What’s the Matter with America?

What's the Matter with Kansas?Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas reminds me of my youth when I was involved with the Rose Bird reconfirmation election. That election was all about the death penalty, and eventually she was removed from office because she had never voted to uphold a death penalty case.[1] This was not, of course, the reason that the power behind the campaign was against her. The Bird court was consistently on the side of individuals and small businesses going up against large corporations. In the end, the little people (the powerless) were manipulated to gleefully vote against their own self-interest in the name of an irrelevant issue. Because the governor at the time was Republican, California got an extremely conservative (pro-business, anti-individual) court.

What’s the matter with Kansas is the same thing that is the matter everywhere: people get confused about what their own interests are. And there is no end in sight. That’s why What’s the Matter with Kansas? is such a depressing read. However, Frank is very amusing as he paints this extended picture of humanity’s decline. Again and again, he writes variations of this sentence that sums up the whole book, “For decades Americans have experienced a populist uprising that only benefits the people it is supposed to be targeting.”

He is never so good as in the last chapter of the book:

Behold the political alignment that Kansas is pioneering for us all. The corporate world — for reasons having a great deal to do with its corporateness — blankets the nation with a cultural style designed to offend and to pretend-subvert: sassy teens in Skechers flout the Man; bigoted churchgoing moms don’t tolerate their daughters’ cool liberated friends; hipsters dressed in T-shirts reading “FCUK” snicker at the suits who just don’t get it. It’s meant to be offensive, and Kansas is duly offended. The state watches impotently as its culture, beamed in from the coasts, becomes coarser and more offensive by the year. Kansas aches for revenge. Kansas gloats when celebrities say stupid things; it cheers when movie stars go to jail. And when two female rock stars exchange a lascivious kiss on national TV, Kansas goes haywire. Kansas screams for the heads of the liberal elite. Kansas comes running to the polling place. And Kansas cuts those rock stars’ taxes.

What’s the Matter with Kansas? is an excellent book. But I can’t recommend it. It tells us what we already know in far more detail than we ever wanted.


[1] Two other justices were removed at the same time: Cruz Reynoso and Joseph Grodin.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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