The rise of Donald Trump may have shocked Americans, but it should not have surprised them. His anti-democratic movement is the culmination of a decades-long breakdown of U.S. institutions. The same blindness to U.S. decline – particularly the loss of economic stability for the majority of the population and opportunity-hoarding by the few – is reflected in an unwillingness to accept that authoritarianism can indeed thrive in the so-called “home of the free”.
As Americans struggle to reconcile the gulf between a flagrant aspiring autocrat and the democratic precepts they had been told were sacred and immutable, the inherent fragility of American democracy has been revealed. Hiding in Plain Sight exposes this continual loss of freedom, the rise of consolidated corruption, and the secrets behind a burgeoning autocratic United States that have been hiding in plain sight for decades. In Kendzior’s signature and celebrated style, she expertly outlines Trump’s meteoric rise from the 1980s until today, interlinking key moments of his life with the degradation of the American political system and the continual erosion of our civil liberties by foreign powers.
Kendzior also offers a never-before-seen look at her personal life and her lifelong tendency to be in the wrong place at the wrong time – living in New York through 9/11 and in St. Louis during the Ferguson uprising, and researching media and authoritarianism when Trump emerged using the same tactics as the post-Soviet dictatorships she had long studied.
Hiding in Plain Sight is about confronting injustice – an often agonizing process, but an honest and necessary one – as the only way that offers the possibility of ending it.
I think I came across this book on Twitter as a recommendation after the Jan 6 insurrection and I knew that I had to read it. Seems like many had the same idea because it took me this long to get the book from my library, but it was completely worth the wait.
While I don’t think I had not encountered the author’s writing before, it was not a surprise to know that she was among the few reporters who predicted a 45 win in 2016 because of her extensive experience in researching authoritarianism. And this book is not really about his horrifying campaign or his even worse presidency – this is about the circumstances under which a person such as him managed to ascend to the highest office of the country and how it came to be. But this is not an anti Republican Party book as some would like you to believe – this is an anti authoritarian and anti corruption book, calling out the people and policies which have enabled a 45 win.
As a resident of St. Louis Missouri, the author uses her own life experience to give us a view of how the country has changed across decades. Her meticulous research about the nexus between the political elites, corrupt businessmen and organized crime syndicates is commendable, and just like her, we are left equally dismayed about why none of these corrupt players ever faced any consequences. And when these people get away with their crimes, they continue on with more impunity and what results is the disaster we have seen play out on tv and Twitter for the past 5 years. The author doesn’t shy away from naming names, many whose corrupt and money laundering activities were known to the investigative agencies for almost decades but were never prosecuted because all of the organizations were infiltrated by these corrupt people. As she mentions many times, this is what happens when criminals become a major part of government – crimes and illegal activities become legal, because criminals are now writing the laws. She also details how this has been a decades long project – how slowly laws and ethics have been eroded across multiple presidencies that now, these corrupt elites boast about their criminal activities on national television because they know they will never be punished.
In the end, the author doesn’t give many solutions because there is not much everyday people can do against the rich and powerful. But she wants to keep fighting for and telling the truth, despite her reality of constant death threats. And I guess that’s what we can do too – never lose sight of the corruption that has permeated our system, keep ourselves informed about what’s happening around us, and make sure we exercise all the rights accorded to us by the constitution before they are forcibly taken from us. We may have managed to avert an immediate disaster due to the result of the 2020 election, but that doesn’t mean we can afford to close our eyes, because the fight is not yet over and probably won’t during our lifetimes. There is a lot more I can say about the book and the author’s amazing narration of the audiobook, but I’ll just end by saying this should be recommended reading for anyone who cares about their country.