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The Fall of Wisconsin: An Interview with Dan Kaufman

Daniel Proulx ‘19

Associate Editor

Author and Journalist Dan Kaufman came to speak about his new book The Fall of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest of a Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics, at the Merrimack Writers House on Sept. 25.

Wisconsin has long been considered a “laboratory for democracy” with robust public schools, strong union protections and participation and concern for the common good of all. The Fall of Wisconsin, according to Kaufman, is “a testament to Wisconsin’s past as an unusually progressive state,” and it follows how Wisconsin went from being an extremely progressive until it was uprooted and turned into a Republican one in 2010.

It is clear why Dan was motivated to write this book. He had been closely following what was going on in Wisconsin because of the pride he feels for his home state. He had also been writing articles about Wisconsin’s changing political landscape in The New Yorker before deciding to write The Fall of Wisconsin. Kaufman’s mother also played an important role in him deciding to write this book. She sent him a long email describing what was happening and detailing her own participation in the widespread protests to Act 10, which many viewed as an attack on public sector unions. Kaufman traveled to Wisconsin to get intel for his book and a street level view of what was going by talking to ordinary citizens.

One of the major players in the book is Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who won the 2010 gubernatorial election in Wisconsin. He describes how Walker was able to make the citizens of Wisconsin stock up resentment towards themselves. According to Kaufman, Walker was able to do this by a method called “divide and conquer,” where “he pitted the taxpayer against the public employee.” Kaufman argues that Walker was able to make the blue collar worker feel that the benefits that public employees, such as public school teachers, were getting was undeserved. “A lot of Governor Walker’s agenda was not actually coming from the residents of the state, but was being hoisted upon them by outside interests,” Kaufman explained.

Governor Walker is currently in a really tight election race with the superintendent of schools for Wisconsin, Tony Evers, who Dan describes as the best Democratic candidate they have had in years. Walker has been criticized for using allegedly shady campaign tactics to attack Evers, but the race will likely be close. “I think Walker is potentially vulnerable, there’s a fatigue,” Kaufman ads.

Kaufman grew up and went to college in Wisconsin before dropping out of the University of Wisconsin Madison to move to New York. While in school Dan thought of himself as an “non-successful classical guitar major,” although he is still an avid player to this day. While in New York, Kaufman “lucked into a job as a fact checker at The New Yorker.” Which is a modest way of him saying he caught a break that helped start his career. This was a very demanding job that saw him working a lot of late hours, but he loved doing it and it was vital to his success in the future. Describing his time as a fact-checker, Kaufman says, “It was a very wonderful education,” because he developed his skills as a reporter through “journalism by osmosis.”

Kaufman is very pleased with the positive feedback that he has received about the book. Although Kaufman expresses gratitude for the interest in his work, he’s especially happy to spread awareness about what is going on in Wisconsin.