The results of the 2016 presidential election left many stunned. Over the course of the day, and into the evening, political pundits continued to predict Clinton would prevail, even as the Trump campaign gained significant leads and the election ended in a Trump victory. But there was at least one person who was not surprised: Sarah Kendzior, an academic researcher and St. Louis based journalist, could see the writing on the wall that others missed, and became one of the first credited with predicting the outcome. Between 2012 – 2014, Kendzior wrote a series of essays, originally published by Al Jazeera, about the broken promise of the “American Dream” for the people living in-between the coasts, otherwise known as “flyover country.” Now a selection of those essays has been collected for the first time in print, The View From Flyover Country: Dispatches from the Forgotten America, and it is a searing, heartbreaking and unforgettable read.
Kendzior had been studying authoritarian states in Eastern Asia for years, and began to recognize signs in the US that she had seen in the countries she examined. She then began to write about those observations through the lens of her life in St. Louis. She touches on varying subjects, including the rise of adjunct faculty, along with the corresponding decrease in tenured faculty, at US colleges and universities. How students at those same institutions of higher learning are facing rising tuition costs, often going into debt to pay them, and finding, upon graduation, that the only pathway to a job in their chosen field requires them to work unpaid internships. She also noted the rise in bigotry in the US, whether related to race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or possibly most importantly, in our current climate and economic status. Kendzior unflinchingly conveyed the results of decades of inequalities enacted on those whose protests have not been heard.
“It is easy when people feel frightened and abandoned, for a demagogue to exploit those feelings of despair for political gain. It is easy for that demagogue to translate fear into fanaticism, to shift extremism into the mainstream and market it under the guise of populism. By the time buyer’s remorse hits, a new and more brutal political culture has arisen. A gaslit nation becomes engulfed in flames."
While Kendzior may have been one of the first to raise these issues, she is clearly not the last. Many of the topics addressed in her book are now part of our continuing national discourse, and regularly talked about on television, radio, in print and on the web, which makes The View From Flyover Country all the more essential a book to read right now.
Reading The View From Flyover Country may be difficult. It is made easier because most of the collected essays are only a few (less than 5) pages long, resulting in a series of thoughtful and thought-provoking short forays into incredibly difficult subjects. What the essays possibly lack in enjoyment, more than makes up for in insight and information, articulating the fear and isolation many living “between the coasts” have felt for far too long. And these are feelings that are now shared by a great many people across the US. In the preface to the book, Kendzior states that while she never meant to write a “depressing” book, she also admits that it very well may be one. She also claims that “One cannot solve a problem until one acknowledges a problem exists."