A conversation with Sarah Kendzior, scholar of authoritarianism and vindicated alarmist
Cornell University published a study showing that 38 percent of media stories containing misinformation about the virus refer to the president: Trump is literally, not metaphorically, the single most important reason so many Americans distrust information they receive about the disease.
Had I known the segment would go viral, I would have first arranged a much-needed haircut, with or without a tax deduction. But here we are. A prominent moment on television, and I look like the Heat Miser.
But it was the discussion that mattered, right? Right? That’s what I try to tell myself. And the discussion, at its heart, was about vigilance in a democracy — in this case, in the context of a threat by Trump to strip the citizenship of Americans convicted of flag burning. What Joe and I were really debating was: When do you sound the alarm? How much do you trust the existing institutions? Do you jump at the first threat of demagoguery and authoritarian tendencies or wait for things to bloom?
I was, I say proudly now, an early alarmist about the coming of Trumpism. In my case, it might have had something to do with the new freedom I had gained two months earlier to say whatever I wanted, however I wanted, without worrying about consequences for colleagues, after an involuntary separation from The New York Times. And of course a lot of people were early alarmists alongside of me. Many were women; many were not white. Being on the wrong end of certain power equations perhaps trains you to be an early-warning system for tyranny. We didn’t need to wait for the hysterectomy concentration camps and the separated children and the Muslim ban and the plague deaths to call out Trump as a singular authoritarian menace.
And a dean of our early alarmist ranks was Sarah Kendzior, who stood out from Trumpism’s dawn for the force, bravery, detail, and prescience of her warnings.