardly, blatantly targeting them. For this tend of, "Oh, he won't really do that," for that to be your default attitude? I think it's absolutely bizarre because one, it's like, "Yes, he will do it," but also, you could never be sure. Why not just have a sense of empathy and a sense of responsibility?
Andrea Chalupa: ... and a sense of urgency.
Sarah Kendzior: ... and a sense of urgency, and do what you can to stop it. What we can do as journalists is expose it, is document it, and call it out. I mean, we have limits in our capacity to influence people, but that's what our advantage is in terms of having a following, in terms of having a platform. That's something that we can use it for. It amazesme that people who have these platforms wouldn't want to use it to help their fellow citizens. I genuinely, don't understand that. I don't understand those people live with themselves.
Andrea Chalupa: No, absolutely. I mean, we're at a time now, where several crises are hitting us at the exact same time. The greatest service you can do is don't be so distracted by the high school cafeteria of Twitter, where you think all the people whose tweets you see going viral all the time are some lunch table inside the cafeteria and it's your job to be some caricature in a 1980s high school movie, where you go after them or ... It's really that self-absorption of Twitter is not the real world by any means.
The majority of the voters who are going to decide the fate of our country in November, they don't care about the high school cafeteria of Twitter. They simply don't. Twitter is not the real world. It's where the media hangs out and snarks on each other. I think the human rights crisis of the Trump administration has really put snarky media in a crisis because-
Sarah Kendzior: That's their default mode.
Andrea Chalupa: That's their default mode and people, they fill news rooms and socialize with each other in New York, in San Francisco, in Washington, D.C., they know each other. It's pretty incestuous. They depend on the friendships, relationships for movement in the industry, for jobs, for the reputation. So, what you get is this cliquishness of snark, which is empty. It's like what Dorothy Parker called out the Algonquin Round Table. She's like, "There were no giants there." That's what you have to understand is that history will forget you because you betrayed your people. You betrayed people that desperately needed you.
So, I think what you stand for and what I try to stand for, what we just naturally stand for, because we can't help it because this hits us very deeply to our core, is there is this earnest media. It's simply just the facts. It's simply just looking at the situation on the ground and seeing the obvious conclusion.
If we don't deal with what's happening in our environment, how intricately linked everything is when it comes to the environmental crisis, we're going to be transformed physically as a continent. We're going to have coastal refugees that we're not going to be able to feed and shelter because of this income inequality that has just decimated entire classes in America.
So, all these crises are hitting us at once, and your job right now, if you want to matter at all, if you want to spend your time wisely and leave behind some work that actually made an impact, is to become an expert on any number of the crises that happen to be hitting us right now, and just beat that, beat into the ground, and be a master storyteller that communicates that crisis with urgency and compassion. It's that simple. Don't fall into the shallow trap of the high school cafeteria on Twitter. It's meaningless. It's absolutely meaningless.
Sarah Kendzior: It's weird that there seems to be a greater penalty for expressing sincere concern about the fate of your fellow citizens, about the fate of other people than there is for lying, for cruelty. I have essays in the book about that about mainstream media figures attacking a woman with cancer for dying too loudly. That's the kind of mentality that somehow emerged over the last 10 years, which I find bizarre.
I hope that people, unfortunately, now that they're seeing the full horror of the Trump administration, because really, when you'll attack children, when you will abuse children blatantly, I mean, I feel like that's a sign there's no limits as to what you do. I think people are beginning to understand that, and there's nothing wrong with showing your fury about that. There's nothing wrong with stepping out of your boundaries of that objectivity as a journalist to point out that this is objectively immoral, this is objectively illegal. I mean, these are people who are crossing legally. That's just one example.
I think because what Trump is doing is so outrageous and unfamiliar in many ways like the Nuclear War Summit Reality Show Spectacle, I mean, obviously, that's something new for us, that just to describe, just to say, "This is what's happening," makes you sound like you're exaggerating, embellishing being "hysterical," but what we're just simply doing is telling the truth.
I wish that people could do that without these kind of prefaces. One tactic I see a lot is this, "Wow! Trump doesn't seem to be too straightforward about Russia. I wonder what's going on." Don't do that. Understatement is not an effective rhetorical device this time when people are lying all around you, when officials are lying constantly. You need directness, you need bluntness, and there's nothing shameful in having compassion, either.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah. I want to read something you wrote in October 2013. "Today, the attack on the poor is no longer cloaked in ideology it is ideology itself. This ideology is not shared by most Americans, but by those seeking to transform the Republican Party into, as former GOP operative Mike Lofgrendescribes it, 'an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe.'" That's 2013.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah. That's what came to pass. I think I was writing that-
Andrea Chalupa: Your entire book is like that. It's predictions of where we're headed.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, and to point out, I wasn't the only one, obviously, because you're quoting me quoting someone else who was seeing these patterns. Yeah, at that time, I mean, that was around when the government was shutting down in 2013for no good reason because of hyper-partisanism and because of a desire to punishthe poor. The reason the government was shutting down was because people found it so abhorrent that citizens of America would be provided healthcare, that the ailing would not die. That was something people were actively fighting against.
So, I think when that becomes the framework in which you operate, that's when it's a time where you say, "Nothing is off the table," and as institutions continue to erode, as social trusts continue to erode during this time, to me, everyday life felt like the crisis, and there's this sense of foreboding in the last term of the Obama administration. Everyone was waiting for a true crisis to emerge. You could see the tension in the air. You could feel the strain of massive shifts in our economy, in technology, in social media. All these things were reweaving the fabric of American life and fraying it.
I think what people don't recognize, when Trump was elected, I think people were like, "Okay. The crisis is here," or at least some recognize that, but the crisis was there all along. The crisis was that ... The crisis of everyday life was not recognized as one. It was just blown off as, "That's the way things are. We've always had this," as if that's somehow an excuse. So, I hope that in the midst of all these new horrors of Nazis and nukes and these spectacular new problems that people don't forget the underlying issues that we're facing before Trump emerged, issues that go back historically in terms of race, in terms of poverty, and were never resolved, but that certainly, I think, accelerated in terms of their effect in the last decade, basically, since the recession began.
Andrea Chalupa: So, the other thing that you remind us of in your book is how the war on reality really started, escalated. Every administration has had its secrets, but the war on reality really started with Karl Rove and George W. Bush, and that was, of course, the Iraq war, which they whipped the mainstream media into a frenzy, into supporting, and that was a war that, of course, gave rise to ISIS, which we're still fighting. The Bush administration was the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and Trump is the mark of the beast.
... or Kushner.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah, Kushner. [Laughter]
Sarah Kendzior: Literally, it looks like the kid from the Omen, but-
Andrea Chalupa: Right, 666 5th Avenue, Kushner's cursed building that he can't get rid of. So, I'm going to read again this attack on reality, this fake news that starts with the Bush administration and that we're now living a fever dream version of now under Trump. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality," said the Bush aide later, who was alleged to be Bush adviser, Karl Rove. "And while you're studying that reality judiciously, as you will we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study, too, and that's how things will sort out. We're historys actors, and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah. That's a quote that I think was revealed in 2004, but certainly, sets the stage for everything that came out now. You know what struck me about that quote at the time was the blatancy of it, the admission of it because normally, when you're creating a reality, when you're manipulating through someone, through propaganda, you don't go and announce like, "Hi. I'm manipulating you through propaganda," because then, it's less effective, but they couldn't resist boasting. This is also a weakness of the Trump administration. That's how when they do get caught. They tend to get caught because they can't resist bragging about the effectiveness of their ability to manipulate people.
But yeah, I think a lot of things collided. I think there's a line in that essay where I say, "The lesson they want us to know is that there's no use in speaking truth to power when power is the only truth." They are defining it from above. This, of course, is emerging in the era of reality TV, the genre that rehabilitated Trump, and the era of social media, where people suddenly started thinking of themselves as their own PR agents, their own brand. There is a new definition of persona. This is the tactics of persuasion and a spectacle that you've traditionally seen in authoritarian regimes.
I wrote this essay shortly after I got my PhD, where I studied the internet and dictatorships and propaganda. I remember thinking how seamlessly these genres work. I was looking at Putin's Russia and their use of the internet. I was looking at the time of Venezuela and Chávez, and everyone at the time was thinking the internet would be this medium that would debunk people like Karl Rove or a dictator from abroad, would bring the truth forward, would allow democracy to spread. I always felt like it would be very useful for the opposing side, that anyone who's skilled in the art of propaganda is going to find this in advantageous medium, and people who study just the architecture of the internet, people like Jaron Lanierwere also forecasting the same things like social media, Facebook, Twitter were set up to exploit the vulnerability, to exploit this way of defining reality, containing reality, controlling reality in a way that we had never really encountered before.
So, yeah, that's the thing. It was all there. You had people admitting it. You had all these trends moving in a certain direction, and it's very frustrating to me that I was sometimes alone and calling it out. The other thing is, is people always had a choice, even within these confines, even within a structure or a broader trend. You have the choice of how you're going to behave. You have the choice of how you're going to treat people, and what you're going to advocate for. People made bad choices. People made selfish choices or they made choices that showed no concern for the welfare of others.
So, I guess my point is we're still dealing with the same problems and you still have that choice in front of you, and it's really, it's up to the individual how they want to live and what kind of contribution they want to make or leave behind.
Andrea Chalupa: What I see happening in America is what I see happening in Ukraine. The solution that people have to depend on now is just self-reliance. There is an upstart party in Ukraine comprised of activists from the revolution called the Self-Reliance Party.
Sarah Kendzior: Wow.
Andrea Chalupa: That's where we are now at this point. It's like our leaders have betrayed us for generations or else we wouldn't have this income inequality crisis. We have a media that's supposed to be in the public service, but it's driven by revenue. So, they're gutting their investigative units, which is supposed to be protecting us because investigative journalism is so expensive and time consuming. It doesn't always pan out for its investment. So, we have profit-driven media. We have profit-driven politicians, so the only thing we can really rely on is ourselves. That's really what it's up to now, and we all have to take it upon ourselves to educate ourselves and find whatever self-care is necessary to stay engaged, to stay paying attention because the last thing you want to do and the first thing they want you to do is to check out.
Sarah Kendzior: Right, or to obey, or to just acquiesce to whatever horrors are presented in front of us and either play them down or look away. It's funny because after the election as you know, people kept coming to me asking, "What do I do? How do I fix this?" or "What do I read?" I mean, I did have some concrete suggestions and that I was like, "You should read the history of how democracy has become authoritarian and about authoritarian states in history and abroad. You should read about autocratic practices in American history that were legally enacted like slavery and turn them against -- and you should read about the infotainment complex that emerged pretty much around the O. J. trial and onward," and then you might understand Trump.
The thing I wanted most out of people was to think for themselves, to not look to me or to anybody as like, follow this person, do what they say, but to just genuinely, intellectually explore things and we're all different. We're all situated in different parts of the country working within different communities and to look into your own community, get to know your neighbors, get to know your community and try to help them, and that is that spirit of self-reliance, but I think it's most effective when you can unite with other people, when you can work together in some group for the greater good.
One thing that I see a lot online that frightens me a little bit is this conformity, which I think the kind of mob mentality of online interaction encourages where people are afraid to deviate from what they think is the norm, either for professional reasons or out of personal fear of humiliation or rejection or whatever. I just encourage everyone to just explore the world and be curious and don't feel bad about asking questions and investigating things because the institutions and individuals who are tasked to do that as their job are not pulling through.
So, sometimes even bringing up issues, even raising things that you're concerned about can spur others. We do have more resources to take on the work of exploring that issue. I mean, I feel like that's how we've made progress on investigating some of the policies that the Trump regime has passed. In other to do that, you need a sense of independence and a rejection of that conformist attitude.
Andrea Chalupa: We are our own leaders now.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah. Exactly, and reluctantly. I don't think ... it's funny because you and I have both spent a lot of time with dissidents, and I think that informs everything that we're doing in the US. No one sets out to be a dissident. [Laughter] No one wants that. It's romanticized in the West because they hear the happy endings. They hear the brave hero. They don't hear about the loneliness, the heartache, especially if you're an exile, the devastation of having to live that way.
I've never met a voluntary dissident. I've met people who either were in the wrong place at the wrong time or felt that they had an ethical obligation to speak out against their government, and therefore, ended up in this position of opposing it, but they felt patriotic. They felt love for their country, and it was on behalf of their country that they are doing the political advocacy that they did. Yeah, we're branded, enemies of the state.
I I think that that's something that Americans are still getting used because we do have a government that does that, that just does call the media or activists or others who oppose them, the enemy of the state or the opposition party. Whereas, I feel like what I do, I'm doing for America. It's like what James Baldwin said, "I love America more than any country in the world, and that's why I criticize it relentlessly." That's why I'm criticizing not just Trump, but these structural systems that were in place well before him.
If we get to the point where they are able to successful dehumanize or brand dissidents, (which I still don't think of us as) with writers or people who criticize the government, and then enact policy around that. I mean, I can easily see us heading down that road, and I know you can, too. We've been aware of that for two years, I mean, since the death threats started.
Andrea Chalupa: Right. So, I wrote an essay a few years ago called Plutocracy: The New Manifest Destiny, which basically said that what they did to the Native Americans, they're going to do to us. Why wouldn't they?
Sarah Kendzior: Right.
Andrea Chalupa: There's no greater example of that than Standing Rock, and that corporate fascists take ... it was that corporate fascism, thats an accurate term here. It was that corporate fascist take down of Standing Rock. What that community was protesting came to pass. There was an oil spill and the water was polluted. They're doing that to Native Americans. They're doing that to Flint, Michigan, which still is without water. They're doing that to children on the border. They're going to take away our healthcare.
I've heard a soul-crushing story from an actress in New York City, who tried to save her sister's life, and was fighting with the insurance companies, and was just taking out credit card after credit card to put it all on the credit cards to get her the treatment that she needed. That is in America. We're one of the richest countries in the world right now. We shouldnt be at this level of a human rights crisis, but we are. It's been a problem as a long time coming. It's up to all of us now, really, to just find your community and bring as much healing as you can, and do the work because if you despair, that's the lazy way out.
Sarah Kendzior: I'm all right with despair. I have a thing in the book going into the audacity of hope, the audacity of despair, but by that, I mean, it's okay to confront horrific things, recognize them as horrific and feelthat. Feel empathy on behalf of other people and acknowledge the extent of horrors. I don't have any patience for I think what you're getting at, which is basically giving up, feeling it and walking away.
I don't know. I encourage people to take breaks, but I don't encourage people to abandon their fellow man or abandon their country or abandon their own conscience, which is something that some are happening. On the whole, everyone credits me for predicting Trump. It's true that I predicted his win and I predicted a lot of whats happening, but what I'm incapable of predicting is the reaction of the public.
I remember at the time in November, we, genuinely, didn't know how people were going to be, where are they going to fall in line, where are they, generally, across the board going to support this? Of course, everyone has different opinions and that's fine. That's what America is about. I think, overall, people really surpassed my expectations on what they did. They stood up. They protested.
Andrea Chalupa: Showing up at the airports-
Sarah Kendzior: They showed up at the airports-
Andrea Chalupa: ... with the Muslim ban.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, at the spur of the moment to help people. I think on the whole, people aretrying to figure out how to stop this, how to save other people. They recognized an atrocity as an atrocity in individual cases. I think sometimes there's a struggle to see the bigger picture, but that's understandable when you have a government that lies to you all the time and isn't transparent. We're all struggling to see that bigger picture.
I'm not going to say I'm optimistic because, I mean, well, you're talking to [me], but I'm encouraged, I guess, by what I have seen in terms of people's willingness to stand up for others after he was elected. I just wish he was consistent, and I wish those who had power and advantage to spare were more involved because what I'm finding is that the people who are in the weakest positions, who are vulnerable, who are marginalized are the ones who are fighting the hardest, and there's so much pressure on them.
I mean, you even see that with the NRA protest, where there's all these adults saying, "Thank goodness for these teenagers. They're going to save us." I'm like, "One, it's great what they're doing, what these teenagers are doing, but what's wrong with you? You're looking for a traumatized teenager to be your savior? You should be saving them? We should be saving them." Our obligation as adults is to help the next generation. I'm finding that letting that generation lead, especially rhetorically because they've seen it, they've witnessed it, they've experienced it, and we haven't, but-
Andrea Chalupa: I will say in terms of ... I understand your point, but I will say it in terms of the adults versus the teens when it comes to the movement to confront the NRA, the gun lobby, with Sandy Hook, the parents of those little babies that were gunned down. Those parents were viciously attacked in a fake news propaganda war, and they were harassed. And fake news, as we've talked about, it kills. So, what the teens did, how the teens flipped the script was they had media savvy that those adults did not.
Sarah Kendzior: Oh, yeah, no. I'm not criticizing them at all.
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah, but that became-
Sarah Kendzior: I'm saying don't put so much pressure on them-
Andrea Chalupa: Of course.
Sarah Kendzior: ... and give them breaks if they need it. Don't say, "You're my savior," because that's a horrible burden to put on anybody.
Andrea Chalupa: Of course, but the teens showed great leadership in being hilarious on Twitter.
Sarah Kendzior: You can't best them, rhetorically.
Andrea Chalupa: Exactly.
Sarah Kendzior: They know how to win.
Andrea Chalupa: They were just too funny.
Sarah Kendzior: It's impressive and it's also-
Andrea Chalupa: Dad jokes can't do that.
Sarah Kendzior: It's extremely damning of older people that they have not rhetorically know how to win these battles, but yeah.
Andrea Chalupa: No, I think to your point is when we join forces just by pure desperation and chance in October-November, it was... I do want to talk about you as a friend and what I've witnessed, which I think people, and I'll be cautious here because I know you are a private person, but I do think people need to realize this side of you because I think your following on Twitter absolutely blew up in the days after the election because you had predicted Trump, and everything you're saying about Trump and Russia and we're calling for the vote audit, audit the vote. All of those things just drew this massive international audience to you. I think your Twitter following went from 50,000 people to 200,000 people.
Sarah Kendzior: To 100,000. It doubled.
Andrea Chalupa: It's just crazy, crazy number. I just want people to know that, that freaked you out. You were not happy about that, whatsoever, because we were like, "Where's mom and dad? Who's in charge here?" and everyone was looking to you. You wrote an essay at the same timeabout being your own light now, which is we're all our own leaders now. So, people are really looking ... Instead of being their own lights, they're looking to you, and that did not make you happy.
Then because you had this massive media-sized audience on Twitter, Hollywood comes knocking. One of the powerhouse talent agencies meets with you, determined to milk this cash cow somehow, and they want you to write books and do this and that, and you're like, "We might not have a publishing industry in the future," and the Hollywood agent looks at you and says, "Wow! You really believe the things you write."
To me, that story does exemplify you perfectly (and of course, Hollywood as well). You're someone who we always say in private - like constant chats - is we don't want to be in demand. You don't want to be in demand.
Sarah Kendzior: No. It's terrible. I mean, that was the thing. There are also people offering me money. There are people at that time offering me book deals and I just kept saying, "No, no, no. We have to actually fight. We have to actually fight for our democracy. I mean everything I say. I think that people are going to be hurt, people are going to be killed, we are going to lose our rightsand we have about two months to fix it. So, I'm not interested in writing book proposal for you right now." Eventually, I did recently sign a book deal, but that's partly because I see media as very likely to collapse. So, now, I have this stability [laughs] to write the book. Sounds like pragmatic in a really horrible way, which I think you know, but yeah.
I got no satisfaction on this. I don't want to be in-demand for my expertise on authoritarianism and how it applies to America. I'm a person and I'm a mother and I'm a citizen and I'm raising children in this country right now. I can't afford to get up and leave and to that I always say, "Where the hell do people go that they think is safe?"
I want things to change for the better because I want people to stop being hurt. It's the most simple thing. I don't get why people don't grasp it, but yeah, I guess, I invite you to clarify [laughs] that I wasn't very happy about that kind of attention. I mean, I'm glad people found my work useful. I'm happy to talk to other people. If people get some solace or consolation from what I write, then I'm gratified or educated in some way that I'm gratified, but I don't want fame and all that crap. I told people that straight off. I was like, "Prioritize yourself, please, now. Use the power you have now for people that are way, in way more trouble than me, people like the immigrants and Muslims stopped at the airport. That's your priority. Your priority is not me. I will figure out a way to get by."
Andrea Chalupa: Yeah. No. Absolutely. I do want people to also know, as your friend, as one who feels very protective over you and admires you a lot because you have withstood yearsof harassment on the internet just being a woman with opinions on the internet, and death threats, and it's gotten terrible in a lot of moments in your life. Yet, you're still here. Yet, your voice still matters in a very significant way, especially today. I just think that's so important for our audience, especially the women in the audience, to be reminded of is that they cannot silence you unless you let them.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah. That's true. At the same time, I think it's okay ... Don't feel bad if you feel hurt by shitty things people say about you online. I don't think any woman should feel like, "I need to just suck it up." I mean, ultimately, I would encourage you to try to just suck it up and keep going because your voice matters. I hate the fact that women have removed themselves from public debates because of that harassment. So, I always try to back the women who are being harassed. I try to show up for them and support their work and support their voices, but yeah, I do want women to -
It's the world we're dealing with. It's the cards we're dealt. On one hand, I'm trying to fix that structure of mob harassment, sexist harassment, misogyny and threats being accepted to something we're supposed to endure because I don't accept that. I refuse to accept that, but I'm also going to keep talking. I'm not going to drop out, and I know you're not going to drop out, regardless what they come at us with.
I do understand when people feel genuine pain and fear over those tactics because it can be extraordinarily frightening, especially when the people being threatened aren't just you, but your family, your loved ones, your children because that's the kind of tactics that they use. That's what they resort to. I feel like we should end on an up noteto say something encouraging. So, it's going to have to end with you. [Laughs]
AndreaChalupa: Yeah. That's our dynamic. I'm the Care Bear and you're the Gargamel. I'm just kidding. I make some really cheesy references which I love. So, I'm going to end by recommending some books, not just yours, okay?
AndreaChalupa: So, let me just ... Obviously, we're in a critical year. The fate of our republic rests on what we do between now and November 2018. We have three books you want to get that are absolute pleasuresto read. They're very easy quick reads. The first being, The View From Flyover Country: Dispatches from the Forgotten Americaby Sarah Kendzior because that's really all of it right there. That's the crises that are still there that have shaped our country, that we need to fight against, the deep cancers we need to root out, which formed Trump.
AndreaChalupa: The second being, On Tyrannyby Timothy Snyder.
SarahKendzior: Yes. Endorsed.
AndreaChalupa: Yes, which is all about the lessons of authoritarianism and ways to fight back against it. That is essential reading, and it's a little pocket guide that literally fits in your back pocket. The third is Don't Think of an Elephantby George Lakoff.
SarahKendzior: Yes. Read George Lakoff, in general.
AndreaChalupa: Yes. Don't Think of an Elephant, it's a small little book, short little book, that's all about how the Republicans are brilliant masters of language and Democrats just simply aren't, and how Democrats are always defeating themselves when it comes to rhetoric. So, absolutely, get this book on how to frame the debate. Don't Think of an Elephant - Know Your Values, and Frame the Debateby George Lakoff.
AndreaChalupa: So, those three books, get them now, read them now, and get your plans set on how you're going to help save democracy in 2008 and when it comes time for November.
AndreaChalupa: 2018. [Laughter]
Sarah Kendzior: We all wish we could time travel back and do have a do over, but alas.
Andrea Chalupa: Well, these problems in your book were there in 2008.
Sarah Kendzior: This is, unfortunately, true.
Andrea Chalupa: All right. Thank you so much, Sarah Kendzior, for taking the time to talk to me.
Sarah Kendzior: Thank you, Andrea Chalupa for being my friend and for talking to me about all these terrific things.
Andrea Chalupa: It's a pleasure.
[Conclusion Gaslit Nation Interview]
Andrea Chalupa: So, I am here with a very exciting interview with Marissa Kabas, a writer and activist in Brooklyn, who has like Prometheus, given fire to humanity with her brilliant site and just working on with a brilliant team called Crush the Midterms. Marissa, tell us what is your site and why is it so wonderful and I'm obsessed with, and I use it and it got me out into the field knocking on doors and talking to voters and everyone needs to go to Crush the Midtermsright now. So, please, Marissa, tell us what it is exactly.
Marissa Kabas: Sure. First, thank you so much for having me. I'm so excited to be here, and you and Sarah are amazing, and this is so cool. So, first off, Crush the Midtermsis a tool that is meant to help people take back agency over their activism. So, it helps you make a personalized plan for volunteering and donating in the days and weeks until the election, which are quickly dwindling. So, you answer a few super quick questions about the issues that matter to you, what kind of skills that you can offer to a campaign, how much time and money you have, if any, to spare, and then it calculates a plan that's just for you to make sure that we win this thing in November.
Andrea Chalupa: Excellent. Now, what do Democrats need to do to take back the Senate, and what are the polls saying about their chances for doing that?
Marissa Kabas: So, the Senate is tricky. It's going to be a really tough battle. As far as polling, it's really hard to say. There actually hasn't been a ton of super recent polling. I've seen a one in four chance. I've seen a one in three, but I would concentrate more on the specific polling for the specific races. So, there are few that we need to hang on to.
Basically, there are 35 seats up this year and 26 are currently held by Democrats. So, not only do we need to hold on to those, we need to gain two more in order to wrestle back control from Mitch McConnell and his gang of evil cronies. So, the few that we need to hang on, for sure, are Florida, Missouri, North Dakota, West Virginia, and Indiana.
So, we need Bill Nelson and Claire McCaskill and Heidi Heitkamp and Joe Manchin and Joe Donnelly to really give it their all, and really just try to hang on to those as best we can. Then you're getting to the toss-up arena. A few big toss-ups that people are talking about are Nevada. So, we have Congressman Jacky Rosen going up against Senator Dean Heller. He's the incumbent. He's been there since 2011.
As you'll recall, he totally betrayed his constituents during the healthcare fight last year. So, we're really looking to flip that sea and give it to not just the woman, but a really awesome woman, who would really have their interest at heart. Then just this week, Arizona had its primaries and Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema won her race and shall be going out against Republican rep Martha McSally, who is not quite as insane as the people she was running against, but is still no friend to the Democrats.
Then, of course, we have Tennessee, where Marsha Blackburn, who I would describe a Pence-ian Republican is going up against former governor Phil Bredesen, and then of course, there's Beto, Beto O'Rourke, everyone's favorite and still very much a long shot, but they changed the rating from solid red to lean red. It's really been Beto's week, I know. I'm sure a lot of people saw that the Texas Republican party was trying to catch Beto in some weird thing this week on Twitter, but it totally backfired. He's just having a real moment.
There's this video of him answering a question about the NFL protest. I saw that it's been viewed 44 million times on NowThisNews. So, everyone's just really in his corner, but that side, it's going to be really tough. We have to just watch state-by-state, knock on every door possible and pray like hell.
Andrea Chalupa: Absolutely. Everybody needs to show up and put their time in, really. So, what about the House, how is it looking for the House? What do we need to do there? What do Democrats need do in order to take back the House and what are the chances for that happening?
Marissa Kabas: The House is looking a little bit more confident as is every two years, all 435 reps are out for re-election, so it's pandemonium. In order to have a majority, one party needs 218 seats. So, as of now, according to RealClearPolitics, it's looking like 199 seats are pretty solid for Democrats, 193 are pretty solid for Republicans, and then there are 43 toss ups.
The interesting thing is that of those 43, 41 of them are currently held by Republicans. So, we have our work cut out for us, but that said, according to a bunch of places, there's about a 72%
chance of Democrats taking back the house. There are a lot of Republicans who had announced their retirement from Congress this year, a total of 26. So, there's a ton of room for change.
There's one race I've been really watching and really am hopeful about its Mikie Sherrill in New Jersey's 11th district. She is a veteran and she used to be a prosecutor and she's just - really, really strong record and really seems to care about the people in her district. She's running for a seat that was vacated by a guy named Rodney Frelinghuysen. You might remember him from last year as someone in his district put together a group trying to get him to hold a town hall because he hadn't held one in years.
They just wanted a town hall, and he freaked out and the woman who spearheaded it worked at a bank, and he tried to get her fired from the bank that she worked at because she was just trying to put pressure on him to hold a town hall. So, everything is just ripe for change. I mean, I was out in the field last week canvassing on Long Island in Peter King's District for Liuba GrechenShirley. They just changed that rating from solid Republican to lean Republican.
Everyone was just saying, "We need a change." I mean, even change the rating of another King district, Steve King in Iowa. He's facing an aggressive campaign from a democrat named J.D. Scholten. It's a really exciting time, and it's a magical feeling to see all this change happening, but it's important to remember that's actually not magic. There are real people on the ground making it happen.
Andrea Chalupa: Exactly. We need more to join them. The thing I love about your site, which I will say a million times to everybody I meet, is: Crush the Midterms is like a personal assistant to getting involved in the midterms. Within seconds, you just enter some simple data and it spits out a personalized plan for you. I love that so much because I'm incredibly busy. We're all extremely busy and just juggling too much. This held my hand and got me out into the field. I love that. So, what advice do you have for people - with their very busy lives - to getting involved and being part of the change that we desperately need?
Marissa Kabas: Definitely. So, I think you hit the nail in the head. It's meant to be like a personal adviser, and it's also meant to show you that being civically involved, it shouldn't take over your life. You should find a way to incorporate it into your life and not the other way around. So, using this tool, crushthemidterms.org, you select how much time you have, how far you're willing to travel. So, it's working within the parameters of what's comfortable and able for you.
Marissa Kabas: So, my best advice going into the homestretch to the midterms is, yeah, it's great to see encouraging polls and see that it looks really good for Dems and a lot of places, but try not to take too much stock in the polls and just keep your head down, and make every call, knock every door, talk to your neighbors, talk to your friends, the guy at the Corner Deli. I think it's really easy to say, "There's a Blue Wave coming," but we have to actually make that wave happen. It's not going to happen out of nowhere. We need to power the wave. Long story short, don't shut up until the polls close on November 6th.
Andrea Chalupa: If you want the blue wave to show up, then you have to show up, and you can do that easily through crushthemidterms.com.
Marissa: Dot org!
Andrea Chalupa: Dot org. I am the worst spokesperson for you. Crushthemidterms.org, crushthemidterms.org. I will get that tattooed on my face, crushthemidterms.org. Thank you so very much, Marissa. You are incredible. Thank you for all your hard work and everyone in the crushthemidterms.orgteam. We appreciate it. We encourage everybody to check it out, get your personalized plan today to help make the blue wave happen.
Marissa Kabas: We're also really active on Twitter right now. So, if that's your thing, we'd love for you to engage with us. We're all midterms all the time. So, we're @crush18midterms. Hit us up.
Andrea Chalupa: Sarah and I received an originally composed songjust for Gaslit Nation from a listener, and we're tremendously honored. Thank you so much, Nik Farr. We love our song. Here it is. We encourage all of our listeners to check out Nick Farr on Spotify. That's Nik Farr and on Twitter, @Nik_Farr.
We want to thank our tenacious editor for this episode, Carlin Dagle for being so awesome.
Thank you so much, Carlin.
Gaslit Nation is presented by Dame Magazine, on the Critical Frequency Podcast Network. Other podcasts on the Critical Frequency Network include Range, Fury, and Tell Me About Your Mother. Check them out.
This episode was produced by Andrea Chalupa, with additional support from Critical Frequency. Our theme music is by David Whited, additional music is by Martin Wissenberg. Our cover art was drawn by Lukasz Lysakowski. Illustrations for each episode are drawn by James Guffman.