The View from Flyover Country - Sarah Kendzior

I follow Sarah Kendzior on twitter - @sarahkendzior - and I find her social media feed to be engaging and illuminating in this age of Trump. The View from Flyover Country is a collection of essays that she published back in 2012 - 2014, in which she focuses on several topics that, in hindsight, appear to provide insight into how Trump carried the important, and unexpected, 60K votes in a few counties in Michigan and Wisconsin, which led to his victory.

 

The sections are entitled:

 

I. Flyover Country

II. The Post-Employment World

III. Race and Religion

IV. Higher Education

V. Media

VI. Beyond Flyover Country

 

When Kendzior talks about "Flyover Country," she is speaking of the swath of the U.S. that is in the center of the country, much of which was firmly Democrat until it wasn't, and which has been in decline for decades. She herself lives in St. Louis, and much of her perspective is taken from her home city and home state, which is desperately poor and racially tense.

 

She riffs on several themes throughout the book, which really boil down to a meditation in inequality - every theme has as an underlying coda the reality that a small percentage of Americans are in possession of most of the private, and public, good, and that the price to buy into privilege is far too high for the average American to pay.

 

For example, her discussion about higher education focuses on the stark reality that only about 25% of the "professors" are full-time, tenure track employees with real salaries and benefits that form the reward for their years of education. Approximately 75% of "professors" are piece-work adjuncts who live in poverty, sometimes making as little at 12K a year, living in their cars. Their educations and intelligence are indistinguishable from the professional class, but they are unable to obtain for themselves a "real job" in academia, even after serving as the foot soldier of the University (unpaid graduate student) for years, toiling for their Ph,D. If one is not interested in higher education, this may not inspire sympathy, but she demonstrates the same model is being used by employers in essentially all markets, with the possible exception of the financial sector.

 

When she talks about employment in highly sought after fields, she makes the point that the barriers to entry in those fields - knowing someone who is already powerful, and the ability to participate in unpaid internships - act to keep out everyone who doesn't already come from a family with status. Young people who want to break into publishing or the media or foreign policy must be able to take unpaid internships in expensive cities in order to meet the right people who control the hiring process. Therefore, it is a self-fulfilling prophesy - the already powerful consolidate power in themselves and their progeny and the rest of the nation goes begging.

 

The major downfall of the book is that it tends to be repetitive because it is a collection of essays published over a number of years, and so you read the same or similar anecdotes in multiple essays. It is also, to be quite honest, simply depressing as fuck. I am fortunate to be at the tail end of a moderately successful and quite stable career - I am 3 years away from being able to take an early retirement which will enable me to live, if not in luxury, certainly without being reduced to eating cat food and sleeping on sewer grates under newspapers. I was lucky enough to buy a house that has increased substantially in value, and will continue to do so until I can cash out and use the money to sustain myself in more austere circumstances.

 

I'm not really worried about me, although a total global economic meltdown would no doubt ruin me as it would ruin everyone except for the global elite which seems to invariably emerge from every crisis with an even larger percentage of the resource pot. 

 

But, I am launching kids into adulthood right now. And this shit makes me want to cry and scream and demand to know who the fuck thought it was a good idea to create a new Gilded Age where those ultimate expressions of vacuous grasping mediocrity - the Trumps and their ilk - would end up winning the financial lottery at the expense of my children. It's bullshit.

 

So, yeah, Sarah Kendzior just depressed the fuck out of me. It's true, most of it, and it's gross and it should be a goddamned crime. But it's the way we live now.