What's the Matter with Kansas?

3 min. read

As January wrapped up, I completed the first book in my reading list. The full title is What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America by Thomas Frank.

The book covers the rise of right-wing populism among conservatives in US politics, and Frank uses the changes in his home state of Kansas as a token for the movement as a whole. Using a barrage of references from literature, radio, and television pundits, he outlines why and how the movement started, and then how its supporters actually began to succeed in getting people elected to public office. Frank refers to it as the “backlash”, and it is essentially what turned into the tea party movement.

The book is overall well-written, and appears to be built on the results of extensive research. Frank can get a bit long-winded at points, diving deep into exposition of his interactions with local residents rather than simply squeezing out the key morsel of information that he’s working towards. Apart from a few instances of this, I really enjoyed the read, and I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in US politics.

What’s amazing about this book, though, is that it came out in 2004. Let that sink in for a minute. That’s about 5 years before the beginning of the tea party movement. It’s 12 years before Donald Trump was elected as a president (supposedly) representing conservative populism.

Reading this book in the current political climate makes Frank seem like a soothsayer. Adding to this feeling is a small section in the epilogue that talks about the state of the Democratic party. Frank posits that the Democrats are becoming too friendly with big corporations, and are alienating working-class voters. It’s almost as if he had seen the entire 2016 presidential election play out 12 years prior. Frank has a new book dedicated to this topic called Listen, Liberal: Or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?. Stay tuned for a future review of this one.

Being a flaming liberal myself, I have been immersed over the past couple weeks in the various movements that have sprung up post-inauguration to attempt to bring the Democratic party back to its progressive roots to win back some political ground. These are, you guessed it, populist movements that aim to get money out of politics and elect modern Democratic candidates who work for the people, and not big corporations. Who knows, maybe we’ll see a successful left-wing backlash in the coming election cycles. Hopefully it’s not too late…

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