I am not in Kansas I can't slow down and I can't stand it Broadcast News into Hallelujah Hanne Darboven had a great idea Make a list, write it down Shave your head, draw a crown Move back home with mom and dad The pool is drained and they're not there My bedroom is a stranger's gun room Ohio's in a downward spiral I can't go back there anymore Since alt-right opium went viral "Not in Kansas," The National
This was going to be a different blog post. In early July and then again in early August, I drove cross country—from SC to CO and then back.
This drive crosses for significant stretches Kansas and Missouri. And driving for hours along Interstate 70 in those states is a vivid and disturbing snapshot of the U.S.A. in 2022.
After posting about driving to OH and back, I had begun to think even more deeply about the current political state of the union. We are not a country divided by Right v. Left or Republican v. Democrat.
The division involves those of us who favor community and those who are seeking authoritarianism. I was motivated to continue this idea after seeing a Tweet from Allison Gaines:
I agree with her, and I think that poll captures the divide I identified above; non-religious and Jewish people have chosen community, and Catholics, Protestants, and Mormons have chosen authoritarianism.
The problem is that these ideologies are being leveraged in our political system. The very real and immediate danger is that those seeking authoritarianism are using government to impose those ideologies onto everyone—and they are winning. Those seeking community—people who believe democracy is a way to provide everyone space to live freely in ways that are diverse and not mandated by an authority—are losing. Badly.
As I wrote in my post on provincialism, you can learn a lot about how people think by the billboards (professional and homemade) that line our highways.
Kansas and Missouri billboards tell you that you are in Trump Country, that you are surely going to hell, that we are baby killers, that being gay or trans is a ticket to hell, that pornography is killing us.
Those billboards also tell you to follow and trust in Jesus—and “every glock is in stock.”
God. Country. Family. Guns.
I was driving just before Kansas voters were going to polls to amend their constitution. Like many other states, Kansas was attempting to further restrict access to abortion. The campaigns, advertising, and signs along the interstate were a garbled mess of misinformation and scare tactics.
Lots of Jesus. Lots of Hell. Lots of babies.
During the drive, I would have guaranteed another state was turning against women.
And then, hope?
Kansas voters chose to maintain the right to abortion in their state constitution by a significant majority.
One of the most troubling aspects of the push to ban abortion and the success in overturning Roe V. Wade is that polls overwhelmingly show a solid majority—about 2/3 of Americans—support the right to abortion.
None the less, the minority view that all abortion must be banned is winning. The political system in the U.S. is not a democracy, not a voice of the majority and not a mechanism for protecting the rights of minorities.
Our government is firmly the tool of conservatives. Republicans dominate state governments and use that power to ban, censor, and remove freedoms that have been painstakingly gained over decades of progressive efforts.
And here is the essential problem with authoritarian ideology:
No one loses anything because other consenting adults have different ways of being sexual, of expressing gender, but this parent is offended by “normalizing” even after reading a book and finding it “filled with ‘kindness and caring.'”
The authoritarian urge is mainly among white religious people who are essentially fundamentalist in their beliefs. For fundamentalists (I was born and have lived my entire life in the fundamentalist South), their beliefs and ways of living are not simply how they want to live; they are not seeking a country that allows them the freedom to believe and live as they choose.
Fundamentalists see it as their sacred duty to God to impose their beliefs on everyone else. Fundamentalists have missionary zeal, the arrogance of thinking their beliefs are not just right for them, but right for you (and you may not even know it!).
This is why Republicans and conservatives are banning books and censoring curriculum and instruction in schools. Republicans and conservatives are not trying to fight indoctrination; they are demanding that only they have the power to indoctrinate.
Republicans are afraid of books, history, ideas, and diversity even when none of these materially take anything away from them, when none of these are using the power of government and law to deny people their own freedoms and choices.
We on the left are materially afraid of gun violence, police killing people before they can be proven guilty or innocent, pandemics, laws denying women body autonomy, and literally losing our freedoms because of laws passed exclusively by Republicans (abortion bans, anti-CRT laws, book bans, etc.).
And that is what this blog post was originally about—false equivalence.
Every day our mainstream media—demonized by the Right as liberal—feeds us the false “both sides” narrative that suggests using government to ban abortion, censor what students can be taught, and erase freedoms gained is somehow the same as protesting abortion bans and curriculum gag orders, somehow the same as calling for expanding freedoms and rights for all regardless of race, beliefs, sexuality, gender, etc.
Authoritarian power grabs of the government are in no way the same as using democracy to create a more perfect union that allows individual and consensual freedom for everyone.
As my post on driving to OH examined, this remains a problem of rural v. urban.
Driving across rural Kansas and Missouri is a disturbing harbinger of the country the authoritarian right wants, that the authoritarian right is actively building.
God. Country. Family. Guns.
Mass shootings? No problem.
School shootings? Just the cost of the Second Amendment.
The world view of fundamentalist religious Americans lacks logic, is absent coherence, and is built on lies.
Back in SC, I am not in Kansas.
But I am well aware that the fundamentalism and authoritarianism of my home state is not unique, not simply a feature of the South.
Rural America is determined to control us all, determine to mandate what counts for everyone’s life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.
That is not America, at least not the ideal we were raised to believe.
I am afraid that it is too late.
Should the vote in Kansas give us hope?
Maybe, but hope means nothing without action.
And for now, the authoritarians are the ones willing to make their world happen.
What are we willing to do for each other?