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There Is Power in Grief. We Must Resist the Normalization of Mass Death in Gaza.

Sarah Kendzior discusses genocide, the demonization of children and dissent, authoritarianism and the 2024 election.

A woman places a candle in memory of Palestinians killed in Gaza after a rally as hundreds of Palestinian Americans and supporters gather in support of Palestine at Public Square Plaza in Nashville, Tennessee, on October 22, 2023.

This is a hard time of year for many of us, and this year, it’s even harder. In addition to our usual woes, such as seasonal depression, or the grief the holidays may rekindle for us, we are now witnessing a genocide in real time. We watch as Palestinian neighborhoods are leveled, as premature babies are left to die and decompose in their ICU beds, while doctors and parents are forced out under fire. We watch as parents cradle their lifeless children and as soldiers mock the families they slaughter. We listen as people of conscience are demonized and blamed for the loss of an election that will occur late next year because we are objecting to our country’s participation in atrocities that should be unthinkable. We are vilified for rejecting genocide while knowing that, years from now, many of the people who are wagging their fingers at us today will lie and claim they opposed these evils. We are haunted by the realities of the moment and also by the knowledge that our pain is but a flicker of suffering compared to the inferno of anguish and mass death that millions of Palestinians cannot escape.

In December, I often think about what I want to leave behind in a year that’s becoming the stuff of history and what I want to carry with me into the next. It’s difficult to do that right now. So, in an effort to organize my thoughts, I thought I would have a conversation with an old friend about authoritarianism, genocide, the demonization of children and dissent, and what the political trends of this moment portend.

Some of you have heard me talk with Sarah Kendzior on my podcast, Movement Memos. Sarah is a journalist, an anthropologist, a researcher, and a scholar. She is the author of the books The View from Flyover Country, Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America, and They Knew: How a Culture of Conspiracy Keeps America Complacent. She is also the former co-host of the podcast Gaslit Nation.

In her recent essay, “The Mourning Moon,” Sarah wrote, “There is power in grief, even though when you feel it, you feel powerless. There has to be power in it, or people would not try so hard to prohibit its expression.” I needed those words, and as I read them, I knew I needed to talk to Sarah. That conversation took the shape of this interview and I hope you will find it as helpful as I did.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Kelly Hayes: While the U.S. is offering Israel unconditional support, Israel, which was already an apartheid state, is escalating its authoritarian norms and policies. It seems like some of the authoritarian developments within Israel have been overlooked by the media outside Israel because people either don’t want to criticize Israel or because they are rightly focused on the genocide in Gaza. Palestinians in Israel have been arrested for social media posts expressing concern for or solidarity with the people of Gaza. Far-right mobs attacked journalist Israel Frey for praying for the children of Palestine. IDF-backed settlers are committing mob attacks, emptying entire communities in the West Bank, and Israeli officials have continually deployed dehumanizing language about Palestinians to justify genocidal acts and policies in a manner that is symptomatic of fascism. Given your expertise in authoritarianism, I wanted to ask how should we understand these escalations. What do the patterns and trends we are seeing mean for Israel and for the world, given that Netanyahu has positioned Israel as a model for world governments in unstable times?

Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, that’s a great question. And it’s very unfortunate that Israel is a model for world governments, and you can see its influence in places like Hungary, Russia, the Brexit UK, the United States, or any other country that has descended into mafia state autocracy, often directly in conjunction with Netanyahu, who’s largely been in control of Israel since 2009, with occasional departures.

But also, with the backing of a lot of the same donors and plutocrats and supporters. And Israel has, in this time, become a far-right autocratic state. It was always an apartheid state. It was never a true democracy. You cannot be a true democracy when you are colonizing and abusing a population that is living in subjugation, right beside you – which has historically been the case with Palestinians. But even for Israelis themselves, it has become an autocratic state with protests suppressed, with journalists, as you mentioned, threatened. And also, major outlets, like Haaretz, that have done a lot of brave investigative reporting. They are being threatened and the situation is dire. And I think that Israel should be listed when people put together lists of authoritarian states. It should be there. People will mention Russia, China, Turkey, and others, but they’ll neglect to list Israel because Americans have always been taught that Israel is the lone democracy in the Middle East. And that is simply not the case.

The other factor that I wish people would pay much more attention to is the Kahanists and the fact that they represent a substantial part of the Israeli parliament. This is a party, originally the Kach Party that used to be banned. It was banned by Israel as an extremist, right-wing supremacist party. It was also banned by the United States because Meir Kahane, the leader of this, was a terrorist.

He was a terrorist who collaborated with the FBI, who collaborated with the John Birch Society. He was a racist. Just a monstrous but very influential individual. But because of his terrorism, he and his party were banned until 2022, when the Biden administration removed Kach from that list and the Israeli government embraced the Kahanists. And I want to be very clear here and say there’s a distinction between the Israeli people and the government. You see that distinction every time they have a mass protest, and you see it in the 4% approval rating for Netanyahu. And you see it in the wariness, the fear honestly, of the Kahanists expressed by Israelis of all sorts of different backgrounds and political persuasions.

But yes, Israel is a very dangerous state. They’re committing genocide. I think the Israeli government has the intention of waging a broader regional war, in particular with Iran. I feel like I’m reliving the time after 9/11, in that a horrific attack by Hamas is being used to justify atrocities, the scope of which far surpasses the initial attack. Israel is murdering innocent people, in particular children. And the United States has gotten on board with that. Biden, Blinken, and others have supported it unconditionally.

American citizens who have been pushing back and who do not approve of what Israel is doing are having an impact. But I worry that the impact has been more rhetorical in terms of what the Biden administration and what Congress is doing, than in the way it matters, which is that we should be withholding weapons and financial aid as well.

There has been a lot of talk about whether it makes sense to attack Biden for his support of Israel’s violence. Some people say that calling Biden out for supporting genocide is dangerous, given that an electoral showdown with Donald Trump is less than a year away. To me, this seems ridiculous, on a number of levels. Because, for one thing, Biden, like Clinton before him, seems to want a showdown with Donald Trump, as Biden seems unlikely to defeat any other Republican candidate. Trump’s boogeyman status has been leveraged as a hall pass for bad governance and as a basis for demanding fealty when an election is within any mentionable distance. At the same time, Trump does pose a major threat to us all, and Biden is such a lousy, lukewarm figure that he might just manage to lose in a head-to-head matchup with Trump. As someone who was raising the alarm about Trump long before most people took him seriously, what are your thoughts around this?

Thank you for this question. This has been a deeply frustrating time because, as you noted, I warned about Trump back in 2015 and 2016. I warned that he was likely to win and that when he wins, the Constitution and checks and balances will not contain him and that he will rule the United States as an aspiring autocrat, and certainly as a kleptocrat, and that he would not leave office voluntarily and all of that.

So, yes, Trump is immensely dangerous, which is why it’s immensely dangerous that Joe Biden and his administration and his DOJ have made minimal effort to contain him. Trump is an active threat. That is not an exaggeration. But there’s this incredible paradox for Biden to go around proclaiming that while at the same time bragging about his ability to reach across the aisle to the Republicans, which includes the very people who have been protecting not just Trump but his extended mafia network.

So I don’t think that Joe Biden’s objection to Trump is sincere at all. I think we’re watching a WWE kayfabe election. And it’s not just deeply disappointing to me. It’s alarming. We have seen for nearly four years, Biden continuing the policies of Trump. This includes building the Trump wall. It includes a “let it spread” attitude toward COVID and the suppression of public health data that people need to make decisions about their lives. Biden’s proclamation that the pandemic is over, the treatment of migrants at the border, the Willow Project, a general lack of concern about climate change, and an embrace of dictators like MBS [Mohammed bin Salman] and Netanyahu. I mean, really the only major distinction between Trump and Biden, in terms of foreign policy, has been Biden’s support of Ukraine. And, of course, Trump supports the Kremlin. But other than that, and the rhetoric – which, of course, is soft-pedaled through Biden — we get a soft-focus death cult instead of an overt death cult. I don’t see much of a difference and that’s terrifying.

I very much understand people’s lack of enthusiasm for this election, especially now. Biden is backing a genocide. And Trump is supporting this genocide, too, and if Trump were in power – you know, his whole family has been in bed with Netanyahu since the 1980s. Fred Trump was a close friend of Netanyahu when Netanyahu was living in New York and working at the UN. Netanyahu also slept at the home of the Kushner family. Jared would move to another room and Netanyahu would take Jared’s bed because he’s very close to the Kushner family.

So there’s this very insular network with Trump. So I don’t think anything would be any better in terms of human rights for the Palestinians, or things like that if Trump were in charge. Trump is a warmonger. His network is full of warmongers and he would also support an Iran war. And this again, is very depressing.

You’re looking at two individuals who largely have the same horrific policies and just have different ways of talking about them.

The thing I worry about is that Trump fomented a coup. He refused to accept the result of the election and nothing happened to him. The lack of people talking about this, about the institutional failure that allowed this to be possible is really concerning to me. All these people talking about fascism, and I remember you and I back in 2020, we were talking about fascism and how, of course, it’s possible for it to happen in the United States. We’ve had selective autocracy for all of US history, directed at marginalized populations. A lot of people thought we were exaggerating. Now, it’s a very mainstream thing to discuss, but they will not discuss the institutional apparatuses that have refused to stop it. And they’re there right now.

They were put in place by Biden or left in place from Trump, by Biden. People like Christopher Ray, and they’re not doing anything to curtail this threat. So then again, you have to ask, does Biden take the threat of fascism seriously? To which I would answer, no.

I completely agree that the threat of fascism has largely been reduced to a talking point by the Democrats. There’s a total lack of seriousness on the part of the Biden administration, and I think part of that rhetorical dynamic is that Biden would not have won the election, if not for the specter of Trump. He needed people to be voting against someone, rather than voting for him. And I don’t think he would stand a chance in this coming election, if not for the specter of Trump.

Yes, and he’s making very little effort to regain the base that was necessary for him to win or to gain a broad coalition of support in the first place. He has lost young voters. He has lost Black voters. He has lost Muslim and Arab voters, especially in the last two months because of what’s happening in Gaza. He’s lost people who tend not to vote, but who thought it was very important to go out in a plague, mind you, in 2020, risking their lives to vote for Biden because of the threat of Trump. We have a very disillusioned population, for good reason, and the administration is unconcerned about that. They’re not trying to win back those voters at all. Democrats are haranguing them. They’re harassing them. And that is obviously not a winning strategy. And I think that they know that.

What they want is obedience. What they want is applause. This is a reality show candidacy in a similar way to the way that Trump has a reality show candidacy. Only the Democrats seem baffled about why they’re not getting the same level of obsequiousness.

They have all of these people on Twitter and on other social media networks, reciting the same platitudes and making the same excuses, and piling on critics who are either making very mild and fact-based claims or just observations, like what happened with Mehdi Hassan. He simply observed that, over Thanksgiving, he spoke to many Muslim Americans who said they no longer want to vote for Biden because they’re upset about genocide. That’s not something you should pile on someone for saying. It’s a factual observation, and also it’s about genocide. You should be upset about genocide, not the withholding of votes for Biden. So there’s something morally askew here. There’s something very wrong with the priorities of the Democratic Party because they have an abject lack of concern for not just mass death, but mass murder.

Absolutely. And looking at this sort of effort to control any dissent around genocide with these scare tactics like, “Well, if you don’t accept this country’s participation, facilitation, and support of this genocide that’s being waged, you are responsible for much worse things happening” – that’s a very scary dynamic in the era of collapse that we’re living in.

Oh, absolutely. They’re trying to create scapegoats and they’re making scapegoats out of people who are already vulnerable, who are already marginalized, and who lack political power. Meanwhile, they look at someone like Biden, literally the most powerful person in the world, and they act like he’s completely helpless and say, “What could you possibly expect him to do? He’s only the president.”

I think they’re setting up groups, especially young people, to be these scapegoats and to be the subjects of violent attacks. I don’t think those attacks will come from Democrats. I think they’re going to come from the far-right because they have been engaging in the same type of propaganda. For years, they’ve been putting out this “woke mind virus” propaganda, and all of these threats, and young people are so dangerous, especially young people who aren’t white. And I think what’s going to happen is that the Democrats will blame these populations for not turning out for Biden, instead of blaming institutions and blaming powerful figures, and instead of blaming the Democrats for not following through on their very popular platform that they ran on in 2020. Honestly, that’s all most people wanted. They wanted the administration to put forth the policies that were promised. That’s it. It’s very simple. They’re going to blame these marginalized groups. And then, I think the Republicans in the right wing will jump on that. And I think that there’s going to be a lot of violence.

Only, this time, unlike in 2020, when there was this kind of groundswell of support for activists, and for vulnerable people, and a widespread interest in learning the dark truths of American history – that’s all gone now. We’re in a backlash environment and that makes it very dangerous for everybody participating in civic action. Which is, honestly, why I find it very impressive that people continue to do so, that there have been all of these protests for Gaza, some of which have been led by Jewish Americans, by rabbis, who are now being arrested for their protest actions. Because they’re saying this cannot go on and that Israel is not going to use their trauma and grief to justify the traumatization and destruction of other people. I think that’s incredibly admirable. I also think that this administration absolutely hates it. They are revolted by anything that shows moral integrity and continuity of ethical values. So they instead are going to tar and smear people who are doing the right thing as either terrorists or troublemakers or just bad unpatriotic Americans.

And I think that we have seen that Democrats at the municipal level are very ready to participate in that kind of scapegoating, demonization, and repression. I’m thinking of Lori Lightfoot raising the bridges in downtown Chicago to trap and gas protesters in 2020, and unleashing some of the most egregious attacks on protestors that have occurred in Chicago within my lifetime. I’m also thinking about the rise of Cop Cities in the wake of 2020, as corporations that are helping to fund those projects, and police and officials ready themselves for an era of civil discontent. They know people, especially young people whose futures are being stolen, are going to mobilize and voice their dissent, and the powers that be want to be ready to crush those people.

I absolutely agree with you and I do think that that’s the reason Cop Cities are being created. And I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that the largest variation of that is in Georgia. Because historically, young Black organizers in the South have offered a lot of leadership, in terms of Civil Rights, in terms of climate change, and in terms, obviously, of protesting police brutality. But I think it’s going to be nationwide. It feels like they are steering us into fascism. I’ve seen a lot of Democrats saying, “Oh no, if Trump wins, then democracy is over.”And I feel like they don’t have an understanding of what democracy is because, in many ways, we’ve already lost our representative democracy. You know, we lost it with Citizens United. We lose it through mega-donors. We lose it through state legislatures that throw out votes after they’ve been cast. If there’s a ballot initiative, or something and people vote for it, Republican legislatures will say, “No, we don’t care. It doesn’t matter.”

So we’ve already lost that facet of democracy to a large extent. But what we still have is freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, and all of these other freedoms that people in truly authoritarian states would love to have. The situation can get much, much worse. And I think that they are preparing for that. And it’s that aspect of losing democracy, which literally translates into the power of the people – it’s the etymology of the word. That’s what I am afraid will be lost much more than this electoral aspect of it.

That’s why I find it so frustrating that the Democrats put all of the attention on Election Day, either as a fix or a failure. Everything is just focused on one day every four years, and maybe a bit of attention in the midterms. And it’s not that voting is not important. But it’s just one aspect of the bigger picture. And the rest of that picture looks very bleak. And I don’t see any attempt on the part of the Biden administration to fight against it. In fact, they often support it. There are more police, more military operations and influence under Biden. They’re continuing a trajectory that predates Trump. It was there under Obama as well. It was certainly there under Bush and under the Patriot Act. This is a longstanding bipartisan assault on the rights and liberties of the American people.

I think both parties are preparing for an authoritarian future because the marriage between liberal democracy and capitalism is crumbling, in a general sense. And I don’t think that makes electoral politics irrelevant, especially at the local level. But as you say, elections are just one part of a much bigger political picture, and the bleakness of that picture is a bipartisan reality.

For example, both parties, as you’ve mentioned, have fueled the further normalization of mass death. I read your most recent essay, “The Mourning Moon,” which I absolutely loved, by the way. In the piece you wrote, “I live in a country where officials want us to react to mass death with no feeling at all, even when the victims are children.” Can you say more about that?

I feel like, in the last four years, we as a country, but also just globally, have endured a lot of tragedies without completely processing them, while our officials either abjectly deny that they’re happening or harangue us for grieving publicly. The most obvious example is the massive death toll from COVID, which we don’t fully know because the government won’t show us those figures, just as they won’t show us figures about how many people have been disabled by long COVID.

A second obvious example is climate change, which is already bringing about climate catastrophes, leading to death and displacement. And again, you see some efforts to try to change things, but not at the pace necessary to stave off the worst effects. And you do see, continually, a lot of denial.

The essay you mentioned, “The Morning Moon,” is about the last full moon that happens before the winter solstice, which traditionally is the time when people prepare for the coming darkness. They know that the darkest days of the year are around the bend.

And when I was looking at the moon, I was thinking about this, and I was thinking about Gaza, and I was thinking about the fact that this war is so exceptional in its focus on murdering children. There’s really no comparison. These are not accidental deaths, and that’s been proven in recent exposés.

The number of Palestinian children who’ve been killed by the Israeli military exceeds the annual total of children killed in the most war-torn regions of the world. It exceeded the annual total within weeks. And, you know, it breaks me. I don’t want to say it destroys me because I know that the people who are actually there, actually having to experience these losses and witness them have it so much worse. I just think it’s abnormal to not react to this with intense sorrow and mourning and a feeling of loss. Some of this comes from a place of being a mother. Of course, when I see Palestinian children, I think of my own children, and what it would be like if this were to happen to them. I think about how vulnerable these mothers and fathers must feel, but obviously, people don’t need to have children feel the same way. They have the same compassion. I think most Americans look at this situation and are deeply ashamed that our country is backing this and deeply horrified that these poor children face such calamitous circumstances – even those who aren’t killed. 1.7 out of 2 million Palestinians in Gaza have been displaced. And the cruelty of it, the mockery by the IDF, by these soldiers, the way that they talk about Palestinians as a lawn that needs to be mowed, or as subjects of annihilation, or that there’s no such thing as an innocent Palestinian child. Disgusting.

What they’ve done is they’ve conditioned us to accept mass death through the way that they treated the pandemic, where people were blaming each other for dying. They were laughing at each other’s deaths. They were doing this online. It started out as some debate about the vaccines and ended up with, Haha, your mom is dead now. And all of this while people are being told conflicting things by officials. And I was astounded by that cruelty and by the politicization of it. I just found it repulsive.

And I think that when you get people used to mass death, the next step is acclimatizing them to mass murder. Because this is a distant conflict, and it’s one that I think Americans, until very recently, basically until the age of smartphones, were not well educated about. There’s a tendency to just dismiss the plight of the Palestinian people or to accept this narrative that they’re all in Hamas, which is obviously a lie. And I think especially younger generations, they see right through that lie. Like, if you’re a young person, Netanyahu has been in control of Israel your whole life, and it’s grown worse every year. And that’s what young people have grown up watching. So I think they see this with a degree of moral clarity when it comes to the Palestinian side. And I hope people hold onto that moral clarity. I hope no child’s death is ever deemed acceptable, whether it’s an Israeli child, a Palestinian child, or a child trying to cross our southern border with their family, where we’ve also seen abuse and deaths and the torture of children. It should never, ever be accepted by anyone as “just,” in that context or in the context of war, or whatever excuse for their utter immorality people try to bring up.

The murder of children is such an important part of this. I know some people have gotten frustrated with the focus on women and children. I can understand that, in the sense that Palestinian men should also be mourned and should also be protected from genocidal violence. I am also wary of dialogues that center notions of innocence, especially as they pertain to the value of life, but I do think it’s important to acknowledge that, in addition to whatever visceral feelings of hurt we all attach to the loss of a child, the mass murder of children is a particularly insidious layer of the genocidal violence that’s occurring. For one thing, children give people hope. They give people a sense of a future. I’m thinking of something Chris Begley wrote in The Next Apocalypse, about how people are more likely to survive when they have something to live for, such as loved ones they want to protect, like children. And I feel strongly that what we’re seeing here is not only an attempt to “thin” out a population but also an attempt to break a people by robbing them of any sense of a future and by robbing them of any sense of hope. And robbing them, potentially, of a sense of having a reason to live.

I think that’s absolutely right, and it’s very frightening. It’s obviously a condition of genocide. You know, you want to wipe out the youngest generation, so they’re not able to grow older. You want to reduce the population. It’s very clear that’s what Israel’s doing. And the sadistic nature of it, I think, is just what you said. It’s meant to break people apart. And that’s why I think there’s such cruelty and mockery in these videos that they so proudly show, where they’re desecrating a child’s bedroom or they’re desecrating a school, or there’s a child walking, waving a white flag and they just shoot that child. And they laugh. There’s a lot of malice towards children that honestly, I’ve never seen anywhere. You’ll see abuse of children in any war or conflict situation. You’ll see trafficking, you’ll see kidnapping, you’ll see accidental and sometimes targeted killing. But I’ve never seen the organized, targeted murder of children in these numbers, with this level of glee from the soldiers, at least, that I have in this conflict. And it’s disgusting. I don’t recognize it as something I can understand as a human being and my only kind of consolation right now is that at least I know I’m not alone in that. I think I’m having a standard reaction to that. I think this is a universal taboo.

That’s one of the things I wrote about in that essay, “The Mourning Moon” – that killing a child is a universal taboo. There is no culture in the world that finds this acceptable and doesn’t kind of instinctively break at the thought of it. And the fact that they would violate that universal taboo and expect no repercussions… just expect impunity… that they’re just going to get away with it and that we’ll all just go on with our lives. That’s the most frightening thing of all because when I look at our government, that is how they are treating it. First, with Biden even denying that it’s happening, and now, after they’ve gotten backlash for those denials, they make these wishy-washy statements. But as I said before, they don’t back any of that up with action. They need to cut off aid, especially military aid, to Israel. And there needs to be a harsh rejection and condemnation of the Israeli government. And I don’t think that’s going to happen. But it is what should happen. If they can do that with Russia, they should be able to do that with Israel.

And I think that the attempts to normalize this kind of unspeakable targeting of children and these genocidal actions, laundering them through the language of self-defense is indicative of what we should expect, as you were saying, as climate catastrophes worsen, as more and more people are deemed expendable, or are simply annihilated for trying to resist the idea that they are disposable.

I think it’s important for people to recognize those trends now and understand that the Palestinian solidarity movement is much larger than Palestine, as important as that struggle is in its own right. It’s also about defending life in a broader sense in the world in this time of collapse and catastrophe.

Absolutely. And it’s also a case study. If they’re able to successfully demonize a Palestinian baby – which is something that the Israeli propaganda apparatus is trying to do. They’re trying to say that all Palestinians are inherently evil. That if they grow up, they’re going to become Hamas operatives or their human shields.

That they’re the “children of darkness.”

That they’re “the children of darkness” – all of this dehumanizing language. If they’re able to convince people that a Palestinian baby is evil, then what are they going to be able to convince you about young protestors in the streets fighting for their rights, about climate change activists, about COVID, about disability activists, about all of these people who have righteous and deep frustrations? This government, regardless of what party is in charge, will obviously demonize all of those people as well. And I look at this, and I shudder at the idea that if they’re able to convince people that children are not children, but some sort of evil beings, then they’ll be able to convince Americans of all sorts of things about younger people and activists because you see a double-sided attack here. You see the right wing doing it from their particular perspective, like the Chris Rufo perspective. And then you see the mainstream DNC-type Democrats doing it as well as this sort of retaliatory punitive measure. Like, Well, haha, you didn’t vote for us, so you’re gonna get deported. You see that kind of language thrown all around, and that itself is dehumanizing language. And they all are embracing it.

And with the double standards that already exist in this country about who gets to be a child or whose lives are worth protecting or saving, the kind of annihilatory escalation that you’re talking about is something that the U.S. seems primed to expand, and reiterate.

Yes. And that is why it’s so important that folks stick together and recognize each other’s struggles as a unified struggle. It’s the struggle. It’s the argument that nobody is expendable, that we all deserve basic rights and freedoms, and that we have the right to fight for those basic rights and freedoms until we receive them.

I really appreciate your thoughts and insights on all of this, and how honest you are about these concerns in your work. And, on that note, I want to mention that I have really appreciated the essays you’ve been publishing in your new Substack newsletter. You recently transitioned from co-hosting a podcast to writing essays. Can you talk a bit about what that transition has been like and why you’re enjoying this change?

I’m so much happier writing essays on Substack. You know, this is how I started out. I was a journalist for Al Jazeera, writing essays between 2012 and 2014, and those essays were eventually made into a book, The View From Flyover Country. That book wasn’t published in print until 2018, and then it became a New York Times bestseller. So at the time, the essays were considered very controversial, and then they became kind of mainstream… well, maybe not mainstream opinion, but accepted opinion. So if you’re reading this conversation now, Kelly and I know what we’re talking about.

[Kelly and Sarah laugh.]

But anyway, I consider myself a writer before anything else. And, you know, doing a podcast, in the beginning, it felt like a meaningful thing to do because the news cycle moved so quickly that you could pack in a lot of information in that hour and alert listeners to the deeper context of events that were going on. Sometimes, especially during that period, I would appear on MSNBC, but it would be for like these little soundbite things, you know, like three to five minutes of conversation.

So there’s no way that the audience could fully grasp the big picture. And so when I was doing my podcast, it was an opportunity to do that. But then you get to a point, especially with this administration and the DOJ, where you’re just repeating yourself a lot and having to deal with a bipartisan system that’s designed to make us kind of intellectually rotted and hollow inside. And all of this is happening in a time of immense grief.

So I started writing a book. Actually, I finished writing the first draft of this book this year called The Last American Road Trip. It’ll come out in 2025. And it’s a little different than my other books because, while it’s political, it’s not about ongoing political events. It’s a travel book. It’s a history book. And I really liked doing that and kind of getting a break from the grind of the news cycle, and being able to be more creative and more free. And I love having that opportunity with Substack. And I’m just really, really grateful to everybody who’s subscribed.

I’ve decided to keep it free with no paywall. In the spirit of St. Louis, where most of our civic recreational institutions are free: our art museum, history museum, zoo, and science center. And so I grew up raising my kids here with everything free. And the reason it’s free is because the people who can pay do so, and the people who can’t get the benefit anyway. And that’s the kind of audience that I want. I don’t want anyone to feel like they’re locked out or like they have to pay up to find out the truth about Merrick Garland or something. I feel like that’s something that everybody should be able to get if they find it valuable.

So I can’t even imagine putting up a paywall. It’ll just stay free, and if I have to, I’ll figure something out in terms of paying the bills.

Well, I really appreciate that. I’ve been proceeding with my own Substack in that same spirit. I’m writing all of these things down because they feel important to me, and I want to share them freely with everyone. And I hope that people who can and would like will extend support, so I can make time for conversations like this one, and have time to transcribe them, or hopefully, pay someone else to transcribe them, but more than anything, I just want to be able to connect with people about these ideas that I think are so important. And I am really grateful to be able to connect with your work, and read your essays, and I hope we can have a conversation like this again sometime soon. It’s been too long.

Yes, I’m really glad you invited me to have this conversation. It’s been great to catch up with you and I hope everybody supports your initiatives, too. Also, I just wanna thank you for always having transcripts for your podcast, Movement Memos, for all these years, for people who need them, and for those of us who prefer to read instead of listen. Like, the irony of me hosting a podcast when I never listen to them, but I do read transcripts. And I’ve appreciated everything that you’ve done with your book, Let This Radicalize You, and everything else you’ve been up to.

I’m so grateful for you as well. Take care of yourself, Sarah. I hope we can do this again soon.

You too, and yes, let’s talk again soon.

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