Book of the Week: What’s Wrong With Kansas?

by | Nov 3, 2016 | Book of the Week | Comments

Do people vote against their own interests? That’s the question Thomas Frank asks in his 2004 book, What’s the Matter With Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America.  Frank, an ardent liberal at his core, argues that Kansans have been conned by the Republican Party.  Despite the state’s blue collar identity, citizens reliably vote in favor of the party of big business; largely because of the Republican rhetoric of anti-elitism and cultural conservatism.  In the end, Kansas’ status as red state isn’t what’s best for the people.  

Frank’s views in What’s the Matter With Kansas have proven controversial– the work has been criticised by many as condescending and contemptuous.  Others have critiqued its failure to address economic and racial issues motivating voters.  

Indeed, just days away from Election Day, Frank’s vision seems to have been upended.  Donald Trump claims to speak for working people, and rejected the favorable assessment of free trade and big business that Republicans have advocated for so long.  

But it could be argued the hypothesis of What’s Wrong With Kansas still holds true.  Donald Trump, many say, is just as a much a con artist as the GOP Frank portrays.  A life of cheating workers and advocating sexual assault, they might say, is antithetical to Kansas’ evangelical and traditionally conservative values.  

It’s hard to know how accurate Frank’s ideas are– but they are nevertheless important to understanding America’s complicated political environment.