Las Vegas Book Festival appearance/conversation with Thomas Frank

I enjoyed being on this Zoom panel with the writers Vi Khi Nao, José Orduña, and Alyse Burnside, moderated by T.R. Witcher, on the question of “Vegas as heartland.” I knew it was going to be a good panel because one of my co-panelists typed the words “Go GEO!” into the chat as soon as they heard I taught at Michigan.

On Tuesday, I will be asking questions of Thomas Frank during his virtual reading at Literati Bookstore. As it happens, I greatly admire this writer and have done so for a long time. He is probably best known for cofounding The Baffler. I read The People, No!, his new book on the history of populism and, in particular, the polemic against it, last spring and was very taken by it.

It seems that I have a predilection for Midwestern writers who fall in love with intellectual traditions the very names of which have become terms of abuse. With Marilynne Robinson it’s “puritans” and “Calvinists.” With Frank, it’s “populism.” Did you know that the economic program of the 1890s Populists was the big inspiration for the anti-poverty plank of the Civil Rights Movement? Did you know that Populist politicians were making the connection between anti-blackness in the U.S. and our subjugation of brown people abroad from pretty much the birth of our empire? I didn’t. All I ever learned about the Populists is that they were a bunch of embarrassing cranks who didn’t understand sound fiscal policy. The book really is fascinating, one of my favorites of the year. It will make you grind your teeth at the term “right-wing populism,” a thing that doesn’t exist. (Just call it “demagoguery”!)

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