Welcome to the Authoritarian Kleptocracy Part V

My latest articles and interviews:

When Trudeau met Trump: Canadian exceptionalism, American envy (2/13/17) — Globe and Mail
It’s already happened here (2/9/17) — The Baffler
The Prestige Economy (2/1/17) — The Common Reader [Note: this was written in March 2016, published this month]

CJR, Beyond the parachute: Newsrooms rethink centralized model (2/6/17)
Crooks and Liars “Kendzior: Press should stop acting like Botoxed Riefenstahls” (link to AM Joy appearance inside) (2/5/17)
AM Joy, discussion on Trump and the media (2/4/17)
Ottawa Today, interview on Trump admin (1/30/31)
The Bossy Show, “Activism in Trump’s America” (1/23/17)

I’m traveling for the next week, so I will likely not have new articles or interviews for that time. Check Twitter for updates.

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Welcome to the Authoritarian Kleptocracy Part IV

My latest dispatches from the shitshow:

Trumps’ America, where even parks employees are enemies of the state (1/28/17) — The Guardian
Never again: Muslim ban echoes authoritarian states (1/31/17) — Centre for International Governance Innovation

Cosmopolitan, “Sarah Kendzior, Political Journalist” (1/30/17)
Ottawa Today, interview on Trump admin (1/30/31)
Crooks and Liars, “Sarah Kendzior dissects how extremists are taking over the White House” (clip of Sunday’s AM Joy appearance inside) (1/29/17)
AM Joy, MSNBC, discussion of authoritarianism in the US (1/23/17)
News XChange, “Sarah Kendzor Highlight”, video of me debating a Breitbart employee. From November, posted in January
Chicago Council, “One more question with Sarah Kendzior” (1/19/17)

I did some other interviews but I’m too tired to find them.

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Welcome to the Authoritarian Kleptocracy Part III

Hello! I’ve been too busy to update this site due to our nation’s continuing collapse. Anyway, here’s the latest since the last time I posted:

Donald Trump: Our anti-American president (1/20/17)
Our kids may never get to know America (1/19/17)
Trump and Putin: The worst case scenario (12/23/16)

AM Joy, MSNBC, discussion of authoritarianism in the US (1/23/17)
Rick Smith Show, discussion of Trump administration (1/20/17)
Chicago Council, “Media and Democracy in a Post-Truth era” (1/19/17)
NewsRadio 610 WIOD, Fernard Amandi, discussion of Trump administration (1/16/17)
MSNBC, Joy Reid Show, discussion of Trump and Russia (1/7/17)
Rick Smith Show, “Sarah Kendzior talks media manipulation in the Trump era” (1/4/17)
The Remix, What to fear from Trump presidency: authoritarianism, kleptocracy, Russia (12/19/16)
Teen Vogue, “Russian hacking poses a threat to American security and the presidency” (12/19/16)

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2016: Understanding the nightmare

A selection of my articles on the hellscape that was 2016, divided by topic. Full list available here. If you want an understanding of how we got into this mess, try my book on the conditions leading up to the election, “The View From Flyover Country”

Thank you to the Globe and Mail, De Correspondent, Quartz, The Guardian, Foreign Policy and the many other outlets who support my work. Thanks most of all to my readers! Normally after a year like this I would say next year is bound to be better, but…

Anyway. Here we are.


Donald Trump’s shakedown of the American Dream (12/4/16)
We’re heading into dark times. This is how to be your own light in the age of Trump (11/18/16)
Our fate was sealed long before November 8 (and not because the election’s rigged) (11/3/16)
A fascist’s win, America’s moral loss (11/9/16)
Trump’s strategy: Pull the fringes to the center, and mainstream extremism (11/3/16)
A conspiratorial candidate, and Americas deferred dread (10/20/16)
To Donald Trump, we are all bit players in a fantasy America starring Donald Trump (10/19/16)
Donald Trump’s conspiracy theories are making his supporters paranoid — and dangerous (10/13/16)
It doesn’t matter who won the debate: America has already lost (10/10/16)
Kaine vs Pence: When Midwestern Nice meets Midwestern Lies (10/5/16)
Who won the presidential debate? (9/28/16)
Trump’s birtherism: a national narrative of exclusion (9/18/16)
Trump’s wall guards nothing but the sanctity of bigotry (9/1/16)
Donald Trump and his racist followers could destroy America even if he loses (8/5/16)
Welcome to Donald Trump’s America (8/3/16)
How Trump punked American by manipulating our obsession with useless polls (7/28/16)
Trump is right: the greatest threat is indeed from within (It’s him) (8/16/16)
In a history littered with political corpses, Trump’s assassination hint is a new low (8/10/16)
Making America work again — for Trump’s family (7/20/16)
Where economic despair and xenophobia meet, you find Trumpism – and Brexiters (6/28/16)
The term “anti-establishment” has lost all meaning (5/12/16)
Trump is the smartest candidate — he’s running on American pain (5/4/16)
Metropolis, the hometown of Superman, has a new hero: Donald Trump (4/6/16)
Trump supporters in St. Louis: How ‘midwestern nice’ became a sea of rage (3/12/16)
Who Won the Midwest? Not the people who live in it (3/16/16)
Super Tuesday was a referendum on racism (3/2/16)

The media

The fake war on fake news (12/15/16)
Be afraid: Trump may have bought the Fourth Estate (9/9/16)
The trump card for U.S. cable news: Riots, ratings and rallies (3/30/16)


Donald Trump, Russia, and the mystery of “these people” (12/14/16)
Trump and Putin: The worst case scenario (12/23/16)
Donald Trump’s bromance with Vladimir Putin underscores an unsettling truth about the two leaders (8/19/16)


Meet Darren Seals. Then tell me black death is not a business (10/1/16)
How do you become ‘white’ in America? (9/1/16)
Missouri’s new permitless gun law will put black Americans in even more danger (9/23/16)
Black death, police brutality, caught on video: no justice, only sequels (7/7/16)
US officers who kill rarely get punished, but they might get rich (5/23/16)
How state politicians are quietly working to steal the US presidential election (5/20/16)

The economy

How nostalgia blinds Trump to the reality of working-class America (7/28/16)
Why young Americans are giving up on capitalism (6/16/16)
The myth of millennial entitlement was created to hide their parents’ mistakes (6/30/16)
Most women won’t be able to follow in Hillary Clinton’s footsteps — unless they’re rich (6/16/16)
The Contingent Faculty Retirement Crisis (5/16/16)
Geography is making America’s uneven economic recovery worse (4/28/16)
Why America’s impressive 5% unemployment rate feels like a lie (4/21/16)

Central Asia

Independence Day for a Scared Nation (9/1/16)
Uzbekistan’s real problem is not terrorism — it’s politics (9/6/16)
The Death of Islam Karimov and the Unraveling of Authority in Uzbekistan (11/1/16)
Trumpmenbashi: What Central Asia’s spectacular states can tell us about authoritarianism in America (3/22/16)

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Welcome to the Authoritarian Kleptocracy Part II

Here are some of my articles and interviews from the past week:

The fake war on fake news (12/15/16) — Globe and Mail

Donald Trump, Russia, and the mystery of “these people” (12/14/16) — De Correspondent

Trump and Putin: The worst case scenario (12/23/16) — Quartz

CBS Detroit, Trump Trying To ‘Fulfill Fantasy’ Of Teaming Up With Russia, Political Writer Says (12/24/16)

The 451, Interview on authoritarianism (12/26/18)

MSNBC, Joy Reid, panel on Trump and Russia (12/16/16)

Zak Fanni, “How Trump is creating an authoritarian America” (12/16/16)

Muftah, “Sarah Kendzior on Trump, Resistance, Media” (12/14/16)

BBC News, “Why Voice of America matters outside the US” (12/15/16)

The Wire, “A Cassandra in Trumpland: Sarah Kendzior’s Pithy Commentary on Privilege” (12/9/16)

David Pakman Show, “Will any people not suffer under Donald Trump’s kleptocracy?” (12/9/16)

The Remix, What to fear from Trump presidency: authoritarianism, kleptocracy, Russia (12/19/16)

Teen Vogue, “Russian hacking poses a threat to American security and the presidency” (12/19/16)

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An unaired interview on Trump, authoritarianism and kleptocracy

A few weeks ago, a news outlet sent me some interview questions, which I answered too late for the interviewer to use and therefore they didn’t get printed. (I apologize to this outlet and to everyone else to whom I’ve replied late; it has been an overwhelming month and I’m getting hundreds of emails per day.)

Anyway, these questions are among those I’m most frequently asked, so I’m printing the interview here myself. I answered these on November 26:

I’ve been following your work for a while, and got the impressions that you saw this disaster coming when most of the Liberal media and blogosphere was still in denial. What made you so worried?

There are three reasons I was able to predict the election fairly well and see Trump’s rise early. The first is that I used to work in New York tabloid media, and have in recent years worked in digital media, so I was familiar both with Trump as an individual and with how mass and digital media are manipulated for political purposes. I saw firsthand the erosion of the media economy, and how easily that could be exploited by a charismatic demagogue like Trump.

The second reason is that I am a scholar of former Soviet authoritarian states, particularly Uzbekistan. My dissertation was on how the Uzbek government and its opponents used digital media for political purposes. But more broadly, I’ve studied how dictators rise, how they mobilize the masses, and how they use spectacle and rhetoric to sway people. I recognized a lot of commonalities between Trump and the dictators I study in Central Asia – one article in particular, “Trumpmenbashi” discusses that comparison in depth.

Third, I live in Missouri. I live in the heartland, where the media economy has bottomed out, where local journalists have lost their jobs, and national journalists – if they cover us at all – do so by parachuting in for a few days and doing superficial coverage. There is a difference between being a tourist and being a resident.

I’ve lived in the Midwest for well over a decade and it is true that the economy did not recover here, that people are suffering disproportionately when compared to elite coastal cities, that there is widespread corruption, and that there is tremendous frustration and disillusionment with political parties. Trump was right about that, even though his solutions are extremely wrong. I wrote many essays as well as a book, “The View From Flyover Country”, about the hardship this part of the US has endured over the past eight years. When I leave St Louis to go to a place like New York or DC, I feel like I’m leaving District 12 for the Capital. I don’t think people necessarily get how wide the gulf has become between places like St. Louis and places like New York, which decades ago were a lot more alike.

Our economic and political conditions are not well understood by coastal media and politicians, who do things like brag about low unemployment numbers, which infuriates people. Coastal elites fail to see that underemployment and lack of opportunities have hurt millions. And when you’re hurting that badly, it’s easy for a demagogue to attract your attention.

The Trump fans aren’t a monolith – all sorts of people voted for him (although they were mostly white): wealthy, middle-class, poor, suburban, rural. This idea of the Trump fans as a movement of white working class populism is a myth promoted by the Trump camp, and not reflected in what I saw on the ground here in Missouri, and also in Illinois, as I was both interviewing Trump fans but also just seeing them as my fellow Midwesterners all year long. But I did watch Trump’s appeal grow, and I knew that he was pushing some of the right buttons, and I worried folks in my state would be conned by this man who had conned so many before. I was alarmed by how he stirred up racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic sentiment that already existed here and sanctioned violence through a campaign that scapegoated some of the most vulnerable Americans.

Now Trump is openly building a kleptocracy backed by billionaires and white supremacists, and several Trump fans, including a few in Missouri, have written to me in alarm, saying this is not what they signed on for. A lot of folks just wanted good jobs to come back, and to stop feeling let down by the government and other officials. It’s pretty clear looking at Trump’s policies that this is not what is going to happen.

 What was the worst and most influential fake story you’ve seen during the campaign?

The obsessive focus on Hillary Clinton’s emails was ridiculous, especially the non-story James Comey created toward the end of the campaign, where in his capacity at the FBI he implied Clinton was the subject of a serious investigation when she was not at all. This was a breach of protocol that should be investigated. In addition, Comey is supposed to be investigating Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign advisor, who has done shady deals with dictators around the world. In August and October, Senator Harry Reid repeatedy asked Comey to release the results of this investigation as he believed the election was compromised by Russian influence, to the extent that the results of the election may have been falsified. Instead, Comey pushed the Clinton email non-scandal, and the press fell for it.

A few days before the election, the New York Times public editor has admitted that Russian influence on the election was the actual biggest story of the year, but that the New York Times failed to follow through. They were distracted by the email nonsense, and dropped the ball on investigating what mattered. So did other outlets. And now we’re all paying the price.

Is it possible to combat this phenomenon or are we doomed to live in a post-truth world, and thus looking at the end of our Democracy?

Democracy is not just a matter of trust but of power. It is difficult to control what power you have in an authoritarian kleptocracy run on brutal force – which to be blunt, appears to be where we’re headed – but you can form networks of trust, and you can still seek the truth. History is full of people who have endured this struggle; we are merely doing it in a technological era which can cause immense confusion but also has advantages, as individuals are able to establish a consistent record of reliability. Actions often speak louder than words in this regard.

Furthermore, local ties are a strong deterrent against any idea of a “post-truth” world. It may be hard to trust what you see elsewhere, but you know what you see with your own eyes, and your neighbors do too. You might not agree on the relevance of what you see, you might debate ideas, but you are working within the same basic reality. That’s why I think building up local media and civic organizations is a good step toward eliminating this idea that trust and truth are lost.

You are very vocal with your criticism of the U.S media. What was the media’s biggest failure, and how can they fix it?

There are so many failures, I don’t know where to start, but I would say the first is the failure of empathy. And by that I mean real empathy, not just flying in and talking to someone worse off than you for a few hours and then filing a quick report. Journalists should serve the public. The needs of the most vulnerable should be prioritized. So if you’re studied a rising dictator, the main questions should be: who is suffering? Who enables this suffering? Who profits from this suffering? Who is standing by and letting it happen, and who is causing it?

Prioritize people worse off than you, and have some humility. Don’t go in with a preconceived narrative; listen to people and try to reflect their concerns honestly if you’re writing a feature, and don’t hold back with your opinions for reasons of careerism or access if you’re writing an op-ed. Say what you really think. There’s just too much at stake right now. I’m an anthropologist by training, I have a PhD in anthropology from Washington University. Many the tools of anthropology would be very helpful to journalists at the moment.

I read an interview with you in which you sounded very very bleak. At this point, what should happen to change this pessimistic outcome? 

Don’t worry about me being bleak! I’m a pretty simple person and I get joy from small things, like my family, or a nice day outside, or a good meal, or some trashy TV. I know my values and I’m at peace with what I need to do, even if my writing makes me a target of the new administration. I’m not going to stop calling out brutal and corrupt policies.

I’m worried about other people – especially people who aren’t prepared for what may be drastic political changes in the US. Trump isn’t a typical GOP candidate, and his backers aren’t typical backers. This is kleptocracy and authoritarianism. I don’t think the US mindset is accustomed to how vulnerable we are, how fragile we are, how susceptible we are to both foreign influence and to our worst instincts. We’re told we’re exceptional, but we’re just a regular country, albeit one with a great constitutional tradition that we should try to uphold. It’s important to try to be the best version of the United States of America, to try to live up to the ideals we never fully achieved and at times betrayed. I love this country and that love keeps me going too.

But as Americans, we need to be on guard, not just about what our government is doing, but about how we treat each other. The government can do all sorts of terrible things, but it cannot make you into a terrible person. You always have the choice to be good, to be helpful, to look out for others, to honor your values. You can try to do the best you can even in very trying circumstances.

Human history is not a kind story. People have lived through atrocities and are doing so now, all over the world – many of them a result of our own ill-conceived US military operations, which have helped destabilize the Middle East. People have lived through atrocities on US soil that many gloss over, particularly the treatment of non-white Americans throughout our history. So I’d encourage people to look at how others survived tragic times, how they stayed grounded and, in many cases, how they ultimately won. I’d particularly advise Americans to read about authoritarianism and fascism both in history and today and to read black and Native American history. Because it has happened here, and it could happen here again.

However, no one can know or change who you are inside. You always have the power of your conscience, to do the right thing in the best way you can. Some people have told me they are struggling to be brave, and I think that’s totally understandable. This is a scary time. So when you cannot be brave – be kind.

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Welcome to the Authoritarian Kleptocracy

We are running out of time. My interviews and articles about what awaits, written since Election Day:

A fascist’s win, America’s moral loss (11/9/16) — Globe and Mail

We’re heading into dark times. This is how to be your own light in the age of Trump (11/18/16) — De Correspondent

CBC, “Trump nation” (11/10/16)

Al Jazeera “Normalizing Trump: The US media whitewash” (11/19/16)

Who What Why “A dark view from flyover country” (11/18/16) ) <– long interview with a lot of detail on what’s coming

NPR, “The Scramble has some questions about our new Trumpian reality” (11/21/16)

TRT World, “Interview with Sarah Kendzior on the Trump presidency” (11/25/16)

MSNBC, Joy Reid, Interview on Trump and kleptocracy (11/27/14)

KFPA, Interview on Trump and kleptocracy (six minutes in) (11/28/16)

There is a lot more where that came from, but I’ve been posting it on Twitter, because it’s faster. Please follow me at @sarahkendzior for a wealth of additional information, both researched by me and by others. I’m grateful to foreign outlets for continuing to allow me to work, and I will have more articles out soon. But as many other US journalists have noted, the crackdown has already begun.

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The election and the threat of white supremacist violence

If you’re going to read anything I write about the election this week, make it this piece for De Correspondent — on white supremacist mobs, political violence, and a crisis in US journalism:

It is a terrible feeling to sense a threat coming, and know that many are abetting it by promoting the man who propels it. It is worse when the threat reveals itself to be real, yet complacency remains, and you do not know whether this reaction is rooted in apathy or cowardice. Cowardice toward Trump has been epic: in the media, among the GOP, and even in organizations like the American Bar Association, who last week studied Trump’s use of lawsuits to silence opponents, then refused to publish the study out of fear he would sue them. While in recent months journalists have run critical coverage of Trump, most dismissed him as a joke or indulged him before and during the primaries, facilitating his rise. His fellow Republicans, even when they criticize him, still endorse him.

The same phenomenon is taking place all over the Western world, as demagogic white nationalists rise, elites falsely predict their loss or play down the ramifications of their win, and hate crimes explode once victory is achieved, as witnessed in post-Brexit UK. It was all predictable, but now there is no clear organized process to stop it. Instead, victimized populations wait for their hardship to be taken seriously, and wait, and wait. Meanwhile, in the confusion and inertia, white nationalists consolidate their power.

I do not know what kind of America I will wake up to November 9. But I know that the result of the election does not hinge on Election Day. What happens to the U.S. will be the cumulative effect of a campaign that has mainstreamed bigotry and is now mainstreaming – or at least severely playing down – white supremacist violence.

Trump never specified what era he was referring to when he said he would “Make America Great Again.” Many assumed it was the 1950s, when job growth for whites was high and civil rights were denied. But when I visit Lovejoy’s grave across the river, I am reminded of life in St. Louis in the 1830s, of the mob violence that preceded the Civil War, of the way Lovejoy tried to convince people that non-whites were human and white mobs were a dangerous problem, and how he anticipated his own death as a result of these toxic politics. His era was in which white men could attack non-whites with impunity, and those who defied them faced terrifying consequences. It would have been a great era to be Donald Trump.

The tyranny of the mob is enabled by those who refuse to recognize the threat, who rationalize the mob’s aims, or who – like the elites of the 1830s – avoid discussion of the racial enmity at its core. That same deep denial is occurring today, over 180 years later. We have a moral obligation to oppose it and document it, as others have in dangerous eras, in the hopes of negating threats to the most vulnerable.

As Lovejoy proclaimed, there is no excuse for deserting your post.

Read the whole thing here

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Conspiracies and machinations: what’s going on with the FBI?

For about a year, I have been arguing that Trump is trying to pull fringe movements to the center and mainstream extremism — and has succeeded thanks to the cooperation of ratings-hungry, morally vacant members of media. (When I pointed this out on MSNBC, they booted me off the air…) This week, however, has yielded a new development:  factions of the FBI are seemingly on board as well. My latest for the Globe and Mail:

The FBI’s strange behaviour did not stop there. Soon after, a previously dormant FBI account began tweeting heavily redacted case files, some of which concerned the Clintons, and one of which characterized Mr. Trump’s father, who was sued by the Justice Department for racial discrimination, as a “philanthropist.”

The FBI chalked up the release of these documents, one week before the election, as automated and apolitical.

But any case file released by the FBI at this time is political, and combined with Mr. Comey’s actions, they contribute to what has been the most successful method of attack on Ms. Clinton: ceaseless insinuations of wrongdoing that provide little new information about her but create confusion and suspicion.

This tactic is a hallmark of the Trump campaign. He has aligned with and is backed by media-savvy conspiracy theorists like Mr. Stone, Alex Jones and Steve Bannon, who has declared that the path to victory lies with the campaign’s ability to manipulate people through the Internet. Now, Trump campaign conspiracies travel not only through social media and mainstream outlets, but through the FBI, whose authoritative reputation lends innuendo legitimacy, intentionally or not.

According to one former State Department official turned conspiracy-mongering Trump fan, the FBI’s actions are intentional. Steve Pieczenik announced in a video that the Trump campaign had pulled off a coup with FBI assistance. Mr. Trump’s fans are rejoicing. U.S. government officials have offered no explanation.

Mr. Trump’s campaign has long been aimed at pulling the fringes into the centre, mainstreaming extremism so that it is not recognizable as extreme any more.

In authoritarian states, conspiracy narratives are a routine part of this practice. They operate both as a method of intimidation and as a way to rally followers. To dismiss those who propagate such narratives as “only conspiracists” is to ignore that Mr. Trump, himself, is a major conspiracist, who may soon gain access to lethal power.

Read the whole thing here



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What’s next for Uzbekistan? Karimov’s legacy and Mirziyoyev’s challenges

I wrote a 3000-word essay for World Politics Review on Uzbekistan’s history as an independent state, the rise of Islam Karimov, the death of Karimov, and the challenges for his successor, Shavkat Mirziyoyev. The essay explains how and why authoritarian leaders backed by force also try to establish popular legitimacy — which may prove difficult given Uzbekistan’s political and economic crises:

Here, Mirziyoyev may run into serious problems. Under Karimov, Uzbekistan’s prosperity declined as its sense of nationhood solidified, with patriotism offered as a balm for persecution and poverty. Under Mirziyoyev, frustrations at the declining quality of life may finally be publicly expressed, for Uzbeks would no longer be insulting Karimov, but his unproven successor.

Critiquing Mirziyoyev is unwise, from a safety perspective, but it is not quite the attack on national identity that critiquing Karimov was. Should Mirziyoyev fail to improve Uzbekistan’s material conditions, he may be accused of insulting Karimov’s legacy, even though he is merely continuing its brutal ways. Karimov created a compelling illusion, and if Mirziyoyev cannot find his role—or construct one for himself—in the national mythos, he may take the fall.

There has always been a divide between the Uzbekistan presented in propaganda and the Uzbekistan of people’s everyday life, between the laws and protections written in the constitution and the oppressive behavior of officials on the ground. If Uzbekistan continues its downward economic spiral, that split may be represented in another way: between Karimov, the lost Uzbek ideal, and Mirziyoyev, the grim Uzbek reality. There may be calls from the public, perhaps peaceful, perhaps violent, for that reality to change. And should that occur, a new way of being Uzbek, one actually determined by Uzbek citizens, may finally emerge.

Read the whole thing here

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